Though Larsen's Landing Outfitters has always been family owned, the stretch of wilderness under its care has two additional overseers: a pair of eagles. The birds patrol 30 acres of sheltered trails, two open fields, and miles of marshes, watching visitors as they paddle rental canoes and kayaks down the pristine Kishwaukee River, which has been rated as one of the three cleanest rivers in the state. Visitors aren't alone, though. Beavers, turtles, otters, and sandhill cranes make their homes on the bank, sharing the shore with endangered black terns and mulberry wing butterflies. They move amidst towering trees, including the sycamores that gave the river its name, a Potawatomi word for river of the sycamore.
Like a grumpy scorpion, the river's flourishing ecosystem benefits from minimal and respectful human contact. Larsen's Landing Outfitters preserves this status while still permitting visitors to explore the environment. The staff plans canoe, kayak, and camping trips with package options, from tutorials on steering a boat to picnic buffets. Travelers can park their vessels at any point to indulge in a swim, go fishing, or relax on a sandbar?and at overnight sites, campfires and pig roasts imbue the air with nostalgic, smoky aromas.
The Rockford Art Museum has more than a century of creativity hanging from the walls in its galleries. It acquired its first piece in 1913 and has since collected more than 1600 pieces from local and international artists. Glass sculptures, 20th century American photography, and impressionist paintings vie for attention alongside the dynamic images of the American southwest from the Taos Society of New Mexico. The collection houses the detailed work of regional artists trained at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Royal Academy of Arts and the earthy, meaningful paintings of outsider art, such as Richard Burnside’s untitled painting of a cat made from paint and pinecone pieces.
Standing apart from the main collection, the museum’s RAM Art Annex houses educational programs and the museum store stocks an inventory of jewelry and glass pieces by local artists. The annual Greenwich Village Art Fair also shares art appreciation with the community. The fair gathers more than 100 artists in an atmosphere filled with live music.
Arthur Murray Dance Studios has been a leading name in social dance since 1912, when the entrepreneur began selling mail-order dance lessons. Expanding his reach, he enlisted teachers to spread his signature dance lessons on first-class steamships and skyrocketed to fame in the '30s after introducing the public to such dances as the Lambeth Walk and the Big Apple. By the 1950s, Arthur and his wife, Kathryn, were hosting their own highly popular TV show on ABC, the Arthur Murray Dance Party, which ran for 12 years. Today, Arthur Murray's team prepares students for rug cutting at special events and weekend nightclub jaunts. Clients who arrive to lessons partnerless will be paired up with certified instructors. Throughout lessons, instructors teach the foundations of two to four dances from a long list of styles that range from Latin to country-western, helping students to learn basic step patterns, timing, and the ability to lead or follow.
After traveling to Japan in 1966 and to the Portland Japanese Garden soon thereafter, John Anderson found himself inspired by the country's lush landscape and tranquil gardens. In 1978, after returning to his home in Rockford, he partnered with expert designer Hoichi Kurisu to begin constructing Anderson Japanese Gardens?12 acres of paths, plants, and streams, as soothing as those John visited in Japan.
The gardens still encourage a sense of calm and thoughtful reflection, as guided and self-guided tours stroll past undulating waterfalls, trickling across colorful flowers, beneath arched bridges, and over lily pads. Fruit blossoms on trees and bushes, sculptures stand very still, and koi fish flit about in a pond. On Thursdays, participants read from scripture, listen to music, and meditate during worship services, and a series of classes held onsite, such as origami and tai chi, impart Japanese traditions.
Established in 1968, Midway Village Museum embodies a sprawling, 137-acre time capsule. Within the museum’s 27 fully functioning, Victorian buildings, exhibits tell the story of Rockford since its incorporation in the early 19th century. Throughout the years, the town has made history as the progenitor of the sock monkey, the launching point for aviator Bert Hassell, and home of the Rockford Peaches—an all-female baseball team fictionalized in the film A League of Their Own, though the real squad neither played in the 1943 championship nor battled a CGI dragon. Other attractions amid the barns, blacksmiths, and general stores include a dollhouse museum and a meticulous archive of Rockford’s long, proud history in the furniture industry.
Each facility in the family of Rockford-Area Bowling Centers enlivens the classic game of bowling with its own signature amenities. On Friday evenings, the staff at Don Carter Lanes temporarily extinguishes its warm, vintagey glow and replaces it with a dimly lit club atmosphere as DJs from 97 ZOK descend upon the alley, pumping out beats that mingle in the air along with a light and fog show. For supplementary entertainment, the Don Carter location also offers a gaming center, and the Park Lanes alley recharges guests with beer and deep-fried fuel at its onsite pub. The Cherry Bowl location keeps serious bowlers properly outfitted with a pro shop, saving them the hassle of paper-mâchéing their own heads to form makeshift bowling balls.