When he shuts up his workshop at the North Pole after another successful holiday season, Santa Claus doesn't simply hibernate until next December. Instead, he packs up his sleigh and heads to his summer home at the Fox River Valley's Santa's Village Azoosment Park. Open from May to October, the wonderland greets guests with three separate amusement experiences. The fun begins in Santa's Village, where quaint alpine building and expertly manicured pathways awaken feelings of nostalgia in hearts young and old. There, visitors can zoom down the original Santa's Tree House Slide, hitch a ride on the Kringle Convoy, or snap a picture at a recreation of Santa's North Pole home. They can also tap into the amusement rides including the antique carousel, the Tilt-A-Whirl, and Dracor the Dragon's Coaster.
A renowned lover of animals, Santa has also filled his park with a menagerie of creatures both familiar and exotic. After visiting Rudolph and company at Reindeer Ridge, visitors can grab a ride on a horse-drawn sleigh on their way to see the denizens of Parakeet Paradise, Tortoise Island, or Old MacDonald's Farm and Petting Zoo. In addition to grabbing up-close peeks of everything from a red-tailed boa to a fennec fox, visitors can also take in an exotic animal show that educates audience members about the park's wild residents.
Always in the holiday spirit, the park welcomes groups looking to add a spark to reunions, birthday, or group outings. This accommodating spirit even extends to the park's rule book: parking is free, and picnic baskets are encouraged.
A kids' firehouse sets the stage for hands-on, imaginative activities at FireZone, where actual firefighters show off fire engines, explain educational displays, and oversee games for kids of all ages. In addition to children?s parties and drop-in play sessions, FireZone runs school field trips, caters to adults with corporate training days, and rents fire trucks for picnics, parades, and festivals.
Eric and Markay Suevel have run the eponymous Suevel Studios—a full-service glass studio that creates custom pieces and hosts classes—for more than 30 years. Both proprietors have practiced the art for decades, but their partnership marries two distinct approaches. Eric learned the craft at a young age from his uncle, and Markay possesses a liturgical perspective as an ordained minister with a master’s in divinity. They cut and fuse alongside a team of worldly and learned glassworkers, all of whom bring their own specific expertise to the table, whether doing restoration work or mosaics. The studio's stained-glass work lights up churches, homes, and restaurants as well as their students’ faces after they complete one of 25 classes. There, apprentices acquire the skills required to decorate household windows or liven up bland, translucent reading glasses.
Thrown Elements Pottery encapsulates the joys of sculpting and painting pots in energetic classes and drop-in activities. Drop-in paint-your-own pottery sessions allow amateur artists to decorate pottery on their own schedule either at the studio or at home ($9 a day for adults plus the cost of the piece painted). Choose a pre-fired piece of dinnerware ($8–$18) and adorn it with rainbow stripes or make a creature ($11–$18) come to life using only a paintbrush and a bolt of lightning. Specialty pieces may vary in price outside of average price ranges listed.
The Elgin History Museum seeks to preserve and share the history of the city of Elgin. Boasting Greek Revival-style architecture, the first floor exhibits show how Elgin developed form the 1830's to through the 1970's. Its museum focuses on the town's industry, its architecture, and, most importantly, its citizens. The second floor's thematic exhibits cover the world-renowned Elgin National Watch Factory, which employed generations of residents, and the Hiawatha Pageant, which was put on for 50 years to help preserve local Native American dances.
Size: five permanent exhibits, plus a handful of temporary exhibits
The Building: called Old Main, it was built in 1856 for the Elgin Academy prep school and is now listed in the National Register of Historic Places
Eye Catcher: Check out a replica of Elgin's first cabin, built by the Gifford family, who are credited as the city's founders
Permanent Mainstay: Elgin Road Races, which chronicles the competitions held in town beginning over 100 years ago in the early days of auto racing
Don't Miss: Explore Elgin Architecture illuminates the city's many design styles, from settlers' cobblestone homes to Victorian architecture to bungalows
Hands-On Exhibit: Watch Your Pocket allows kids to build a pocket-watch prototype as if they were working on the assembly line at the watch factory
Pro Tip: through the Adventure Pass program, Illinois residents can use their library card for free admission to this museum and 16 others
In 1848, dairy cows grazed on the 30 acres that now host the Volo Auto Museum’s five showrooms. The mooing of heifers has given way to the imaginary roar of 200 collector cars and 100 gleaming autos that once graced movie and television sets—including a Batmobile from the 1966 TV series, a Herbie from the latest movie, and one of the first General Lees. After ogling the television and movie collection, guests can wander among vintage and antique vehicles and reminisce about the days when we still had to go places in person.
Nearby, the military exhibit’s realistic scenery surrounds vehicles ranging from a WWII BMW motorcycle with sidecar to a 1967 Bell helicopter shot down in Vietnam. After examining older artillery and artifacts, visitors can gaze at cases holding items retrieved from Saddam Hussein’s palace and from captured Iraqi soldiers. Those below driving age can explore kids’ attractions, including SpongeBob’s boatmobile.
Guests traverse the vast showrooms on foot or via a 1915, Victorian-style trolley, free on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Trolley tours begin by exploring autos that used to be stabled by the rich and famous alongside their unicorns. They then venture into the old dairy farm’s 19th-century barn, where activity by Civil War ghosts has drawn investigators from the Discover Channel’s Ghost Lab. Before leaving, visitors can refuel with an Angus-beef patty at the Betty Boop Burger Bar and Beer Garden or drop into four antique malls.