From meeting new people to experiencing new sights, sounds, and smells – is there anything more exciting or rejuvenating than a break from the day-to-day mundanity? Traveling is an excellent way to immerse yourself in a new culture, setting, or way-of-life, but the best part is this: you don’t have to venture far from home to enjoy what this world has to offer.
Whether your journey takes you across your own city, to an unexplored part of your state, or even to the other side of the world, there’s no doubt you will still learn a lot about your surroundings – and yourself – along the way.
While the culture an hour away from your home might not be drastically different from what you’re used to, you can still gain a deepened sense of appreciation for where you’ve laid your roots. Plus, traveling locally has a lot of benefits:
More cost-effective. Local travel is certainly a budget-friendly way to explore! Many activities and parks are free or have a low cost of entry. For day trips, you can also pack your own meals to save.
Eco-friendly way to travel. Travel is hard on the environment, but putzing around your area is more sustainable than air travel.
Quick trips. Getting out locally means you can do it more often! Long weekend trips are a lot easier to take when the destination is a short drive away.
Easy to plan. Preparing your itinerary for a local getaway will likely save you some time and stress.
More convenient. Especially if you have little ones, sticking close to home may be much more convenient than far-off destinations. If you forget something, have an emergency, or need to cut the trip short, being closeby definitely has its benefits.
If you’re interested in all things Lincoln, Springfield is the place to be. This capital city has museums, historic sites, state parks, gardens, and trails all named after the 16th president.
But Lincoln isn’t the only attraction in Springfield! The city is also home to flourishing fish and wildlife areas, diverse dining experiences, and plenty of places for recreation and relaxation.
So let's dig right in and explore what makes Springfield so great!
*Note: Some of the suggestions may not be doable due to coronavirus closures, but keep this list handy for when things start opening back up more! Be sure to check individual pages for specific operation details.
The state parks in or near the city of Springfield are popular places for enjoying the great outdoors and everything it has to offer:
This 3,000-acre state park located just southeast of the city is the perfect place to enjoy a day out on the water. Sangchris Lake is a favorite local fishing and boating spot. You can put-in at the Strawkas Point boat launch off Route 104. Hunting, hiking, and horseback riding are other popular park activities.
Located on the banks of the Sangamon River, this small state park is known for being one of the best places in Central Illinois to fish for catfish and bluegill. The section of the river that runs through the park is part of the Lincoln Heritage Water Trail and there is a canoe and kayak launch available. Other attractions include three nature trails, a scenic overlook, and a memorial that marks the spot where Abraham Lincoln lived when he first came to Illinois.
Although this 974-acre site is designated as a fish and wildlife area, there’s more to do that the name suggests. Just as many people visit the park to go cross-country skiing, canoeing, trail running, hunting, hiking, and biking. The park also has playgrounds and horseshoe pits as well as picnic areas equipped with tables and grills.
This well-developed fish and wildlife area sets the standard for conservation and outdoor recreation opportunities in the region. In addition to sport fishing and wildlife viewing, the site is approved for hunting, mountain biking, horseback riding, snowmobiling, sailing, canoeing, and hiking. There are also archery and shotgun ranges available for target practice.
Enjoy scenic views of Springfield while you hike, bike, run, rollerblade, or walk your dog on these single- and multi-use trails:
This multi-use trail extends five miles from the trailhead in Springfield to Community Park in nearby Rochester. It starts in the Illinois Department of Transportation parking lot on Dirksen Parkway, skirts a lake, crosses creeks, and continues along the bed where railroad tracks once lay. Mostly shady, the trail is open to hikers, runners, and bikers.
The Lincoln Memorial Garden Loop is an easy 1.8-mile trail that is wheelchair accessible. The trail winds through the Jens Jensen-designed garden planted with flowers and trees native to the three states that Lincoln called home. On your hike, you’ll likely run into local artists, amateur ornithologists and budding botanists.
A multi-use trail with loops of mild to moderate difficulty, the Carpenter Park Trail is family-friendly and dog-friendly. If you hiked all the loops, you’d make it through more than 11 miles of varied scenery including sweeping views of the sandstone cliffs along the Sangamon River. Though the trail is not well marked, there is a map displayed in the parking lot off Sherman Road.
Shared by hikers, runners, and mountain bikers, this wooded trail begins at the parking lot near the intersection of South Koke Mill Road and Cash River Road. Dogs are welcome on the trail as long as they are kept on leash.
From casual eateries to upscale dining experiences, these are some of the best restaurants in Springfield:
Handmade tortillas filled with authentic Mexican ingredients? Yes, please! This modern taqueria serves trios of tacos with a twist on tradition. Try fried fish tacos with pickled red cabbage and chipotle remoulade or pork belly tacos with roasted pineapple and Spanish onion. Add a side of chips and salsa or Mexican street corn to round out your order. Owned by a Culinary Institute of America-trained chef, Tacology 101 gets great reviews from guac-connoisseurs everywhere.
If you’re craving Italian coastal cuisine, head to VELE at 524 E. Monroe. Their casual mid-century modern dining room complements an ever-changing menu of Mediterranean favorites, homemade pasta, creative entrées, and delectable desserts. This award-winning restaurant is open Wednesdays-Saturdays from 4:30 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. and reservations are recommended.
This Latin American fusion restaurant serves small plates and entrées flavored with traditional spices and seasonings from Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Cuba, Brazil, Peru, Mexico, Venezuela, and Colombia. Roots Latin Grill is open six days a week for dinner and drinks.
This upscale restaurant is in the historic St. Nicholas high-rise where celebrities and presidents have stayed while in Springfield. The name is a nod to the modern cuisine on the menu. Choose from a selection of soups, salads, and small plates followed by inventive entrées and sumptuous side dishes. For a sweet treat after dinner, ask for Bananas Foster, chocolate-dipped strawberries, or the daily dessert.
For classic to contemporary American fare, make a reservation at Loukinens’ on 4th. This casual downtown eatery is open for lunch and dinner six days a week. Enjoy a cup of soup with one of Chef Loukinen’s creative grilled cheese sandwiches or have a burger with your choice of brioche, pretzel, or wheat bun. Gluten-free and vegan options are available for diners with specific dietary needs.
Visitors of all ages can find something fun to do in this captivating capital city. Here are some recommendations from local residents:
The largest water and amusement park in central Illinois, Knights Action Park is packed with fun family favorites like go carts, mini-golf, batting cages, and arcade games. The Splash Kingdom side of the park is open seasonally and features water slides, a wave pool, and a lazy river. The park is also home to a driving range and the Route 66 Twin Drive-In Theatre.
Head to the Henson Robinson Zoo to see more than 80 species of animals from five continents right here in Springfield! Upgrade your experience with special programming including animal encounters and behind-the-scenes tours. Tickets, stroller rentals, and tokens for the Zoo Choo Train are available at the Admissions Counter. If you’d like to help support the zoo, you can shop for souvenirs at the gift shop or consider becoming a member.
This popular attraction has temporary and permanent exhibits, educational programs, and interactive presentations that tell the story of one of the country’s greatest presidents - Abraham Lincoln. With engaging experiences like scavenger hunts, story hours, and a hands-on play area, even the youngest visitor will enjoy learning about Lincoln.
The Illinois State Museum is the place to be after hours when adults have the opportunity to enjoy previews of upcoming exhibits, game nights, and themed parties! Tickets are sold online and at the door and proceeds support the museum’s educational programming. Drinks and food from local vendors are available for sale as well.
Take a tour of the dark side of the city with Springfield Hauntings. Your guide will regale you with tales of haunted houses, eerie events, dark deeds and more! Tours depart from the Vachel Lindsay House every weekend between April and November. The tours last between 2 and 2 1/2 hours and are open to adults and kids over the age of 8.
Donnie B’s Comedy Club has been entertaining local audiences for more than 20 years. Open Tuesday through Saturday nights, the club has hosted some of the biggest names in the business like Tom Arnold, Pauly Shore, and Jamie Kennedy! Tickets can be purchased online or over the phone.
If you’re in town during the summer, stop by Lanphier Park to see the Springfield Sliders face off against their Prospect League rivals. You can buy general admission tickets for these collegiate summer league games by phone, at the gate, or on the the team’s website.
For a unique date night, bachelor/bachelorette party, or team building event, head to Real Ax Ax Throwing’s indoor range. After a brief safety and training session, you can compete against your friends, family, or co-workers in this ancient game of skill. Reservations are recommended for these 1.5-hour sessions.
A facility of the Springfield Park District, the Nelson Center Ice Rink is a year-round ice skating facility with two indoor rinks, locker rooms, and concession areas. The park district offers ice skating, figure skating, and hockey instruction for children and adults and hosts youth ice hockey games. See the calendar on their website for public skating session times.
This peaceful urban oasis has ten specialty gardens and a conservatory where over 1800 species of plants from around the world are on display. Stop by Washington Park to see this popular horticultural attraction with its beautiful beds of annuals and perennials. The Springfield Park District also offers education tours and programs for anyone interested in learning more about the plants and their native habitats.
The SAA Collective Gallery holds seven juried art exhibits annually. Located in the H.D. Smith Gallery in the Hoogland Center for the Arts, this public gallery showcases the work of local artists. The collective also offers art instruction and educational programs.
Operated by the National Park Service, this historic site offers visitors a glimpse into the life of Abraham Lincoln. You’ll be treated to a 25-minute tour of Lincoln’s former home including the rooms where he ate, slept, and entertained guests. If you’re planning to visit the site, you’ll want to plan ahead because tickets for the tour are issued on a first-come, first-served basis.
Relax and rejuvenate at these locally owned day spas and boutiques:
Whether you just need some “me time” or you’re getting ready for a special occasion, the licensed therapists and estheticians at Spavia will help you look and feel your best. This award-winning spa offers a full range of services, including relaxing massages, soothing skincare treatments, make-up consultations, exfoliating body scrubs, and sunless tanning sessions.
The BJ Grand Salon & Spa has been catering to clients in the Springfield area for more than forty years. Their two locations are staffed with professionals who are knowledgeable about the latest trends and techniques. Choose from a range of head-to-toe services including haircuts and coloring services, custom facials, specialty manicures and pedicures, and rejuvenating body treatments.
Offering personalized services from 30-minute massages to 30-day cleanse packages, the professional staff at the Inner Health Spa are devoted to your health and well-being. Destress and detox at this locally owned day spa for men and women south of downtown Springfield.
Stretch your muscles and strengthen your core with a session at a Springfield area gym or yoga studio:
FitClub has earned its reputation for being voted the best health club in Springfield for 11 years in a row! The club’s three facilities offer group fitness classes, personal training sessions, and health and wellness programs. All three locations are open seven days a week for your convenience.
Whether you’re taking your first class or you’re an advanced yoga practitioner, you’ll feel at home at Ahh Yoga. The studio has a full schedule of traditional and specialty classes including restorative yoga, mindfulness and meditation techniques, yoga for pregnant moms, strength and core flow, barre yoga, and even yoga on standup paddle boards. Clinics, workshops, and special events will help you expand your practice and get your friends and family involved.
Open 24/7 so you can workout at your convenience, the Pure Performance Fitness Center is equipped with a wide range of machines and free weights. This highly-rated gym is staffed with motivational instructors and personal trainers who promote healthy lifestyles and tailor workouts to help you meet your fitness goals. Semi-private classes and one-on-one sessions are offered at their clean, well-maintained facility on 4th Street.
If you want to see more of Central Illinois, head out of town for a day trip to these nearby locations:
About 2 1/2 hours east of Springfield in Missouri, the Mark Twain National Forest is a great place for a day away from the city. The forest has more than 350 miles of waterways and 750 miles of multi-use trails. Float down the Eleven Point National Scenic River, take an interpretive tour of the Glade Top Trail, launch your boat at the Hendrickson Boat Launch, or fish the waters of the Big Piney River. These are just some of the many outdoor opportunities awaiting you at the Mark Twain National Forest. Whatever you decide to do on your day trip out east, you’re sure to arrive back in Springfield relaxed and refreshed.
The trip down I-55 from Springfield to St. Louis will take you just about an hour and a half by car. You’ll know you’ve arrived when you see the Gateway Arch that towers over the city. Shaped like 1/2 of a McDonald’s sign, the arch is a great place to start your day in St. Louis. You can take a tram to the top for a panoramic view of the city, visit the museum in its underground visitor center, or board a riverfront cruise from the dock near its base. If you have time left before you have to head back to Springfield, be sure to visit the Old Courthouse where two landmark cases made history in the 19th century.
Head east to Arthur and you’ll find yourself in the heart of Amish country. This charming Amish settlement attracts visitors from across the region who come to learn more about the Amish way of life and shop for hand sewn quilts and handcrafted furniture.
As a final reminder, some of these activities may need to wait until businesses fully reopen from coronavirus closures. However, there is still much to see and experience in Springfield that you can enjoy today! What are your favorite spots in Springfield? Send them our way to [email protected] or by tagging us on Instagram @rvshare and using the hashtag #rvsharelocal.