A Galena getaway

Main Street downtown Galena. (J Jacobs photo)
Main Street downtown Galena. (J Jacobs photo)

Tucked into the northwest corner of Illinois is the historic Mississippi hillside town of Galena. Its gorgeous fall color draws visitors from mid-September to Halloween, so if going then, book your stay now (weekdays are better).

But the shops, the mid-to late 1800’s structures, charming inns and good food make Galena a fun break in the routine pretty much any time of year. (Folks come here to ski Chestnut Mountain even if not every shop is open)

An easy three-hour drive from Chicago on I 90, the vacation begins when turning before Rockford onto US 20, General Ulysses S. Grant Highway when the four-lane expressway becomes a scenic two-lane road.

The historic hillside town of Galena, IL (J Jacobs photo)
The historic hillside town of Galena, IL (J Jacobs photo)

As you wind through the hills of Stephenson and Jo Davies Counties, you may realize you are on a ridge with grand vistas of lush valleys.

Although you can continue north through Galena to cross the Mississippi at East Dubuque into Iowa (and go the The Field of Dreams baseball movie destination), Galena is a getaway destination, itself.

Go back in time

Indian tribes roamed the area. then it was settled by French traders and explorers. However, the town flourished in the early 1800s when galena ore (lead) boats plied the Mississippi River. It then became a gateway west when Ulysses S. Grant’s family lived and worked here in the mid-1800s.

Historic staircase in the Desoto House Hotel. (J Jacobs photo)
Historic staircase in the Desoto House Hotel. (J Jacobs photo)

Galena was on the stage coach route (there still are some stage coach signs). Then by 1854, the rail line went through making it a natural stop for Abraham Lincoln who used the balcony of the Desoto House Hotel on Main Street to campaign for John Fremont in 1856. The Desoto House was also the campaign headquarters for Grant. Go in to see its staircase and ask about a tour.

A couple of other good stops are the old  railroad depot on the south side of the Galena River. It houses the Galena Area Tourism Bureau. Also on that side of the river is Gen US Grant’s home built for him as the town’s favorite son.

Ask about walking tours when at the depot. The Galena Historic District covers about 85 percent of the city and includes some 800 properties that were added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1969.

Birdhouses at Red's in Galena (J Jacobs photo)
Birdhouses at Red’s in Galena (J Jacobs photo)

Shop

Think food, boutiques and quirky shops when strolling downtown Galena’s Main Street.

When pulling onto the street from US 20 I spied the cheese and wine store that I knew was there. But the unknown treasure was Red’s Iron Yard and Wholesale Barn a few stores down. I loved the roosters and birdhouses in front. My husband was drawn to the antique toy trucks in back.

Another fun store was Celebrity Hats on the other side of the street. Go in. Find your style.

Celebrity Hats (J Jacobs photo)
Celebrity Hats (J Jacobs photo)

Among the taste treats on the street were two chocolate stores and a patisserie that also did cocktails and sandwiches. Really. Called Bread & Vine, it did good macarons, lovely desserts and yummy sandwiches including a Croque Monsieur and savory croissant with smoked salmon.

There are a couple of chains but most of the stores are unique.

Dine

Outside Fried Green Tomatoes. (J Jacobs photo)
Outside Fried Green Tomatoes. (J Jacobs photo)

Some folks journey to Galena just for the Fried Green Tomatoes restaurant. You do need a reservation. The place is that popular. I made ours before leaving town. It is known for its steaks but we chose seafood because we know everything there is well prepared and we had meat before we left.  The front of the restaurant is on Main Street but its outdoor space is behind it where people park. This end of the street is blocked off for outdoor, curb and street side tables.

Also good is the historic Desoto House. It has three restaurants that are  open at different times of the day. For lunch we did the Green Street Tavern where I had the best garlic French fries ever tasted with a delish pulled pork sandwich. My husband had an apple and mixed berry salad  with walnuts and a raspberry vinaigrette .

Our dinner the night before we left was at Frank O’Dowd’s Irish Pub & Grill at the Irish Cottage where we were staying. I liked their beer battered cod and seasoned Irish chips. My husband liked the traditional corned beef.

The snug at O'Dowd's Pub and Grill (J Jacobs photo)
The snug at O’Dowd’s Pub and Grill (J Jacobs photo)

Stay

Galena has several B and Bs. Check the Galena Country tourism  stay/site for ideas. We liked the Irish cottage for its first-floor patio suites but there were several other places that also looked good including the Goldmoor Inn which is a Select Registry on the road to Chestnut Mountain and the Chestnut Mountain Resort.  Both have good views and friendly service.

Eagle Ridge Resort and Spa about six miles outside town has now reopened for golf, events and regular tourist traffic.

Enjoy

 

 

 

 

 

Travel updates for Chicago park and Galena ice cream and National Civil Rights Museum

Now is a good time to plan a visit close to home, a day’s drive out or a little further away because lots of travel destinations are beginning to open and gas is still in the budget range.

"Coud Gate" (The Bean) reflects people and skyline in Millennium Park. (J Jacobs photo)
“Cloud Gate” (The Bean) reflects people and skyline in Millennium Park. (J Jacobs photo)

Chicago

Restaurants and bars have opened their outdoor seating areas. Among them is The Loyalist at 177 N. Ada Street near Randolph Row. It has had walk-ins but will likely be taking reservations beginning Wednesday, June 24,2020. If you go: expect more French style choices.

Millennium Park and Lakefront

Yes, you can visit Cloud Gate (The Bean). If you go: take selfies and don’t touch it. Most of Millennium Park is open but masks are encouraged as is social distancing.

The same goes for the lakefront which isopen as of today, June 22, 2020 to movers, not sitters. that means walkers, joggers, cyclists.

 

The historic town of Galena, IL has yummy shops and good festivals. (J Jacobs photo)
The historic town of Galena, IL has yummy shops and good festivals. (J Jacobs photo)

Galena

Tucked into northwestern Illinois near the Wisconsin and Iowa borders is the charming town of Galena. There are lots of good B&B and restaurant choices because rolling hills, historic homes and fun shops make the town a popular summer (and fall) destination.

If you go:  stop at the American Old Fashioned Ice Cream Parlor, the Fried Green Tomatoes  restaurant and Galena Cellars.

Lorraine Hotel site of the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. (J Jacobs photo)
Lorraine Hotel site of the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. (J Jacobs photo)

National Civil Rights Museum

Memphis, TN has a lot to offer as vacation destination. However, if interested in understanding more about the global Black Lives Matter movement  then  visit to the famed museum based at the Lorraine Motel, 450 Mulberry St, where Martin Luther King Jr was shot. The museum plans to reopen July 1, 2020.

If you go: you will need a timed ticket and have to wear a face covering. For tickets and other information visit National Civil Rights Museum.

 

 

Three fun Valentine ideas

 

Instead of a heart-shaped box of candy, be original and think Portillo's justly famous chocolate cake. (Wagstaff Chicago photo)
Instead of a heart-shaped box of candy, be original and think Portillo’s justly famous chocolate cake. (Wagstaff Chicago photo)

Ask a friend, ask a lover or ask a few people to join you to celebrate the Feast of Saint Valentine Feb. 14. It’s just nice to have a fun day in the middle of winter. Since Feb/ 14 comes on a Friday in 2020, celebrate the end of the week or the beginning of a fun weekend.

The ideas listed here are for Chicago but they could be adapted anywhere by substituting  a local cooking class for No. 1, a decadent chocolate dessert for No. 2 and a different activity for No. 3. They range from pricey but yummy to free.

Peninsula Chicago Couples Cooking Classes

The Peninsula Chicago’s Shanghai Terrace is doing a Dim Sum for Lovebirds cooking class and dinner from Feb. 10 through Feb. 16. It includes a Chinese tea degustation, a class led by Chef de Cuisine Elmo Han and ends with a three-course dinner.  The cost per couple is $888 but there is a less expensive option Feb. 15 only. It’s the two-hour Valentine’s Day Cooking Experience. At $480 a couple it includes tortellini making and a three-course lunch of oysters, pasta and dessert in The Lobby. (Gratuity and tax not included).

Peninsula Chicago is on Superior Street at Michigan Avenue. To make reservations or for more information call (312) 573 6620, toll-free at 1 866 288 8889, visit  Peninsula Chicago or email reservations

Portillo’s Chocolate Cakes 

The restaurant is not just among Chicagoan’s fave when it comes to hot dogs or Italian beef. It’s chocolate cake ranks among the town’s top dessert choices. So Portillo’s is shaping it famous cake into a heart for Valentine’s Day. A the single-layer chocolate iced cake, the treat will be available at Chicago area locations Feb. 7-16, but can be pre-ordered beginning  Jan. 14, 2020 by visiting portillos.com or calling 1-866-YUM-BEEF.

In addition, 100% of the purchase price of each Portillo’s Heart-Shaped Chocolate Cake sold between January 14 and February 16 (capped at $25,000) will be donated to the American Red Cross. Portillo’s is supporting the American Red Cross Biomedical Services to ensure a safe and reliable blood supply is available for patients in need.

Heart-Shaped cakes will be available for purchase in-store February 7-16. Guests are encouraged to pre-order the cakes beginning on January 14 by visiting portillos.com or calling 1-866-YUM-BEEF.

Ice skating in Millennium Park

Skate against the Chicago skyline or skate under the stars. Ice skating at Chicago’s Millennium Park below Cloud Gate (The Bean) is a popular winter activity encouraged by background music and a concession stand of hot chocolate. The skating is free. Visitors can bring their skates or rent, or use the rental free of charge if staying at a Hilton.

The historic Palmer House at Wabash and Monroe Streets, just west of the Art institute  and Millenium Park is a Hilton. So is The Wit, a popular millennial hotel by Doubletree at State and Lake, a couple of blocks west.

Up the experience by doing lunch at Terao Piano which is a short walk up the bridge from the park to the third floor of the Art Institute of Chicago or an elevator ride up from the museum’s Monroe Street entrance. Those entrances to the restaurant don’t have a museum charge. Or do dinner in the Park Grill right there at the skating rink.