Staycation, Champaign-Urbana Style

Editor’s Note: Just in time for summer break, we’ve joined a group of mom-owned sites from across the country who have all written articles about the perfect staycation in their community. Tomorrow, we’ll post the entire list so if you’re going to one of those cities this summer — perhaps to visit friends or relatives — you can take advantage of their staycation wisdom.

By Rachael McMillan

A couple of general tips about making your staycation feel like the real deal: First, secure childcare for at least some of the time off so that you and your s/o, girlfriends, or own self can enjoy adults-only activities. To keep costs down, enlist the aid of grandparents or aunts/uncles, or let a friend watch your brood and promise to return the favor.

Also, consider getting a hotel room for at least one night, even if you’ll never cross city the limits during your time off. Every vacation should include some time when doing dishes and making beds just isn’t your concern.

The boats at Crystal Lake Park, Urbana

The boats at Crystal Lake Park, Urbana. photo

Some area hotels, such as Drury Inn and Hawthorn Suites, offer happy hour drinks/hot food in the evening (Hawthorn Suites does this on Wednesdays) and hot breakfast every morning. If you can get a great rate on the room, you’ll almost get back what you spend on the hotel in meals. Make sure your facility offers these perks and a pool, and you’re set.

Now, onto the plans. Although you may have to tweak this to fit your situaiton, let’s say your week off begins on a Saturday. My recommendation for day one: Get thee to the Market at the Square in Urbana for breakfast, to check out the fresh local bounty, and to chat with representatives of local non-profit organizations, many of which offer free treats and fun activities for kids.

While you’re there you can buy some of the freshest possible ingredients for your staycation meals, including grill fare from local faves Triple S Farms and Moore Family Farms. If you’re in need of good recipes for the fruits and veggies you’ll find at the market, this guide from will point you in the right direction.

You may want to cash in some of your kid-free time on Saturday afternoon to hit (mostly) complimentary tastings at local wineries/wine shops such as Alto Vineyards, Sleepy Creek Vineyards, The Corkscrew (they charge a small fee), Sun Singer, various Piccadilly stores, and Wines at the Pines. Be sure to pick up a special bottle or two to enjoy during your week of relaxation.

Before planning for the rest of the week, learn what special events will be going on during your break from work. Chambanamoms maintains a regularly-updated calendar of local happenings, many of which are free. is a good site for finding out what fairs or carnivals may be rolling into nearby towns during your staycation.

Once you’ve got a clearer picture of what will be going on during your time off, fill in the blanks with the choicest of cheap local activities, only some of which are listed below.staycation Champaign Urbana Mahomet Rantoul Tolono Monticello St. Joseph

–Swimming, waterslide-ing, and/or floating in the lazy river at Sholem Aquatic Center in Champaign. Bad weather? No problem—enjoy the spectacular facilities at the Urbana Indoor Aquatic Center instead.

–Hiking at scenic Allerton Park. Lovers of nature and art will find much to admire at this popular spot which integrates sculptures and architecture with woodland, prairie, meadows, and gardens.

–Grilling at chilling at area parks. My personal pick for the park with the best mix of adult and kid facilities is Clark Park in Champaign, where grown-ups can whack a few tennis balls back and forth while the kids play close by. Hessel Park also scores major points for its free water play area, which operates from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. every day during the summer. Meadowbrook Park in Urbana is also a favorite for its fanciful playground and walking path which winds around gorgeous restored prairie. Crystal Lake Park in Urbana offers a little something for everyone: boating, fishing, hiking, picnic areas, and the super-cool Anita Purves Nature Center.

–Bathing in the perpetually-warm waters of Clinton Lake Beach for a mere $1/person.

–Taking in the sites at any one of a number of excellent Central Illinois museums. Do your research; some are free always, offer free days, or have reciprocal membership programs.

–Animal watching at Prairie Farm in Champaign, which is free and available every afternoon in the summer beginning Memorial Day weekend and ending on Labor Day. At the farm, families can check out horses, cows, rabbits, goats, peacocks, and llamas. Special free programs allow families to explore the farm in greater detail.

Free bowling for kids at Old Orchard Lanes in Savoy (sign up soon to take advantage of this offer). Buying a family pass for $24.95 will allow up to 4 adult family members to bowl alongside the kiddos until Sept. 13, 2011. Be sure to try the pizza while you’re there.

–Digging not-too-deeply into the wallet to treat your family to $1 kids’ movies at the Beverly Cinema or Savoy 16 Theater. Or, take in a recent release (which may be a more adult-friendly selection) for $3 at the historic Virginia Theatre in Champaign on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

–Picking your own fruits or veggies at local farms/orchards. This guide to area u-pick destinations should help you plan your family’s visit.

–Scoring some cheap eats/golfing/spa treatments. Two good sites for buying half-price gift certificates to local businesses are and

Rachael McMillan is a former high school teacher, social worker, cake decorator, and just about any other profession you can think of do-er. In addition to writing, tutoring, and giving talks about fair trade, she is currently staying home with the highly entertaining Jack and Kate.

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