Learning and Fun in Family-Friendly Illinois
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Other than Chicago, the industrious metropolis that poet Carl Sandburg rightly called “City of Big Shoulders,” much of Illinois is rural farmland, but the southern part of the state has forested hills if the miles of corn and soybeans get tedious. Trade and pioneer exploration have always been part of the culture here, thanks to plentiful rivers and later the canals and railroads that criss-crossed the state. Midwestern friendliness and politeness almost guarantee a pleasant visit to the Land of Lincoln.
Whether you're looking for big-city attractions or country appeal, the great state of Illinois may be just the place for you. Here are our picks for top spots your family will love:
1) Museum Campus – Just south of the Loop in Chicago’s Grant Park, this cluster of world-class museums (the Field Museum of Natural History, the Shedd Aquarium and the Adler Planetarium and Astronomy Museum) could keep curious kids busy for weeks. Don’t miss Sue at the Field; the largest, most complete T. rex skeleton ever found, it’s named after the paleontologist who located the bones. Superb anthropological exhibits include a Great Plains Pawnee Lodge, a simulated 300-million-year-old Illinois forest and an everyday marketplace in ancient Egypt – the Field excels at immersing children in natural science and cultures. The Shedd is the world’s biggest indoor aquarium, with close-up views of sharks, a 360 degree look at a Caribbean reef, beluga whales from the Pacific Northwest, piranhas from the Amazon and 90 different aquatic habitats in Waters of the World. At the Adler, explore the nighttime stars through telescopes on Far Out Fridays, see amazing space shows in the StarRider and Sky Theaters and experience the Milky Way galaxy in 3D.
2) Fort de Chartres State Historic Site – The French administered what is now Illinois from 1720 to 1763, and three different forts occupied this strategic position on the Mississippi near present-day Prairie du Rocher. Special events are an especially good time to visit, as reenactors bring a little bit of 18th century France to the site. Kid’s Day in May features 18th century games, contests, story telling and puppet shows, October is a French and Indian War Assemblage and June is a huge two-day traditional French fur trapper’s holiday with buckskinners, militiamen, artisans and entertainers.
3) Historic Highways – Take a road trip on the Illinois sections of not just one, but three famous roadways – Route 66 (from Chicago to Los Angeles,) the Lincoln Highway (the first transcontinental highway in the U.S.) and the Historic National Road (construction was authorized by President Thomas Jefferson.) Old Route 66 swings southwesterly across the state; it shows kids how America traveled the Mother Road from the 1920s-1960s, with well-preserved landmarks like gas stations in Odell and Dwight, the maple syrup vendors in Funks Grove and the Route 66 Association Museum in Pontiac. The Lincoln Highway runs across northern Illinois – it has special historic markers, nearby parks with lovely trails and small-town sights like the Egyptian Theatre in DeKalb and President Reagan’s boyhood home in Dixon. The Historic National Road crosses southern Illinois and shines during its annual Spring Festival in the towns that dot the route: music, fairs, flea markets, Dodgeball tournaments and frog jumping competitions.
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