Champaign-Urbana is an amazing place to be in the fall. Read this guide to learn about the top 5 places to visit to make your fall the falliest fall.
Fall is my favorite season and I know I’m not alone in this. If you ask people to say why they like fall, they’ll likely mention some of the many holidays (e.g. Halloween, Thanksgiving, Diwali, Sukkot, Mehregan, Samhain, etc.) or distinguishing natural phenomena like the leaves changing color or the onset of cooler weather. For me, it’s a little different. Don’t get me wrong, I do love those things, but there’s something more abstract about fall that I like: its inconsistency. Fall is a season of transience. Each day differs from another. They differ in temperature, degree of precipitation, cloud cover, and windiness and these differences can make the days more memorable. Plus sweaters. Who doesn’t like wearing sweaters?
We’re now a month into fall, with two more months to go, so what better time to offer you guys a list of places to make the best of this most glorious season. We’re a bike shop, so we have an obvious bias in terms of what we are looking for, but all of these places are suited to walking as well. I will say that as long as you’re wearing the right clothes *cough, cough* shop at Neutral *cough, cough*, you won’t be too cold when biking and the brisk air on your face can be really refreshing, so give it a shot! Our methodology for the selection of these places is based around the following three criteria:
- The place is in reasonable biking distance of CU residents.
- The place is either a good place to bike to or a good place to bike at.
- The place is particularly suited to helping you to experience fall, based around our cultural understanding of what marks this season.
As much as I’m sure you’d like me to get on with it, I’d feel I should add that this is not our first Guide to Fall. In 2014, I wrote what would become the first of our guides to the seasons. As the format for our Guides to Spring and Summer changed somewhat and as we thought we could improve on our first version, we decided to offer to you, o popule champaignurbanane, a new and improved redux version.
If the natural beauty of fall is your thing, then Allerton is the place to go. Nowhere else in the area do you have better access to Illinois’ flora and fauna, offering you the chance to see how different forms of life adjust to the changing weather. If you’re into leaves, this is a great place to see leaves. If you have the time and the inclination, it’s worth going a few weeks in a row. By doing this, you’ll be able to see fall’s progression as winter slowly approaches.
If you’ve never heard of it before, Allerton is a park owned by the University of Illinois and located in neighboring Piatt County. Built by the scion of a wealthy Chicago family, Allerton comprises some 1500 acres of Illinois forest and farmland hugging the banks of the Sangamon river. With its well-marked, well-maintained trails, Allerton is an ideal place to go hiking (my suggestions are the blue and red trails). Built as a rural retreat, Allerton complements this natural beauty with various planned gardens and a stately home. There’s no better place to wander around and appreciate the effective blending of architecture and natural beauty.
Allerton’s distance from CU – some 30 miles – is both its advantage and its disadvantage. Were it not so far from CU, it would without question lack the quietness and placidity that makes it such a great getaway. This distance, though, can make it a difficult trip for many carless residents. As long as you have a free day and an available bike (You can always rent from Neutral!), it shouldn’t be too difficult to get to, provided you have some experience with longer biking excursions. As I mentioned in our Guide to Spring, if you do choose to bike there, stay off the main roads. Use the smaller county roads. Not only will you have less traffic to deal with, you’ll also be able to get away from the din of city life and surround yourself with rural Illinois in all its autumnal splendor.
2. Curtis Orchard
Curtis Orchard is suffused with fall, the cultural entity, to a degree that no other place in CU can match. If you have a friend who’s not from the US and you want to introduce them to what Americans understand fall to be, this is the place to go. We’re talking high-density fall. Curtis Orchard doesn’t just grow pumpkins and an amazing variety of apples, they also press their own cider, make great apple doughnuts, and produce honey (amongst a million other things). We’ve written an entire post documenting how awesome Curtis Orchard is in the fall. Curtis Orchard has an amazingly warm family environment and your kids (or you!) can enjoy their petting zoo for free. You can pick your apples from August and ’til October and if you’re in need of a pumpkin, you can go out into the fields and bring one home. This only scratches the surface of what they do, so be sure to look around their website to get a fuller picture of what they have to offer.
Located 7 miles southwest of Neutral Cycle, it’s a relatively easy, yet satisfyingly substantial ride from the city center. Hint: Don’t use the main roads, meander through the neighborhoods and enjoy the changing leaves and the Halloween decorations.
As for apples, they have so many, it can be hard to choose which you want. If you’re looking for a solid apple to eat out of hand, these are my two suggestions: Honeycrisp– This apple is perfect for eating fresh. It’s crunchy with no hint of mealiness (Red Delicious apples are my mortal enemy.) Their taste is sweet, but balanced with a good bit of acid, so the flavor is anything but one-note. Arkansas Black– Full disclosure, I’m originally from Arkansas, so I might be biased, but these are one of my favorite varieties. Arkansas Blacks are harder than most apples and pleasantly crunchy. They’re relatively tart, so if you like Granny Smiths, then this is a good variety to branch out into. In addition to eating fresh, they’re also great for cooking. If kept properly, you can store Arkansas Blacks for up to six months, during which time the skin will slowly darken and grow waxier.
3. Local Beer
Nothing feels better after a fall bike ride than a well-made beer. If the brisk air has made you chilly and you want to imbibe a warming elixir (i.e. A drink that actually cools down your body temperature, but makes you feel warmer), then local craft beer is the way to go. Lucky for you this isn’t a difficult thing to come by in CU. Note: drinking and biking don’t necessarily mix, so make sure you know the laws and, whatever you do, don’t put yourself or others in danger.
Blind Pig Brewery
Few places in the world are more pleasant a setting to sip on a pint than the Blind Pig Brewery. I say that with no sense of hyperbole. If anything, I’m understating its greatness. Affectionately known as the Piglet, the Blind Pig Brewery offers not only four to six taps dedicated to a constantly-rotating selection of beers brewed in-house, but also ten guest taps, and a huge collection of bottles. (If you want the perfect fall brew, grab a glass of the Hey Porter!) If you have a beer snob friend visiting, this is where to take them.
With its cozy, wood-lined walls, it’s sure to be liked by even those who don’t like beer. The space is designed to allow for intimate and meaningful interaction. There are no TVs. Music is played at a volume that’s low enough so as not to inhibit conversation. The most you’ll be distracted by will be other groups talking loudly and guffawing. The recent expansion has served to allow more people to comfortably sit, as previously it could get a little too cozy on weekend evenings. And, of course, if it’s warm enough to sit outside, they’ve got the best beer garden in Champaign.
To learn more about the Blind Pig’s story, check out this video made by Neutral Design Studio.
Triptych Brewing is a local microbrewery that offers what is probably the best selection of well-crafted, locally-produced beer in Central Illinois. I love Triptych so much that I wrote an entire entry about them back in February. They’re located in Savoy, which gives you a good excuse to take a nice bike ride through Champaign and into our neighbor to the south. Their craft beer offerings are varied and always changing, ranging from lagers to barrel-aged lambics, satisfying the squeamish, the adventurous, and everyone in-between. If you want their beer for home use, you can always buy a growler full and keep it in your fridge. Their beers are also available at a growing number of locations in CU, including Farren’s, Seven Saints, Black Dog, Big Grove Tavern, The Canopy Club, Crane Alley, and Radio Maria.
Amongst the ten brews available now, many are perfect companions to a fall day including the Punky Town Brown, a brown pumpkin ale brewed using over 200 pounds of pumpkin, and Parker’s Porter, a robust, malty beer perfect for a windy, overcast afternoon. If you’re looking for an all-rounder, their Dirty Hippy is a solid brown ale that goes great with any weather.
4. Historic West Urbana
West Urbana is defined as the area bounded by Lincoln Ave. to the west, Florida Ave. to the south, Main St. to the north, and Vine St. to the east. (Confusingly, West Urbana is also the original name of Champaign, but let’s not dwell on that.) Sandwiched between UIUC and Downtown Urbana, it’s easy to forget what an astoundingly beautiful neighborhood this is in the fall. West Urbana is a meeting place for different types of residents. While the area between Green and Nevada has a high concentration of students, as one moves further out north, east, and south, families become the norm.
Its streets are lined with huge deciduous trees, now spilling their vibrantly-colored leaves onto the quaint, if poorly-maintained, cobblestones. Its heart is Carle Park, a quiet, neighborhood park that’s always full of life. Also within its borders is Urbana High School and Blair Park.
West Urbana exemplifies the idea of a communal, shared space that’s loved and taken care of by its inhabitants. Kids play on the streets. People walk their dogs. Bikes roll by. A bike ride or a walk through West Urbana will let you connect with your neighbors who’ve also broken out the jackets and scarves for a stroll with friends or family to see the leaves. Even if you don’t know them, they’ll probably say hi.
5. West Side Park and Surrounds
West Side Park is Champaign’s very own village green. The home to concerts and events like Taste of CU, West Side Park functions like an extension of Downtown Champaign. Nothing beats a walk through the park after catching a movie at the Art or going out for a few drinks with friends. The park has paths, a fountain, and areas for children to play in. If you have the time, you should walk around the surrounding neighborhoods, which are both historic (some of it is part of Champaign’s Sesquicentennial Neighborhood) and beautiful. Bikers will appreciate that the cobblestone streets are smoother and kept in better condition than those in Urbana.