Travel Illinois: Peoria
Peoria is the kind of place that makes you feel at home even if home is hundreds of miles away. One of the oldest settlements in Illinois and the state’s sixth-largest city, Peoria embodies all that’s good about American culture and has been awarded the All-America City Award three times by the National Civic League. [Click here to watch a video of Peoria.]
The famous saying “Will it play in Peoria?” originated from the city’s reputation as the average American city, thanks to its demographics and mainstream Midwestern culture. During the vaudeville era, it was said that if a show succeeded with Peoria audiences, it would succeed anywhere.
There’s no better time than winter to visit Peoria, when we all long for a touch of the familiar and the comfortable. The fact this city has attractions galore doesn’t hurt, either.
Savor the Season
Even Ebenezer Scrooge would find it hard not to get in the holiday spirit at the East Peoria Festival of Lights. Named one of the Top 100 Events in North America by the American Bus Association, the popular festival kicks off with the annual nighttime Parade of Lights the Saturday after Thanksgiving and showcases more than 40 floats shaped entirely from dazzling lights. The spirited event also includes a queen pageant, 4-mile run, open golf outing, holiday cruise aboard the Spirit of Peoria paddle wheeler, narrated nativity, 2-mile drive-through lighted park, and a winter carnival at Folepi’s Village, named for the festival’s wooden soldier mascot, Folepi.
Love the outdoors? Don’t miss Forest Park Nature Center’s naturalist-led Winter Wonder Walks. You’ll hear snow crunch under your feet as you walk the three-quarter mile Valley Trail and marvel at the beauty of icicles hanging from tree branches overhead. You’ll also learn about animal tracks, survival methods animals use in winter and tree species. Just don’t forget your scarf, boots and mittens!
For three weekends in December, the Nature Center lights Valley Trail with nearly one mile of twinkling luminarias, and guests are invited to walk the trail before warming up by the fire with a cup of hot chocolate back at the center. Live entertainment and an art show are also part of the fun.
Discover what the holidays were like in the 1800s by embarking on one of the Pettengill-Morron House Museum’s Christmas Candlelight Tours. Built in 1868 by Moses Pettengill, the Victorian home is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is maintained by the Peoria Historical Society. Its 11 rooms showcase period antiques and priceless collections of china, silver and crystal. A tour of the home portrays the life of the Morron family, the last owners of the house.
Awash in the Arts
Anyone in need of a little inspiration will find it at the Contemporary Art Center of Peoria, where you can peek over the shoulders of about 20 resident artists who constantly create art on site. Stretch your body and mind with yoga and tai chi classes, sit back and enjoy jazz and blues performances, take a Latin dance lesson or art class, browse the center’s art exhibitions and artist studios, or shop for one-of-a-kind gifts or souvenirs.
If the performing arts are more up your alley, catch a show at Conklin’s Barn II Dinner Theatre in Goodfield or Peoria’s longstanding Corn Stock Theatre. Conklin’s Barn entertains audiences in a rustic barn built in 1941 and combines a mouth-watering buffet with sidesplitting professional comedies and musicals year-round. The barn even features holiday shows with classic carols, pop and Broadway, audience participation games and appearances by Santa.
Founded in 1954, Corn Stock Theatre in Upper Bradley Park is another Peoria favorite. It presents five shows throughout the summer, with live theater-in-the-round in a tent and indoor shows from October through March. Musicals, dramas and comedies are all part of Corn Stock’s repertoire.
Keep your eyes peeled for majestic bald eagles when you visit the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Illinois Waterway Visitor Center in Ottawa. The center overlooks the Illinois Waterway and provides information on boating and water safety, as well as displays on river, canal and transportation history from the American Indian canoe up to modern day. Thanks to the center’s large windows and outdoor balcony, you can enjoy fantastic views of eagles perched in trees or swooping down to catch fish in the water. A Bald Eagle Watch Weekend is held in January and provides powerful spotting scopes for even more dramatic, close-up views.
SEE MORE: Bald Eagles in Alton
Also plan a visit to the African American Hall of Fame Museum, which opened in 1998 and celebrates the contributions to art, history, science, law enforcement, humanities and literature. Learn about black history through programs, lectures, poetry readings and other cultural events, and see rotating exhibits by national artists that are typically seen only in larger galleries and museums.
Tip your hat to former U.S. president Ronald Reagan with a visit to the Ronald Reagan Museum on the campus of his alma mater, Eureka College. More than 3,000 items are on display from Reagan’s Eureka College days, movie and TV career, governorship of California and two terms as president of the United States. Many artifacts were donated by Reagan himself, and the college’s Reagan Peace Garden includes a bust of the 40th president, as well as a section of the Berlin Wall.