Welcome to Springfield, Illinois
At the heart of the Prairie State (otherwise known as Illinois), Springfield’s charms lie in its history—its retro diners and drive-ins, its only-found-here delicacies, and its Route 66 and Abraham Lincoln landmarks. It’s a place where you can visit a Frank Lloyd Wright masterpiece in the morning, pay homage to an admired American leader in the afternoon, and indulge in some Mother Road nostalgia in the evening. To give you an insider’s look at the capitol of Illinois, we asked the locals what to do when you visit. Here are a few favorites.
Land of Lincoln
Take a dive into U.S. history with a visit to the home, the tomb, and the museum dedicated to one of the country’s most important political figures, Abraham Lincoln. Don’t miss the Lincoln Presidential Museum, where there’s a mix of kid-friendly kitsch—wax figures and a reproduction of the White House mixed with some interactive AI exhibits—and substance: living history performances and a 40-minute play about Lincoln’s assassination. Locals say it’s a place “of profound emotion and reverence.” To connect with Lincoln while communing with the great outdoors, head for the Lincoln Memorial Gardens, where you can stroll the trails around Lake Springfield, look for wildlife, and visit the small, but tasteful zoo to see lions, penguins, and bears. Oh my!
Get Your Kicks
In this famously car-loving country, Route 66 is so iconic that it’s been dubbed the Mother Road. As it runs through Springfield on its way from Chicago to California, the highway carries history buffs, road trippers, and lovers of vintage Americana. For a taste of old Route 66 nostalgia, drive on over to one of the country’s dwindling number of old-school outdoor cinemas and catch a flick at the Route 66 Drive-in Theater. For another blast from the Automotive Age past, stop into the memorabilia-packed Maid-Rite Burger, home of the first drive-through window. Locals recommend the Steam Burger, a loose-meat ground beef sandwich on a burger bun. It’s not exactly car-friendly, but it’s worth the mess. For drive-in nostalgia on a stick, stop at the 1949 Cozy Dog Drive-In, home of the corn dog (aka “Cozy Dog”). Every September, the massive International Route 66 Mother Road Festival auto show rides through Springfield. The event draws some 80,000 spectators to watch classic cars rev their engines and show their muscle as the crowd roars, “Light ‘em up!”
Be A Good Sport
A sporting goods store, unlike any other, locals, love the employee-owned regional chain Scheel’s for its quirky multi-story setup that has something for everyone, from birders to fishermen, snowshoers to disc golfers, kids to pets. Department after department represents every sport you can imagine—with a selection of related video games in each!—giant overhead saltwater aquariums, an indoor Ferris Wheel, mini bowling lanes, batting cages, an in-store candy shop, airplanes dangling from the ceiling, a café that serves dog treats and other irresistible innovations.
“Chili is a big deal in Springfield,” locals confess. The Chili Parlor has been a hot spot for the hot stuff since 1945. Part of its appeal comes from the parlor’s willingness to customize. Order your chili from mild to ferocious—aka “Firebrand”—on a five-point heat spectrum and sprinkle oyster crackers over the top. The old Leland Hotel, home of the “Horseshoe,” is no longer around, but the hotel’s most famous invention, is now served at “just about any restaurant in town.” This one-time marketing gimmick has become a Springfield standby: an open-faced sandwich with Texas toast, a beef patty or chicken breast, and French fries that is “lovingly soaked in cheese sauce.” Locals delight in the array of variations to this beloved local dish: there’s “a version for every palate.” Insider’s tip: If you want a half-size portion, order the “Ponyshoe.”
Obed & Isaac's Microbrewery & Eatery is housed in a historic Lincoln-era home, has a backyard bocce ball court and beer garden that’s always overflowing. Try their Horseshoe (as the locals say, every Springfield restaurant has one), which can be prepared with a veggie patty for meat-abstaining beer-lovers, with a Mother Road American Pale Ale. Outside of town, other breweries and wineries are popping up, including The Hand of Fate in nearby Petersburg and Danenberger Family Vineyards in New Berlin, which hosts wine-pairing dinners and live music during the warm months. The best thing about this new crop of local businesses is their location: “they’re in the farm area, so you get the full experience with the leaves changing color each autumn.”