An hour west of Chicago's Loop, the Fox River provides a soothing backdrop to towns brimming with indulgent eats, stores housed in historical homes and posh places to stay.
St. Charles Riverboat Cruises sets out on daily sightseeing trips (630) 584-2334; Photo courtesy of St. Charles Convention and Visitors Bureau.
St. Charles Riverboat Cruises sets out on daily sightseeing trips (630) 584-2334; Photo courtesy of St. Charles Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The cocoa-color awning and mocha-painted bricks outside downtown Geneva's All Chocolate Kitchen hint at some of the delicacies inside: dense truffles rolled in smoky ancho chili powder and thick slices of cake ribboned with chocolate frosting. Despite the name, All Chocolate Kitchen sells more than the dark stuff, including a mellow cup of coffee brewed in a Victorian-esque beaker.

That variety of riches serves as a snapshot of the pleasures infusing the Fox River Valley, a laid-back retreat for urbanites. Three towns along the winding Fox River offer restful diversions with a nod to history: Catch a household name playing at St. Charles' historical Arcada Theater, or just 3 miles south, explore Geneva's shopping district, where boutiques fill preserved storefronts. And just minutes from Oswego's charming Main Street-with brick-paved sidewalks-is a family-run winery. Whether you have only a few hours or time enough to carve out a getaway, read on for some of these towns' best stops.

Trip guide

What to do

Arcada Theater It still feels like 1926 in this restored vaudeville palace with a vintage pipe organ, but live performances feature today's headliners. In St. Charles. (630) 962-7000;

Fine Line Creative Arts Center A renovated dairy barn in St. Charles houses a nonprofit arts school for weaving, knitting, pottery making and more. (630) 584-9443;

Fox River Trail A paved path for biking, walking and jogging runs along the river through the valley. Find bike rentals in all the valley's communities; Sammy's Bikes is right on the trail in St. Charles. (630) 444-0690;

Fox Valley Winery Enjoy daily tastings of sweet Niagara and dry Petit Syrah, and shop for works by local artists. This Oswego winery also holds tours on Saturdays. (630) 554-0404;

Otter Cove Aquatic Park Float your way down a lazy river or scream down a water slide in St. Charles. (630) 513-4377;

Pottawatomie Park From May through mid-October, you can ride a 90-passenger paddle-wheeler excursion boat or rent a canoe or pedal boat. This St. Charles park also has picnic shelters, seasonal miniature golf and a swimming pool. (630) 513-6200;

Where to eat

Fiora's In Geneva's shopping district, patrons enjoy artisanal cheese plates and pan-seared duck breast inside a charming yellow house turned restaurant. (630) 262-1317;

The Village Grind Mix with locals in the warren of cozy rooms inside this Oswego spot that serves coffee, pastries and, in summer, gelato. (630) 554-6678

Where to shop

All Chocolate Kitchen Quality chocolates, gelato and sorbetto shine in a Geneva shop. Check out the life-size statues and sculptures (including one of Neil Armstrong)-all made from chocolate. (630) 232-2395;

Little Traveler Search 36 rooms packed with apparel, antiques, toys, gourmet items and Vera Bradley bags in this Victorian mansion. A cafe serves breakfast and lunch. (630) 232-4200;

The Olive Mill Sample 35 olive oils and 25 balsamic vinegars, then take a bottle with you. Also: olive tapenades and olive soaps. In Geneva. (630) 262-0210;

Prairie Stitches Quilt Shoppe Browse a large selection of quilting fabrics, sewing notions and patterns in Oswego. (630) 554-9701;

Town House Books and Cafe This independent store in St. Charles sells a variety of books. The attached cafe serves breakfast, lunch and Sunday brunch. (630) 584-8600;

Where to stay

Herrington Inn and Spa A former creamery along the Fox River in Geneva now houses a luxurious inn. Rooms have fireplaces, whirlpool tubs and wet bars. Turndown service includes milk and cookies. (630) 208-7433;

Hotel Baker The riverside hotel in St. Charles opened in 1928 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. (630) 584-2100;

For more information:

(A version of this story appeared in Midwest Living® May/June 2013. Prices, dates and other details are subject to change, so please check specifics before making travel plans.)