Ever since Abraham Lincoln left Springfield for the White House in 1861, this town has been a haven for history buffs. Lincoln’s house, tomb, offices, the courtroom where he argued cases, the desks where he wrote speeches … it’s all here, beautifully preserved and presented.
The Lincoln attractions are fascinating to visit, especially the Lincoln Home National Historic Site and the Lincoln Tomb State Historic Site, but the sheer volume of them—both in Springfield and at nearby Lincoln’s New Salem State Historic Site, where Lincoln lived as a young man—make it easy to get a little “Lincoln-ed out.”
When you're ready for a meal break, try the horseshoe, Springfield’s famous dish—a piled-high, meat-and-potato concoction covered in cheese sauce. You’ll find the best lunch or dinner versions at D’Arcy’s Pint. (For a slightly less gut-busting and equally delicious “Breakfast Shoe,” try Charlie Parker’s Diner, housed inside a World War II storage shed).
Plan to spend the afternoon at the crown jewel of Springfield’s Lincoln historic sites, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. This engaging compilation of creatively conceived exhibits and high-tech theater shows the unbiased story of the slavery-ending president.
Need a snack? Sample a gourmet cupcake at the fun Cafe Moxo coffee and sandwich shop, or nibble on a caramel- and chocolate-covered pretzel Lincoln Log from Pease’s candy and nut shop.
For overnight stays, we love the charming Inn at 835. It’ll be hard to move once you’ve plopped down in a comfy room, but it’s worth the effort to get up and drive to the southern edge of town for the contemporary spin on local farm food at American Harvest Eatery. In addition to microbrews, the restaurant showcases foods from more than a dozen local farms and businesses.
After a laid-back breakfast at the inn, walk two blocks to see the stunning art glass and architecture of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Dana-Thomas House or enjoy a free tour of the Illinois State Capitol.
Route 66 kicks await, so swing by Shea’s Gas Station Museum and peer at the memorabilia from outside the chain-link fence (tours may be available, but they’ve been sporadic, so check in advance). Then slide into a booth at Cozy Dog Drive-In, famous for freshly dipped corn dogs on a stick.
For the afternoon, go way back in time—say, 500 million years—while exploring the free Illinois State Museum. Colorful 3-D, interactive exhibits show how Illinois’ environment has evolved. Also, don’t miss the decade-by-decade living room displays on the second floor, which brings you into the 21st century.
Process all the history over a frosty drink and contemporary pub grub in downtown’s new meal-in-mansion hotspot Obed and Isaac’s Microbrewery and Eatery.
As dusk falls, relax on a stroll through leafy Washington Park. During the biweekly carillon bell concerts, music echoes through the stately old trees and along the winding lagoon.
For late-night fun, pull into the Route 66 Drive-In to watch a recent blockbuster movie in a vintage Americana setting, a mix of old and new that Springfield is so good at.
For information: Springfield Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (800) 545-7300; visit-springfieldillinois.com