Spirit of Illinois
It might be called the Prairie State, but Illinois offers an enticing array of boating destinations and activities.
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It gets a bum rap as The Average American Town thanks to comedian Groucho Marx and his famous phrase “Will it play in Peoria?” But, in reality, there’s a lot going on here that is not average. Halfway between Chicago and St. Louis on the Illinois River, Peoria has a vibrant downtown and provides diverse activities and events that would make any big city envious. You can enjoy outdoor recreation (Peoria Zoo, Wildlife Prairie State Park) and great indoor draws (Planetarium, Caterpillar Visitor Center) along with the region’s rich heritage and contemporary ambiance. To be sure, there’s a lot of play in Peoria.
You can’t miss Peoria’s riverfront district, which has undergone a massive revitalization in recent years. It is now the centerpiece of the city, featuring an array of retailers, restaurants and attractions in a pleasant setting interwoven with parks and trails. The outdoor RiverFront Market sells Illinois-grown produce, meats, cheeses, fresh breads, herbs and flowers — plus a great selection of local art — every Saturday from June to September.
The Peoria Riverfront Museum brings together art, history, science and entertainment through interactive displays and programs for all ages. Its Illinois River Encounter talks about the origins of the river, its ecosystem, fishing and hunting, and the river as a highway, with miniature exhibits of levees, canals and locks. There are aquariums, stream tables and other elements here, too.
In addition, the museum’s Folk Art Gallery contains more than 600 works of art spanning three centuries of Midwestern creative expression. Most notable are the textile collection and the Illinois River wildfowl decoy collection.
Tie up at Detweiller Marina to be closest to downtown Peoria, about 14 blocks away. Located on a nine-acre green space, the municipal park-owned marina has 180 slips from 20 to 30 feet with electric/water pedestals, as well as pubic restrooms, showers and picnic areas. There are also 20 in-water beach slips with no power (water is available) and three launch ramps.
Across the Illinois River in East Peoria, EastPort Marina offers 280 slips from 25 to 50 feet in length. Several fine dining and casual restaurants, as well as a swimming pool and two hot tubs, are within walking distance, and the marina has 24-hour restroom and shower facilities, a laundry, fuel, pump out and full service department.
Mark your calendar for mid-June to experience the Steamboat Days Festival on the Peoria riverfront in Festival Park. Kick off the weekend with a ride on the Spirit of Peoria riverboat, take in some live music and carnival rides, and man up at the All-American Lumberjack Show, featuring log rolling, ax throwing and more.
There’s also the Illinois Blues Festival in August, drawing big names such as Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Marcia Ball, and plenty of other events held along the picturesque waterfront.
Visit nearby EastSide Centre in East Peoria to ride the waves at Splashdown, a three-acre water park with a lazy river, tube slide, activity pool, kiddie pool and three-story tree house. It’s the ideal place to get wet and cool off after a long day in the sun.
East Peoria also lights up the night with Par-A-Dice Hotel and Casino, offering four levels of gaming as well as four restaurants and year-round entertainment.