Head to Illinois for an insider’s look at Abraham Lincoln in the state he called home
Illinois is known as the Land of Lincoln for excellent reasons. Honest Abe left his imprint across the state and from Springfield to Galena, Illinois is home to a host of historic attractions that groups will love.
Duration: 4 Days
Ideal for: Adults
Day 1: Route 66 adventures, farm-to-table eating and more things to do in Illinois
From the Chicago area, cruise down Interstate 55 to Pontiac, a stop on old Route 66, and arrive at the free-admission Pontiac Museum Complex. Inside the former city hall building are the Illinois Route 66 Hall of Fame & Museum, the nostalgic exhibit Life in the 1940s: A Traveling Tribute to the Greatest Generation and Livingston County War Museum, a treasure chest of military uniforms, photos and artifacts representing conflicts from World War I to Afghanistan. The huge Route 66 shield mural on the building’s exterior makes a good photo op. If time allows, check out the free Pontiac-Oakland Automobile Museum, a shiny showroom displaying vintage Pontiac- and Oakland-brand cars.
Lunch is at Edinger’s Filling Station, a restaurant themed around Pontiac’s Route 66 heritage. Or take the group to the Old Log Cabin, a historic eatery dating back to the early days of Route 66.
A short drive south leads to Fairbury, a small town big on specialty shops purveying everything from antiques to home decor. A tour of Kilgus Dairy shows how cows give us their rich milk. Enjoy homemade soft-serve ice cream and shop for other locally made products at the farm’s Country Store. Continue southwest to Bloomington.
Dinner tonight is at Bloomington’s Epiphany Farms Restaurant, a rustic-chic eatery that offers seasonal farm-to-table cooking.
Day 2: Lincoln learning, homegrown specialties and more Illinois activities
Learn about Abraham Lincoln’s connections to Bloomington-Normal at Cruisin’ with Lincoln on 66 Visitor Center on the ground floor of downtown’s Bloomington’s beautiful old courthouse, which houses the McLean County Museum of History. Then see how a wealthy Victorian family lived during a tour of Bloomington’s David Davis Mansion, the stately home of a lawyer who mentored Lincoln.
Have lunch at Bloomington’s Avanti’s Italian Restaurant, a group favorite that has been serving Italian-American food since 1971. Next, visit Ryburn Place at Sprague’s Super Service, a gift shop in a restored Route 66 gas station in Normal.
Continue to Champaign, where group members learn about goat cheese-making, pet the goats, and sample cheeses and goat-milk gelato at Prairie Fruits Farm & Creamery. Next, prance over to Hardy’s Reindeer Ranch in Rantoul and get a chance to feed and be kissed by an Alaskan reindeer. The ranch also offers hayrides, a fall corn maze and pumpkin patch, and special festivities at Christmastime. Stay for a chuckwagon BBQ dinner and Western-style entertainment at the ranch’s banquet facility.
Day 3: Gourds aplenty, Amish cooking and a wildlife adventure
Follow I-57 south to the Amish communities around Arcola and Arthur. A step-on guide will show you the backroads traveled by Amish farm families in horse-drawn buggies. Next, there’s time to shop for gifts, crafts and antiques in downtown Arthur. Tours in fall visit The Great Pumpkin Patch at a farm that celebrates the season with fun exhibits and displays of over 100 varieties of pumpkin, squash and gourds.
Have lunch at an Amish home or feast on Amish-style cooking at the all-you-can-eat buffet at Yoder’s Kitchen in Arthur, famed for its fried chicken and homemade noodles. Then hop over to Aikman Wildlife Adventure in Arcola for a drive-through safari experience. More than 70 species, including camels, zebras and other exotic animals, inhabit the park. Continue south on I-57 to Effingham.
Dinner tonight in Effingham is at Niemerg’s Steak House or Firefly Grill, a destination restaurant celebrated for its culinary innovations and food from its own gardens and nearby farms.
Day 4: Inspiring architecture, autos galore and more Lincoln education in Illinois
Near the intersection of Interstates 57 and 70 in Effingham, get the day off to an inspirational start at The Cross at the Crossroads, a towering 20-story structure of white steel whose arms span 113 feet. The visitor center shows a short video on its construction, and kiosks around the Cross offer push-button audio messages. Then motor over to MY Garage Museum, which has an outstanding collection of prototype, concept and racing cars, plus rare Corvettes and Volkswagens, a restored 1910 gas station and all kinds of automotive memorabilia. Depart Effingham for Springfield, the capital of Illinois and hometown of Abraham Lincoln.
Lunch in Springfield is at Motorheads Bar, Grill & Museum, a Route 66-themed eatery filled with car-culture nostalgia. Then head to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum with its high-tech exhibits and theater shows. Next is Lincoln Home National Historic Site for a ranger-led tour of the only home Lincoln ever owned. If time allows, visit Lincoln’s Tomb in Oak Ridge Cemetery. Those seeking to take a road trip from Springfield can visit charming Jacksonville, home to a variety of historic sites including Beecher Hall, which was built in 1829-30, and General Benjamin Grierson Mansion, the former home of the famed Civil War hero.
At Obed and Isaac’s Microbrewery and Eatery, an Illinois Made favorite, dig into a horseshoe. The open-face sandwich, a Springfield specialty, consists of bread covered with french fries, cheese sauce and choice of meat. The outdoor bocce ball court and life-size games are sure to keep travelers entertained.
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