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Wisconsin Parent

Winter Family Picks in Rockford, Illinois

Jan 02, 2015 01:46PM ● By Melissa Schwartz
Winter easily tempts us to hibernate. While curling up under the covers and reading a good book with a cup of tea in hand sounds appealing, we found Rockford, Illinois to be city worthy of winter exploration. On a recent weekend visit, we uncovered unique and engaging finds that will inspire a much needed winter respite. Dinosaurs, sock monkeys, the Colosseum, Swedish pancakes and more—who can resist a visit to Rockford?

Imaginations Sparked by Engaging Exhibits

Rockford’s cache of engaging museums left our minds invigorated. The Discovery Center Museum is the ideal place for children to expend pent up energy while learning scientific principles. The Discovery Center Museum had my daughter reaching, pulling, hopping and more. From learning about origami folding to using pulleys to lift ourselves to exploring a cave in the outdoor exhibit to riding a bike, the Discovery Center Museum encourages experiential learning—all while having fun! The museum is so fun that we had to pry our daughter away!       

The Burpee Museum of Natural History houses an impressive collection of fossils and natural exhibits right next door to the Discovery Center Museum. Hands-on portions allow children to touch fossils and casts of fossils. We were in total awe while visiting Jane, Burpee’s resident teenaged T-Rex and the impressive hall of triceratops. How often can you run with the dinosaurs in the Midwest? The Burpee Museum is also alive with research. In the basement, you can witness scientists busy working in the lab. If you are lucky, you may even see them cleaning and preparing new dinosaur bones from one of Burpee’s dig sites! Pretty cool! Burpee scientists are currently working on a new exhibit for the museum focusing on the Green River Formation which will present intricate fossils of fish. Truly amazing to see how well these ancient creatures have been preserved! A visit to Burpee will thrill all dinosaur lovers, big and small!

BurpeeMidway Village Museum lays out the foundations of Rockford history. The museum encourages exploration of the region’s history of industry as well as a hands-on activity constructing an industrial fan. A special section focuses on Rockford’s sock milling history and the contested origins of the Sock Monkey. (Yes, there is a story—but you need to go to the Museum to find out more!) The exhibit on the Rockford Peaches and the Women’s Baseball League was nicely laid out and inspired my daughter to watch A League of Their Own. One of our favorite exhibits reveals the history of Rockford immigrants through store fronts, a peek inside businesses and even listening to immigrants on the phone! A small home outside of the museum features intricate dollhouses holding pieces from all over the world. A cultural experience without going too far! While the Victorian Village is not alive with interpreters in the winter, some time to admire the buildings is well worth it as well!MidwayHidden in an industrial section of Rockford is a beautiful and well preserved Swiss-inspired cottage! The Tinker Swiss Cottage is quite a treat bursting with original and well-kept artifacts from the Tinker family. The lives of the family members are quite captivating. Interwoven in the Tinker story are the invention of the Manny reaper and manufacturing history in Rockford. Robert Tinker’s life in Hawaii as the son of missionaries adds another level of interest to family stories. Tinker designed his cottage after a trip to Switzerland and you can see some of his own handiwork in the home. Tinker family stories and details about the artifacts kept us captivated. Particularly breathtaking is the home’s library with amazing wood work and a gorgeous spiral staircase. The Tinker Swiss Cottage is truly one of the best historic homes I have toured and is an excellent pick for families with older children.


World Class Theatre

Open since 1927, the world class Coronado Preforming Arts Center quickly sweeps visitors back to the golden age of theatre with crystal chandeliers, grand balconies and gilded detail. A night out to the theatre is special indeed, especially when you are taking your little girl to see The Nutcracker. The grand production in a magnificent setting was an amazing way to spend a winter evening! rockford7

Summer’s Glory in Winter

We welcomed the chance to feel summer’s warmth and enjoy lush vegetation at the Nicholas Conservatory. The Conservatory contains water features and sculptures along a pleasant walk through tropical plants. There is a loft area with a few seats where you can absorb that atmosphere from above and places for you to sit and read while basking in summer’s warmth.


Plentiful Family Dining Options

For breakfast, a stop at the Stockholm Inn for Swedish pancakes and lingonberries is a must! Our family enjoyed the opportunity to taste a bit of the flavor reflecting Rockford’s Swedish heritage! A new Swedish favorite for us—the kroppkakor which is a potato dumpling filled with onions and pork. Believe it or not, the kroppkakor was dynamite topped with lingonberries. The menu also contains Swedish favorites for lunch and dinner as well as American comfort foods. The Stockholm Inn is home to a sizable shop purveying Scandinavian imports. Our treasure to bring home—a dala horse which is a vibrant wooden horses carved and painted in Sweden. What a gorgeous reminder of our trip!

rockford9Our trip also brought us to Italy at Lino’s. Italian dining is all about family and Lino’s really serves up a great family meal! A family run restaurant for over 40 years, we were happy to meet several members of the family during our visit when they took a break from the kitchen! The interior is breathtaking with a replica Colosseum and other nods to Italy. Food is plentiful, fresh and delicious. But, do come early—guests file in at 5PM. Growing up as an Italian in New Jersey, I can tell you that Lino’s really creates the same warm, family ambiance that I experienced at Italian restaurants back home. Truly the type of place that lives on in a child’s memory!

linosFor lunch, we visited the vibrant Vintage 501. Blue jeans on the wall, a motorcycle centerpiece and free bacon on the bar for game day—how can Vintage not be fun? Vintage 501 adeptly pleases both parents and kids alike. Amazing and huge burgers will easily fill up a hungry traveler. Creative flatbreads and sliders, fresh salads and soups and intriguing appetizers are tempting as well. Vintage 501 is a very comfortable place to sit and have a lunch with the fam.


Rockford Makers

Knowing the city’s long manufacturing history, we jumped at the chance to witness ingenuity alive in Rockford. The annual Local Holiday Market at the University of Rockford provided a cheerful avenue for learning about local makers and businesses. At the market, we discovered Candle Crest Soy Candles which makes hand poured soy candles with many amazing scents. The company opened its first store front this year, open on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. A perfect Rockford souvenir!

Holiday MarketAt a nearby display, we found Gift It! Rockford which makes gift baskets full of items made by Rockford makers. Old Salty’s Popcorn, Chai Town Tea, Dark Secret Chocolate and more Rockford companies are featured. Of course, gift baskets may also include the famed sock monkey made from the red heeled socks milled in Rockford! We came home with Dark Secret Chocolates—featured on Oprah’s Favorite Things list. The chocolates are perfectly portioned for a less than 100 calorie per day featuring dark chocolate and almonds, espresso beans, cacao nibs or cherries. And, they are yum! Gift It! Rockford provides a fun way to experience Rockford makers but there is one catch—there is not a store front so will need to order these giftables online.

Where to Stay

For a winter getaway, families need somewhere warm and cozy but allows the kids to be active. The Hilton Garden Inn located close to Rockford’s attractions with a zero depth pool and a variety of water sprinklers is a great option for families. The hotel also features a restaurant and a wonderful breakfast spread in the morning including a made to order omelette station. We had a lovely stay at the Hilton Garden Inn –just what we needed for a winter break!


Reflections on Rockford

A little trip to Rockford is just what we needed to reinvigorate us during winter. Rockford holds so many indoor attractions ready for family exploration! It is always a relief to find so many wonderful attractions so conveniently located. The city is rich with history and culture providing unique finds. Such a lovely city to explore!

Disclosure: Thank you to Go Rockford for hosting our visit! No compensation was received for this post. All opinions are 100% my own.