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It’s that time of year again—time to wish one of this country’s most well-loved presidents a happy birthday! There’s no better time to plan a trip around Illinois and the Abraham Lincoln National Heritage Area than to celebrate Abe Lincoln’s 208th birthday. From storytelling to free museum tours to special annual celebrations, there is no shortage of festivities happening around the state. Gather the family and plan your trip to celebrate Illinois’ incredible Lincoln heritage!

Head to Lincoln Log Cabin in Charleston to enjoy a birthday party hosted by Lincoln’s family members. Historical actors will be on-site to share personal anecdotes and stories about life with Lincoln on Saturday, February 11. Bring the whole family to tour this 19th century living history farm and take part in story time and other activities to learn more about the former president’s life.

Children listened to stories about Lincoln at last year’s birthday celebration at the Lincoln Log Cabin in Charleston.

The David Davis Mansion State Historic Site in Bloomington is also hosting a special celebration for Honest Abe on February 11. Stop by the home of Lincoln’s close friend and former campaign manager to hear tales from costumed characters as they recall their encounters with Lincoln during his time in Bloomington. Be sure to stay and enjoy a special birthday cake and punch to celebrate. You may even catch a glimpse of President Lincoln himself!

Make a trip to Danville on February 12 for a special open at the Vermilion County Museum, built as a replica of the courthouse where Lincoln practiced law. Spend the afternoon exploring the Museum complex, which includes a replica of Lincoln’s law office as it looked in the 1850s and view hundreds of birthday cards for the president from Danville-area fourth- and fifth-graders.

Visitors of all ages will enjoy Lincoln’s Birthday Celebration at Mt. Pulaski Courthouse.

Not only is Lincoln’s family hosting a party, but his friends are celebrating his birthday, too! Visit Mount Pulaski Courthouse State Historic Site on February 11 to hear from Lincoln’s former teacher Mentor Graham and sample Abe’s favorite dessert—apple pie with rum sauce! Bring the whole family and let the kids meet Lincoln himself and reenact what it was like to be a student during Lincoln’s childhood.

Enjoy free admission at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield on February 12.

In Springfield, the city Lincoln called home for many years, a number of important attractions will be hosting special birthday events. Enjoy free admission to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum on February 12 to see special artifacts and items from Lincoln’s life, including his stovepipe hat and Mary Todd Lincoln’s 28-diamond necklace. Both artifacts will be on display during the month of February. Historical actors from the Civil War period will also be on-site to chat with visitors and answer any questions.

For an in-depth look at Lincoln’s life and times, both the Lincoln Home National Historic Site and the Old State Capitol State Historic Site will be hosting a special lecture series on February 11 and 12. The George L. Painter Looking for Lincoln Lecture Series at the Lincoln Home covers a range of topics, from Lincoln’s childhood and upbringing to all of his accomplishments throughout his career and presidency. The Abraham Lincoln Association will also hold its annual symposium at the Old State Capitol on February 11 and 12, featuring special presentations from notable authors on Lincoln literature.

The Vandalia Statehouse Historic Site has been helping visitors celebrate Lincoln’s birthday since 1973.

Continue your trip with a journey back to Lincoln’s time at Illinois’ oldest surviving capitol building—the Vandalia Statehouse State Historic Site. The site where Lincoln started his political career has been hosting a Lincoln Birthday celebration since 1973. This year’s events include musical entertainment and refreshments as well as a presentation and stories from the Bond County Historical Society about Lincoln’s in-laws who sided with the South during the Civil War.

Wind down from an exciting weekend of birthday celebrations with a visit the McLean County Museum of History in Bloomington for a special viewing of the 1939 classic film “Young Mr. Lincoln” on February 14. Arrive early to view a display of rarely seen historical artifacts and stay during the movie’s intermission to hear  local Lincoln scholar Guy Fraker speak about Lincoln’s connection to McLean County and the lasting impact its residents had on him.

Illinois is full of Abraham Lincoln history, events and ways to honor him. If you are eager to delve even further into the history, visit EnjoyIllinois.com for more places to go.

-Illinois Office of Tourism

From the Lincoln Era to current day, Illinois has played an important role in African American history. There’s no better time to celebrate this rich culture than Black History Month. Festivals, special celebrations, and museums all throughout the state offer visitors a chance to learn from and admire the culture and heritage of the African American community.  Read on for a deeper look into all there is to experience during Black History Month and beyond!

There is no better place to begin your celebration of Black History than the DuSable Museum of African American History, the first of its type in the country. This month, the museum will serve as the backdrop for HEART & SOUL, the Emmy Award-winning series that taps into the essence of the African American community. A special Black History Month edition of the show will air on ABC7, Sunday, February 5 featuring special news reports, programs and stories honoring African American figures throughout history. If you can’t tune into the special event, not to worry, the museum is open to visitors year round.

DuSable Museum of African American History is the first of its type in the country. (Photo by DuSable Museum)

Also in Chicago, the National A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum celebrates the men that made history by forming the first successful African American labor union in the U.S. The museum is located within the Historic Pullman District which was named a National Monument by President Obama in 2015 and later incorporated into the National Park Service.  Book a tour to view artifacts from the train cars and porter strike and learn more about this important movement.

Explore the storied history of the Pullman Porters at the Pullman Porter Museum. (Photo by the Pullman Porter Museum)

The Pullman Porters were just one of many groups to make strides toward equality. Travel to Peoria to learn about a number of important individuals and events that made a significant impact on the lives of African Americans at the African American Hall of Fame (AAHF). Founded by a small group of civil leaders, the museum works to preserve important African American art and historical documents so that they can be shared with future generations. Another museum looking to further Black History education is the African American Museum of Southern Illinois. Located in Carbondale, the museum’s permanent exhibits feature African American art and slave artifacts, including features of the Underground Railroad in Illinois.

Learn more about the evolution of African American art at the African American Museum of Southern Illinois.

It’s never too early to start learning about the importance of Black History. Bring your young ones to the Bronzeville Children’s Museum  for a variety of unique and interesting interactive exhibits and activities. Located in the historic Bronzeville neighborhood, the Children’s Museum is the first and only African American Children’s Museum in the country. Stop by for the special exhibit “Preserving Our Children’s Futures” for an afternoon of crafts, face painting, music and storytelling.

Bronzeville Children’s Museum offers Black History Month activities for the whole family.

Black History Month isn’t just about celebrating famous figures; it’s about connecting African Americans as they recognize and embrace their own culture.  If you’ve ever wondered if you have a personal connection to Black History, the African American Cultural and Genealogical Society Museum of Illinois in Decatur is the place to go. Pastors, teachers and clerical workers come together to voluntarily devote their time and skills to helping people research their family history through the organization’s large database. Don’t miss out on a chance to discover some movers and shakers in your family lineage!

Another place to learn more about your roots is The Ethnic Heritage Museum of Rockford.  This museum focuses on the heritage of the numerous different ethnic groups that settled within the city. It emphasizes the old customs and traditions through artifacts, vintage clothing and photographs. The museum is also running a special exhibit for Black History Month, “Saluting Black Military Units” from Feb. 12 – March 19.

Head to Alton for guided tours through its many Underground Railroad sites.

The Land of Lincoln is no stranger to African American history. Alton played a key role in the movement of slaves through the Underground Railroad, acting as a safe haven for slaves escaping from Missouri. The tunnels of the Underground Railroad run deep beneath the streets along the “Alton Route.” Visitors can take guided tours to hear the slave’s tales and learn more about Alton’s remarkable past.

These are just a few of the many places to explore Black History throughout Illinois. For even more historical sites, visit EnjoyIllinois.com.

-Illinois Office of Tourism

 

Did you know that Chicago is home to one of the largest Chinatowns in the country, with roughly 65,000 residents? Year round, the neighborhood offers unique ways to learn about the culture and history of China. From the Chinatown Gate welcoming you into the neighborhood, to the educational Chinese American Museum of Chicago and even the Ping Tom Memorial Park, which offers visitors a pool, gym and kayak rentals; there is a lot to do in Chinatown for any traveler.

Find lots of authentic Chinese gifts and goodies at the two-level outdoor Chinatown Square Mall. (Instagram photo by @mightymiao87)

Of course, the biggest thing to do coming up is the celebration of the Chinese New Year which starts January 28 and runs through February 12. During that time, you can experience celebrations, parades and fun events to ring in the Year of the Rooster. The festivities don’t stop outside Chinatown though; there are things to see and do throughout the city of Chicago as well.

With strong roots tying back to the old country, the Chicago’s Chinatown neighborhood continues to follow the history and culture of China in celebrating the Chinese New Year with a massive celebration; from colorful parades to preparing some of China’s most traditional – and tasty – meals. Not many cities celebrate the way Chicago does and it shows with the abundance of activities around the city.

The entrance to Chinatown, located on the west side of Chicago. (Instagram photo by @rachface.13)

Begin the Chinese New Year by learning how to make an authentic Chinese dish – dumplings! In its 13th year, the annual Chinese New Year Dumpling Making Dinner, hosted by the Chicago Chinese Cultural Institute, invites newcomers and veteran dumpling-makers to Hing Kee Restaurant on January 21 and February 4 to learn the art of the dumpling, or jiaozi. This traditional dish dates back more than 1,800 years and continues to live on in Chinese culture today.

Delicious dumplings from Hing Kee Restaurant. (Instagram photo by @smallgirlbigplates)

Chinatown isn’t the only neighborhood that gets in on the fun. The Garfield Park Conservatory and the Crystal Gardens at Navy Pier also host celebrations that are entertaining for the whole family.

Enjoy an afternoon of activities and cultural learning at the beautiful Garfield Park Conservatory on January 21 for its Chinese New Year Celebration. Visitors will make festive Chinese lanterns, learn about their zodiac sign, attend a traditional Chinese tea ceremony and participate in a dragon dance.

At Navy Pier, enjoy Neighborhoods of the World: Celebrate Chinese New Year. During this nine-week event, the Crystal Gardens are ornately decorated with colorful lanterns and feature a unique and intricate dragon dance.

Colorful dancing dragons at the Crystal Gardens at Navy Pier. (Photo provided by Choose Chicago)

What’s a New Year celebration without a parade? End the Year of the Rooster festivities with two incredible spectacles; one parade in the heart Chinatown and the other on Argyle Street in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood.

Light up the day at the Argyle Street Lunar New Year Parade on February 4 with an amazing kick off near the Argyle CTA Red Line station where firecrackers explode while Chinese culture-inspired floats and large dancing dragons pass by.

Local community groups near Argyle Street participate in the annual parade. (Photo provided by Uptown United)

The following day on February 5, make your way down to Chinatown for the Chinese Lunar New Year Parade. Each year, more than 30,000 people attend the parade to help start the New Year off with a bang. Make sure to be on the lookout for the 100-foot-long paper dragon and stunning fireworks show at the end.

Bring the whole family to see the beautiful dragons at the Chinese New Year Parade in Chinatown. (Instagram photo by @jonfromchicago)

The list of fun-filled activities for Chinese New Year never ends! Here are some other educational and awesome events happening around the city to celebrate the Year of the Rooster:

The Citywide Chinese New Year Kick Off at the Chicago Cultural Center. (Photo by Choose Chicago)

There are so many ways to learn about Chinese culture in Chicago, especially during the Lunar New Year. For more information about Chinatown and what there is to see and do throughout the year, check out Things to Do – Chinatown on EnjoyIllinois.com.

-Illinois Office of Tourism

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