Road Trip: Champaign-Urbana is Outside of Ordinary

Our family just got back from a weekend in Champaign and had such a great time. My husband and I went to University of Illinois, but had never been to most of these places, but kids bring a different perspective and another world of fun! We were hosted by Visit Champaign County and so appreciate their hospitality and wonderful itinerary. It’s a great family road trip that’s only about two hours away and offers such a variety of activities and experiences!

Places to Go in Chambana

Yes, it’s a thing to call the Champaign-Urbana area “Chambana”. In fact, our favorite website there is chambanamoms.com, which has a wealth of information about the area, family-friendly activities, and what’s new in the area. We have included many of their articles in case you want to check out the local inside info to learn more. Below are our picks for places to check out when you visit Champaign-Urbana.

Prairie Fruits Farm & Creamery

Prairie Fruits Farm & Creamery
4410 N. Lincoln Avenue
Champaign, Illinois 61822
(217) 643-2314

Prairie Fruits Farm & Creamery is a welfare-approved goat dairy that is open to the public on weekend afternoons. They also just started offering tours twice monthly through the summer. Michael Darin, their special events coordinator, gives a wonderful tour, including a brief history about the farm, some background about the owners Wes Jarrell and Leslie Cooperband, and a cheese tasting at the end.

Their award-winning cheeses are on menus across the Midwest, including Vie in Western Springs and The Girl & The Goat in Chicago. Prairie Fruits Farm & Creamery was one of our favorite places to visit in the area. We spent time with the baby goats as well as the milking goats, learned how they care for the animals and make small-batch cheeses and gelato, and thoroughly enjoyed the cheese tasting. There was no way I wanted to leave without buying a few different types! They are sooo good.

One of the owners, Leslie, is on the left and the tour guide, Michael, is on the right.

Tours are conducted rain or shine, and last approximately 45-minutes. Please be prepared to walk around the farm; comfortable closed-toed shoes are advised. No reservations are required, Cost is $10 for adults, $6 for kids 12 and under. Glasses of wine or beer can be added to the tasting for a tour price of $6. Tour dates are not currently listed on their website, so please call (217) 643-2314 for details.

Click here to read more about Prairie Fruits Farm & Creamery.

Monticello Railway Museum

Monticello Railway Museum
992 Iron Horse Place
Monticello, IL 61856
(217) 762-9011

The Monticello Railway Museum offers rides on trains pulled by one of their vintage diesel locomotives and about once a month you can ride on a train pulled by their restored steam locomotive. Train rides are offered on weekend afternoons. We went on a weekend when the steam train was running and it was even more fun than I thought it would be!

The gentle rocking of the passenger train paired with the puffing of the engine took us back in time to something we had never experienced before. The conductor’s enthusiasm was contagious as he answered all of our questions. My daughter thought it was cool because it was so much like the trains in Harry Potter.

We left from the Railway Museum and took a 15 minute ride to downtown Monticello. It was a relaxing trip past fields and trees. There was even a group of kids and families that all waved to us as we went by- so cute! You can sit in one of the passenger cars or in the open-air section of the train. We sat inside on the way there and outside on the way back and both were great. The train stops for about 10 minutes and after checking out a small museum of artifacts with a train table you can get back on the train to make the return trip or stay on Monticello Square to enjoy lunch and local shops, such as an independent book store, glass-blowing art store, and boutiques. Brown Bag and Monarch Brewing Company are popular lunch spots.

It’s important to note that the Monticello Railway Museum has an extremely popular and authentic Polar Express experience. The tickets go on sale the first Saturday of June at 8:00 am each year. There are 10,000 tickets available and they sell out in minutes, so get ready!

Japan House

Japan House
2000 S. Lincoln Avenue
Urbana, Illinois 61802
(217) 244-9934

The Japan House, located at the University of Illinois, is surrounded by traditional Japanese gardens. From the parking lot, you walk down a winding path and arrive at a traditional Japanese house. The tours are about 5-10 minutes depending on how many questions you have. We had no idea about the intricacies of how the garden is prepared before guests, the stepping stones are placed at different heights so visitors slow down to appreciate their surroundings, and how people prepare to drink tea together. There are hanging origami cranes, which makes the space magical.

Japan House offers traditional tea ceremonies and additional cultural programming throughout the year. Unfortunately, the tea ceremony was sold out when we were there, so if you are interested in seeing an actual demonstration and partaking in a bowl of matcha you will need to make advanced reservations. Even the free tours sell out; you can click here to reserve your space.

Urbana’s Market at the Square

Urbana’s Market at the Square
Saturday mornings, May through October
Open 7:00 a.m.–1:00 pm
Corner of Illinois & Vine Streets
Downtown Urbana

Over 70 vendors take part in the weekly Market at the Square. There are also food trucks and live music. The third Saturday of the month is Sprouts at the Market, which is programming for kids to get them interested in nutrition and local foods. It was a great way to spend a nice Saturday morning! If you like french markets and food trucks, you should definitely check it out.

William M. Staerkel Planetarium

William M. Staerkel Planetarium
2400 W Bradley Avenue
Champaign, IL 61821
(217) 351-2568

The Planetarium offers shows on Fridays and Saturdays at 7pm and 8pm year round. However in June and July they swap out the Saturday night shows for Kids’ Matinees on Tuesdays at 1pm and 2pm and Thursdays at 10am and 11am. There are different shows for each time slot, so we recommend you check the schedule beforehand. With a live narrator, these shows are often interactive and perfect for the whole family.

Allerton Park & Retreat Center

Allerton Park & Retreat Center
515 Old Timber Road
Monticello, IL 61856

Allerton Park is a European-inspired estate with 14-formal gardens and 14 miles of hiking trails along the Sangamon River. Their gardens are amazing- imagine an entire garden devoted to peonies! They were just starting to bloom and I’ve never seen so many varieties of peonies all in one place. There are sculptures throughout the park to discover and it’s a great place to take a tranquil walk or even let the kids run around in the grass of the sunken garden. Allerton Park was donated to the University of Illinois and has free admission. It is open daily, 8am to sunset.

You can stop at the Greenhouse Café for coffee, drinks, and a snack as well. Click here to read more about the Greenhouse Café.

Champaign-Urbana Community Fab Lab 

Champaign-Urbana Community Fab Lab 
1301 South Goodwin Ave
Urbana, IL 61801
(217) 265-5342

This collaborative workspace allows people of all ages to imagine, design and create using technology without paying a membership fee. There are multiple rooms with all types of materials and equipment so you can work on projects, such as laser engraving, 3D printing, and digital embroidery. The volunteers and people working in there are so nice and it’s a great creative space where you only pay for the materials you use. If you have a project in mind, this is the perfect place to work on it. We talked to someone working on a project there who said that sticker-making is a great starter project. The current summer hours are Sundays from 1-6pm, but click here to see the schedule.

Where to Eat

The Courier Cafe
This popular spot serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. There is a usually a wait, especially for Sunday brunch and during the school year, but they have good food and a vintage atmosphere.

Destihl Breworks
This newer restaurant is in downtown Champaign and brews it’s own beer. You can eat outside or inside and the food is good!

Black Dog Smoke & Ale House
This restaurant was recommended to us, and although we ran out of time to try it, it looks delicious! They have both a Champaign and Urbana location and serve BBQ.

Have more restaurant suggestions? We would love to hear them! Comment below or email me at annie@mykidlist.com.

Where to Stay

Our room at the Comfort Suites Urbana

We stayed at Comfort Suites in Urbana this past weekend, which was nice. They have a pool and hot tub, the rooms are clean, and there is a complimentary breakfast. I have also stayed in Champaign at the Home2 Suites by Hilton and on campus at the TownePlace Suites by Marriott, both of which I would also recommend. The information for each of those hotels is below.

Comfort Suites
2001 N Lincoln Avenue
Urbana, IL 61801
(217) 328-3500

Home2 Suites by Hilton
2013 S Neil Street
Champaign, IL 61820
(217) 355-6468

TownePlace Suites by Marriott
603 S 6th Street
Champaign, IL 61820
(217) 344-1600

Where do you like to go in and around Champaign-Urbana? Drop me an email at annie@mykidlist.com or comment below.

If you are looking for even more information about the area, head to the Visit Champaign County website!

About the Author

Annie Tandy
Annie loves making great memories with her kids and started Kidlist so she can help others do the same! Besides finding fun and exciting things to do, Annie, her husband, and their kids enjoy caring for their chickens and hanging out with them in the backyard. Click here to read about Annie's chickens and see pictures! She also finds joy in gardening, home improvement projects, knitting, soap making, and painting along with being active in her community, church, and as a board member of the Western Springs Business Association. Click here to follow Annie on Instagram.

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