My friend and I are travelling across america around xmas time. We worked out we would be around Chicago for xmas. We are happy to spend it there but thought there may be a nicer atmosphere in a small town rather than a big city.
Can anyone help with ideas?
You might be interested in visiting Galena, Illinois during Christmas. It's approximately 3 hours west of Chicago and located in Jo Davies county - one of the prettiest counties in the state. There are several bed & breakfasts locating in and around the town. There are also several hotels but no hostels. The population is ~3500 people. It is very popular with Chicagoans year round. It's known for it's artists, shops, restaurants and Galena Cellars Vineyard & Winery. The Galena Beer Co. (microbrewery) just opened this year. Galena is steeped in history and was home to Ulysses S. Grant - 18th President of the U.S. His residence is open to tourism. The town has also worked at keeping the quaint feeling that visitors have come to enjoy.
I've been there during the Christmas season and they definitely do decorate. I have not stayed at any of the lodgings as we only live an hour away. We have eaten at several very good restaurants and have enjoyed the winery (which also has a restaurant upstairs).
For more information:
Galena Bed & Breakfasts
I forgot to include something of real import when it comes to the upper midwest and winter. I would also be remiss by not mentioning it sooner than later. SNOW. At the moment, no one is able to agree on the type of winter we will be experiencing this year. As usual, one side states will will have record snow and cold while the other predicts a mild season because of El Nino. Two years ago, we reached record snowfalls (~100 inches) with about 30 inches showing up during November and December. Last winter we had a fraction of that amount. Having had an unseasonably cool summer this year (up here), no one's quite sure what winter will bring.
The interstate highways are usually kept quite clear of snow with the secondary highways receiving their share of plowing too. But, if you have never driven in snow, it can take you by surprise. When planning your route from Memphis to Chicago, be sure to check websites, such as Weather.com and AccuWeather.com, for the latest road condition updates. Also, check the local newscasts for conditions around your locales. Memphis is ~500 miles (give or take) from Chicago. If you decide to visit a small town for the holiday, you may be traveling on state and county highways which could have snow cover.
We're hoping for a mild winter. Most years, the snow situation is not a problem through most of December. January and February see the larger accumulations. Considering you are heading from Chicago to New York during that time, just don't take our winters for granted. Use common sense, pay attention to the road condition reports and drive defensively.
Enjoy your trip!
Another option is to drive the 5 hours from Chicago, IL to Frankenmuth, Michigan.
Frankenmuth is famous for its Brunner's Christmas store--the world's largest Christmas store:
There is also a Bavarian Inn in Frankenmuth, Michigan with polka and beer and great food.
If you are around Chicago then please don't avoid the place entirely. It's one of the world's greatest cities with a population across it's metropolitan area of near on 10 million. Downtown Chicago is just a city that never sleeps and the night life is really good as well as quite different to anything else you'll find in the USA.
For a small Illinois town not to far away, I would suggest Rockford. I'm a little biased because I have stayed there a couple of times, but it's a lovely place with a population of around 100,000. I'm guessing it's about 80 miles northwest of Chicago up towards the Wisconsin border. There's a lot of events for such an unknown town, I have been there summer and winter (very cold !) and there's just as much going on in both seasons, oh except the golf course is usually under a few feet of snow and isn't open for business in winter. A magnificent course though if you're into a dabble. Some lovely parks too and plenty of fresh air, compared to Chicago.
[ Edit: Edited on 01-Oct-2009, at 11:08 by BedouinLeo ]
Madison, Wisconsin is not far away, and one of the nicest small communities in the Midwest - a college town, Univ. of Wisconsin:
I can't comment about Calcruzer's suggestion of Frankenmuth, Michigan as I've never been there. I have ordered numerous Christmas tree ornaments from Brunner's (online) Christmas Store for my sister-in-law. (She picks them out, we order them and give them as Christmas gifts.)
I can comment on both Rockford, Illinois and Madison, Wisconsin. We live ~40 miles for both of them and have spent a lot of time in each one. Both have their pluses though, considering your ages, Madison will have more to offer. As Daawgon stated, Madison is a university town and also Wisconsin's capitol. Both are situated along major interstate highways so easy to get to even in winter. Madison is ~2.5-3.0 hours from downtown Chicago. Rockford is ~1.5-2.0 hours away. (Everything depends on road conditions and rush hour traffic.)
Sorry Leo, no disrespect intended. I just have to put my vote in for Madison for the following reasons:
- It's built on rolling hills and along four lakes (Mendota, Monona, Waubesa & Kegonsa).
- The university atmosphere and a beautiful campus.
- Great "Bohemian" bars and eateries.
- State Street (ecclectic shops) and Williamson (Willy) Street (bars & eateries).
- Has maintained the small town atmosphere regardless of the urban sprawl happening around it.
If you decide on Madison, and I'm not saying you should by any means, I recommend:
- Jamerica for the best Jamaican food outside of Jamaica. It's owned by Martin Deacon of Port Antonio, JA. The BBQ ribs, roast pork and jerk pork are divine. It's located on Willy Street. (Trust me on this one - I've been to Jamaica 13 times and Martin has brought Jamaica to Madison both visually and gastronomically. Plus, if he's there, he makes a point of greeting the diners.)
- Great Dane Brew Pub for some excellent beers and the food's pretty good too. (The link is for their downtown location.)
- State Street for shopping.
Here is the link for the Visitor's Bureau calendar of events. They have not updated to include December just yet. (They will soon.)