Some of Illinois’ best meeting locations are found in its small towns.
From its beautiful rivers, including the Mississippi, to its many state parks and forests, Illinois has much to offer those who are attracted to rugged natural settings. It also is home to historical figures like Abraham Lincoln, who were instrumental in guiding the U.S. to what it is today.
Meeting planners wanting to tap into the state’s rich natural and historical settings should look no further than these small Illinois towns that offer full-service meeting venues and plenty of attractions to entice meeting attendees.
A small community of about 3,500 people, Galena still attracts more than 1 million visitors a year because of its perfectly preserved historic downtown dating to 1826 and its connection to President Ulysses S. Grant. Visitors enjoy wandering the streets and learning the history of Galena’s historic buildings, including the Dowling House, the oldest residence in town, which was built out of limestone, and the oldest continuously operated Post Office in America.
Lincoln once gave a speech from the balcony of the historic DeSoto House Hotel on Main Street, now a popular meeting location. The hotel has 55 guest rooms and a large ballroom that can accommodate up to 200 people. City-owned Turner Hall has a stage and seating for 300 people for events or receptions. Among Galena’s full-service venues are Chestnut Mountain Resort, with 99 guest rooms and meeting spaces large enough to host groups of 250 people, and the Eagle Ridge Resort and Spa, which has 80 guest rooms and numerous villas to rent on-property. Its 14 meeting rooms include a 5,300-square-foot ballroom. Galena can comfortably host groups of 300 to 350 people and has six hotels.
In their free time, attendees can tour the Ulysses S. Grant Home, take a behind-the-scenes tour of a local brewery, enjoy a cemetery walk or experience a living history encampment and Civil War battle at General Grant’s Home Front Reenactment.
Surrounded by the rolling hills of the Shawnee National Forest, Carbondale has an excellent climate for growing grapes. Groups hosting events in the area enjoy sampling the distinct and award-winning flavors at the 11 local wineries that make up the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail. Outdoor enthusiasts can hike or bike their way along the many trails carving their way through the national forest, taking them beneath beautiful sandstone bluffs that were carved 12,000 years ago.
Just hours from Chicago, St. Louis, Nashville and Memphis, the city’s main conference facilities include the Holiday Inn Carbondale-Conference, with 100 guest rooms and 2,800 square feet of meeting space for groups of up to 200 people theater style or 160 for a banquet; the Varsity Center, a downtown performing arts facility that used to be a single-screen movie house in the 1940s; and the many venues operated by Southern Illinois University (SIU).
The SIU Student Center has 21,000 square feet of meeting space, the SIU Arena can seat S8,339 people, and Shryock Auditorium can seat 1,212 guests. SIU’s Touch of Nature Environmental Center offers team-building opportunities such as hiking, biking, a ropes and zip-line course and educational programs that teach guests how to canoe, kayak or rock climb. Smaller lodge and conference facilities include the Hampton Inn, with 80 guest rooms and 784 square feet of meeting space, and the Days Inn and Suites, with 73 guest rooms and 800 square feet of meeting space.
Located along the Rock River, Rockford is within easy driving distance of Chicago, Madison and Milwaukee. Founded by Swedish immigrants, the city pays homage in many ways, from its cuisine to its cultural attractions. The Stockholm Inn is famous for its Swedish pancakes but also makes a unique location to host a meal for 200 people. Rockford’s famous Anderson Japanese Gardens, one of the top attractions in Rockford, got its start as a backyard project and grew to include 12 acres of beautifully sculpted grounds, koi ponds and waterfalls. Fresco by the Garden, a glass-enclosed Italian restaurant that overlooks the gardens, can accommodate events for up to 125 people, or groups can rent a pavilion in the gardens.
The largest convention space is the BMO Harris Bank Center, an 8,000-seat arena that hosts concerts, conventions and trade shows and has a theater seating capacity of 10,000. It is just a block away from the Embassy Suites by Hilton Rockford Riverfront and Rockford Conference Center, which opened in 2020; the complex has 160 guest rooms and 14,191 square feet of event space that can host groups of up to 1,000 people. Cliffbreakers Events at Riverview Inn and Suites has 23,200 square feet of conference and meeting space and 94 guest rooms overlooking the Rock River. It can host up to 2,000 guests.
Other venues include the Coronado Performing Arts Center — a 1920s-era theater — and the Prairie Street Brewing Co., which can accommodate 300 people for a banquet and offers behind-the-scenes tours and beer tastings.
Itasca is a small village of 9,200 residents 25 minutes from downtown Chicago via Metra commuter train and just west of O’Hare International Airport, making it a great spot to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city for a conference or event and still be close enough to take advantage of everything the city has to offer.
The Eaglewood Resort and Spa and the Westin Chicago Northwest are the village’s two top meeting locations. The Eaglewood has 295 sleeping rooms and 37,000 square feet of event space: the 7,031-square-foot Red Oak Ballroom, a tiered outdoor amphitheater that seats 75, outdoor terraces and a patio with a fire pit. When attendees are done with their meetings, they can play a round of golf on the resort’s 18-hole golf course, visit the full-service spa or challenge their colleagues to a game of bowling or bocce ball on-property.
The Westin has 416 guest rooms and 44,935 square feet of event space. Its largest space can host groups of up to 1,100 people. The hotel features 2.5 miles of walking trails and green spaces. Groups can participate in yoga on the lawn, take advantage of the full-service health club or participate in team-building activities, including 5K races.
The Springbrook Nature Center makes an unusual venue for smaller groups, with two miles of hiking trails that wander past a stream, woods, flower-filled meadows, prairies and marshes choked with cattails and willows. It has a barn with classroom space and a large aquarium.
Situated right on the Mississippi River and on a section of the Great River Road National Scenic Byway, Alton is known for its soaring limestone bluffs and beautiful, ever-changing forests. It was a major river port in the 1800s, rivaling nearby St. Louis, and the area is steeped in Lincoln lore, as the 16th president spent time practicing law in the area and even held his final debate with Stephen Douglas in the city. Meeting planners can host events at Alton’s main convention facility, the Best Western Premier Alton-St. Louis-Area hotel, which has 135 guest rooms and a large ballroom that can host banquets for up to 250 people. The Argosy Casino also has exhibit and banquet spaces; the largest, the Music Hall, can host groups of 250 people for a sit-down dinner. In total, Alton has 416 guest rooms.
Unusual venues include the National Great Rivers Museum, right on the Mississippi River, which can host groups of 60 to 150 people for meetings or banquets, and the Audubon Center at Riverlands, on the banks of the Mississippi inside the 3,700-acre Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary. The facility hosts events and offers guided tours through its exhibits, wildlife viewing and a 12-minute movie about Riverlands. The Old Bakery Beer Co. has a private event space for seated events for up to 100 people or receptions for up to 130 people. Meeting guests can participate in a tour and tasting at the facility.