Weekend in Peoria: Top Things to Do in the Sky and on the River

Soderstrom 2nd dragon- featured image

Elevate Your Experience: Exploring Peoria’s Parks and Sky-high Attractions

In Peoria, the Illinois River isn’t merely a waterway. It serves as the central thread weaving together a tapestry of experiences. Whether you’re soaring high in the parks, gazing into the cosmos from an observatory, or exploring the city’s rich history in museums, each moment offers a chance to connect with the beauty. Additionally, leisurely drifting along the river on a cruise uniquely lets you experience this city’s vibrancy. So, come and navigate the beauty of Peoria, where the sky and the river converge to create an unforgettable weekend in Peoria. It’s a great weekend/ day trip from Rock Island.

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Grandview Drive

The city is easily accessible by foot, bike, and car, and all these options can be enjoyed along Grandview Drive. It’s one of my favorite things to do in Peoria. However, I recommend experiencing the scenic drive along one of the country’s most beautiful residential streets from the comfort of your car. Grandview Drive offers a stunning hillside route with picturesque views of the Illinois River. Along the way, you’ll encounter some of the most beautiful mansions, including the notable Soderstrom Castle, constructed in the 1930s. This castle is a unique amalgamation inspired by castles the owners visited throughout Europe. It features distinctive turrets and lead glass windows and is guarded by a pair of dragons on one side and lions on the other, making it a prominent and mysterious home.

Check out this link to read about Bella, a beluga whale in captivity in Seoul, South Korea, for over a decade.

Attend the Illinois Shakespeare Festival

Enjoy outdoor performances of Shakespearean plays during the summer months. Located on the wooded Sunset Hill estate of the late Hazle Buck Ewing, the Ewing Cultural Center encompasses the open-air Theatre at Ewing (summer home of the Illinois Shakespeare Festival). The elegant Ewing Manor (which is open for tours) and the beautiful Genevieve Green Gardens. During 2024, three artistic offerings were offered, including two Shakespeare plays (12th Night and Macbeth) and a Jane Austin classic (Sense and Sensibility). Season tickets will go on sale February 14, 2024. Individual tickets will go on sale on March 19, 2024. For more top things to do in Peoria, go to the Illinois Shakespeare Festival webpage.

Take a Land and River Cruise

On a beautiful day, one of the best activities to enjoy is the nearest water attraction. In Peoria, that gem happens to be the Illinois River. Fortunately for you, there’s the Illinois River Cruise, complete with a lunch. The tour kicks off with a delicious meal in their restaurant, followed by a narrated trolley tour about Starved Rock’s rich history and the fascinating legends of the area.

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The trolley will transport passengers to the Eagle 1, offering a unique perspective of the east end of Starved Rock State Park from the water. Throughout the tour, restrooms are available, and minimal walking is required. Both the trolley and boat are wheelchair accessible. For more information on the Land and River Cruise, visit their Website.

  • Runs June – September
  • Monday, Wednesday, & Friday
  • Departs at 11am (ends at 3pm)
  • $58 per person

Richard Pryor Statue

Richard Pryor, the groundbreaking stand-up comedian, writer, and actor born in Peoria, Illinois 1940, achieved legendary status with his fearless approach to comedy. His career, marked by sharp wit, incisive social commentary, and the ability to transcend boundaries, spanned decades. Known for raw, honest, and often controversial humor, Pryor left an indelible mark on entertainment. In homage to his contributions, Peoria proudly hosts a statue of Richard Pryor, commemorating the hometown hero whose impact on comedy and culture endures. The following films showcase Pryor’s comedic brilliance and his ability to tackle social issues and bring humor to a broad audience.

  1. “Silver Streak” (1976): A classic comedy-thriller where Pryor starred alongside Gene Wilder.
  2. “Stir Crazy” (1980): Another collaboration with Gene Wilder, this film became a massive box office hit.
  3. “Which Way Is Up?” (1977): Pryor showcased his versatility by playing multiple roles in this comedy.
  4. “Bustin’ Loose” (1981): Pryor starred as a con artist leading a group of troubled children on a cross-country journey.
  5. “Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life Is Calling” (1986): A semi-autobiographical film directed by and starring Pryor, offering a glimpse into his own life.
  6. “The Toy” (1982): Pryor teamed up with Jackie Gleason in this comedy about a wealthy man hiring a poor man as a human toy for his son.
  7. “See No Evil, Hear No Evil” (1989): Yet another successful collaboration with Gene Wilder, this time in a crime-comedy.

Visit the Peoria Riverfront

Enjoy scenic views, walking paths, and recreational activities along the Illinois River. Many shops, restaurants, parks, music venues, and galleries are along the riverfront. Opened in front of the historic Rock Island Depot and Freight House in 2012, the Smithsonian-affiliated Peoria Riverfront Museum has something for everyone. A Riverfront Farmers Market from mid-May to September offers fresh produce, meats and cheeses, and pottery. All of it is made in central Illinois and brought straight from the farms and gardens. It’s also a nice place to stroll, ride your bike, or watch the boats sail by.

It’s impossible for me to move forward without looking back and reflecting on what I learned from my travels in 2023.

Whiskey City

Did you know that Peoria, Illinois was famous for its whiskey production? Peoria was once nicknamed Whiskey City for its nearly 100 distilleries and breweries, which sprouted up due to the prime growing conditions plus river access that made transporting the products easy.

Unfortunately, few distilleries still remain in Peoria, but visitors can at least sample some whiskey at BLACK BAND Distillery and enjoy other adult beverages at local breweries in Peoria.

Northmoor Observatory

In the summer, public viewings are held at Northmoor Observatory by the Peoria Astronomical Society, giving visitors a glimpse of the gorgeous night sky. This is one of the most unique things to do in Peoria, but visitors will need to time it right.

Public viewings are held every cloudless Saturday from May to October. The observatory appears to be closed to non-members outside of those dates.

Red Covered Bridges

Wooden red-covered bridges are becoming increasingly scarce in rural landscapes, making each one unique. Whenever I hear about one, I don’t mind taking a side trip to see them. People often spot these picturesque structures in parks or over small streams. However, they’re not just eye-catching; the red color serves a purpose by protecting the wood from the elements. These bridges boast a classic design with slanted roofs and open sides, adding to their timeless appeal. There are several red-covered bridges in the area: one in Princeton to the north and one in Mahomet to the southeast.

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Where We Stayed

We stayed in a beautiful 2-bedroom suite at the Peoria Marriott Pere Marquette downtown. Originally constructed in 1927, the hotel has undergone renovations to preserve its historic charm while providing modern accommodations.

Peoria Marriott Pere Marquette
501 Main St, Peoria, IL 61602


Where We Ate

We dined at various establishments during our visit, but the cafes left the most lasting impression on me. Intuition Coffee + Juice, a charming downtown cafe near the hotel, caught my attention. Similar to the other cafes on our list, it was the architecture that initially captivated me. The unique shapes of the buildings housing these cafes added to the overall experience. We sampled avocado toast at both places. We favored the simpler version at Zion over the one at Intuition, which boasted a more elaborate array of ingredients. I find that avocado toast, as one of the most straightforward open-faced sandwiches, shines when kept simple, without unnecessary embellishments. You can find Intuition Coffee here and click this link to navigate to Zion Cafe.

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  • Zion-cafe-avocado-and-nutbutter-toast-519x692 Weekend in Peoria: Top Things to Do in the Sky and on the River
  • Zion-Cafe-519x692 Weekend in Peoria: Top Things to Do in the Sky and on the River
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