From the shores of Lake Michigan to mighty rivers like the Illinois and the Fox, Illinois has plenty of wonderful waterfront destinations that make great places to host a meeting or an event. Here are a few options that offer everything from big-city amenities and attractions to more charming and rustic possibilities.
The Fox River wends its way through St. Charles’ historic downtown. Meeting planners who want to incorporate the river into their meetings or events can book a sightseeing or dinner cruise on one of the Paddlewheel Riverboats or plan events in the historic Hotel Baker or Arcada Theatre right on the water. The riverboats can host up to 90 people for sightseeing tours or up to 40 guests for a seated lunch or dinner event.
The Hotel Baker has 53 guest rooms and can accommodate groups of up to 300 people for a banquet or a reception. The Arcada Theatre can host groups of up to 900 people for lectures or live music. Upstairs, Club Arcada can host up to 150 people in a speakeasy setting.
About 10 minutes away from the river and downtown, the Hilton Garden Inn can host a convention of up to 200 people.
The Q Center, which has 1,043 guest rooms and 150,000-square-feet of meeting space, is about two miles from downtown St. Charles. Spread out over 95 acres, the Q Center has basketball and sand volleyball courts, soccer fields, disc golf, a putting green, a huge fitness center and plenty of trails along the Fox River for running, walking and cross-country skiing. It also offers team-building activities to get groups’ creative juices flowing.
Lake Michigan is the centerpiece of Lake County, which is north of Chicago. The area is known for its forest preserves, boating and bike trails. Towns like Waukegan, Zion, Lincolnshire and historic Libertyville, when combined, make a prime location for meetings and events.
“People from Chicago like to come to Lake County because it feels like such a getaway — so much open space and beauty,” said Maureen Riedy, president of Visit Lake County.
The Illinois Beach Resort and Conference Center in Zion, the only hotel in the state that is nestled on the shores of Lake Michigan, is a popular spot for smaller meetings and retreats, with 92 guest rooms and 12,000 square feet of meeting space. The resort is inside the boundaries of Illinois Beach State Park, a 4,000-acre park known for its beaches, dunes, wetlands and prairie.
The largest full-service hotel in the area is the Lincolnshire Marriott Resort, with 390 guest rooms and 26 event rooms with a combined 64,348 square feet.
Groups visiting the area can sample wines, craft beer and distilled spirits along the Lake County Libation Trail or book an off-site reception or dinner at one of the 20 brewpubs, distilleries or wineries in the area. If attendees like to shop, historic Libertyville’s downtown area is full of boutiques, restaurants and bars and is a “fun place to go and walk around,” Riedy said. Blarney Island, a Caribbean-themed bar and restaurant in the middle of Chain of Lakes, is a popular location for an off-site event. Guests can take a water shuttle across to enjoy live music and food in a beautiful waterfront setting.
The capital of Illinois, Springfield maintains its small-city charm through its beautiful natural setting, its location on Lake Springfield and its connection to Abraham Lincoln.
There are more Lincoln sites to visit in Springfield than anywhere else in the world, including the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum and the only home Lincoln ever owned, which is now run by the National Park Service.
Groups can get out onto the lake by renting paddleboards, kayaks, Jet Skis or pontoon boats for the day or visiting the Henson Robinson Zoo, which sits on the lakeshore.
The Bank of Springfield Center, with its 72,000 square feet of meeting space, is the largest event venue in Springfield. The Grand Ballroom can host up to 960 people theater style or 600 people banquet style. The city has 4,000 guest rooms and 325,000 square feet of flexible meeting space available.
The Illinois River and Peoria Lake dominate Peoria’s landscape. Some of the city’s main attractions and unique meeting venues lie along the river, including the famous RiverFront Market, which takes place May through September; the Peoria Riverfront Museum; and the Doug Oberhelman Caterpillar Visitors Center, which tells an interactive tale about how construction and mining equipment manufacturer Caterpillar got its start.
The Caterpillar Visitors Center can host smaller groups of up to 104 people, and meeting attendees can tour the center’s exhibits as part of their event. At the Peoria Riverfront Museum, groups can enjoy wonderful views of the Illinois River and access to the museum’s exhibits if they rent space in any of the museum’s many unique spaces, including the Giant Screen Theater and the Dome Planetarium.
The Spirit of Peoria, an historic paddle wheeler, is a great off-site venue for meetings, lunch or dinner cruises. The paddle wheeler can hold 385 passengers.
Outside of Chicago, the Peoria Civic Center is the largest meeting facility in the state, with a theater that can seat up to 11,900 people, a 27,000-square-foot ballroom and a 110,000-square-foot exhibit hall all under one roof. It has 16 additional meeting rooms, the Lexus Club and an outdoor patio that also can be rented out for meetings and events. The full-service Peoria Marriott Pere Marquette and the Courtyard Peoria Downtown are attached to the Civic Center. Across the river, the Embassy Suites by Hilton East Peoria Riverfront Hotel and Conference Center offers 225 rooms and 32,000 square feet of meeting space.
Shelbyville, on the Kaskaskia River and Lake Shelbyville, is included in Illinois’ Abraham Lincoln National Heritage Area. The Lincoln-Thornton debate took place in the town in 1856, not far from the Shelby County Courthouse, which was built in 1879. The debate was Lincoln’s first foray into politics and the first time he spoke out publicly against slavery. In the upper courtroom, visitors can see historic paintings, including one that depicts the Lincoln-Thornton debate.
Meeting coordinators planning smaller events in the area, can take advantage of the beautiful lakeside scenery by renting space at the Lake Shelbyville Visitors Center and Project Office, which is on the east side of the Lake Shelbyville Dam; the center presents the history of the lake and showcases the variety of fish and animals that make the area home.
“It’s a nice place and a central location,” said Daley Schwengel, Shelby County Economic Development director. The auditorium can host groups of up to 90 people theater style or up to 50 guests in the site’s outdoor classroom, which features a fire ring. The nearby Findlay Marina offers party barge and pontoon boat rentals, which are a great way for attendees to get out onto the lake.
The Willow Ridge Winery in Shelbyville can host banquets of 175 people or 40 people in its tasting room. The winery is also known for hosting live music and festivals throughout the year.
The lake is surrounded by cabins and campgrounds, but the Shelby Inn is the closest hotel option in Shelbyville and is only a few blocks from the lake. Larger groups hosting meetings in the area can stay at the larger hotel chains in Mattoon, about 30 minutes away.