When you think of a gay vacation in Illinois you immediately think of Chicago, which has an incredibly vibrant community and a city that embraces it. But, if you need a little R&R and want to get out of the big city, head about three hours from Chicago to the quaint historic town of Galena in Northwest Illinois about a stone’s throw from the Mississippi River.
Gay-friendly Galena is perfect for a romantic getaway where you can get lost in each other as you meander down Main Street by well-preserved buildings — some dating back to the Civil War. Here you can enjoy microbrews and locally made spirits, go antiquing, play a few rounds of golf, hit the slopes in winter and so much more to bring you and your significant other closer together.
When you get hungry or need a drink …
One Eleven Main – Romance is in the air at One Eleven Main, one of the more upscale yet very approachable Galena restaurants. With a farm-to-table menu featuring locally sourced ingredients from farmers, artisans and purveyors, the delicious options include poutine with homemade fries and cheese curds; almond-encrusted walleye with seasonal veggies and sour-cream mashed potatoes; and braised pork cavatappi pasta with bacon, spinach and onions. And many of the cocktails, beer and wine all come from places in Illinois, Wisconsin and Iowa.
Otto’s Place – With the look and feel of an old country inn set inside a classic red building dating back to 1899 adjacent to the circa 1857 Train Depot, Otto’s is a great spot for breakfast and lunch. Come for butternut squash, kale and smoked gouda frittata; bread pudding French toast; and corned beef hash — and of course a Bloody Mary with homemade mix.
Fried Green Tomatoes – With a name like Fried Green Tomatoes, you’d think it’d be a country diner, but this Italian-inspired restaurant set inside a building once owned by Ulysses S. Grant’s father, offers hearty steaks, great seafood and a Wine Spectator-recognized wine list.
Little Tokyo – Yes, it may seem a little strange to get sushi in Northwest Illinois, but Little Tokyo has super-fresh fish for their sushi and sashimi. And they have other Japanese dishes like teriyaki chicken, shrimp tempura and a range of hibachi dinners including filet mignon, lobster tail and scallops.
Galena Brewing Company – When you want award-winning beers like IPA, hefeweizen and amber ale — all handcrafted on site — to go along with baked chicken wings; hefe lime nachos; and slow-roasted hand-pulled pork while listening to live music, you definitely want to be here.
Get active in Galena
Galena Wine Cellars Tour – What’s better than seeing a gorgeous country vineyard up close? Getting to taste through a bunch of their delicious wines! Take an approximately hour-long tour that first covers the history of the winery before you visit the vineyard to see the 22 grape varietals they grow. You’ll then tour the cellars before returning to the tasting room to get six half-ounce wine pours chosen from the 40 wines they make on site. Public tours cost $10 per person with an additional $7.50 admission fee.
Breakfast Diva Cooking Class at Farmers Guest House – You don’t have to book a room at Farmer’s Guest House to take advantage of the cooking prowess of Susan Steffan, a.k.a. the Breakfast Diva. The 90-minute classes cost $35 and Steffan will teach you how to make a multi-course meal with dishes like chicken piccata, barbecue ribs or some of her renowned breakfast desserts.
Blaum Brothers Distilling Co. Tour – Blaum Brothers is growing acclaim within the craft spirits world with its bourbon, gin, moonshine and other spirits and you can see how everything is made. The $10, 45-minute tours take place daily and you’ll learn about the entire process and end with a guided tasting.
Chestnut Mountain – Whether you want to check out the Alpine slide or go zip lining in summer or hit the slopes to ski or snowboard in winter, this year-round resort offers plenty of things to keep you moving.
Golf and Spa at Eagle Ridge Resort – The Galena area has 10 top golf courses, and you’ll definitely want to play some rounds at the award-winning Eagle Ridge. The property has four championship courses set among natural beauty. And when you’re done on the links, hit the Zen ambiance of the 6,000-square-foot Stonedrift Spa for facials, body work, couples massage and more luxurious indulgences.
Galena on the Fly– What better way to see the full scope of the countryside than from the basket of a soaring hot air balloon? Each balloon can hold up to 14 people and you can book a sunrise or sunset cruise and even get married at 3,000 feet up!
When you want to get your shop on
A Bushel & a Peck – About 25 minutes from downtown Galena, this country store is an antiquer’s treasure chest. Find vintage and reclaimed furniture, house wares and locally crafted foodstuffs including honey, maple syrup, cheese and eggs.
Galena Clay Works – If you love handcrafted functional objects like bowls, dishes and other beautiful pottery, you must make a stop at Kent Henderson’s adorable studio in Galena’s “Old Town” district. You’ll likely end up leaving with a bunch of goods.
Galena Canning Company – Discover a bounty of delicious sauces, jams, jellies, dressings, olive oils, barbecue sauce, seasonings, rubs, relishes, pickles, bloody mary mixes and even more to stock up your kitchen back home.
All That’s Vintage – For antiques right on Main Street, you can’t go wrong with All That’s Vintage. You’ll snag house wares, bake ware, vintage cameras, fancy hats and so much more.
And when you want to sleep
Aldrich Guest House – This gay owned, five-bedroom B&B about five minutes from Main Street dates back to a time when both President Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant roamed the halls. It has a very lovely, country feel with plush brass beds and rooms with sitting areas, free Wifi throughout, Beekman 1802 bath products, full hot breakfast and wine and snacks daily at 5 p.m.
Jail Hill Inn – The nicest thing about the Jail Hill Inn is that, unlike when it was a real prison, you actually get to leave when you want. But seriously, this charming inn set inside a 135-year-old building atop a hill overlooking the Galena countryside underwent a complete renovation in 2015. Today, the six-suite, four-story inn features rooms each boasting king size beds with luxe linens, Aveda products, fireplaces and Kohler bathrooms with steam showers or massage tubs. Guests are welcomed to their room with chocolates and Champagne upon arrival and enjoy three-course breakfasts each morning.
Eagle Ridge Resort & Spa — In addition to golf and spa services, Eagle Ridge is the area’s premier resort set over 6,800 acres. You’ll find well-appointed rooms and villas, award-winning restaurants, hiking and biking trails, fishing, kayaking and a host of other activities.