Unique cultural and outdoor attractions lure visitors to Rockford, Illinois, just 90 minutes northwest of Chicago.
The lovely town is a perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of the big city. A lush green pathway, the Rock River Recreation Path, along the scenic Rock River holds some unexpected jewels that make it a very worthwhile visit.
Tranquility in the Anderson Japanese Gardens
Start your visit at the wonderful Anderson Japanese Gardens. Millionaire John R. Anderson was so taken by a visit to the Portland Japanese Garden that he commissioned its Japanese landscape architect Hoichi Korisu in the late 1970s to build something similar on his own private grounds. Now open to the public, the result is nothing short of spectacular. You will be transported to another world as you meander along its many tree-lined pathways, enjoy the Sukiya-style Teahouse or contemplate in the Garden of Reflection.
Tea House at Anderson Japanese Gardens in Rockford
Tropical Plants at the Nicholas Conservatory & Gardens
My next stop was just as relaxing, at the Nicholas Conservatory & Gardens, which literally brings the tropics to the Midwest. I loved observing how mangos grow and what a cocoa plant looks like before it becomes a chocolate bar. I also loved exploring the high-quality public art displayed in and outside of the spectacular glass house. The Nicholas Conservatory & Gardens are directly along the banks of the Rock River alongside the Rock River Rec Path, so plan your day to enjoy visiting both.
Kegel Harley-Davidson, a Pilgrimage for Bikers
After all of that amazing nature and culture, you might have worked up an appetite for speed, so why not head over to another favorite attraction: Kegel Harley-Davidson, the oldest family-owned Harley dealership in the world. There, you can marvel at the latest Harley-branded fashion and accessories. The staff is incredibly welcoming and friendly.
Browsing the merchandise at Kegel Harley-Davidson
Teenage Dinosaurs at the Burpee Museum of Natural History
Did you know that some of the most significant dinosaur discoveries made in recent years can be seen in Rockford? From the moment I stepped into Rockford’s fascinating Burpee Museum of Natural History, I was in awe of what I saw and learned. From the brilliantly staged exhibits of Homer and Jane, two dinosaur skeletons preserved in their youth, to the viewing lab where you can see researchers at work on recent fossil discoveries, my visit at Burpee left me with many impressive stories to tell back home.
Teenage dinosaur Jane at the Burpee Museum of Natural History
Experience the Magic of an Original Movie Palace
Who hasn’t dreamed of stepping back in time and seeing the world the way it was when Hollywood was just beginning and live organs accompanied silent movies starring Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton? Despite having long moved on and now showing major touring Broadway shows and ballets, the Coronado Performing Arts Center is one of the few remaining “atmospheric theaters.” It features twinkling stars and a sunrise effect set in Spanish and Italian villages as well as having an original organ still operating on a rotating lift. The Coronado Performing Arts Center is an absolute gem and the memories of visiting here will last a lifetime, whether you enjoy it during a show or a tour, like I did.
I was truly taken by the unique cultural and outdoor attractions of Rockford, and I didn’t even get the chance to tell you about the microbreweries, cool coffee shops and elegant dining options, which make Rockford more than worth a visit. I will definitely be returning to this fantastic town.
Inside the grand Coronado Performing Arts Center in Rockford