The Illinois state capitol and hometown of Abraham Lincoln is only about a five-hour road trip from downtown Milwaukee.
Springfield, Illinois, is a city overflowing with historic sites and great food, and it’s even home to one of the great works of Wisconsin’s own Frank Lloyd Wright. Here’s our itinerary for spending a weekend down south.
Since Springfield is a bit of a drive, you can spice up your road trip with a few stops along the way. Stop by the 12-acre Anderson Japanese Gardens in Rockford, IL, named the highest quality Japanese garden in North America in 2014. For a $9 admission cost ($8 for seniors and $7 for kids) you can see what all the fuss is about.
If exquisite aesthetic beauty and and masterful artistry aren’t your thing, stop in Wheeling, IL, instead, for some old-fashioned Chicago dogs at the legendary Superdawg Drive-In. Don’t ask for ketchup though. Trust us.
Or if you’d just prefer to stay in the car with your tunes and air-conditioning, swing down to Peoria and drive along Grandview Drive, which has been called the “World’s Most Beautiful Drive.”
Now that you’ve arrived in Springfield, choose between two fantastic hotels on opposite ends of the style spectrum: the Wyndham Springfield City Center is a 30-story hotel downtown that offers a spectacular view of the city. From their top-floor Pinnacle Club, you can grab a late-night drink and watch the city lights below. Another option is to embrace Springfield’s rustic history at the Inn at 835, a nationally registered Historic Place, built in the early 1900s and home to some interesting legends. Reservations can be hard to come by, so you’ll want to plan this one in advance.
For dinner, stop by Maldaner’s, a Springfield staple that’s been around since 1884. This bit of fine dining is a great way to start your journey into Springfield’s culinary scene.
Springfield is widely known as the birthplace of the open-faced Horseshoe Sandwich — hamburger patty, French fries and cheese sauce on toasted bread. You can find about a million varieties in the city (such as an Irish take at D’Arcy’s Pint), but we’re partial to Charlie Parker’s Diner. For only $7.99, you get a obscenely large Horseshoe on an English muffin with eggs, a choice of breakfast meats and enough gravy to drown a small animal.
After scarfing down that Springfield original, you’ll be raring for some historical authenticity. The first stop is the Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, a fantastic museum and a moving tribute to one of our country’s greatest presidents. You can lose yourself in this place for hours, but there’s a lot more Lincoln to be seen around Springfield. The Lincoln Home and surrounding neighborhood are maintained as they were when Lincoln was a boy, giving you the experience the young lawyer had in early 1800’s Illinois.
Break for for lunch or a quick coffee break as you revel in the truly unparalleled statesmanship of Honest Abe. Incredibly Delicious is a classic downtown bakery with diet-demolishing pastries. There’s also Custom Cup Coffee, which creates and roasts its custom brews right there in Springfield and will provide the necessary jolt to keep you moving through the afternoon lull.
Post-lunch, there’s more Lincoln to see. The Lincoln Tomb is an impressive sight — be sure to rub the Lincoln statue’s nose for good luck. At the Old State Capitol, step inside the hall where Lincoln delivered his immortal “House Divided” speech, and right across the street, check out Lincoln’s old law offices.
After you’ve had your fill of Lincoln, rent a boat on Lake Springfield and enjoy some time on the water. Or you could check out the Illinois State Military Museum or head for the bountiful hiking trails at the Adams Wildlife Sanctuary.
Grab dinner at Cozy Dog, a Route 66 mainstay selling old-fashioned hot dogs on sticks. Snap a photo of their lit-up hugging hot dogs sign. It’s beautiful.
Get a taste of home before you head back by visiting the Dana Thomas House, a Frank Lloyd Wright design. In 1902, Wright was a given a blank check and free reign by Susan Lawrence Dana, a Springfield socialite. He ended up crafting this three-story, 12,000-square-foot, 35-room masterpiece of architectural experimentation, which offers hour-long public tours. Be sure to remind everyone around else on the tour that Wright was from Wisconsin, dang it.
Stop by Jefferies Orchard on the way home for a couple of fresh road-trippin’ apples, and then roll on back to Milwaukee until next time.