Where to Play, Shop and Eat in Crystal Lake, Illinois
Shouts of kids huddled around a sand castle float out over Crystal Lake, wafting up through the air, over tiny sailboats and family-powered pedal boats. Scenes like this play out from Memorial Day through Labor Day in Crystal Lake (population: 40,733), a historic town located 50 miles northwest of Chicago.
A lot of people living in Chicagoland think of Crystal Lake as just another suburb. But residents here know they have something special: independent businesses along Williams Street, family-friendly parks and beaches, and top-notch restaurants.
You can take the Metra train to Crystal Lake from downtown Chicago, but to enjoy both the beach and the downtown shops and restaurants, it's best to drive. What you find will remind you of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin—before it became an überpopular spot.
Click ahead for our favorites places to play, shop and eat in Crystal Lake. For more info, contact the McHenry County Convention and Visitors Bureau. (888) 363-6177; visitmchenrycounty.com
Crystal Lake trip guide: Where to play
Three Oaks Recreation Area recently opened in a former quarry near downtown and offers a new place to swim, boat and fish. A playground and spray park entertain little ones, and hiking trails lead through 28 acres of wildflowers. Admission charged. (815) 459-2020; crystallakeparks.org
Sailboats glide across 240-acre Crystal Lake while lifeguards survey the Main Beach's roped-off swimming area. A restored 1929 beach house offers locker rooms, concessions and hourly boat rentals. Admission charged. (815) 459-0680; crystallakeparks.org
Three-story Charles Dole Mansion overlooks the shady waterfront park where families picnic. The Italianate mansion anchors Lakeside Legacy Arts Park, a hub of creative activity all year. During the July 4 weekend, the complex holds a Lakeside Festival, with a carnival, restaurant booths, concert and tours of the mansion. (815) 455-8000; lakesidelegacy.org
- Photo Courtesy of Out of the Box
Crystal Lake tour guide: Where to shop
Feel at home with the contemporary furniture, salvaged architectural remnants, lamps and graphic artwork at Yours and Meyn, Simply Designed. (815) 455-2500; yoursandmeyn.com
Third-generation shoe shop Heisler's Bootery sells shoes, boots and sandals from brands such as Red Wing, SAS and Propet. (815) 459-0171; heislersbootery.com
La Bellissima sells classy lingerie and loungewear; we love the comfy-cute Munki Munki PJs. (815) 477-3404; labellissima-online.com
Find affordable gifts and home accessories at Out of the Box. (815) 444-7446; outoftheboxstore.com
For 30 years, Wickham Interiors has decorated fine McHenry and Lake county homes with classic furnishings, posh window treatments and tasteful accents. (815) 455-6202; www.wickhaminteriors.com
Shop for jewelry, clothes or purses, or slip into fashion-forward flip-flops, painted clogs and casual dress shoes at Ms. Bossy Boots. (815) 444-6856;
LuLu's Wiggin Out teems with girly accessories, swimsuit cover-ups, boutique tees and jewelry. (815) 356-9900; luluswigginout.com
Crystal Lake: Where to eat
The Andresky family dishes forest mushroom soup, crab cakes, crispy brick-roasted chicken and grilled rack of lamb at longtime favorite 1776. Patriotic-theme folk art decks the interior. (815) 356-1776; 1776restaurant.com
Cheery French bistro Benedict's La Strata whips up red velvet pancakes topped with vanilla sauce and fresh raspberries. (815) 459-6500; benedictseggs.com
At Le Petit Marche (pictured), baker Dawn Gerth makes breads, cookies and cakes. A crusty baguette stuffed with Gouda and fresh tomatoes makes fab gourmet picnic fare. (815) 477-3296; petitmarche.biz
Carrie Curie displays her Sweet Pea Cakes like jewels in glass-domed cases at her princess-pink shop at Brink Street Market; don't leave without trying the salted caramel cupcake. (815) 477-2253; sweetpeacakestudio.com
(A version of this story appeared in Midwest Living® May/June 2012. Prices, menus and other details are subject to change, so please check specifics before making travel plans.)