Savvy Traveler: Where the heck is Rockford, Illinois?

Many years ago in Spain on the island of Majorca, a local took us to a beach frequented only by islanders and unknown to outsiders. The caveat was that we could never write about it or disclose its location.

Chicagoans seem to have the same attitude about great vacation spots in their geographical area. Rockford, about an hour from O’Hare Airport, is one of those closely held secrets. No one asked us not to write about it, so we can and will.

The Van Galder bus company runs from the airport to Rockford for $20 a head. The bus is comfortable and the passing scenery nice to look at. It dropped us off at the company’s terminal, a block from the Hilton Garden Inn where we were staying. The hotel had a couple of benefits, starting with the exceptionally friendly and accommodating staff and comfortable quarters. Its location is away from the hustle and bustle of a downtown area but still convenient enough for everything.

The Rock River, from which the city takes its name, splits the town but is a major source of recreation. Boats of all sizes and shapes are moored there and kayaking is a favorite local sport. The waters are calm and the current gentle enough so that boaters of all abilities can enjoy themselves.

A unique activity here is the “Dinner on the Dock,” by the Prairie Street Brewhouse on Thursday evenings from 5 to 10 p.m. where the entire family can sit back, enjoy a terrific buffet meal, listen to some great music and watch the boats float by (

Rockford is a family-oriented place so it should come as no surprise that local families are very much vested in area attractions. The Anderson family created the Anderson Japanese Gardens, still a family operation.

The meticulously crafted plants and trees bring tranquility to a world that is anything but tranquil. All plants are identified so that the visitor can immediately know what he is seeing.

The Rockford area is a golfer’s haven with more than a dozen courses ranging from the Aldeen Golf Club and Practice Center to high end and challenging courses throughout the area. Aldeen was named by Golf Digest as the best municipal course in Illinois.

What about the kids? The CoCo Key Water Resort ( attached to the Best Western Bell Tower Hotel is 60,000 square feet of indoor water fun and it is open year-round.

Drier fun at CoCo includes the Key Quest Arcade with scores of games. Mom and dad might want to check out the day spa, or they might want to stop in to the Rooster Bar while the kids are racing down the slides.

Just across the river from the Prairie Street Brew House is one of the more interesting natural history museums in the country, the Burpee Museum (No relation to the seed company as most everyone always asks).

One of the most fascinating exhibits here is the skeleton of “Jane,” a 65-million-year-old juvenile T-Rex, considered to be the world’s most complete T-Rex skeleton ever found (

Next door is the Rockford Discovery Center Museum that is a delight for kids of most ages. One of the popular exhibits is the giant pinscreen where visitors create impressions their hands, faces and various other body parts. There is a planetarium to explore the stars, you can sit in a real farm tractor in the agricultural exhibit and even go outside to the Rock River Discovery Park and dig for “fossils” (www.discoverycentermuseum,org).

This only scratches the surface of things to do for all ages in Rockford. For a brochure on just about everything Rockford, check out

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