Working Vacation: Illinois

December 2022, by Sunshine Artist

When You’re Traveling Through - Restaurants and Sites in Illinois


Chicago is the third largest city in the United States, and among its must-sees are the Art Institute of Chicago, The Bean, Skydeck Chicago, Shedd Aquarium, and the Field Museum. An artist who lives in Chicago’s metropolitan area shared her dining recommendations. 

Restaurants she recommends: 

  • Italian Village Restaurants 
    71 W. Monroe St., Chicago, IL 60603
    “Best Italian food ever, great atmosphere, lots of fun upstairs,” she said. 
  • The Berghoff 
    17 W. Adams St., Chicago, IL 60603
    “Great German food. They make their own root beer. Great atmosphere,” she said. 


Naperville is one of Chicago’s western suburbs. Deborah Venezia is the director of Riverwalk Fine Art Fair, which took place in Naperville in September. “Of course, anyone coming to Illinois should go see the sights of Chicago,” she said. Venezia includes the Art Institute of Chicago on that list and has numerous recommendations about places to visit in Chicago’s west suburban area. 

Restaurants Venezia recommends: 

  • La Sorella di Francesca
    18 W. Jefferson Ave., Naperville, IL 60540
    “Authentic Italian fare in a picturesque setting,” Venezia said. 
  • Meson Sabika 
    1025 Aurora Ave., Naperville, IL 60540
    “Wonderful tapas restaurant in an old mansion. Private dining rooms throughout and a beautiful outdoor patio to please all guests,” Venezia said. 
  • Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurants 
    1740 Freedom Drive, Naperville, IL 60563 
    “Trendy, casual dining and upscale fare,” Venezia said. 
The Bean is among the top attractions in Chicago. 
Photo by Ravi Patel on Unsplash 


Located about 25 miles west of Chicago, Wheaton is described as a mix of big-city comforts with small-town charm. It was named one of the Top Walkable Cities in the country and has outdoor activities, museums, history, and a zoo. 
Places Venezia recommends: 

  • Ivy Restaurant 
    120 N. Hale St., Wheaton, IL 60187
    “Casual elegance, great food, romantic setting with a great patio,” Venezia said. 
  • Cantigny Park 
    1S151 Winfield Road, Wheaton, IL 60189
    “Summer of 23: an amazing outdoor exhibit of 48 Alebrijes sculptures made by Mexican artisans,” Venezia said. 

St. Charles

St. Charles is 35 miles west of downtown Chicago. Nate Wendt is the tourism and sales coordinator for the St. Charles Business Alliance. The St. Charles Fine Art Show was on Memorial Day weekend. 

Restaurants Wendt recommends:

  • moto imoto 
    181 S. 1st St., St. Charles, IL 60174 
    “moto imoto's sushi menu is extremely creative and their pan-Asian creations are to die for. Plus, their signature moto imoto Juice Box (for 21+ only) is one of the coolest and tastiest drinks around,” Wendt said. 
  • The Graceful Ordinary 
    3 E. Main St., St. Charles, IL 60174 
    “Graceful Ordinary is one of the newer businesses in St. Charles but has quickly become a favorite. Their interior is exquisitely decorated and creates an environment of comfort and style, while their outdoor patio provides amazing views of the scenic Fox River. The experience is further deepened by the culinary genius of award-winning and renowned chef Chris Curren, who has created a menu full of delectable and mouth-watering dishes,” Wendt said. 
  • Flagship on the Fox 
    100 S. Riverside Ave., St. Charles, IL 60174 
    “Flagship on the Fox is one of the coolest restaurants around thanks to their indoor and outdoor accommodations. People love their indoor patio that opens up to the outdoors when they lift up the garage doors. You can count on it being the go-to place to enjoy Chicago sports, a night out on St. Charles, and a fan-favorite with all their amazing food. Their grilled cheeses especially are second to none, and their burgers, sandwiches and wraps are some of the best around!” Wendt said. 
  • Alter Brewing + Kitchen 
    12 St. 1st St., St. Charles, IL 60174 
    “You can always count on Alter Brewing + Kitchen being packed during the evening hours due to their outstanding food that's paired with their signature craft beers. People love the industrial feel of their interior seating or having the option to enjoy the Fox River view on their outdoor patio. It's the perfect place to relax, unwind, and enjoy some of the best food and drinks in the Fox Valley,” Wendt said. 

Cool sites Wendt recommends: 

  • Arcada Theatre 
    105 E. Main St., St. Charles, IL 60174
    “If you come to St. Charles, you have to catch a show in the Arcada Theatre. With 900 seats, every single seat feels like a front row experience as you can catch Hollywood stars and electrifying performances. You can also explore the Club Arcada, a 1920's speakeasy bar that features amazing food and drinks!” Wendt said. 
  • St. Charles Paddlewheel Riverboats 
    8 North Ave., St. Charles, IL 60174
    “The St. Charles Paddlewheel Boats are open from late spring to early fall and offer outstanding views of the Fox River. People love being able to go on their featured sunset cruises or being able to rent them for their own rides,” Wendt said. 
  • First Street Plaza 
    29 S. 1st St., St. Charles, IL 60174
    “First Street Plaza is in the heart of downtown and with summer coming around, is one of the most popular spots in St. Charles! People love the piazza feel of the outside as the restaurants there fill it with outdoor seating. It's a phenomenal spot to grab lunch or dinner while enjoying the weather when it’s nice,” Wendt said. 
  • Kane County Fairgrounds 
    525 S. Randall Road, St. Charles, IL 60174
    “The Kane County Fairgrounds bring amazing events to St. Charles. You can catch their popular monthly flea market on the first Saturday and Sunday of each month, as well as cool events throughout the year!” Wendt said. 
Pictured is one of the Alebrijes sculptures at Wheaton’s Cantigny Park. 
Photo courtesy of Debbie Venezia 


A suburb on the west side of Chicago, this city is between St. Charles and Batavia. “Downtown Geneva is a great little downtown where you can spend a whole day walking to cute little shops and great restaurants, and they have the best festivals,” said an artist who lives in the Chicago area. 

Restaurants she recommends: 

  • Chianti’s Ristorante
    201 S. 3rd St., Geneva, IL 60134
    “Great food, cozy place,” she said. 
  • Stockholm’s Restaurant & Brewery 
    306 W. State St., Geneva, IL 60134
    “Bar with great food,” she said. 

Sites the artist recommends:

  • Swedish Days Festival
    Geneva, IL 60134 
    “A week-long festival in a great town,” she said. 
  • Fabyan Villa Museum & Japanese Garden 
    1925 S. Batavia Ave., Geneva, IL 60134
    “A historic site that has a building that was renovated by Frank Lloyd Wright, and they had to accommodate a full-size bear in the house,” she said. 


Located in northern Illinois, Rockford has arts, culture, museums, and outdoor activities. Sarah Axelson is the operations manager/graphic designer for the Greenwich Village Art Fair. The event was in September, on the grounds of Rockford Art Museum. 

Restaurants Axelson recommends: 

  • Prairie Street Brewing Co. 
    200 Prairie St., Rockford, IL 61107
    “Right on the Rock River; local brewery,” Axelson said. 
  • Lino’s Italian Restaurant 
    5611 E. State St., Rockford, IL 61108
    “Celebrating 50 years in Rockford; homemade pizza and pastas,” Axelson said. 
  • The Norwegian 
    1402 N. Main St., Rockford, IL 61103
    “Delicious, seasonal menu, Scandinavian-influenced,” Axelson said. 
  • Abreo 
    515 E. State St., Rockford, IL 61104
    “Small plates, chef-crafted, seasonal, and local,” Axelson said. 

Sites Axelson recommends: 

  • Rockford Art Museum 
    711 N. Main St., Rockford, IL 61103
    “Largest gallery space outside of Chicago on two floors,” Axelson said. 
  • Anderson Japanese Gardens 
    318 Spring Creek Road, Rockford, IL 61107
    “Internationally renowned Japanese gardens,” Axelson said. 
  • Sinnissippi Gardens and Nicholas Conservatory & Gardens 
    1354 N. 2nd St., Rockford, IL 61107
    “Walking/biking path along the Rock River with public sculpture and indoor conservatory,” Axelson said. 
  • Downtown Rockford Shopping 
    300 E. State St., Rockford, IL 61104
    “Lots of cool boutiques, coffee shops, and restaurants,” Axelson said.  

A restaurant Foszcz recommends: 

  • The Machine Shed 
    7475 E. State St., Rockford, IL 61108
    “Fantastic, home-cooked meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Leave room for their carrot cake — it’s to die for!” Foszcz said. 
The Fabyan Villa Museum is open 1-4 p.m. Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday from May to September. Photo by Vivien Lasken, courtesy of Preservation Partners of the Fox Valley 
The Japanese Garden is on the same site as Fabyan Villa Museum. It is open 1-4 p.m. on Wednesday and Sunday from May to September. Photo by Vivien Lasken, courtesy of Preservation Partners of the Fox Valley 
The Rockford Art Museum has two floors of gallery space.
Photo courtesy of Rockford Art Museum 


Moline is one of the Quad Cities. “It’s all about the Mississippi River. Go to Sunset Marina in Rock Island, Schweibert Park in Rock Island, Sullivan Island Moline, Ben Butterworth Parkway Moline, Empire Park East Moline, the Bend East Moline, Illiniwek Park. Also visit Lock and Dam 14 and Lock and Dam 15,” said Tammy Mutka of Beaux Arts Fair. Its spring fair was in May. The fall event was in September, in Davenport, Iowa.

Restaurants Mutka recommends:

  • Lagomarcino’s Confectionery 
    1422 5th Ave., Moline, IL 61265
    “Old ice cream fountain and wonderful chocolates,” Mutka said. 
  • Channel Cat Water Taxi 
    2951 River Drive, Moline, IL 61265
    “Boat taxi to four stops on Mississippi,” Mutka said. 

Site Mutka recommends:

Rock Island

Located near Moline, Rock Island is also one of the Quad Cities. There are plenty of attractions to visit here, including museums, a botanical center, a playhouse, and historic sites. 

Restaurants Mutka recommends: 

  • Riverfront Grille 
    4619 34th St., Rock Island, IL 61201
    “Great food! Nice river views,” Mutka said. 
  • QC Coffee and Pancake House 
    1831 3rd Ave., Rock Island, IL 61201
    “No better breakfast around. Great service,” Mutka said. 

Site Mutka recommends: 

  • Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum 
    700 22nd St., Rock Island, IL 61201
    “Original manuscripts of so many things,” Mutka said. 
The Channel Cat Water Taxi provides open-air ferryboats for passengers on the Mississippi River. Photo courtesy of Rock Island County Metropolitan Mass Transit District 
This pedestrian overlook is on top of the new I-74 Mississippi River Bridge (on right) that goes from Moline, Illinois, to Bettendorf, Iowa. It has benches and a glass oculus so people can see river boats and barges passing below. “The Quad Cities is the only area that the Mississippi River actually runs east and west,” Mutka said. “Indian legend states that the river turns at this point because as the father of waters was coming down, he turned back because this area is so beautiful.”  Photo courtesy of Tammy Mutka 


Canton is in western Illinois. Amanda Sampson is the marketing and tourism director at the Spoon River Partnership for Economic Development, in Canton. “Illinois has a plethora of hidden gems,” Sampson said. Canton’s Art on Main Fine Arts Festival was in June. 

Restaurants Sampson recommends:

  • Bistro 101 
    101 E. Elm St., Canton, IL 61520
    “Best dinner in town! Always has a delicious, rotating menu, and they use fresh ingredients. Bourbon Glazed Pork Chops and the grilled filet mignon are to die for! It has a great lounge/bar,” Sampson said. 
  • Don & Nancy’s Café 
    124 N. Main St., Canton, IL 61520
    “Best breakfast in town! All fresh, homemade ingredients! They bake fresh cookies, pies, and breads,” Sampson said.  

Sampson recommends this site:

  • Canton Area Heritage Center 
    111 S. Main St., Canton, IL 61520
    “Great place to learn about Canton and Fulton County, Illinois, history,” Sampson said. 


This small city is one of the stops on Spoon River Scenic Drive and is also along the Illinois River Road National Scenic Byway. 

Sites Sampson recommends:

Dickson Mounds State Museum 

10596 N. Dickson Mounds Road, Lewistown, IL 61542 

“One of the largest on-site burial mound complexes in the United States. It overlooks the Illinois River Valley and Emiquon Preserve,” Sampson said. 


Located in central Illinois, Peoria is on the Illinois River. This city has museums, outdoor recreation, sports, shopping, arts, and entertainment. “Illinois is in the middle. And what do you find in the middle? Modern skyscrapers meeting ancient rock formations. The heart of Michelin stars and dive bars, nestled between iconic art and state parks and the start of America’s most famous highway. When you’re in Illinois, you’re in the middle of it all,” said Shannon Cox, executive director of the Peoria Art Guild. The Peoria Art Guild Fine Art Fair was in September. 

Restaurants Cox recommends: 

  • Black Band Distillery 
    100 SW Adams St., Peoria, IL 61602
    “Getting back to our roots when Peoria was the Whiskey Capital of the World, this restaurant sells whiskey and provides an elevated dining experience,” Cox said. 
  • One World 
    1245 W. Main St., Peoria, IL 61606 
    “This unique restaurant has something for everyone with gluten-free options, as well as vegan options. It’s a Peoria favorite,” Cox said. 
  • Than Linh Vietnamese Restaurant 
    1209 W. Main St., Peoria, IL 61606
    “Vietnamese restaurant offers amazing cuisines,” Cox said. 
  • Johnny’s Italian Steakhouse 
    101 Holiday St., East Peoria, IL 61611
    “If steak is what you seek, this steakhouse will not disappoint,” Cox said. 

Cox recommends these sites:

  • Peoria Riverfront Museum 
    222 SW Washington St., Peoria, IL 61602
    “Interactive museum, giant screen theatre, planetarium, and art galleries,” Cox said. 
  • Peoria Art Guild 
    203 Harrison St., Peoria, IL 61602
    “The oldest art gallery in the state of Illinois, always a must-see. Host of the Peoria Fine Art Fair,” Cox said. 
  • Caterpillar Visitors Center 
    110 S.W. Washington St., Peoria, IL 61602
    “Experience firsthand how to operate heavy machinery that was home for the World Headquarters of Caterpillar for many years,” Cox said. 

Sampson recommends this restaurant:

  • Jonah’s Seafood House 
    2601 N. Main St., East Peoria, IL 61611
    “Great place for fresh seafood! Near the Illinois River and the Peoria River Walk,” Sampson said. 
Don & Nancy’s Café is known for its breakfast menu. Photo courtesy of Canton Main Street 
Visit the Canton Area Heritage Center to learn about the history of this part of Illinois. Photo courtesy of Todd Sapp Photography 
Watch the birds from this vantage point at Emiquon Preserve. Photo courtesy of Amanda Sampson 
Emiquon Preserve offers fishing and birdwatching. Photo courtesy of Amanda Sampson 
Visit the Dickson Mounds State Museum in Lewistown. 
Photo courtesy of Amanda Sampson 


Bloomington is in central Illinois. Micaela Harris is the project coordinator at the McLean County Arts Center, in Bloomington. The Sugar Creek Art Festival was in October, in Uptown Normal. “A good chunk of the state can be seen by traveling via 55, which follows historic Route 66. Also, Amtrak reliably runs their ‘303 Lincoln Service’ from Chicago to St. Louis on this route,” she said. “It’s the best way to get into the city from anywhere in Central Illinois. Bloomington-Normal is the halfway point between Chicago and St. Louis.” 

Restaurants Harris recommends: 

  • Anju Above 
    220 E. Front St., Bloomington, IL 61701
    “Fresh farm to table food, with a twist,” Harris said. 
  • Taqueria El Porton 
    901 N. Main St., Bloomington, IL 61701
    “Family owned and operated, El Porton is THE place to get authentic Mexican food in town,” Harris said. 
  • Coffee Hound
    407 N. Main St., Bloomington, IL 61701
    “Serving up unique coffee blends, and delicious pastries, and local art for sale all over the walls, Coffee Hound is a great place to grab a snack, have a drink, and get some work done,” Harris said. 

Sites Harris recommends:

  • McLean County Arts Center 
    601 N. East St., Bloomington, IL 61701
    MCAC is always free and always has new exhibits to explore. Housed in a beautiful, historic Arthur Pillsbury building, this is a must-see stop for art lovers traveling through town,” Harris said. 
  • McLean County Museum of History 
    200 N. Main St., Bloomington, IL 61701
    “Housed in the historic McLean County Courthouse, the MCMH is a 501(c)3 nonprofit museum that features four permanent exhibits and a variety of rotating exhibits,” Harris said. 
  • The Hangar Art Company 
    105 W. Jefferson St., Bloomington, IL 61701
    “Featuring ALL local artists, this free gallery in downtown Bloomington is definitely worth a stop. They have art in a variety of mediums and from a variety of time periods (although mostly modernish between 1960 and current),” Harris said. 

More Must-sees in Illinois

Harris recommends: 

  • Destihl Brewery 
    1200 Greenbriar Drive, Normal, IL 61761 
    “Yummy beer and apps,” Harris said. 
  • Sugar Grove Nature Center 
    4532 N 725 East Road, McLean, IL 61754
    “Gorgeous scenery and great for kids!” Harris said. 

Mutka recommends:

Sampson recommends:

  • Babe’s on Plum 
    118 N. Plum St., Havana, IL 62644
    “Near the Illinois River. Great food and bar,” Sampson said.

Cox recommends:

The McLean County Arts Center features new exhibits and is always free. Photo courtesy of Micaela Harris 
A view of the dome from inside the McLean County History Museum. Photo courtesy of Micaela Harris