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.
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.
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.
Of course you can’t mention Monticello without raving about Allerton Park, but we have other stories on that gem.
We’re lucky to have so many wonderful destinations so close to Champaign-Urbana, and Monticello is one of my personal favorites.