By Kristy Wilson
You have probably experienced this at least once before…you have friends/family coming in from out of town and you want to make sure that they have a great experience while they are here, but your time with them is limited. So, you think “what should we do while they are here?” You want to choose activities that are fairly unique to Champaign-Urbana, or that they would not necessarily be able to do where they live. Below you will find some of the popular places that my family and I like to take people when they are visiting, or potentially ones that we haven’t tried yet but plan to in the near future.
Please note this list does not include food establishments. While there are definitely restaurants that we try and hit when our out-of-town guests are visiting there have been so many recent articles suggesting places to eat (date night restaurants, best appetizers, top cocktails, desserts, best values dining with kids, hidden food gems in CU, etc.) that this article will stick to just activities. This is not a comprehensive list, but just some of our favorites! For simplicity sake, the list has been divided into the best seasons to visit. Also, because we have some friends who have kids and some who don’t you will find that there are activities listed that are family friendly and a few that would require you to find a babysitter!
- Alto Vineyards-Sit outside in the wine garden and enjoy catching up with your friends. Alto Vineyards offers walk-in tastings anytime and has quite a few events coming up!
- Crystal Lake Family Aquatics Center-Our family finally experienced this new water area for the first time last summer. We loved it! We immediately started talking about hosting birthday parties here in the future for our little ones and bringing friends from out of town. It offers a couple of unique water activities that you might find at a water park, just on a much smaller scale.
- Curtis Orchard-Taking people to Curtis Orchard has been a family tradition since I moved to Champaign almost 27 years ago. My husband and I have since continued the tradition by taking his parents and other friends to the orchard when they visit. The Orchard is typically open July-November. Check their website to find out more information on scheduling and activities.
- Urbana’s Market on the Square-For a true taste of locally grown foods, local artists, and food trucks this is the place to go! Out of town guests will experience the sights, sounds, and smells of CU all in a small walking area and have an opportunity to pick-up something to take home with them to remind them of their trip. This year’s market opens May 7!
- Homer Lake Playscape– We discovered this place just last summer and thought it was amazing! If you have little ones who like to be outside and enjoy digging, playing in water, climbing, etc. then this is the place to visit. It is suggested that kids be 5-years and older, but we found that our 3-year-old (she is fairly tall and athletic) did fine playing in the different areas with close supervision. Take a scenic drive and enjoy the natural playscape.
- Prairie Farm-Having grown up in Champaign I have experienced this place as a young child, a junior farmhand, and now as an adult with small children. It is a great opportunity for your children to learn about and see animals in an easy-to maneuver environment that resembles and old, working farm. The farm opens May 27 and is free to the public. I would recommend wearing close toed shoes as you/your child will likely have an opportunity to go into a pen with various animals that could accidentally step on a toe. Editor’s Note: Prairie Farm closes for the season in early August.
- Sleepy Creek Vineyards-Confession, I haven’t been here, but I have heard great things! This requires a bit of a drive (approximately 30 min. from Champaign). There are opportunities for tastings (no reservation needed for groups of 8 or less) with various options. This vineyard also offers lodging if you want to do a night away during your guest’s visit. Check out their upcoming events.
- CU Adventures in Time and Space-Confession #2…I also have not been here. I am the one in our family that watches shows like Criminal Minds, NCIS, etc. and am always trying to solve the case before the big reveal on the show. I feel like I would love doing this, but I am still working to convince my husband! At any rate, I have had several friends who have gone and loved it (I know because they post fun pictures after they have “solved the puzzle, escaped the room, and saved the world”)! Check out their website and what they are all about.
- Orpheum Children’s Science Museum-The Orpheum has been around as long as I have lived in Champaign. I feel like I went as a kid, but I haven’t been back and need to! They always have such fun activities listed, but for one reason or another they haven’t worked in our schedule. Visiting the Orpheum is on our must-do this year list! For hours, direction, and fees check out their website.
- Paint Party (Art Party Studio, Lola’s brush, Paint Like Me)-I recently participated in a paint party activity at our church. It was a great time despite my Type A personality constantly thinking that my painting wasn’t perfect and that the instructors (yeah, I know!) was much better than mine. Sigh. Anyway, despite this I would definitely go to another paint party with friends! I feel like these are kind of the in-thing right now. In fact if you take a look at the calendar of events at both vineyards they are both hosting paint parties in the near future. There are several options to test your artistic abilities in CU, but don’t worry you don’t have to come in with much skill other than being able to follow directions. Your guests will leave with a masterpiece that they can hang on their wall to look at and fondly remember their trip to visit you
- Tuscola Outlet Mall-For those who have shoppers visiting you might consider taking the 25 minute drive down to Tuscola to explore the outlet shops. I don’t go down there too often (usually around the holidays), but when I do I am always able to find some good deals. The bonus, if you take your kids with you there is a playground (outdoor, but covered) that you can take a break, pack a picnic, and let them burn off a bit of energy before heading back to the C-U area.
- U of I campus tour and sporting event-Most of our friends and family want to see where we went to school (my husband and I met in grad school, and we both attended here), so we typically make a short walking tour part of our out-of-town guests experience with us. Even if you didn’t attend the UofI it is still cool to take a stroll across the quad and possibly stop for lunch someplace. If you’re not sure where to visit in your tour of campustown, yep you guessed it; we have a post for that! You can also take a look at the Illinois Athletics event page to find out what sporting events might be going on at the time.
- The Virginia Theatre-Last, but certainly not least the historic Virginia Theatre offers a wide variety of entertainment for all ages. While this might be a bit trickier to work in unless your guests are already coming for a show/concert/movie viewing, etc. it is definitely worth checking their website to see what events might be available at the time our your guests visit.
Where do you like to out-of-town guests when they visit CU? What would you add to this list?