Located about 90 miles northwest of Chicago and 20 miles south of the Wisconsin border, Rockford, Illinois, is divided by the scenic Rock River. While the region's economy has struggled in recent years, Rockford has benefited from Chrysler's decision to produce the redesigned Dodge Dart at the Belvidere Assembly Plant. The sleek new Dodge Dart started rolling off the assembly line in May 2012. Despite the city's deep roots in manufacturing, Rockford was nicknamed the Forest City for its abundance of beautiful trees.
During summer, the most popular things to do in Rockford involve the great outdoors. For a sampling of the city's natural beauty, plus exotic plants from all over the world, head about three miles southwest of Downtown to Klehm Arboretum & Botanic Garden. Many of the unusual trees on the 155 acres were planted in the early 1900s. The Rockford attraction includes towering Norway spruce trees, umbrella magnolias with two-foot leaves and conifers that have been trained to grow into whimsical shapes.
About three miles northeast of downtown, Anderson Japanese Gardens (recognized as the top in its class in North America) showcases a completely different variety of plants in a tranquil setting. Its mixture of ponds, quaint bridges, miniature waterfalls, flowering trees and dense greenery is a must-see Rockford attraction at the height of its beauty in summer. For its contributions to the region's quality of life, the site was chosen as one of Illinois' 150 Great Places by the American Institute of Architects.
If visiting Rockford in winter, consider indoor pastimes that avoid frigid outdoor temperatures. Downtown's Coronado Theatre, circa 1927, once hosted silent films and live entertainers ranging from comedian Frank Sinatra to striptease artist Gypsy Rose Lee. An $18.5-million renovation in 1998 restored the theater to its original grandiosity, garnering a prestigious preservation award. Today it operates as a high-profile performing arts center.
Things to do in Rockford indoors with kids include trips to the Discovery Center science museum, which is adjacent to the Rockford Art Museum, and the Burpee Museum of Natural History, which features a full mount of a juvenile tyrannosaurus dinosaur. The museums are situated just north of Downtown.
Rockford's most famous native son, Cheap Trick guitarist Rick Nielsen, is also one of the city's biggest boosters. He shares his favorite places to eat in the official visitor's guide. At breakfast, try the pancakes with lingonberries at the Stockholm Inn, a stronghold of the local Swedish community. For an out-of-the-ordinary lunch, the family-friendly P’s Restaurant serves up from-scratch delicacies, such as a pork cutlet sandwich called the Knucklehead. Diners in the market for pizza and other Italian food in a friendly, even boisterous, atmosphere choose Maria's Italian Cafe, while those seeking fresh sushi and other Asian delights head for JMK Nippon. The city’s compact layout makes all of these establishments accessible to visitors. To top off the evening, check out the Kryptonite Music Lounge downtown, which serves craft beers and presents up-and-coming bands five nights a week.