Midwest

8 Weekend Getaways in Illinois for Foodies, Families, and Thrill-Seekers

Looking for a break with the family, a romantic getaway with a significant other, or perhaps even a solo retreat? We’ve connected with local experts across the country to put together some of the best weekend getaways in the whole of the United States.

I sneak away from the bright, busy street and duck into the foyer of my favorite restaurant, Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba. The hallway is long and dim, lined with people waiting for their tables, and I mentally high-five myself for remembering to make a reservation last week. After checking in at the host stand, I’m led out onto the all-seasons patio, which is bright and lively with vintage lights strung overhead and waiters bustling around making sure every diner has exactly what they need.

My friends and I settle into our table and, first things first, peruse the day’s house-made sangria selections. We can’t choose just one, so we go with a half-pitcher of classic red and a half-pitcher of mango. When our drinks arrive, we toast to my birthday. After this, we may try a microbrewery nearby or perhaps walk through one of Chicago’s many green parks, but for now, I am content to soak up the sweetness of my sangria and the sound of forks clinking against plates and people chattering all around me.

This, for me, represents quintessential Illinois. From sprawling cornfields to meandering rivers, from sleek skyscrapers to historical homes, from trendy restaurants to burger joints, Illinois has so many options to explore that you could spend every weekend trying something new and still never do it all.

But if you’re game to try, here are eight weekend getaways in Illinois to get you started.

Chicago

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One of the iconic cities in the world, Chicago truly has something for everyone—whether you’re a foodie or a family on a budget.

The Great Chicago Fire, which, according to urban legend, was started when Mrs. O’Leary’s cow kicked over a lantern, swept through the city in October 1871. About one-third of the city was destroyed by the flames, but the following years saw renewed growth, capped off with the World’s Fair being held in Chicago in 1983. (Only a few buildings in the fire zone survived, including the Chicago Water Tower, which is situated on the Magnificent Mile. After touring the historic building, you can cross the street to do some shopping at the aptly-named Water Tower Place, an eight-story mall.)

Little remains from Chicago’s celebration of the World’s Fair, but the city still thrums with history. Start your trip with a tour of the classics: visit the Skydeck at Willis Tower (are you brave enough to step out onto the Ledge?), catch a Cubs or Sox game from the bleachers (and be sure to pick your side in the north-south rivalry), take selfies in the Cloud Gate (affectionately known as “the Bean”), and dig into a slice of deep dish pizza. Don’t pick just one pizza joint: snag a seat at Giordano’s, Lou Malnati’s, and Gino’s East for a well-rounded experience with the classic pie.

Once your stomach has recovered from the pizza, check out the brunch and donut scene the next day. Stan’s offers a spin on traditional cake-style donuts, while Firecakes makes customers’ dreams come true with donut ice cream sandwiches. Or try a little bit of everything by planning your trip around Donut Fest, which takes place in April. For brunch, try Bongo Room or Yolk.

After brunch, grab a cup of coffee from Intelligentsia and stroll along the 18-mile Chicago Lakefront Trail (don’t forget your swimsuit for a stop at North Avenue beach), or make your way south toward Navy Pier and the Museum Campus. The Shedd Aquarium, Field Museum, and Museum of Science and Industry offer hours of fun for kids and adults alike.

No matter when you visit, you’ll always be able to find a fun festival to attend. The Taste of Chicago, the St. Patrick’s Day Parade and River Dyeing, and the Chicago Blues Festival are just a few of the many options.

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The Drake Hotel

You can catch a glimpse of The Drake Hotel, which sits along the Magnificent Mile, in just about every movie set in Chicago. You’ll enjoy exquisite food, relax in elegant guest rooms, and feel like a celebrity during your stay. Feeling especially fancy? Make a reservation for afternoon tea at Palm Court.

The Drake

Top rated
Chicago, 1.4 miles to Art Institute of Chicago
8.5 Excellent (4539 reviews)
WiFi in rooms
Parking garage
Pets allowed
Gym
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Geneva

Photo courtesy of Dave Soderstrom, www.geneva.il.us

Nestled on the Fox River just 40 miles outside of Chicago, Geneva is the epitome of a classic town with its tree-lined streets, a quaint but thriving shopping district, and sprawling nature preserves.

Start your day with brunch at Buttermilk, right in the heart of downtown (you won’t go wrong with the cinnamon roll pancakes and a handcrafted espresso drink). Wander through the rooms of The Little Traveler, an iconic shop in a 36-room converted house that’s still owned and operated by a local family. Whether you’re looking for a unique baby gift, fair-trade jewelry, or a keepsake ornament for your Christmas tree, you’ll find it here. If shopping isn’t your thing, head over to the Fox River Distilling Company for a tour and tasting of their award-winning spirits.

Grab an early dinner on the patio of Barrel + Rye, a cold bourbon cocktail in one hand and a perfectly cooked burger in the other. Then make your way over to Fabyan Forest Preserve just as the sun starts to set. During the golden hour, the sunlight filters through the trees and sets the leaves and the river ablaze, perfect for taking a family photo.

Before you turn in for the night, enjoy a gourmet scoop (or two) of ice cream at one of the many dessert cafes in this charming town.

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The Herrington Inn & Spa

The Herrington Inn & Spa is an elegant hotel is situated on the Fox River, in the middle of Geneva’s shopping and dining district. And with a full-service spa, upscale restaurant, and beautiful views of the Fox River, the Herrington is a destination in itself.

The Herrington Inn And Spa

Top rated
9.0 Excellent (224 reviews)
WiFi in rooms
Parking garage
Wellness center / Spa
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Springfield

History buffs and architecture aficionados will find themselves right at home in Springfield. Located in central Illinois, Springfield was established as the Illinois state capital in 1837.

Perhaps Springfield’s most well-known claim to fame, however, is its status as the home of Abraham Lincoln. Born in Kentucky in 1809, Lincoln moved to Springfield in 1837 after being admitted to the bar, and he lived there until he became president in 1861.

Today you can still visit relics of Lincoln’s past, including the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum and the Lincolns’ family home, where he lived with his wife and children. Their family home is spectacularly preserved and stepping into its floral-papered rooms is like being transported back in time. The surrounding homes and streets are also authentically preserved, adding to the feeling of being far removed from modern-day life.

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After you’ve finished your historical tours, grab a picnic lunch from Happy Sushi or Carter’s Fish Market and head to one of the city’s many parks. The Lincoln Memorial Garden offers beautiful trails and guided tours, while Washington Park boasts a lush botanical garden.

No trip to Springfield is complete without a visit to the Old State Capitol, where Lincoln regularly tried cases in his days as an attorney and where he later used the governor’s rooms as his presidential campaign headquarters. Make sure to leave a few minutes for photos under the stunning stained-glass rotunda.

Cap off your trip with another taste of architecture and history by visiting the Dana-Thomas House, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1902. Beautifully restored and preserved, the site showcases Wright’s remarkable glass work and furniture designs.

End each day of your trip with dinner at one of Springfield’s many top restaurants, such as Mariah’s Steakhouse or Engrained Brewery, both of which offer vegan and gluten-free options.

Hotels in Springfield

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The President Abraham Lincoln Springfield

Not only is The President Abraham Lincoln Springfield hotel walking distance from the major attractions in Springfield, but it also offers complimentary transportation to the Amtrak station and the Abraham Lincoln Capital airport. After a day packed with history, enjoy modern amenities in all the rooms as well as premium drinks at the hotel’s sports bar.

The President Abraham Lincoln Springfield, A DT by Hilton

8.4 Very good (1890 reviews)
Parking garage
Gym
Indoor swimming pool
Restaurant
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Starved Rock

It would be easy to think that Illinois is made up mostly of urban and suburban sprawl, but Starved Rock is just one of many examples of Illinois’s raw, rugged beauty. Starved Rock State Park boasts 18 natural canyons carved by glacier meltwater, 13 miles of hiking trails, and more than 2,600 acres of protected land. Less than two hours from Chicago by car, this state park feels like another world altogether.

The land itself is steeped in history. According to legend, in the 1760s, intertribal warfare broke out among two groups of Native Americans. The Illinois tribe took refuge on a large rock, where they eventually died of starvation, hence the name Starved Rock. The park as it is now was developed in the 1930s with the construction of the lodge and trail system, and it was named a historical landmark in the 1960s.

Today you can hike around the shaded trails, climb to the top of the bluffs to take in panoramic views of the Illinois river, and pack a lunch to fuel up at the base of a canyon. Visit in the summer to bask in the vibrance of the wildflowers throughout the park, or plan a fall trip to take in the fiery autumn leaves.

If you’re feeling a bit more adventurous, you may want to try the horseback riding in the nearby Matthiessen State Park, or canoe or kayak your way down the Illinois River. Activities aren’t just limited to summer months—if you’re a fan of cold weather, you’ll love the cross-country skiing and ice climbing through the canyons.

After a long day of hiking, put your feet up and treat yourself to a bottle of locally produced wine at August Hill Winery or Illinois River Winery. If beer is more your taste, don’t miss Tangled Roots Brewing Company.

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Starved Rock Lodge & Conference Center

Located right in the park, the Starved Rock Lodge & Conference Center will give you the most immersive experience possible. Unwind by one of the massive fireplaces in the Great Hall, dine on the Veranda to enjoy live music on Friday and Saturday nights, and take a dip at the indoor pool.

Starved Rock Lodge & Conference Center

8.2 Very good (45 reviews)
WiFi in rooms
Parking garage
Pets allowed
Wellness center / Spa
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Rockford

Surrounded by miles upon miles of classic Illinois cornfields, Rockford stands out as an urban hub among the rural beauty. The center of an anti-slavery region back in the mid-1800s, Rockford is still one of the most diverse cities in Illinois. With a rich cultural history and unique location between Chicago and Galena, this city hums with energy.

Grab some coffee and croissants from Mary’s Market and head down the road to the Anderson Japanese Gardens. The gardens sprawl across 12 acres, and you could easily spend all day wandering the grounds and taking in every authentic detail from the stones to the koi ponds. Consider planning your visit for the end of July to take part in the Japanese Summer Festival or in mid-October to enjoy On Tap in the Garden, a beer-tasting event that features local breweries.

Nature lovers can continue the fun at the Nicholas Conservatory and Gardens, an expansive indoor and outdoor paradise of exotic plants and blooms. If you visit in the winter, ice skating and open hockey is available on the Eclipse Lagoon (weather and conditions permitting).

Kids and families will love the Discovery Center Museum, an award-winning, hands-on museum focused on science and technology. Step outside to explore the Rock River Discovery Park, an outdoor adventure that has a water play area, dinosaur dig pit, and more.

Like other cities in Illinois, Rockford has a thriving wine and craft beer scene. Try Prairie Street Brewing Company or Artale & Company for a taste of the local favorites. For a date night, you can’t beat the ambience of Social Urban Bar and Restaurant. If you’re on the hunt for a setting the whole family can enjoy, check out the comfort food (try the bison smoked meatloaf) and vibrant decor at Thunder Bay Grille.

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Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott

The Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott is a freshly updated hotel features vibrant decor, an indoor hot tub, and a complimentary hot breakfast every morning. It’s also conveniently located near the highway as well as many Rockford-area attractions, such as the Guilford County Forest Preserve and Magic Waters Waterpark.

Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott Rockford

Top rated
8.7 Excellent (583 reviews)
WiFi in rooms
Parking garage
Pets allowed
Wellness center / Spa
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Gurnee

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Calling all thrill seekers! If you love heights and drops, twists and turns, then Gurnee is a must-do destination. Home to Six Flags Great America, this town is jam-packed with fun for the whole family.

Built in 1976, Six Flags Great America has been entertaining adventure lovers for more than 40 years. The park has 11 stomach-dropping roller coasters, many of which have set records for height and speed. Love classic wooden coasters? Take a spin on the American Eagle or Goliath—the world’s tallest and fastest wooden coaster. Always looking to push the boundaries? Test out the new Joker Free Fly Coaster, where riders sit on the out and to the side of the track, creating the feeling of being totally weightless.

There’s no shortage of fun for kids of all sizes—the whole family can enjoy the Scenic Railway, Columbia Carousel, Big Easy Balloons, and plenty more – there’s even a water park! Pint-sized thrill seekers will love the Little Dipper and the Whizzer. For a frighteningly fun time with older kids, you might consider visiting for Fright Fest, which takes place from mid-September to late October each year.

If theme parks aren’t your scene, there’s still plenty for you to enjoy in Gurnee. The Gurnee Mills Mall will keep you plenty entertained with nearly 200 outlets and full-price stores, a movie theater, a mini-golf course, and plenty of restaurants.

After a long day on your feet, treat yourself to an artisan woodfired pizza at Chicago Woodfire Pizza Company, or grab a classic Chicago-style hot dog with crinkle-cut fries at Portillo’s. (And trust me when I say that you should order the chocolate cake shake.)

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Country Inn and Suites Gurnee

The Country Inn and Suites Gurnee is part of a well-known chain, but you’ll feel like the cherished guests of a cozy B&B. Fuel up for your day with a complimentary hot breakfast and then walk across the street to Six Flags to avoid parking fees.

Country Inn & Suites by Radisson, Gurnee, IL

7.8 Good (1791 reviews)
WiFi in rooms
Parking garage
Indoor swimming pool
Outdoor swimming pool
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Galena

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Situated on the famous Mississippi River, Galena boasts unique boutiques, award-winning vineyards, championship golf courses, historical sites, and panoramic views of three states (Illinois, Iowa, and Wisconsin). Though Galena is relatively small at just four square miles, the rolling hills and history make this small town seem larger than life.

If history is your thing, the Galena and U.S. Grant History Museum should be at the top of your must-see list. Galena was home to Ulysses S. Grant beginning in 1860, and his family’s charming brick home is now preserved as a U.S. landmark. If you want to be fully immersed in local history, plan a visit the last weekend in September and take part in the annual Tour of Historic Galena Homes (and enjoy the beginning of the blazing fall colors).

Cocktail connoisseurs will find plenty to sip in Galena, which is home to four vineyards, two local breweries, and a distillery. Tour the lush farmland of Galena Cellars Vineyard and Winery, which produces 40 wine varieties every year. (Dogs are welcome on the tour too!) Or kick back with one of Galena Brewing Company’s six microbrews—and don’t forget to add a giant hot pretzel, served with housemade beer cheese, to your tab.

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Families with little ones will love the Chicago Great Western Railway Depot Museum, the Galena Trolley Tour, and the Alice T. Virtue Water Park, complete with a zero-entry pool, water slide, diving board, and splash area for toddlers. After a day of fun in the sun, watch the sun set over the majestic Mississippi with an ice cream cone in hand from one of the many sweet shops in Galena’s shopping district.

For seasonal fun, browse the farmers’ market on Friday afternoons in the summer and enjoy live Irish dancing at Frank O’Dowd’s Irish Pub & Grill on Friday evenings.

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Farmer’s Guest House

The Farmer’s Guest House is a historic red-brick guest house that’s been hosting travelers for more than 150 years. Hanging flower pots create a welcoming vibe, and the cozy, comfortable decor will make you feel like a treasured member of the family. Savor a hearty, homemade breakfast each morning and indulge in WineTime every night as you mingle with fellow guests.

Farmers Guest House

Top rated
9.2 Excellent (207 reviews)
WiFi in rooms
Parking garage
Air conditioning
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Rosemont

With tons of options for shopping, dining, gambling, and more, Rosemont makes for a perfect girls’ weekend, guys-only trip, or kid-free getaway.

Just a few minutes from Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, Rosemont has all the hustle and bustle of Chicago on a more manageable scale. Enjoy an upscale shopping experience spending hours strolling through more than 150 stores across 530,000 square feet at Fashion Outlets of Chicago. Create your own bar crawl at Parkway Bank Park, a massive entertainment district featuring gourmet restaurants, nightlife, and entertainment. Enjoy authentic German fare, including Bavarian beer, at Hofbrauhaus Chicago, or indulge in unlimited steak at the classic Brazilian steakhouse, Fogo de Chão. Once you’ve reached your limit, catch a comedy show at Zanies, a blockbuster movie at AMC, or a concert in the park.

If you’re feeling lucky, hop on over to the Rivers Casino and try your luck on one of the 1,000-plus slot machines or table games, including a high-limit room. Put your winnings to good use at one of the many onsite restaurants and bars, including the top-rated Hugo’s Frog Bar and Chop House. You’ll feel like you’re in Vegas as you stroll around the luxurious and vibrant casino floor.

Leave some time to explore the iconic Rosemont Theatre, which hosts a variety of shows and concerts. There’s no bad seat in the 4,400-seat house.

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Loews Chicago O’Hare Hotel

Skip the rental car when you stay at the luxurious Loews Chicago O’Hare Hotel, which has easy access to Chicago’s O’Hare airport as well as all the entertainment Rosemont has to offer. All rooms feature walk-in rainfall showers and pillow-topped mattresses. The soothing color palette and minimalist decor will be a welcome respite after a night of show-stopping fun.

Loews Chicago O'Hare Hotel

Top rated
9.0 Excellent (4271 reviews)
WiFi in rooms
Parking garage
Pets allowed
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Photos courtesy of the Illinois Office of Tourism unless indicated otherwise.