Category Archives: Seasonal Fun – Winter

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It’s winter in Illinois, and you know what that means… bald eagle watching season is upon us! Spotting bald eagles in the wild during their annual return to Illinois is the highlight of the season for many locals and visitors alike. As the state home to the largest wintering population of bald eagles outside Alaska, you can imagine there are a wide variety of eagle watching hot spots, tours and events dedicated to this majestic bird. With thousands of these birds wintering along the Mighty Mississippi River on the western edge of the state December through March, visitors are sure to see at least one!

Starting at the very northwest corner of the state, head to Galena to experience a guided Bald Eagle Bus Tour. These four-hour tours are dedicated to helping visitors observe anywhere from 30 to 450 wintering bald eagles along the Upper Mississippi River. Even better is that  you will have several opportunities to schedule your tour, with availability on January 21, February 11 and 25.

Bald Eagle Bus Tours in Galena are an immersive and exciting nature experience.

Travel a bit southeast of Galena and you’ll come to Peoria in Central Illinois. Each year, hundreds of bald eagle winter here in the Illinois River Valley. The Forest Park Nature Center, Peoria Audubon Society and Wildlife Prairie Park celebrate the season with events and tours, including Bald Eagle Day on January 7 from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. at Wildlife Prairie Park. Activities include a special bird scavenger hunt, crafting and plenty of tips for successfully spotting a bald eagle.

Visitors will see a live bald eagle demonstration at Bald Eagle Day at Wildlife Prairie Park in Peoria.

Continue your journey to the Great River Road and you’ll make your way to Alton, another eagle-watching hot spot. For true eagle enthusiast, stay at the Pere Marquette Lodge and Conference Center to be just steps away from the bird watching action. The Great Room is the perfect spot to pull up a chair and take in the beautiful view of the Illinois River; you might even catch a glimpse of an eagle on the banks. Bald Eagle Days throughout January and February at Pere Marquette State Park give visitors the chance to learn more about the life of the bald eagle with video and live presentations as well as a guided tour.

Alton is an eagle-watching hot spot.

For a full weekend of eagle watching activities, look no further than Starved Rock State Park’s Annual Eagle Watch Weekend from January 28-29. This two-day eagle extravaganza offers fun for the entire family, including interactive activities to help you learn more about these majestic creatures and their home in Starved Rock State Park. You will also get the chance to get up close with breathtaking eagles and raptors during special “Birds of Prey” shows, held throughout the day. Once you’ve brushed up on your eagle knowledge, it’s time to hit the trails! You can either hike up to the top of Starved Rock at your own pace or join in on a guided eagle viewing tour to get a look at these epic creatures in the wild.

View bald eagles in their natural habitat during Starved Rock State Park’s Eagle Watch Weekend. (Photo by Instagram user @mschuermann)

These are just a few of the dozens of locations, events and tours along Western Illinois that are perfect for eagle watching. For more information about where to find prime locations, explore Things to Do – Eagle Watching on EnjoyIllinois.com.

-Illinois Office of Tourism

The countdown to the New Year is on! Whether you’re looking for a night on the town with friends, a romantic fireworks cruise with your loved one or a family-friendly celebration, Illinois has a party for everyone. So what are you waiting for? Start planning this special night with these offerings for New Year’s Eve entertainment.

New Year’s Eve, Chicago Style

It’s no secret that there’s always something going on in Chicago, and New Year’s Eve is no exception. This is a time to celebrate, so why not go all out?

The Midwest’s largest New Year’s party is back for a second year in a row. Chi-Town Rising will be offering themed events throughout the downtown area all day, beginning with a Chi-Town Rise & Shine 5k, followed by a family countdown celebration at Millennium Park before the kickoff of the riverfront festivities. To really amp up the fun this year, the party includes musical performances by Sir the Baptist, DJ Sye Young, Saint Motel and Jim Cornelison.

The Fireworks from the 2016 celebration lit up the cityscape. (Photo credit: Chi-Town Rising)

The Fireworks from the 2016 celebration lit up the cityscape. (Photo credit: Chi-Town Rising)

Want to mix it up this year? Look no further than a New Year’s Eve Cruise at Navy Pier for your NYE celebration. Cruise celebrations have everything from a premium bar, decadent menus and buffets featuring filet mignon, lobster and more, live music and dancing, and a champagne toast at midnight.

Enjoy the fireworks celebration at Navy Pier.

 

If you’re looking for a special, yet relaxed, evening, head to one of the many local restaurants offering special dinner packages, like Momotaro, Spiaggia and Prime & Provisions Steakhouse among many others. Enjoy their prix fixe menus specializing in a variety of world cuisines, from classic steakhouse specials, to decadent sushi, to Italian favorites.

Suburban Celebrations

Around Chicagoland, there are many suburban celebrations perfect for families this New Year’s Eve. First up: Get wild at the Chicago Zoological Society’s annual “Zoo Year” celebration on December 31 at the Brookfield Zoo. Fun will include a live DJ, games, prizes and party favors in the Holly Jolly Theater and a noisemaker creation station at the Hamil Family Play Zoo. Both the Theater and Play Zoo will conduct an early countdown celebration at 8 p.m.

And north of the city, head to the North Shore for First Night Evanston, a community celebration of the arts. A wristband for the evening gets you access to dozens of shows in multiple venues, including live music, poetry readings, storytelling, dancing and even circus acts. Even better? Local food trucks will be scattered about for tasty bites throughout the night.

First Night in Evanston makes for a great family celebration.

Rock the Night Away in Rockford

The Discovery Center Museum in Rockford will be providing an awesome afternoon of artful fun to ring in the New Year during their Countdown to Fun and New Year around the World celebration. There will be music from Kantorei, The Singing Boys of Rockford and a chance to be showered with confetti at the stroke of every hour as you discover where in the world it’s midnight at that time. Next door at the Burpee Museum of Natural History, families can enjoy New Year traditions from across the globe during the hourly countdown.

Light up the Night in Springfield

Presented by the Springfield Area Arts Council, First Night Springfield is an Illinois tradition 30 years in the making. This New Year’s Eve, kick-off the celebration from 1:00-4:00 p.m. with free family-friendly activities ranging from face painting to harmonica lessons at Springfield High School. Then at 6:00 p.m. you’ll want to head downtown to take in the over 40+ performances – including jugglers, magicians, dancers and musicians – followed by a breathtaking fireworks display that will illuminate the city.

Wine and Dine in Southern Illinois

Since New Year’s Eve is a time to celebrate with delicious food and drink – especially champagne and sparkling wine – why not spend the holiday along the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail in Southern Illinois? Rustle Hill Winery, Blue Sky Vineyard and StarView Winery are all hosting special festivities this season.

Pere Marquette Lodge in Grafton offers a New Year’s party package perfect for a rustic getaway for couples. Indulge in the extravagant buffet and open bar. Ring in the New Year with a champagne toast and dance the night away to live music by Accolade. The best part? At the end of the night, all you have to do is retreat into your cozy room, then wake up in 2017 to a marvelous breakfast before returning home.

For more information about where to spend your New Year’s Eve explore Things to Do on EnjoyIllinois.com.

-Illinois Office of Tourism

Across the state there are so many options to gather with friends and take in the magic of the holidays. Beautiful light shows accompanied by holiday music and other festive activities make this season shine. This week we asked you to show us the best holiday light displays around Illinois. Check out a few of our favorite photos below, and be sure to follow us on Instagram for upcoming weekly challenges. Share your best photos with us by tagging #EnjoyIllinois and your photo could be featured!

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We kicked off this week’s challenge with this vibrant shot from ZooLights at Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago by @manfredmini.

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This larger-than-life ornament looks like the ultimate welcome into a winter wonderland. Head over to Village of New Lenox Commons to see their Christmas in the Commons Holiday Lights display for yourself. Thanks for the photo @tbtru2me!

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This is such a creative shot of the CTA Holiday Train whizzing past the historic Chicago Theatre. The ride is filled with excitement for both children and adults alike. Thanks for sharing, @chrisburrichter.

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The Navy Pier Centennial Wheel is all aglow in honor of the holiday season. This weekend is the perfect time to take a ride in one of their heated gondolas for a comfortably festive experience. Thanks for the photo, @ankibusan.

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This tree looks magical with so many twinkle lights strewn across every branch. Visit the Chicago Botanic Garden to see 750,000 sparkling lights and other visual treats this holiday season. (Photo courtesy of @lmc_chicago)

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Lincoln Park Zoo’s annual ZooLights has become a Windy City tradition for the holiday season. The zoo grounds are illuminated and holiday music fills the air for a festive evening of animal watching. Thanks for sharing, @meelowsh.

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The Riverside Water Tower shines bright against the evening sky. Thanks for the photo, @riversideillinois.

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Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport celebrates the season with small planes constructed out of holiday lights to get travelers in the holiday spirit. Thanks for sharing, @andreaguthmann.

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The holiday season is in full swing at the Brookfield Zoo, and the tree complete with a glowing star at the top exudes holiday magic. (Photo courtesy of @discoverdupage)

For more unique Illinois destinations, events and attractions check out EnjoyIllinois.com.

-Illinois Office of Tourism

Which historic town is located in the northwest corner of Illinois and has outstanding dining, drinks, shopping and hospitality? Galena! With an historic Main Street filled with charming B&Bs, shopping, and dining, Galena offers plenty to do for a weekend getaway. Because Galena is such a great Midwest getaway, we recently sent Chicago-based foodie and Instagrammer Samantha Roby (known on Instagram as @chicagofoodauthority) there to share her experience of tasting her way through the town and her view on the spectacular sites.

Throughout her weekend trip, Samantha captured incredible food pictures and experienced many Galena activities including spa services, wine tasting, cooking classes and more. Below you’ll find a brief look at Samantha’s itinerary, as well as hear her story through a Q&A session with the Illinois Office of Tourism team upon her return. Warning: the food pics below are sure to make your mouth water!

ITINERARY

 DAY 1

Lunch at Little Tokyo Japanese Restaurant

Little Tokyo is home to some of the freshest Japanese sushi in the Midwest. After opening in 2009, Little Tokyo quickly earned its reputation for the finest Japanese food in the Midwest, serving signature rolls made with the freshest yellowtail, salmon and tuna.  In addition to raw fish dishes, Little Tokyo has a wide variety of menu items, including Japanese steaks, Teriyaki and beef dishes to please every palate.

 Cooking Demonstration with The Breakfast Diva

Food Network winner Susan Steffan, better known as “The Breakfast Diva”, shares the secrets of her kitchen during her cooking classes and at her restaurant, Farmers Guest House. Her 80-minute interactive cooking show includes lots of audience participation, laughs, hints, cooking tips and stories from Susan’s Food Network experience. The class menu changes throughout the year to include seasonal ingredients so repeat visitors can always learn something new. After you’ve prepared the food alongside Susan, attendees get the chance to taste the delicious masterpieces they’ve created.

Weekend-long stay at The Goldmoor Inn

Previously a privately-owned estate, the magnificent Goldmoor Inn celebrates 30+ years of hospitality after its transformation. The inn offers guests everything from cabins to suites, and even cottages. During their stay, guests can expect to enjoy top-notch service, decadent dining and relaxing spa services in a romantic setting overlooking the Mississippi River.

DAY 2

Spa Session at Eagle Ridge Resort & Spa

At Eagle Ridge Resort & Spa, visitors can enjoy a soothing, relaxing 50-minute spa session in a remote and quiet area. With more than 6,000 square feet of spa space and 10 signature treatments, you will feel at peace and rejuvenated after a professional masseuse works out your body’s most stressed-out spots.

In addition to relaxation packages, Eagle Ridge Resort & Spa offers other activities like golfing on the resort’s four championship golf courses, horseback riding, boating and access to Galena’s hot air balloon experience, Galena on the Fly. Lodging accommodations range from a golf-side villa to a beautifully decorated traditional inn room, perfect for a weekend getaway.

Tour of Galena Wine Cellars Vineyard & Winery

At Galena Cellars Vineyard & Winery, you can experience Illinois wine and celebrate a 30-year tradition of family winemaking. Enjoy wine tasting, from a choice of 40 different varietals, while relaxing on the comfortable wrap-around deck of the charming farmhouse turned Tasting Room. During a tour and tasting, visitors learn how the 22 varieties of grapes grown in the rich soil go from humble vine to award-winning wine.

The vineyard is open year-round and offers lodging along with the tastings and tours. Galena Wine Cellars Vineyard also hosts special annual events such as the Wine Lover’s Weekend in March, Fall Harvest and Art Festival in September, and Nouveau Wine Weekend in November.

Tour Night of Luminaria and Living Windows

Each December, Galena lights up with nearly 5,000 candle-lit Luminaria scattered throughout the town. But that’s not all; shop windows along Main Street come to life with old-fashioned Christmas decorations and displays during Living Windows, adding to the holiday cheer. During the festivities, many local businesses also set up shop outdoors along Main Street so that visitors can browse while taking in the lights display.

DAY 3

Lunch at One Eleven Main

One Eleven Main brings farm-to-table dining to Galena. The restaurant works directly with local farmers and features locally-sourced ingredients in their tasty, one-of-a-kind dishes. With a wide variety of menu items for lunch and dinner, any foodie is sure to enjoy the delicious dishes One Eleven Main serves up.

Exploring Galena

To take a trip similar to Samantha’s, or to plan your own Galena getaway, check out our Trip Ideas.

Q&A

We chatted with Samantha after her trip, and here’s what she had to say about her Galena adventure.

Q: What were you most looking forward to before beginning the trip?

Samantha Roby: I have always heard wonderful things about Galena from friends that had visited, but never got around to making the trip for myself. As a Chicago resident, I have tried many of the amazing restaurants in the city but haven’t had the chance to experience the culinary offerings throughout the rest of the state. I was really excited to get the chance to not only try out new restaurants in Galena, but explore a part of the state that I had never visited.

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Looking for incredible farm to table dishes? One Eleven Main is the place to go!

Q: Was there anything that surprised you about the trip?

 Samantha Roby: Yes, before I left I had an image of a quiet small town in my head. I knew that there were great restaurants and outdoor attractions, but there turned out to be so much more than I had expected.  As I made my way through the downtown, I could not believe just how much there was to explore. Main Street is bustling with a ton of cute shops and bakeries, like Sweetheart Bakery, as well as a wide variety of locally-owned restaurants and bars that were easy to drop into. One of my favorite places to visit was Galena Canning Company. I loved getting to sample all of the delicious jellies and sauces and talk with the owners about the family history behind their products.

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Your sweet tooth will thank you for stopping to try one of these doughy creations at Sweetheart Bakery.

Q: What is one “must visit” attraction in Galena?

Samantha Roby: Our visit to Galena Cellars Vineyard and Winery was definitely a high point of the trip. While the vineyards were closed off for the season, the tasting room and winery were open for us to explore. I have been on a number of wine tours before, but I have never been given such an in-depth look into the wine making process. During our tour, we were led into the fermentation room where we got to taste fresh fruits, such as strawberries and rhubarbs, and then watch as they were pressed to create delicious dessert wines. It was so interesting to see the different machinery in use as the process was happening.

It was clear that the Galena Cellars team has perfected the wine-making process and is committed to making sure their products are made with the freshest ingredients. This became even more evident as we moved into the tasting room to try some varietals for ourselves. Every single wine we tried had a perfectly unique flavor. Our plan was to purchase one bottle to enjoy once we got back to Chicago, but they were so good we ended up buying a whole case!

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Galena Cellars Vineyard & Winery was named the 2016 Best Winery in Illinois by Yahoo .

Q: If you only had time for one meal in Galena, where would you recommend stopping?

Samantha Roby: While everywhere we ate was wonderful, I would definitely recommend Otto’s Place. We stopped there for brunch on Saturday and I can honestly say it was one of the best brunches I’ve had in a long time. We ordered the breakfast tacos, corn beef hash and a big side of ham, and everything was delicious. We couldn’t put our finger on exactly what seasoning they used, but my boyfriend and I have not stopped talking about it since we’ve gotten back. I make potatoes for myself at home but the hash there was truly incredible because of how well it was seasoned. We’re thinking about giving them a call to see if they sell any of their special seasonings for us to use at home!

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Take it from Samantha, Otto’s Place is a must visit brunch spot while in Galena!

Q: What would you say to someone who has never visited Galena?

Samantha Roby: What are you waiting for?! After visiting I could not believe that it took me as long as it did to take a trip out there. Galena truly has something for everyone to experience, no matter what your interests are. There are incredible restaurants and wineries, relaxing spas, unique shops, and tons of historical sites, all surrounded by the beautiful Galena Territory. To top it off, everyone you meet is incredibly friendly and ready to offer their recommendation on where you should visit around town.

If anything, I wish that my trip was longer so that I could experience even more of Galena’s great attractions. Now that I’ve visited Galena in the winter, I would love to go back in warmer weather so that I can ride the zip-line at Chestnut Mountain, take a trolley tour to learn more about Galena’s history and maybe even go for a hot air balloon ride. The options are endless!

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-Illinois Office of Tourism

 

The holiday season brings many things: Christmas trees, snow, winter activities and lots of family time. But what about all those sweets, treats and holiday drinks that make an appearance during these holiday festivities? This week, we asked our followers to share the holiday snacks and treats they were most excited about. Check out a few of our favorite captures below and be sure to follow us on Instagram for upcoming weekly challenges. Share your best photos with us by tagging #EnjoyIllinois and your photo could be featured!

For more unique Illinois destinations, events and attractions check out EnjoyIllinois.com.

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We kicked off our Instagram challenge with this Chicago classic, Garrett’s Popcorn shop! Photo by: @happydays669

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Prost, or cheers, from the Christkindlmarket! Make sure to try their hot chocolate, hot cider or mulled wine, just like @christyspur_10 did!

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Did you know that Margie’s Candies has been in Chicago since 1921? Awesome snowy shot captured by @chippercentral of this sweet shop.

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If you enjoy doughnuts and eggnog, you’re sure to love this festive doughnut at @pandadoughnutcu in Champaign!

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Along with some beautiful latte art, @elainescoffeecall on Clark St serves up some seasonal sips! Make sure to try their rosemary gingerbread latte.

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Yum… Pecan Pie! What a great picture of Frank’s Karma Café’s pie photographed by @wauconda.il.

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As Homer Simpson says, “Mmm, donuts!” Great night shot captured by @dbromo.

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What a unique take on “sweet and salty.” We are dying to try this popcorn ice cream cone in Morton at the Great American Popcorn Company! Photo by: @lindsay_allece

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When you combine brown butter, sweet potato, pistachios and cranberries, you get this decadent dessert from Dusek’s in Pilsen! Great shot, @alexandergouletas.

-Illinois Office of Tourism