Best-Kept Secret: Monticello

By Amy L. Hatch

For me, one of the best things about living in Champaign-Urbana has been the ability to drive just a few miles from our cities to visit nearby towns chock full of the quaint charm of bygone eras I expected to see when we moved here six years ago.

Monticello Railway Museum

The Monticello Railway Museum is fun for all ages. Credit: aka Kath, Flickr

I can’t remember how I stumbled on Monticello, but it quickly became one of my favorite area destinations. For a 20-minute drive, you can enjoy a sweet town square, some unique independent shopping boutiques and terrific local food.

You’ll want to park in the village square, and make visits to Village Wardrobe, the Brown Bag and 3 Ravens, Any Frequency and Prairie Fire Glass.

We’ve eaten at both the Brown Bag and 3 Ravens, and while both are completely different experiences they are equally delicious. 3 Ravens is your classic tavern, but very family friendly, with plenty of deep-fried yumminess on the menu. I seem to recall some salads, as well, but I had my face buried in a plate of fried mushrooms.

The night we went was also one of the dates for the Polar Express event at the Monticello Railway Museum so it did happen to be exceptionally crowded. Even so, we were seated almost right away.

The Brown Bag is a great little place for lunch, with lots of delicious sandwiches and some hot entrees, as well, but the real reason to visit this cafe is dessert. From pies to cookies to all kinds of treats, you will be sure to find something sweet to finish off your meal. Or, for your entire meal!

Monticello is also home to the Monticello Railway Museum, which we have written about in the past. But suffice to say that any young train buff will be able to spend hours looking and learning there.

The town is also home to several homes that are on the National Register of Historic Places, including those on North State Street and South Charter Street. In warmer weather, take a stroll around and oooh and ahh over the gorgeous architecture and in the cooler months, take a drive to do the same. You can also walk around Courthouse Square, another area of historical significance and home to many retail shops and restaurants.

We’re lucky to have so many wonderful destinations so close to Champaign-Urbana, and Monticello is one of my personal favorites.


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  1. Did you know that one of the seven wonders of Illinois is in Monticello? Go visit Allerton Park. You won’t be disappointed.

  2. Annonymous says:

    @ Brad Peters, no children under 8 at your restaurant? Or did I misunderstand you? You do realize this is Chambana Moms?

  3. Betsy Crocker says:

    How’s Brown Bag for the under-8 (or under-5) set? We’ve never been.

  4. I live in Monticello and Brown Bag is great for the little ones! Cheese toasty (grilled cheese) and pbj are even on the menu. 3 ravens does have a kids menu and high chairs, but I do prefer to take my kids to some of the other spots in town. The daily specials at 3 ravens are amazing though! Shout out to the local DQ too. The owners are ALWAYS working and are absolutely wonderful with my 2 year old.

  5. Looseleaf says:

    The train rides on the weekend are fun and not as busy as something like the Polar Express. And, of course, Allerton.

    The comment about no kids under 8 at 3 Ravens is pretty funny. It’s a regular restaurant with a bar, not like Montgomery’s on the Square used to be.

  6. JamieLynn says:

    I love in Monticello and while i don’t go to 3 raven’s often, i am shocked at the NO children 8 and under??? I have brought my children in there twice during lunch and would never had guessed that there was a NO children rule. I won’t be going back there EVER!!!

    On a different note, we love the trains any time of year but like to ride during the Halloween train and Polar Express in the winter. I Love Village Wardrobe for kids clothes, and The brown bag is totally doable with kids. Allerton Park is amazing, we head out there during all season. In the Winter we head out there to sled, in the fall for family picture, in the summer we go on lot of nature walks, and in the spring picnics and art walks.

    We love Monticello, you will too.

  7. Yeah Brad pretty much just alienated 90% of the readers on this blog by that comment. And it’s the way he said it too….”keep the classiness of my establishment at the highest level”. Never heard of 3 Ravens before but you can rest assured I will never patronize your classy establishment now. There is a better way to phrase things. Geesh Brad!

  8. Ummmm. I have been to Three Ravens with my children. One well behaved 6 year old and one well behaved 11 year old. Although I enjoy the food at Three Ravens, it is definitely not even close to the classiest restaurant my children have ever been to so I’m not sure at all what he is talking about. I think most children could handle the atmosphere in this restaurant without bringing down the classiness. Basically there is a bar on one side and a very small restaurant on the other. Great place for ribs, burgers, etc. but we are not talking about an amazing gourmet experience. Just a laid back place to grab a bite to eat and enjoy a beer if you are so inclined. I guess he doesn’t want kids. Okay – I won’t give you my money any more. The way you let people know was real classy!

  9. Totally agree with Amy’s assessment. We love Monticello. If only it was a tad bit closer I think we’d move there.
    One more tip: From late-summer to late-fall we love to stop by Wolfe Orchard, a few miles east of the “Monticello Road,” for some apples. They don’t have bouncy slides or pony rides, but the owners, Ron and Hope, are so great with the kids and let them sample slices of each variety. From C-U, Monticello Road is the main e-w road just south of Willard Airport.

  10. The owner of 3 Ravens contacted me and said that he did not make that comment, and we have deleted it. Unfortunately, you can’t always trust what you read on the Internet!


    • Annonymous says:

      Anyone who has visited 3 Ravens hopefully realizes that the (now deleted) comment was not written by the owner. The restaurant has a very typical children’s menu (chicken fingers, mac and cheese, grilled cheese sandwich), and there are a number of employees who really seem to enjoy interacting with kids when they come in. I do not have children, but I visit this restaurant regularly and have always seen the owners greet families (and their young ones) with a smile and welcome them into the dining room.

      I sincerely hope that the readers who have posted (or thought) that they will not visit this establishment again will reconsider this decision. It is very difficult to discern fact from fiction on the internet, and whatever comments were posted under the name “Brad Peters” were most definitely fiction. Three Ravens is a gem in beautiful Monticello!