Illinois' third-largest city spent years watching travelers whiz by on Interstate-90 on their way east to Chicago. Now, thanks to a revitalized downtown, an emerging foodie scene, new cultural attractions and beautiful public gardens, word is getting out: You'd be crazy not to stop.

Ask people what they know about Rockford, and you'll likely hear about the Swedish pancakes served at The Stockholm Inn, a tribute to the mid-1800s, when Scandinavian settlers arrived. You'll also hear about the Sock Monkey, first crafted more than 100 years ago from red-heeled socks made at Rockford's Nelson Knitting Mills.

What most people don't realize is that Rockford also developed noteworthy art, museums, and parks with free or reasonably priced admission (and free parking—a welcome change to the sticker shock 90 miles east in Chicago).

Anderson Japanese Gardens
You'll find 12 acres of tranquility (and a ceremonial tea house) at Anderson Japanese Garden.
| Credit: Bob Stefko

Trip guide              

What to do

Anderson Japanese Gardens This tranquil 12-acre haven transports visitors to Japan through lovely gardens, tea ceremonies, a meditation room and origami classes. Open seasonally.

Coronado Performing Arts Center. This renovated 1927 movie palace hosts touring concerts and musicals, along with the Rockford Symphony Orchestra.

Klehm Arboretum and Botanic Garden A glass visitors center is the gateway to 155 acres of gardens, a labyrinth, a butterfly garden and mature woodlands laced with walking paths.

Midway Village The 143-acre campus includes the Museum Center and gardens representing a rural Rockford community between 1890–1910.

Nicholas Conservatory and Gardens Sinnissippi Park's crown jewel; a mural in the lobby depicts how the landscape of the Rock River Valley has changed.

Riverfront Museum Park At the Burpee Museum of Natural History, you can view a T. rex skeleton and Native American exhibits. Hands-on science exhibits, tornado demos and an outdoor maze keep kids engaged at Discovery Center Museum. See modern and contemporary art, photography, contemporary glass and more at the Rockford Art Museum.

Tinker Swiss Cottage Museum A time capsule of Rockford history, the 1865 Swiss chalet-style home preserves furnishings, diaries and collections.

Where to eat

Chocolat by Daniel A European-style chocolatier handcrafts 12 flavors of truffles, makes gourmet chocolates and on cold days brews silky hot chocolate served in fine estate-sale china.

Josef-Barbados Restaurant and Oyster Bar An all-white dining room showcases an international art collection, including a piece by Salvador Dali.

Mary's Market Made-with-care goodness shines in every cookie, pie and bread loaf at this favorite for hearty sandwiches, soups and sweets in Edgebrook.

Stockholm Inn A longtime favorite, the busy Swedish restaurant dishes authentic kroppkakor (filled dumplings) and Swedish pancakes (you can buy ready-to-pour batter), plus Friday fish fries.

For more information or to plan your trip: Rockford Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (800) 521-0849;