When most people think of Illinois, they generally think of Chicago when it comes to cities. As one of the largest in the US, it's a pretty popular spot and who can blame it? Chicago is pretty awesome. I loved it enough to live there for several years. There are a few other cities in the Midwestern state like Joliet, Rockford and one of my most recent adventures...Peoria. I never thought I would travel to southern Illinois except for maybe a quick stop during a road trip. All I could think of is that besides the state universities you pass through, all there was to find were cornfields and cows. WRONG! Dead wrong. Just a short drive southwest of Illinois State University is this smaller sized city called Peoria. It has quite a bit to offer for a weekend getaway and in the next few weeks, I'll be sharing my experiences and adventures of this spot with you.
One thing that is really important to me when I travel is to veer away from the norm and experience the location as a local. For example, when I finally make my way to NYC for the first time, I'll make sure to hit the popular spots like Times Square for a few minutes but I'll definitely be doing a good amount of research and hitting up friends who've lived there for personal recommendations. I did the same thing for Peoria. The difference between Peoria and NYC is that the tourist activities are very limited making it easier for me to spend more time exploring what the city really had to offer.
Farmer's markets are a really great way to see the local side of any city or town. Visitors can go to the markets but there isn't as much for them because what are you going to do? Buy groceries for the kitchenette in your hotel room? I love walking around the markets to see what they have to offer, how much everything is priced and to see if there are any hidden treasures. Well...I found one.
Towards the end of the strip, there was this little stand serving coffee. Zion Coffee Co. is a direct-trade brand that fosters relationships with individual farmers to support them and their community while providing high-quality, sustainable coffee. When I talked to the owner, he said he was looking for space to open an actual coffee shop but currently they are only online and at farmer's markets in the area. I love the exclusivity of this brand. It's available to anyone online but experiencing it in person is limited at the moment. It gives you the ability to feel the brand at its beginning stage which is always something special. I tried their nitro brewed iced latte and it was incredible. So delicious. Smooth and slightly sweeter with a nutty flavor almost. I bought a bag a beans to go home with me. Their coffee really is fantastic. If you have a chance to try it, I highly recommend it.
Besides the farmer's market and random coffee shops, Peoria really does have quite a bit to offer. There are beautiful hotels to stay at, lots of activities along the river and if you're willing to venture outside the downtown area, there are a ton of great local spots. What I love most about Peoria is that it is a trip to explore like a local. There are very few touristy spots which make it a more authentic experience. By not getting caught up in the most popular avenues and landmarks, you're able to just walk around at will and fall into the little gems it has to offer.
Keep an eye out for more on Peoria and make sure you're following me on Instagram for behind the scenes previews of my trip to Texas!