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Art fair at the Lake County Fairgrounds in Grayslake, Illinois

Illinois

Lake County, Illinois: Entertainment, Culture and Leisure on Lake Michigan

By: Christi Womack

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  • States:
    Illinois

For a mix of serene Lake Michigan shoreline, lively entertainment venues, inventive cuisine and fast-paced family fun, look no further than Lake County, Illinois.

Unwind in this getaway that’s just an hour’s drive north of Chicago. Visit 52 charming communities, relax at some of the 70 picturesque spots in Chain O’ Lakes State Park and hike in the forest preserves or beach-front state park. Take a spin on a world-class roller coaster, then wind down at a cozy lakeside restaurant. A blend of new and classic attractions, cultural destinations and natural wonders will round out your itinerary in picturesque Lake County.

Thrilling Rides and Slides

Escape for a day to Six Flags Great America in Gurnee, where families will delight in the theme park’s shows and special events including Fright Fest in September and October and the new Holiday in the Park celebration in November and December. The main draw, though, is the collection of exciting thrill rides. At more than 30 meters tall, the park’s 16th roller coaster, Mardi Gras Hangover, is the largest loop roller coaster in the world. Another ride recently released, THE JOKER, flips riders 360 degrees and sends them forward, backward and upside-down, too.

Six Flags Great America’s eight-hectare water playground, Hurricane Harbor, features 30 attractions ranging from a lazy tube float on Castaway Creek to the high-speed Tornado funnel slide. Adults can relax in a cabana, enjoying a cold beer, mai tai or ice cream cone, while watching the kids frolic in the wave pool or cross a swinging bridge.

Goliath, an extreme wooden roller coaster at Six Flags Great America

Goliath, an extreme wooden roller coaster at Six Flags Great America
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Lakeside Culture and Entertainment

See renowned Broadway shows, well-known musicals and premieres of new works such as “Newsies” and “Irving Berlin’s Holiday Inn” at the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire. The kids will enjoy the one-hour Youth Theatre adaptations of favorite fairy tales and other stories.

Bring a chair or blanket to stake out a spot on the lawn and listen to concerts throughout the summer at the Ravinia Festival in Highland Park. The oldest outdoor music festival in the USA highlights top musicians – and some comedians, too – from around the world in genres ranging from Classical to Jazz and Pop with a residency by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Shows in the Martin Theatre, Bennett Gordon Hall or under the pavilion stage are broadcast to the lawn screen in the 15-hectare park. Arrive early; performances often sell out.

For outings with a local flair, check the schedule at the Lake County Fairgrounds and Event Center in Grayslake. Throughout the year, it’s the home of the Lake County Craft Beer Festival, the Lake County Fair, art and antique shows, heritage festivals and expos.

A performance of “Cats” at the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire

A performance of “Cats” at the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire
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Foodie Hot Spots

Whether you’re looking for family-friendly casual restaurants, fine dining for a special occasion or pub food accompanied by craft beverages, you’ll find what you’re craving in Lake County.

The Vine in Grayslake, which started out as a tapas bar, became so popular that it expanded to a full-scale restaurant. Eat cuisine made with local ingredients, listen to singer-songwriters and sip a signature, tropical or sweet martini or one of nearly 50 beers on tap. The menu is special, too; it resembles typical pub fare, but with an inventive twist – bourbon-glazed chicken wings, Napa hamburger topped with red wine-poached apples, pork belly macaroni and cheese and chorizo-stuffed dates wrapped in bacon.

Visit Chocolate Sanctuary for dessert, handmade by chocolatiers, but first indulge in a fabulous meal. This Gurnee restaurant celebrates the cocoa bean and weaves it into most of their dishes. Try an appetizer of ribs slathered in a port- and cocoa-infused barbecue sauce, a chopped salad sprinkled with cocoa-candied bacon or mole chicken covered with the traditional Mexican sauce made with chocolate. You can also buy beautifully packaged boxes of chocolates.

An institution in the Greater Chicago area, Miller’s Dog-N-Suds Drive-In is a classic drive-in diner in Ingleside serving steamed Coney Island hot dogs, Texas burgers, ice cream and signature homemade root beer since 1967. Enjoy the meal in your car, on the patio or at the picnic area at the Ingleside landmark. Can’t get enough of the root beer? Buy a two-liter jug to enjoy later.

Cap off a meal by following the Lake County Libation Trail to find more than a dozen establishments creating and serving handcrafted beer, wines and spirits.

Sharing a romantic meal at one of Lake County’s restaurants

Sharing a romantic meal at one of Lake County’s restaurants
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Green Spaces and Places

While the views along the Lake Michigan shoreline are amazing, head inland to explore dozens of Lake County forest preserves covering more than 12,500 hectares. Three of them are especially inviting to nature lovers.

At the Des Plaines River Trail and Greenway, follow a gravel trail through 12 preserves. Along the 50-kilometer journey, find places to go biking, horseback riding and cross-country skiing. There are six places to launch a canoe or kayak and paddle the meandering river.

Wander through pristine woodlands on 10 kilometers of scenic trails at the Edward L. Ryerson Conservation Area, which earned an Illinois Nature Preserve designation. In this special Riverwoods reserve, watch maple tree tapping, see historic buildings next to the Des Plaines River and take children to the small farm area to spot sheep, goats, chickens and butterflies.

At Independence Grove Forest Preserve, visitors will find prairie and woodlands centered on the lake at the Libertyville area; expect great hiking trails, an amphitheater, a marina and even a café.

Kite-flying alongside Diamond Lake in Mundelein

Kite-flying alongside Diamond Lake in Mundelein
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Getting There

Book a flight to Chicago O’Hare (ORD), where you can rent a car and drive 50 kilometers to Lake County. Two other international airports, Chicago Midway (MDW) and General Mitchell/Milwaukee (MKE), are each about 80 kilometers from the destination.