Travel Illinois: Galena
Tucked into the far northwest corner of Illinois is the small town of Galena, an idyllic slice of Americana that would make any Illinois native proud. Located in Jo Daviess County, Galena (population 3,600) was rated one of America’s Top 10 Charming Small Towns by TripAdvisor in 2011 and has been named among the 100 Best Small-Town Getaways by Midwest Living magazine.
The accolades aren’t surprising, considering Galena proudly claims the home of 18th U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant, a Main Street that takes you back to the good old days, several quaint bed-and-breakfasts, historical attractions galore and a thriving arts scene. The town hosts more than 1 million visitors each year, and when they come once, chances are they’ll be back again.
Here are our top 10 must-see attractions in Galena; read on to learn more.
Galena Must Sees
- Old Market House/Galena Welcome Center
- Chestnut Mountain Ski Resort
- Main Street Galena
- Ulysses S. Grant Home State Historic Site
- Galena Cellars Winery & Vineyard
- Fried Green Tomatoes Restaurant
- Galena Trolley Tours
- Wooded Wonderland Country Store & Sawmill
- DeSoto House Hotel
- Old-Fashioned Christmas in Galena
Galena is a flourishing tourist destination year-round, but it is especially beautiful during the winter holidays. Begin your tour of the city at the Old Market House on Commerce Street, where you’ll find the Galena Welcome Center and a wealth of information about local attractions and history. Galena kicks off the 2011 Christmas season on Nov. 25 at the Old Market House with Santa’s arrival, a tree lighting ceremony, gift bags, hot cocoa, roasted chestnuts and caroling.
Galena glows with holiday spirit the entire month of December with its annual Old-Fashioned Christmas in Galena celebration. The festivities include a Mistletoe Ball at Turner Hall on Dec. 3, where you can feast on an elegant Victorian dinner with President Grant, dance to a live orchestra, dress in 1800s attire and enter to win prizes. Tickets are $59.
The Old-Fashioned Christmas celebration also includes Living Windows on Dec. 10, when Main Street merchants decorate their storefronts and their windows come alive with animation. On Dec. 16, you can embark on Galena’s annual Luminaria Pub Crawl down Main Street with giveaways and prizes. The pub crawl is a prelude to the magical Night of the Luminaria on Dec. 17, when all of Galena sparkles with more than 5,000 candle-lit luminaries on its streets, steps and sidewalks.
On Feb. 18, 2012, downtown Galena will host its first annual Mardi Gras Parade featuring floats, Cajun fun and, of course, beads. The parade will take place regardless of rain, snow or sunshine. Professional snow sculptors will also be on hand, transforming blocks of snow into expressions of art.
And if you live nearby, choose and cut your own Christmas tree at Ochs Tree Farm, which opens the Friday after Thanksgiving.
Pieces of History
Galena is perhaps best known for its history, which is evident in its Victorian architecture and century-old buildings. In the early 1860s, Union General Ulysses S. Grant lived in Galena and worked at his father’s leather tannery. After the Civil War, Grant returned to Galena as a hero and was presented with a completely furnished home on Bouthillier Street. The Ulysses S. Grant Home State Historic Site is open for tours Wednesday through Sunday, and much of the Grant family’s original furniture remains.
Another place to soak up local history is the Galena-Jo Daviess County Historical Society & Museum, where you can browse exhibits on Grant, the Civil War, lead mining, steamboats and the railroad. Pick up a book or a handcrafted souvenir in the museum’s gift shop.
For a historic tour of Galena, book a reservation with the Galena Carriage Co. The company offers several packages, some of which include a meal. Galena Trolley Tours also provide historically and architecturally narrated tours in open-air replicas of original cable cars.
A Galena Main Street Walking Tour is available May through October, highlighting historic points of interest and filming locations from the 1989 Kevin Costner movie “Field of Dreams.” It meets in the DeSoto House Hotel lobby.
While in Galena, tour The Belvedere Mansion, an Italianate 1857 home furnished with Liberace’s estate items, “Gone With the Wind” green drapes and lush gardens. It is open from May through November and is often called the Crown Jewel of Galena.
10 Historic Sites in Galena
- The Dowling House
- Elihu B. Washburne House State Historic Site
- Galena History Museum
- The Old Blacksmith Shop
- Old Market House State Historic Site
- Old Stockade on the Cobblestone Street
- Ulysses S. Grant Home State Historic Site
- The Belvedere Mansion and Gardens
- Ryan Mansion Bed and Breakfast
- Turner Hall
Shopping and Spas
Main Street Galena is a treasure trove of art galleries, antique stores and boutique shops. Stroll down Main Street, and you’ll find handmade jewelry at 1ofmykind Jewels, amusement at The Atomic Toy Co., home décor at Dream Catcher, natural bath products at Galena Candle & Bath Co., scrapbooking supplies at Ink & Stamp With Sue, and whimsical crafts and games at Poopsie’s.
Love the arts? Stop in Artists’ Annex to see a live pottery demonstration. Also, don’t miss BRIO Art Gallery, Carl Johnson Gallery and Hello Galena!, where more than 79 artists sell and exhibit their artwork.
If all that shopping leaves you in need of some relaxation, you’re in luck. Galena has nearly a dozen spas and salons, offering therapeutic massage, deluxe body treatments, manicures and pedicures, facials and lots of other ways to unwind.
We Don’t Bite
Galena’s Adventure Creek Alpaca Farm is an ideal place for a log cabin getaway, and kids of all ages love the farm’s resident alpacas. Curious and gentle by nature, alpacas don’t bite and get along especially well with children. Book a weekend and stay in one of the farm’s 12 historic log cabins. Galena is home to several other agritourism destinations ranging from wineries to farms offering hay rides and sleigh rides.
R&R at B&Bs
Galena has an impressive collection of more than three dozen bed-and-breakfast inns that have earned it the nickname “B&B Capital of the Midwest.” Several are within walking distance of downtown, and many occupy 19th-century homes with modern conveniences.
Ryan Mansion Bed and Breakfast, built in 1876, has ruby glass windows, 12 marble fireplaces, a library, several parlors and a ballroom. Dating to 1858 and located across from Ulysses S. Grant’s home, Bernadine’s Stillman Inn features a wedding chapel and offers guests bottomless chocolate chip cookies.