Travel Illinois: Naperville
Naperville may be a Chicago suburb, but it exudes a culture all its own. The city lures newcomers and visitors with its cheerful catchphrase, “big city styles with small town smiles,” and they come by the thousands. In fact, Naperville was one of the 10 fastest- growing communities in the United States during the 1990s.
Today, Naperville is the fifth-largest city in Illinois with a population that hovers around 150,000. It has a bustling economy, thanks to the multitude of retailers, restaurants, shopping centers and automobile dealerships that have set up shop here. Large corporations, such as OfficeMax and Allied Van Lines, also have headquarters in Naperville.
Visitors love Naperville for its proximity to several major interstates, free parking throughout the city and plenty of green space, with more than 130 parks, four sports complexes and two golf courses.
A Hometown Holiday
Getting into the holiday spirit is easy in Naperville. Come November, the city spills over with festive decorations and holiday-themed events and attractions.
Ring in the holiday season at downtown Naperville’s spectacular Electric Light Parade, held annually the day after Thanksgiving. The memorable parade features festive floats and live music and culminates with Santa Claus flipping the switch to more than 300,000 twinkling lights, transforming Naperville into a winter wonderland. It’s not uncommon to see kids dancing in the street with Santa at this family-friendly event.
Board the Santa Train at Naperville’s Fifth Avenue Train Station for an experience you won’t soon forget. Sponsored by the Naperville Jaycees, the one-hour Santa Train ride is a much-loved annual tradition and includes holiday characters, games, Christmas carols and a visit from Santa Claus. The Santa Train typically chugs through Naperville the first Saturday in December, and tickets are $15.
Downtown Naperville is the perfect place to spend the nationwide retail frenzy known as Black Friday. The downtown district is home to hundreds of shops and more than 40 restaurants and kicks off its Hometown Holidays month-long celebration the day after Thanksgiving. Downtown businesses feature special holiday offers, such as free gift-wrapping.
Tour elegantly decorated homes, shop at the Holiday Market, and sip tea or coffee from collectible china cups and saucers at the Naperville Garden Club’s annual Cup of Cheer House Walk, held the first Friday in December. The Cup of Cheer House Walk and Holiday Market are the club’s major fundraisers and attract more than 1,200 participants each year. The house walk showcases some of Naperville’s finest homes, and the money raised at the holiday market goes back into the community for youth scholarships and beautification projects around the city.
Calling All History Buffs
Get a glimpse of what Naperville was like 100 years ago at Naper Settlement, where costumed villagers portray the story of how life changed throughout the 19th century for people in Midwestern towns. The 12-acre outdoor living history museum was established in 1969 and has 30 historic buildings, many of which were moved from their original locations. Admission includes a self-guided audio tour of the grounds and Visitor Center. Winter admission (through March) is $5.25 for adults, $4.75 for seniors and $4 for youth ages 4-17.
The cornerstone of Naper Settlement is an 1883 Victorian home known as Martin Mitchell Mansion. The mansion opened to the public in 2003 after a $2.8 million renovation that restored its interior and exterior to the time period of 1890 to 1907. In December, the 12-room house celebrates Christmas with a 19th-century twist and is decked out in traditional Victorian holiday splendor.
Clang, clang, clang through the streets of Naperville on board a Naperville Trolley, and see some of the city’s most elaborate Christmas light displays in style. Reservations are required for the Holiday Light Tours, and the trolleys are heated. Tickets are $10.
The Naperville Trolley also offers one-hour historic tours of the city on select dates that include Naperville’s historic district, North Central College, downtown businesses and shopping areas, police and fire stations, the scenic Riverwalk, Naper Settlement, Centennial Beach and other destinations. The next historic trolley tour is slated for December 17, and tickets are $8.
Paint the Town
Don’t miss the opportunity to see a show at the spectacular Wentz Concert Hall & Fine Arts Center, located at the gateway of North Central College and downtown Naperville. Celebrated for its world-class acoustics, said to be comparable to New York’s Carnegie Hall, Wentz Concert Hall regularly showcases concerts by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, award-winning bands and choirs of area high schools, and the college’s multitude of music groups and solo performers.
Several other theater venues also thrive in Naperville, including The Comedy Shrine, which hosts improv comedy every Thursday, Friday and Saturday; the Madden Theatre, popular for film screenings, jazz and dance performances; and the Magical Starlight Theatre, which presents family-oriented performances such as Peter Pan and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Stroll along the two-mile Naperville Riverwalk, often called the “Crown Jewel of Naperville” for its covered bridges, pretty fountains and lush landscaping. Built by residents in 1981 to commemorate the city’s 150th birthday, the Riverwalk has won state and national awards and attracts visitors from near and far for its beauty in every season.
Got kids? Let them touch, experiment and release their inner scientist at the DuPage Children’s Museum. The museum’s mission is to stimulate curiosity, creativity, thinking and problem solving in young minds, and its three floors are jam-packed with hands-on ways to explore art, math and science. Even the tiniest tots can join the fun, thanks to special Young Explorers exhibits designed especially for children under age 2.
Chocoholics know there aren’t many problems a little cocoa can’t fix. And Naperville’s Le Chocolat du Bouchard is a great place to find a chocolate-coated remedy. Pop into this cozy chocolate bar and bakery for a custom-blended gourmet hot chocolate accompanied by a slice of rich Chocolate Mousse Cake or Belgian Fondue, and you’ll be in seventh heaven.