Gay-friendly Illinois: Five Romantic LGBTQ Getaways

By @ 05/07/19 in Gay Illinois, Gay travel, Gay-friendly Illinois, Illinois, LGBT Illinois, LGBT travel Illinois, Travel

Romantic LGBTQ getaways in Illinois in ManAboutWorld gay travel magazineIllinois is home to a number of romantic, LGBTQ-friendly getaways within easy driving distance of Chicago, from kick-your-feet-up spots where you and your partner can take a breath, to hipster beer-and-bike meccas where y’all can let loose.

Galena: Vintage Shopping, Vintage Setting

Just three hours west of Chicago you’ll find Galena, a small but vibrant town known for its immaculate nineteenth-century architecture and bustling arts and shopping scene. For you antiquey gays who can’t get enough small-town charm, Galena is for you.

Plan to arrive early and check in to The Aldrich Guest House, a queer-owned five-bedroom B&B that’s hosted President Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant. Owners Doug and Robert have warmly arranged and decorated each room with comfy beds, high-end linens and personal touches.

The Inn at Irish Hollow is another gay-owned B&B, an aspirational place to stay. From the cozy interiors, the three-course weekend brunch, the seven-course dinners, and the lovely and welcoming gay hosts, this is one of our favorite places in Illinois.

The gorgeous Jail Hill Inn is another option. A 135-year-old, four-story brick gem of a hotel perfect for couples looking for a romantic getaway. The hotel was rated the number 1 B&B in the United States on TripAdvisor’s Travelers’ Choice Awards.

Once you’ve dropped off your bags, head out to explore the small-town charm of Main Street, strolling hand-in-hand along the dozens of quaint shops nestled in historic, red-brick buildings. If you and your partner are looking to feather your nest, stop in at Pinder Pottery, where a small handful of local potters are spinning beautiful and functional pottery. At Common Cents Resale, old housewares and vintage furniture are restored, restyled and sold at reasonable prices.

After some light browsing, grab lunch at One Eleven Main, a farm-to-table hotspot with a seasonal menu featuring locally-sourced ingredients. But if Galena’s historic sites have you in the mood for something more traditional—or you’re trying to turn up the romance—try Fried Green Tomatoes. Despite its name, the restaurant serves up traditional Italian fare with a farmhouse chic ambience. Before you leave Main Street, pick up a bottle (or three) at Galena Cellars Vineyard & Winery.

Spend the rest of your evening relaxing back at the hotel and wake up to their award-winning breakfast (with coffee brewed from a local roaster!) before heading home (or continuing on your Illinois journey!)

Galena remains one of Illinois’s top LGBTQ friendly cities, a charming, artsy, welcoming place that’s as quirky as it is inclusive.

Romantic LGBTQ getaways in Illinois in ManAboutWorld gay travel magazineInstafamous in Pontiac

For Route 66 fanatics, your trip begins on Michigan Ave. in Chicago and stretches for 300 miles, filled with some of most interesting and ‘grammable spots throughout the state. Somewhere in the middle of the historic highway, you’ll find Pontiac, a small town hidden gem central to American culture, literature, and industry, from the Grapes of Wrath to the Beats and Disney-Pixar’s Cars.

You’ll want to book a room in The Three Roses Bed and Breakfast, situated in a pristine Victorian in the center of town. Or, if you’re looking for something a bit more modern and chic, check out the ACRESinn LOFT—an 1,800 sq.-ft. loft overlooking downtown Pontiac. Both options are relaxing, romantic settings close to all attractions including the Route 66 Association Hall of Fame & Museum. Be sure to peek around the backside of the building where you’ll find one of Illinois’s most iconic Route 66 murals (and unofficially the state’s selfie capital!).

You can have an early breakfast at Three Roses or take a short walk to Edinger’s Filling Station, a favorite diner among locals, with a vintage Route 66 ambiance serving homemade American breakfast and brunch dishes. They’re famous for their homemade pies, so save room for a slice.  

After breakfast, stroll with your better half down Main Street and pose in front of the many ‘grammable murals depicting Americana (including Coca-Cola, RCA Victor and the iconic line of Pontiac automobiles).

Beyond Pontiac, Route 66 extends down through Springfield and takes you through Alton, where Illinois meets Missouri. If you’re up for a classic American road trip, fire up your playlist and keep on truckin’ along Route 66.

Springfield: Love in the Land of Lincoln

Since this is the land of Lincoln, why not stay at the President Abraham Lincoln Springfield – a DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel? It has a great location right in the center of town. Breakfasts here include house-made baked goods like blueberry muffins or buttery, flaky croissants.

In the morning, stroll past the cute, gay-owned Cardologist (a little greeting card and knick-knack shop perfect for sending postcards!) before settling in for a tasty meal at Incredibly Delicious, a locally owned French Bakery and Café located in the historic Weber House near downtown Springfield, Illinois. Founded in 1995, they specialize in artisanal breads, traditional croissants, handmade pastries, specialty cakes, and desserts. Their breakfast and lunch menu changes daily and pastry selections change seasonally. Be it savory or sweet, you will find your new favorite treat behind their doors.

Afterward, head just one block north of the hotel to the Dana-Thomas House — a Frank Lloyd Wright landmark — to tour its ornate, yet still-modern-feeling halls and rooms.

Continue your architecture lovefest with a guided tour of the recently-renovated Governor’s Mansion. Built in 1855, the mansion’s renovated exterior showcases the styles of the different governor’s that called the mansion home over the years. Tours usually last just over an hour.

For even more woodworking artistry, head to Sangmon Reclaimed, where local firefighters and veterans take the wood from torn down barns and reclaim it, rework it, and reimagine it as new pieces of art, architecture, and furnishings. A fascinating look at the Midwest traditions.

Once you’re up to the gills with house envy and dreaming of a nest with your partner, take a short cab ride or a decent walk (25 minutes or so) up South 6th Street to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. The library is mainly intended for researchers but the museum is a must-see for anyone, and particularly appealing to children if you’ve brought the family. Another short cab ride will take you to President Lincoln’s (and his family’s) final resting place, a monolithic, granite tomb in the Oak Ridge Cemetery.

For dinner, consider the upscale American Harvest Eatery, serving up familiar dishes with twists, all artfully plated and made from fresh Illinois ingredients. If you and your partner are looking for a night cap, hit up the Station House, a queer bar and dance club spinning great tunes.

Pontiac maybe be small, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in friendliness, local vibes, homecooking and history.

Urbana-Champaign: Beers, Bikes, and Beers

Millennial hipster queers will fall hard for Urbana-Champaign. Just over two hours south of Chicago, this college town is home to a variety of breweries, eateries, and arts and culture gems. Plus, there’s dockless bike sharing in the area so you’ll burn off those calories as fast as you consume them. (But, please, no drinking and biking!) Can it get more romantic than good food, delicious beer and (sober) biking?

If you’re looking for a charming, Southern feel, stay in the queer-owned Champaign Garden Inn. The Victorian Queen Anne-style mansion, surrounded by lush gardens, is a short walk (ahem, stumbling distance) from downtown Champaign, which makes it a safe bet if you’re planning to brewery hop.

Kick off your brewery crawl at the Riggs Beer Company, The Blind Pig Brewery, or Destihl Brew Works, recognized as three of the top breweries in Illinois. Wherever you go, do not skip the Sipyard, a beer garden in downtown Urbana operating out of a shipping container in the middle of an outdoor graffiti gallery.

For dinner, go big at the Black Dog Smoke & Ale House. While not romantic in the most traditional sense, nothing brings a couple closer than sharing a rack of ribs. They also have spicy southwest potato salad. Enough said.

One of Illinois’s most beloved twin cities, Urbana-Champaign is the future of the state, with a nod to the past, it’s always looking forward, whether it be art and breweries, or welcoming festivals and queer-owned hotspots.

Alton/Elsah: Charm on the Mississippi

Alton and Elsah are small-town twin cities along the Mississippi River on the Missouri border, about four-and-a-half hours south of Chicago. Their scenic, down-south feel and pace are well worth the trip on a long weekend—especially if you and your partner are looking for a respite from city life.

Nestled in the bluffs below the Great River Road, The Green Tree Inn in Elsah is a charmer, with hospitable hosts who’ve held numerous gay weddings at their property. Next door is a quaint general store stocked with incredibly hard-to-find sodas, sweets, cakes and any toiletries you might need.

Once you’re settled, drive the majestic Great River Route along the Mississippi River. It’s beautiful and relaxing—perfect for cranking some music and soaking in the views.

After your drive, ward off the afternoon sleepies with some award-winning espresso from Maeva’s Coffee, one of several community-oriented businesses in a former schoolhouse in Alton. Maybe split a piece (or heck, just get two slices) of their famous quiche while you’re there (there’s a vegetarian option, too!).

Then, for lunch, check out Weezy’s Bar & Grill for some good ol’ Route 66 kitsch. This roadside diner is a legend, and you’ll love their classic burger and fries while you snap pics of the Route 66 memorabilia that adorn the walls here.

But small towns don’t necessarily mean small nightlife. Bubby & Sissy’s is the big, gay exclamation point on Alton’s after-dark scene. The welcoming bar is known for its drag performances on weekends with special performances from the famous Shelby Right Back.

Elsah and Alton are quite the pair — so different with a shared sensibility and easy-going charm. There’s history here, but the towns also look forward, always evolving, always innovating, always welcoming.

More Gay-friendly Illinois

This is just one of our many favorite stories and hotspots to help you discover gay-friendly Illinois for yourself. Continue your exploration here.

Enjoy a more immersive Illinois experience in the magazine:

ManAboutWorld is an app-based travel magazine by gay men which provides travel inspiration and trip-planning information for all whether you’re in the LGBTQ+ community or are an ally. It’s built exclusively for mobile devices and is not available in print. We first published these articles in the spring 2019 issue and make them available here for your enjoyment. The app and issues are all free. Download it for Apple devices or Android devices.

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