Champaign (140 miles southwest of Chicago) is the livelier of the two cities. The brunch menu at Radio Maria Restaurant includes gourmet omelets and fantastic fish tacos. Then explore the huge range of ancient and modern art at Krannert Art Museum, one of the largest in Illinois.
You can refuel with a sweet Oreo frappe or a savory Cool Ham Cuke sandwich at funky Cafe Kopi before checking into Illini Union Hotel, a convenient on-campus property with views of the University of illinois quad. For dinner, try the elegant wine bar Bacaro for interesting vintages and seasonal entrees that may include pan-roasted duck or seared sea scallops.
From late spring through fall on Saturday mornings, Urbana's Market at the Square vendors sell fresh produce, baked goods and crafts. Leave enough time to see The Spurlock Museum's diverse collection, which includes ancient stone tools and suits of armor.
For lunch, Black Dog Smoke and Ale House serves a tender, smoky brisket with sweet potato fries—a midday indulgence you can walk off at the pastoral 57-acre University of Illinois Arboretum or the Wandell Sculpture Garden.
Before you head home, stop at Mirabelle Fine Pastries for a loaf of pecan raisin bread and take a detour to Monticello to see the gardens of Allerton Park and Retreat Center, where Robert Hendry Allerton, an art collector, filled his estate with more than 100 lovingly placed sculptures.
More information: Champaign County Convention and Visitors Bureau (800) 369-6161; visitchampaigncounty.org