What the locals do for fun
Get off the tourist track and relax
Haven’t you seen enough sights? How about some fun? Take it from the locals – here are 17 ways to have a good time in the capital city that don’t involve learning anything at all. Just enjoy.
Wet, wild family fun: Knight’s Action Park and Splash Kingdom – Prepare to get wet and wild at Knight’s Action Park. In addition to various pedal boats and water slides – including the four-story Devil Ray and the popular Splash Kingdom – this perennial local favorite also offers mini-golf, a driving range, batting cages, laser tag, kiddie rides, a big wheel, go-karts and more. Mini-golf and driving range are open most weeks during the year. For times and open/close dates phone 217-546-8881 or visit www.knightsactionpark.com. The park is just south of I-72, west of I-55. Exit at MacArthur Boulevard and follow the signs to Recreation Drive.
How about a night at the drive-in? Route 66 Twin Drive-in – If your schedule includes time after dark, you can’t beat a nostalgic family movie night in the car. Route 66 features two screens, each showing double features that begin shortly after dusk on the weekends April through October and seven nights a week between Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day weekend. Generally the first show is kid-friendly, the second more for grownups. Admission is $7 for adults and $4 for kids 4-12. The drive-in is located at 1700 Recreation Drive, right next door to Knight’s Action Park. Follow I-72 west of I-55. Exit at MacArthur Boulevard and follow the signs to Recreation Drive. Call 217-698-0066 or visit www.route66-drivein.com for movie times and titles.
Accessible fun: Southwind Park – Southwind Park is part of the Springfield Park District. This unique 80-acre state-of-the-art park is designed for the inclusion of all people, with an emphasis on serving the needs of those with physical and cognitive disabilities. The family can walk, stroll or roll up to a fully accessible treeless tree house, enjoy the accessible playground or cast a line into the fishing lake. There are 2.5 miles of urban trails, along with bocce ball and shuffleboard courts. Enjoy the music and light show at the Selvaggio Historic Arches or the cascade of water at the Splash Pad during summer. 4965 S. Second Street, 217-585-2941 www.southwindpark.org.
Horses, home shows, crafts and more: Illinois State Fairgrounds – If you happen to be visiting the capital city between Aug. 13 and 23, we recommend the spectacular Illinois State Fair, featuring all the animals, rides, tractors, concerts and attractions you can imagine. But nearly every weekend of the year there is something special happening on the fairgrounds, which is just a couple of miles north of downtown Springfield. Events run the gamut from horse shows, dog and cat shows and a giant flea market, to a weekly farmers market (spring through fall) and craft sales. Other weekend-long events include a home show, art fair, ethnic festival, garden sale and coin show – among many others. If you’re looking for something fun to do on a weekend, visit the Illinois Department of Agriculture’s calendar of fairground non-fair events at www.agr.state.il.us or call 217-782-1698.
Swim or skate: Nelson Center Pool and Indoor Ice Rink – In the heart of lushly landscaped Lincoln Park (an excellent place for a run, bike ride or picnic) sits the Nelson Center, home to a perfectly fun ice rink that features year-round public ice-skating sessions and skate rental. The Nelson Center also has an outdoor pool that is open between Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day weekend. Supervised by a professionally trained lifeguard staff, Nelson Center Pool features a twisted flume slide, diving board and separate kiddie pool. For more information about skating or swimming, call the Nelson Center, 217-753-2800 or visit www.springfieldparks.org.
Monkeys and penguins and bears: Henson Robinson Zoo – Just south of town near Lake Springfield, the Henson Robinson Zoo features more than 90 species of animals from Africa, Asia, Australia and North and South America. From April through October the zoo is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Fri. and 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sat. and Sun. From November through December and during the month of March, it’s open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. seven days a week. It’s also open in January and February from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. on weekends. Admission is $4 for seniors 62 and older, $5.50 for adults, $3.75 for children 3-12, and free to kids 2 and under. Parking is free. Food is available or you can bring your own and have a picnic in the pavilion. For more information, call 217-585-1821 or visit the zoo’s website, http://www.springfieldparks.org.
Did you bring your boat? Visit Lake Springfield – Lake Springfield allows canoes, motorboats, pontoons, rowboats and sailboats as well as jet skis. Watercraft are available for rent at Lake Springfield Marina. At various points around the lake you’ll find some great parks with picnic shelters, picnic tables, playground equipment and grills. About 15 sport fish species can be caught in Lake Springfield. Fishing is allowed either from boats on the water or from any public portion of the shoreline. There are two posted public fishing areas: at the Dividing Dam and the Sunset View Fishing Area (on East Lake Drive just south of the zoo turnoff). In addition, there is an unposted fishing pier between East and West Tom Madonia Parks, which is also designed for persons with disabilities.
Lake Springfield Marina rents everything from personal watercraft, pedal boats and canoes to pontoon boats and party barges. Famous for its Rock the Dock celebration, which happens the weekend of June 26 this year, you’ll find food and fun, lots of music and a fireworks display. Beginning May 1, the marina is open 9 a.m.-7 p.m., seven days a week. For hours before May, call ahead or visit www.lakespringfieldmarina.com, 217-483-3625. Take exit 88 from Interstate 55 south of Springfield and follow the signs to the marina.
You’re in wine country: Hill Prairie Winery, Walnut Street Winery, Danenberger Family Vineyards – Close your eyes and you could almost convince yourself you were in Napa Valley. Okay, maybe not, but these two Springfield-area establishments create distinctive wine experiences all their own.
Hill Prairie Winery, in Oakford (about 40 minutes northwest of Springfield), offers a wide variety of wines for sale as well as live music every Sunday afternoon and monthly performances of the popular Mystery Theatre. Hill Prairie Winery, 23753 Lounsberry Road, Oakford, 62673, www.hillprairiewinery.com. 217-635-9900.
Walnut Street Winery, located in Rochester (10 minutes east of Springfield), also has live music along with daily wine tastings featuring their house label, Shanle. Walnut Street Winery, 309 S. Walnut St., Rochester, 62563, www.walnutstreetwinery.com. 217-498-9800.
Danenberger Family Vineyards describes itself as a “boutique, rural destination with a modern twist.” Located at 12341 Irish Rd. in New Berlin, a few miles west of Springfield, boasts beautiful landscapes and a variety of wines and other liquid refreshments, including “Dalliance,” their 2014 Indy International Wine Competition “label of the year” award-winning cabernet franc. www.danenbergerfamilyvineyards.com 217-488-6321
Lincoln’s neighborhood brewery: Obed & Isaac’s – The historic Booth-Grunendike Mansion has been renovated to accommodate this restaurant and microbrewery. Just a block west of Abe’s house, this neighborhood pub is home to eclectic food choices and locally crafted beer, including its own Obed’s Pride amber ale. The establishment is owned and operated by the Conn family, best known for the historic Inn at 835, but Obed & Isaac’s has a flavor all its own. 500 S. Sixth St., www.obedandisaacs.com. 217-670-0627.
Engrained Brewing Company, located at 1120 W. Lincolnshire Blvd. in Springfield is a locally owned microbrewery and farm-to-table restaurant, featuring a variety of unique flavors for all palates. www.engrainedbrewing.com 217-546-3054.
It’s a spectacular view: The Pinnacle Club/ Nick & Nino’s There may be no better way to take in the Springfield skyline than by enjoying cocktails or a steak dinner at the top of its most prominent feature. Both located on the 30th floor of downtown’s Wyndham Springfield City Centre Hotel (formerly the Hilton), the Pinnacle Club and Nick & Nino’s Penthouse Steakhouse each offer a panoramic view of the city while providing high-end beverages and classic steakhouse dining, respectively. 700 E. Adams St. 217-789-1530. www.nickandninosspringfield.com.
Sip and sample: Rolling Meadows Brewery Though you’ll find their beers at several Springfield bars and liquor stores, you have to travel two miles north of Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport on Route 29 to find Rolling Meadows Brewery. Established in 2011, the brewery uses local ingredients and fresh water from its own on-site well. Tours are available by appointment only, and the $6 admission includes samples of their brews and a tasting glass. To schedule a tour, call 217-899-7239. www.rmbrewery.com.
Four music venues not to
Downtown Springfield has lots of bars and clubs; it is pretty darn easy to find a live band playing somewhere any night of the week. Four special featured nights deserve an extra shout out:
Every Friday - Jazz: Jazz at Robbie’s every Friday from 5:30-7:30. This gig has gone on for years and benefits the Springfield Area Arts Council. Local jazz groups play; dinner and drinks are available. No cover. Robbie’s is on the South Old State Capitol Plaza next to Lincoln-Herndon Law Office.
Every Friday - Folk/Country: Local singer-songwriter Tom Irwin plays every Friday night from 6 to 9 at George Rank’s, 1800 S. Sixth St.
Every Monday - Blues: It’s Blue Monday at the Alamo. The Illinois Central Blues Club has been hosting this evening of live blues for decades – sometimes featuring local groups but often featuring outstanding talent from around the U.S. stopping along the way to a gig in Chicago or St. Louis. $3 cover. Mondays, 8 p.m.-1 a.m., The Alamo, 115 N. Fifth St.
Every Tuesday – Hip-Hop: It’s Torch Tuesday at Bar None, the downtown rock ’n’ roll club turned mecca for local and regional hip-hop talent. The brainchild of former Chicagoan Howard “Torch” Tomas, Torch Tuesday has spirit and attitude to spare. Cover varies. Tuesdays, 9 p.m.-1:30 a.m., Bar None, 245 S. Fifth St.
Illinois Times, the city’s free newsweekly, includes a complete schedule of the week’s live music and cultural events, festivals and such. Look for IT at your hotel, restaurants and tourist stops all over the area and online at www.illinoistimes.com. IT is also available on iPad and iPhone.