Smile Politely

Getting the most out of your local summer

I was once told that I am solar powered, and I completely believe it. The sun brings me joy and gives me strength to carry on, and when the days get longer in the spring I actually feel hyper and want to do ALL THE THINGS. It is with that extra joy and energy that I’ve put together a list of ideas on how you can make the most of your summer here in Champaign-Urbana.

Hang out with your community

With two active park districts in one community, there are tons of community events all summer. Like this weekend you can celebrate Juneteenth, the oldest known celebration of the abolition of slavery (Douglass Park, June 17) and later that afternoon head to Strawberry Jam at Meadowbrook.

Check out the free food, live entertainment, baking contests, activities for the kids, and connect with local nonprofits and community leaders at the 18th Annual Martin Luther King-Jettie Rhodes Day (King Park, June 24, 12-4pm). Jettie Rhodes was active with the Urbana Park District and was known for asking, “Who is your neighbor?” in her effort to build, clean, and maintain the community around her. It’s a local and annual gem.

Connect with the university community and watch a movie on the Quad

Annual events like C-U Days, Taste of Champaign, and Urbana’s Sweet Corn Festival wrap up summer with all the food trucks, local vendors, people watching, and hair bands you could ever want.

Add summer to your workday

If you need to stay tethered to the laptop, take a morning outside at Pekara Bakery or Café Kopi in Downtown Champaign. There is power in a change of scenery for your workday!

Everyone needs a lunch break, and first and third Fridays this summer are Folk & Roots Fridays Brown Bag Lunch Concerts from 12-1pm (June 2 & 16, July 7 & 21, August 4 & 18) at the Lake House in Crystal Lake Park. Enjoy the views, free music, and an afternoon lunch break on the lake. If you can play hooky Friday afternoon they also have boating and drink and snack specials at the Lake House during the hour.


Play outside

Kickapoo Adventures, formerly Kickapoo Landing, is now open! Located in Kickapoo State Park near Oakwood, they offer rentals for tubing, canoeing, and kayaking all along the Middle Fork of the Vermillion River. Kickapoo State Recreation Area is a seriously beautiful spot for mountain biking and hiking from spring to fall. Presumably winter as well, but this is about summer and I’m more of a “stay inside and wait for winter to pass” kind of person.

Homer Lake is a little closer than Kickapoo and has nice hiking trails, boating, and a fantastic nature playscape that is technically for children, but I love it enough to claim it as my own activity. Drive back via Windsor, make a right turn on High Cross and spend a bit more of your day outside at Riggs. I mean, it’s on the way…you might as well.

To the opposite direction we have Clinton Lake, about 30 miles from here. Yes, it’s used as the cooling lake for the nuclear power plant, but it was created by damming Salt Creek and Sangamon River, so there’s a natural flow to it. The shoreline is a state recreation area, with a sand beach and paddling-specific spot called the North Fork Canoe Trail. BYO kayak or canoe or rent locally from Campus Rec. Clinton Lake Marina rents pontoons for the larger motorboat area of the lake, and that sounds like a fun summer day!

For a quick morning bike ride, the Lake of the Woods bike trail is just the right amount of wooded miles for a child to ride on their own beside you and feel accomplished. The 3+ miles also make for a lovely walk or jog, with the covered bridge in the middle for particularly charming scenery.

Check out some music…outside!

My annual favorite local outdoor concert is OUTSIDE at the Research Park. Bring a picnic dinner (adult beverages allowed), sit with friends in the setting sun, let the kids run on the small grassy mounds. Last year’s performance by Las Cafeteras was especially poignant during calls for border walls and violence against dissidents. I can only hope this year’s event is as community bonding as the last.

Enjoy music at Allerton, a great getaway for exploring, hiking, biking, events, and music year-round. This summer check out their Reds, Whites & the Blues concert on June 30th and Irish Fest on August 4th for Allerton’s Summer Concert Series.
For more music at Allerton, check out their first multiday festival, Prairie Sky Music Festival August 18-19. It looks like they’ll have some camping spots for the weekend, too, so keep updated here

Eat delicious local food!

This prairie landscape has rich soil that can grow so much more than just corn and soybeans, and thankfully we have farmers nearby that do just that for us. Enjoy what they grow for us at Urbana’s Market at the Square every Saturday morning and at The Land Connection every Tuesday afternoon in Downtown Champaign.

You can also DIY your harvesting at Goosecreek Blueberries and of course Curtis Orchard starting in mid-July. If you’re more of a “let the local food come to me” kind of person, there’s the Local Flavors Dinner Series all summer long.

Every other summer I would recommend going into Campustown for the spots we avoid when all the students are back, but this construction is so much worse for getting to Campustown than undergrads could ever be, so we’ll just wait on that recommendation till next year. Okay, actually the next. 

New summer fun is scheduled in Champaign-Urbana all the time, so my final suggestion about how to make the most of your local summer is to keep tabs on The Weekender. No matter how many Facebook events you see your friends mark as “Interested”, there is always even more to do here. Go to a new (to you) event, check out another park, and enjoy the outdoor music. I hope to be there, too. I’ll be the one soaking up the sun to get ready for the next night out.

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