Once known as Smallville, the Aurora, Illinois, area is far from small. The second largest city in the state, Aurora is the anchor among a 10-city region southwest of Chicago. Plano, with a population of almost 11,000, served as the hometown of Superman in the movie “Man of Steel.”
We could have used Superman’s powers when we arrived in the Chicago suburbs. A heavy rain storm came through shortly before we arrived, derailing our original plans. Being the ever vigilant navigator, Lisa quickly went to google to search for indoor activities. She found a vintage goods mall for us to visit. Vintage 71 Shops in Yorkville offered an opportunity to browse through home décor and antiques. We ended up leaving with a ton of photos…and a vintage suitcase which Lisa plans to refinish with previous trips’ postcards.
Lunch at Crusade Burger Bar in Yorkville was an adventure in gastronomy and art. Located along the town’s main drag, the nearly two-year-old eatery’s take on burgers is far from routine. You can order burgers with names such as Bite the Flesh, You’re the One for Me, Fatty! or Pigs in Zen. Lisa ordered Day of the Lords, featuring bacon, mushrooms, onions and swiss cheese with her burger. The area was hosting its annual fair during our visit, so I went with the weekly special – the Fair Burger. It was your typical burger, only it added bacon, pepper jack cheese and a mini-corn dog. While it provided a stunning view, it was difficult to eat as a burger. I ended up eating the burger and corn dog separately. Regardless, we enjoyed our experience.
When you visit Crusade, you need to explore the building. Murals, games and TVs create a fun environment for diners. I can see it being a fun place for happy hour and outings.
With an evening of events in Aurora planned, we headed to Homestead 1854, a bed and breakfast in Plano that would serve as our base camp for the weekend. With seven rooms available for guests, the B&B also hosts weddings and other events. Located at the end of the street, Homestead’s grounds include a party tent, firepit area, garden and a labyrinth. Its beautiful setting explains why people eagerly host events there.
Afterward, we headed to the Farnsworth House, a unique architectural creation. Designed without interior walls and surrounded by glass, the Modernist creation was the brainchild of Mies van der Rohe in 1945 for Dr. Edith Farnsworth. The acclaimed physician wanted a secluded home for weekends along the Fox River. Built for $70,000, the glass-enclosed “box” was considered an architectural wonder. Used as a private residence for 50 years by the doctor and another family, the house was eventually donated to the National Trust, which offers public tours.
As we headed into Aurora, with a population near 200,000, we noticed it was easy to navigate the side roads, as well as the main streets. Meeting at Gillerson’s Grubbery, we enjoyed appetizers and drinks, as well as a dinner featuring a flank steak sandwich, the Otoe Nebraska. The owner’s family used to buy steak from a farm near the Nebraska town for a previous restaurant. Downtown Aurora is home to several interesting restaurants and drinking establishments.
Aurora hosts First Fridays for art, where stores and galleries stay open late for visitors. Afterward, people may choose to head to Two Brothers Roundhouse for drinks and to socialize. Artists display their works, which are available for purchase. I went home with a press-related print reminiscent of the book “1984.” The Roundhouse, which was once a train yard where they actually turn around engines in the middle of the facility, was a restaurant owned by the late football great Walter Payton. Today, it houses a restaurant, coffeehouse and the bar where we met the artists.
Early the next morning, I jaunted to downtown Plano, to check out the Superman connection. A large wall mural greets visitors to Smallville. The town hall, located in a former train depot, is also known as Smallville’s town hall. It also has a small museum recognizing the area’s role in the DC Comics movie. Across the street, a window is painted with a high school logo for the Smallville Spartans.
Following one of two amazing breakfasts we had during our weekend stay at Homestead, we headed into Oswego, where we would spend most of the day. The Fox Valley Winery opens daily at 8 a.m., so was it wrong to sample a few wines before noon? The winery, which sold its vineyard earlier this year, is a nice place to pick up a bottle or two of its more than two dozen wines.
Oswego Brewing Company
Oswego Brewing Company is the place to be on a Saturday afternoon. The brewery, which opened this year, offers several brews from its 15-gallon tank. With nine varieties to choose from, two flights of four beers should make for a good time, eh? Indeed, it does. Also, the sports events on TV, board games and even larger games add to the fun.
Stop by A Pinch of Happiness for a jolly old time taking in the aroma of spices. Dozens of flavorful seasonings line the shelves. We left with a couple of spices and bottles of vinegar. The thing that most impressed us about our visit was the store’s mission. The store sponsors Celebrate Differences, which supports people with disabilities, as they learn job skills to help them succeed with companies. People learn how to package spices, run a cash register, as well as interview skills.
Little White School Museum
A few blocks away, the Little White School Museum at first could be a little concerning. With a name like that, I wondered about its history. Well, it was built as a church in 1850. Eventually donated to the school district, its name came about to differentiate it from the red brick schoolhouse across the street. Now serving as a museum, it shares the history of Oswego, from prehistoric fossils found in the area to residents’ military service. It provided an interesting visit, which can range from 30 minutes to an hour, depending on how much you study and read about.
Emerson Creek Pottery and Tea Room
Oswego is home to Emerson Creek Pottery and Tea Room. Far from your typical tea room, the restaurant resembles a farmhouse eatery. The food is delicious. We started with an appetizer featuring maple apple and brie. Drizzled with maple syrup, the caramel-covered apples paired well with the brie on crackers. I’m not a brie fan but LOVED the appetizer. Lisa enjoyed a turkey sandwich featuring cranberry and raspberry spread with a side of fruit, while I went with a lunch combination of a half sandwich featuring a turkey club sandwich with a cup of broccoli cheese soup. As we dined, we people watched as a wedding party was preparing for the outdoor event.
Following lunch, we visited the store on the farm grounds. Full of home décor, china and candles, among clothes and other goods, it’s easy to spend lots of time there and spend lots of dollars.
Aurora tour, dinner
Later in the day, we returned to Aurora, where we did a self-guided tour of the area, learning about the city’s firefighters museum, as well as the role the city played in the development of the Lincoln Highway – US Highway 30 – the nation’s first transcontinental highway. Aurora was the first city along the highway to have street lights.
That evening, we enjoyed a wonderful dinner experience at Hardware, a fully sustainable gastropub and brewery. The bar features 400 bottles of whiskey. The menu provides a nice selection, from locally grown vegetables to an amazing brisket dinner. My brisket was impressively prepared, with a sweet barbecue sauce. The side of mashed potatoes featured a few lumps, which was perfect for me, as I love them that way. Lisa enjoyed a homemade ravioli. Our server offered us a free dessert because of a perceived delay in bringing us our dinner. Neither of us thought it was a delay, because it was Saturday night and the house was packed. We were told later that Hardware’s management has a high level of service expectation, and they felt they didn’t meet it. We didn’t complain as we enjoyed a homemade ho-ho.
After reluctantly checking out of the Homestead following a great breakfast, as well as a conversation with the owners and another guest, we stopped at Phillips Park in Aurora. The 325-acre park includes a small zoo featuring wild birds, reptiles, wolves and mountain lions among its residents. In addition, playgrounds, picnic areas and a golf course are located in the park.
A sunken garden may be among the park’s best attractions. The botanical garden is small and beautiful, with a water fountain in the middle. Nearby is a small gallery featuring mastodon fossils found during the park’s construction.
We finished our visit with a trip to the Paramount Theatre where we enjoyed “Legally Blonde,” a musical based on the hit Broadway show. The immaculately-designed theater will host a variety of Broadway series, including “The Wizard of Oz,” “The Producers” and “August Rush.” The theater also will host other shows during its season that runs through the summer.
We didn’t have enough time to visit even more attractions, such as Abbey Farm featuring a corn maze celebrating Illinois’ bicentennial. Blackberry Farm and a few nature preserves and trails would have been fun to check out. But, that’s all the reason for us to plan a return visit. Since we want to go back (soon!!!), you know we’re going to recommend that you visit the area. The Aurora area has tons to offer visitors, and we can’t wait to get back.
Disclaimer: Thank you to the Aurora visitors bureau for complimentary admission tickets and the B&B stay, however, all opinions and views are ours.