Travel Illinois: Rockford
Rockford residents like to describe their hometown as a little city with big life, and it’s not hard to see why. Located on both banks of the Rock River, Rockford is just 90 miles from Chicago, but a world away from its traffic and congestion.
Nicknamed “The Forest City” for its innumerable elm trees, Rockford is a community of roughly 150,000 people that’s brimming with outstanding museums, gorgeous parks, rich cultural attractions and strong Midwestern values.
Fall for the Outdoors
Savor the splendor of autumn leaves and cooler temperatures by meandering the vast trails and waterways of Rock Cut State Park, an outdoor sanctuary with two lakes on more than 3,000 acres. Pitch a tent within Rock Cut’s extensive campgrounds and enjoy campfires under the stars, fishing, swimming, boating, hiking, biking and bird watching.
Take a carriage ride, munch on festival food and participate in the Scarecrow Contest at Klehm Arboretum & Botanic Garden’s annual Autumn @ the Arboretum. Botany experts say there’s only one other site in the world that compares to Klehm – and it’s in France! The arboretum and botanic garden is a year-round living museum with 150 acres of rare and unusual trees and shrubs, paved walkways and wood-chip trails, an art gallery, fountain, children’s garden, and education center.
Marvel at the beauty of Anderson Japanese Gardens’ 12 awe-inspiring acres of colorful flowers, pools and streams, lanterns, pagodas, waterfalls and Sukiya-style buildings. Consistently ranked the top Japanese garden in North America, Anderson Japanese Gardens is the perfect place to indulge in the peacefulness of nature. Then grab some tasty Asian cuisine at the gardens’ new restaurant and browse Asian-inspired imports in the gift shop.
A Real Show-Stopper
You’ll think you’re in Chicago or New York when you attend a show at the stunning Coronado Performing Arts Center in downtown Rockford. Built in 1927 and renovated in 2000, the Coronado is worth seeing just for its grand interior, flanked with gilded Spanish castles, Italian villas and Chinese dragons beneath a starry false sky. The former movie palace and vaudeville hall hosts high-quality shows year-round, ranging from the Rockford Dance Company to comedian Jerry Seinfeld. It has been named one of Illinois’ 150 Great Places by the American Institute of Architects.
Catch a performance of the Rockford Symphony Orchestra at the Coronado Performing Arts Center and experience the magic only a live orchestra can create. RSO is one of the leading cultural institutions in northern Illinois and performs more than 20 concerts annually, including a Classics, Pops and Summer series as well as special performances such as Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker” at Christmas.
Mendelssohn Performing Arts Center is another venue that will take your breath away. It has been hosting quality performances by local and world-renowned artists for 125 years, including the Vienna Boys Choir and 22-year-old Chinese pianist Yuja Wang.
If visual arts are more to your liking, spend a day at the Rockford Art Museum, where you’ll find more than 1,200 captivating works of art. It is Illinois’ largest art museum outside Chicago and is celebrated for its permanent collection of 19th- and 20th-century American art. Be sure to stop in the museum store, which sells everything from children’s art books to sparkling jewelry.
Design your own robot or hit the ski slopes on a virtual snowboard at the Discovery Center Museum, ranked one of the top 10 children’s museums in the nation. With more than 250 hands-on interactive exhibits, the Discovery Center Museum is a hit for kids of all ages, from the tiniest tots to grandmas and grandpas. Little ones can burn off energy in the museum’s newly expanded Tot Spot, while older children can pretend to be astronauts or forecast the weather in an interactive television news studio.
Discover what life was like a century ago by touring the Tinker Swiss Cottage Museum, a rare example of Victorian exotic architecture. Built in 1865 by Rockford businessman Robert Hall Tinker, the charming cottage is one of only a few Swiss-style homes from the 1800s remaining in the United States. Tinker was inspired to build the cottage after an 1862 tour of Europe, where he became fascinated with the architecture of Switzerland. Check out the cottage’s ornate woodwork, spiral staircase and the Tinker family’s original furnishings, and walk across a restored suspension bridge Tinker built across Kent Creek in 1870. You can also browse exhibits in the Visitors’ Center and shop for one-of-a-kind gifts.
Learn to square dance, take a horse-drawn wagon ride and create your own scarecrow at the Midway Village Museum’s annual Scarecrow Harvest Festival. Midway Village Museum is a quaint Victorian-era village with 26 historical buildings set on 137 acres. While open year-round, fall is perhaps the best time to visit, when the leaves are colorful and harvest activities are in full swing. World War II Days is another exciting event, with more than 800 war re-enactors and realistic battles complete with tanks, artillery, armored vehicles and pyrotechnic displays.