The Niabi Zoo houses 900 animals from 160 species hailing from a quintet of continents on its 40-acre grounds. Accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, this Midwestern menagerie abides by rigorous standards for bird and beast welfare. Traverse the educational trails, sighting zebras, ostriches, and giraffes trying on oversized bowties in the African exhibit or large cats such as the jaguar, leopard, and bengal tiger. The Niabi Zoo also protects 200 acres of area land for native wildlife preservation and bocce-ball tournaments.
Tinker Swiss Cottage Museum is a Victorian-era time capsule, containing within its Swiss-style architecture more than 10,000 objects representing the furniture, artwork, and clothing of the Tinker family. Between the main estate, the barn, the carriage house, and 27 acres of rolling gardens, the museum possesses enough history to attract locals, tourists, and even the producers of Syfy's Ghost Hunters, who recently filmed a segment at the house. Daily guided tours sweep through the grounds, which include a pre-Columbian Native American conical mound, as well as the site where Rockford was founded 4,000 years ago.
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.
The sun and the stars serve as constant companions at Hillcrest Event Center, where a 9-hole golf course, a swimming pool, and camping grounds entertain visitors day and night. A breezy par 30, the executive course caters to all experience levels, inviting beginners to take on its short holes while letting seasoned golfers hone their approach shots. After navigating the water hazards, guests can purposely head to the Olympic-sized swimming pool, which ripples at the center of a 3,000-square-foot sundeck where waiters serve poolside food and drinks. Or, dine at The BBQ Pit, home of the Illinois BBQ Fest.
As the sun sets, the crackling glow of fires peppers the campgrounds, illuminating the nylon sides of tents or canvas hulls of mobile RVs. Tent sites include access to the resort's hot showers and restrooms, while the RV facilities' hookups pump water and electricity into mobile homes so residents can bathe in private and use electric carving knives for whittling. When the sun rises, residents can begin their day with a hike on the resort's nature trails.
The circus comes to the Boone County Fairgrounds every year, but it's hardly a matter for celebration. The clowns of this carnival cover their faces equally in paint and blood and travel only by a 40-capacity hearse. Visitors are assailed on all sides by hillbilly carnies soaked in gore. Inside this unnerving indoor attraction, a 3D maze harbors sideshow-worthy horrors from swamp monsters to murderous living dolls.