With the weather just starting to get good again, the students at UIUC are beginning to enjoy newly scheduled events and the great outdoors. U of I is known for its incredible campus and facilities, but what people don’t know is that there is just as much to do in Urbana/Champaign as there is to do on campus.
For students looking to mix it up a little and take a drive off-campus, we have the best places to visit in the area that are worth the trip out of your dorm/apartment and into the real world.
When you’re crowded in a dorm and classes all day, it might be a good idea to take some time to get out in the great outdoors. Crystal Lake Park is just a short drive from campus and is a much welcome distraction with its beautiful dense forests and scenic views. If you’re feeling like a swim, there is also an aquatic center that “features an overhanging rock wall, a zero-depth entry pool, and three different waterslides.” Some non-motorized boats and vehicles can be rented from May to September.
This park is full of wonders, and planetware.com says that there is also “playgrounds, picnic areas, and a unique landscaped brick labyrinth that is a challenge to work your way through. Interpretive information about the surrounding landscapes is scattered throughout the entire park.” Address: 206 West Park Street, Urbana, Illinois
Maybe the most obvious answer when it comes to the best things to do off-campus, but Downtown Champaign is so great that we need to make sure no one misses it! One of the best parts of the location is the downtown area that has surrounded UIUC’s campus. Feature some of the best shops, restaurants, and bars around, this is the go-to spot for off-campus adventures. Be sure to stay on the lookout for events happening downtown inducing the Farmer’s Market and Streetfest, a live music festival.
May and June are some of the best months of the year in the U.S. for one reason – farmer’s markets. A great off-campus option for fresh produce and some time out in the sun is visiting the Market at the Square. According to plantware.com, the farmers market “takes place every Saturday morning from May through October. This popular farmers’ market is an open-space selling venue featuring fresh produce, prepared foods, plants, clothing, and a wide variety of locally made goods.”
Shop for groceries, goodies, and even grab some hot, prepared food to-go, this farmers market will not disappoint. Make sure you come back every week to check out the new live musical guest who performs while you shop. Check out their website for more info.
One of the only things that UIUC can’t boast is having a planetarium. A local favorite, the William M. Staerkel Planetarium located on Parkland College’s campus, is open to be visited by anyone, student or not.
“The William M. Staerkel Planetarium, one of the largest in the state, provides a comfortable seat for anyone interested in catching a show. Popular for field trips and astronomical society meetings, the 50-foot dome screen of the planetarium hosts several public showings. Most public screenings at the planetarium take place on the weekends and range from Solar Superstorms to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon.” The reviews for this place are too good to be true, right? Go check this place out if you need to sit in a chair and enjoy a show. Visit their website for an official showtime schedule here.
“Located on the scenic Shawnee Hills Wine Trail in Southern Illinois, Alto Vineyards and Winery is owned by the Renzaglia family and produces award-winning wines.” They had me at wine! Apparently, if you are of age, this is one of the best places around to get the perfect wine tasting experience.
Vacationidea.com says Alto Vineyards is “set atop the rolling landscape of Alto Pass, […] and consists of the central wine farm in Alto Pass and a tasting room in Champaign, where visitors can taste some of the best wines in the country.” Sign. Me. Up. Check out their hours and COVID protocols on their website here, and go enjoy some wine!
With all these options to fill your weekends, you will slowly start to forget what being stuck inside was like as you are sipping wine on a vineyard or walking through a farmer’s market with ambient music playing in the background. While UIUC is known for its epic on-campus amenities, off-campus offers just as many cool things to do and might take you to a place you’ve never been before. Have fun exploring!
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