Bloomington, pop. 77,000(2010 census), is a city in the Midwest state of Illinois in the United States of America, on the classic Route 66 highway across the country. With neighboring Normal, pop. 52,000(2010 census), it forms a combined community of about 130,000 known locally as the Twin Cities. Illinois Wesleyan University is in Bloomington, and is not to be confused with Illinois State University in Normal.
The community is in the heart of Central Illinois, approximately 125 miles southwest of Chicago, 155 miles northeast of St. Louis, and 64 miles northeast of Springfield, the State Capital. Bloomington is the County Seat of McLean County, the largest county in Illinois (approximately 762,240 acres). Interstates 39, 55 and 74 converge on Bloomington-Normal, as well as US Route 51 and State Route 9.
Bloomington-Normal is also serviced by four major railroad lines and Amtrak, as well as air transportation at the Central Illinois Regional Airport, one of the fastest growing airports in the country, which services commuter, corporate, and private aircraft.
The Twin Cities are located in one of the most productive agricultural areas in the nation, but the economy is diverse and well-balanced. In addition to the major manufacturers and industries, there are two universities, two hospitals, a convention center, two indoor malls, an outdoor outlet mall, and many banks and Savings & Loan Associations located in Bloomington-Normal. The City of Bloomington is one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in Illinois with an estimated 20.25% increase in population between 1986 and 1995. New construction continues to enhance residential, industrial and commercial growth.
The Central Illinois Regional Airport in Bloomington (IATA: BMI) has daily arrivals from Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, Minneapolis, and Dallas, along with 4-times-a-week service from Orlando and Denver. A smaller airport, Greater Peoria Regional Airport (PIA) is 45 minutes away and offers arrivals from additional cities. Parking is free at both airports.
Interstate highways 39, 55 and 74 converge on the south side of Bloomington and divide again on the north side of Normal. I-55 follows the historic route of Route 66 through central Illinois, except that Route 66 bypassed Bloomington-Normal on the east rather than on the west as the interstates do. Veterans Parkway, the east-side bypass (formerly called "Belt Line Road", was renamed in the 1980's), was the Route 66 route in the immediate pre-Interstate period. Earlier, 66 passed through downtown Bloomington and into residential Normal. The route given in the Route 66 page reflects this original alignment, known as "Business 66" after Veterans Parkway was built.
You can easily take an Amtrak train from Chicago or Saint Louis, with five daily departures. Track improvements are now being constructed to offer high-speed rail service from Bloomington-Normal on a planned eight trains a day in each direction. The Texas Eagle / Sunset Limited long-distance train provides daily service to Dallas and Los Angeles. The Bloomington-Normal rail station is near the Illinois State University campus in Normal, and is being enlarged. It is the fourth busiest Amtrak station in the midwestern United States behind Chicago, Milwaukee, and Saint Louis.
Megabus, . Discount bus carrier offers service to Normal from Chicago and St. Louis once daily in each direction, fares start at $1 when reserved well in advance. Bus stop is located near the Amtrak station in the parking lot on the south side of Parkinson Street.
(4/26/13: Megabus.com web site does not indicate Chicago->Bloomington/Normal service. The closest that the bus goes from Chicago, is Champaign, approximately 50 miles away.)
Bloomington-Normal Public Transit System, . Busses cover most of the community. Downtown Bloomington is well walkable, but most shopping, etc., is on the eastern side of the towns and is best reached by car or bus.
Children's Discovery Museum, 101 East Beaufort St, ☎ +1 309-433-3444, . Tu, W, Sa: 9AM-5PM: Th & F: 9AM-8PM; Su: 9AM-5PM; Also open M: 9AM-5PM in June-August. Full of hands-on exhibit for children. Features an agricultural exhibit, a clock tower, science exhibits, and much more.$4.
David Davis Mansion, 1000 East Monroe Drive, ☎ +1 309-828-1084, . W-Su: 9AM-4PM. An elegant, ornate mansion that dates back to 1872.Suggested donation: $2/1 (Adults/Children).
Illinois Shakespeare Festival, Ewing Manor - 48 Sunset Road, ☎ +1 309-438-8110 (firstname.lastname@example.org, fax: +1 309-438-5806), . Considered has some of the best renditions of Shakespeare in the nation.
McLean County Museum of History, 200 North Main St (Bloomington), ☎ +1 309-827-0428, . M-Sa: 10AM-5PM; Tu: 10AM-9PM; Also open Su: 1PM-5PM (Sept. - May). Allows one to see the customs and work practices of settlers to McLean county, along with exhibits featuring residents such as Abraham Lincoln and Adlai Stevenson.$5/4/Free (Adults/Seniors/Children & Students).
Miller Park Zoo, 1020 South Morris Ave (Bloomington), ☎ +1 309-434-2250 (email@example.com, fax: +1 309-434-2823), . Daily 9:30AM-4:30PM (Closed Thanksgiving & Christmas). A pleasant place for a picnic and hosts a small but interesting zoo, with a good rain-forest exhibit.$4.50/3.50/Free (Adults/Children 3-12 & Seniors 60+/Children under 3).
Bloomington is the county seat of McLean County, the largest and most prosperous county in downstate Illinois farming territory, and as such hosts the McLean County Fair, a particularly durable example of the county-fair genre. Fairgrounds are on the west side of town just off the interstate. Vast quantities of livestock on display, if you're into that sort of thing, with other Midwestern things to see/do/eat. Check locally for dates, typically in early August.
Most of Normal's activities revolve around Illinois State University (ISU) in one way or another. See the link under "Learn" for current information on what's happening at the university.
The well-reviewed Illinois Shakespeare Festival is associated with ISU and runs from late June until early August, with multiple performances of (usually) three of the Bard's plays. Performances are on the grounds of Ewing Manor in east Bloomington, and can include pre-show picnics on the lush grounds. Tickets are $20 and up for one performance, with package deals and various discounts available.
Central Illinois is not usually thought of as much of a place for hiking, to put it mildly, but a very pleasant and popular parkway for walking, biking and blading, the Constitution Trail, features almost 30 miles of trail throughout Bloomington-Normal, including a main trail that runs from southern Bloomington right into the commercial and campus area of Normal; other branches converge into downtown Bloomington and span from the east to west sides of that city.
Bloomington is home to one of the nation's best indoor climbing gyms, Upper Limits. Upper Limits has over 20,000 square feet of climbing area. Built in a set of old grain elevators, this is a great indoor climbing gym. The climbing includes: 65' tall silo routes, a 30' main room with plenty of overhanging climbing (including the Wave Wall with at least three lead-only routes), slab routes, a climbing cave, training area, 110' outdoor routes, and an outdoor bouldering area. Route difficulties ranges from 5.5 to 5.13-, with boulder from V0 to V6+.
The U.S. Cellular Colliseum was opened in 2006 and features minor league indoor football (Bloomington Extreme), basketball (Bloomington Drive), and ice hockey (Bloomington Blaze). Additionally, many well-known bands and artists come to perform. Additional events include ice racing, circuses, monster trucks, and similar attractions.
The Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts seats 1200 for stage plays, smaller concerts, and is home to the Illinois Symphony Orchestra. It is located in the entertainment district of downtown Bloomington, which attracts over one million visitors a year to restaurants, clubs, and venues that feature comedy and musical acts.
A ball park constructed in 2010 on the Heartland Junior College campus is the home to the Normal Cornbelters minor league baseball team.
A number of festivals and the largest 4-H county fair in the United States are held in Bloomington-Normal. The Apple & Pork Festival and the Threshermen's Reunion in nearby Clinton and Pontiac respectively, draw almost 100,000 visitors in the summer months.
Outdoor recreation and boating is available at two city-owned lakes (Lake Bloomington and Comlara Park at Evergreen Lake), and Moraine View State Park, all within 20 minutes of the city limits.
Bloomington has three public golf courses, and Normal and Illinois State University each offer one. There are several private golf clubs in or near Bloomington, the most notable being Bloomington Country Club. Golf Digest has named the area as one of the five best places for golf in the United States.
Community Players Theatre, 201 Robinhood Lane, Bloomington, IL (Across from Eagle Station Post Office), ☎ 309/663-2121, . It is one of the oldest community theatres completely staffed by volunteers. Community Players has been able to present many shows shortly after their Broadway run and, on many occasions, presented the first amateur production of these shows in the United States. It is a not-for-profit community theatre dedicated to promoting the performing arts. Contact the Box Office (309/663-2121) or Website (www.communityplayers.org) for information about their current season.
Illinois State University, . Illinois State University is Illinois' first public university. The town of Normal grew up around this school, long a teachers college and formerly known as "Illinois State Normal University" (a "normal" school being one dedicated to educating teachers). It expanded enormously in the 1960s and is now a major university. The basketball program is strong, although most other sports are at the 1-AA ("sub-major") level. A trivium: the Watterson Towers complex on campus is, at nearly 300 feet high, the tallest college dormitory in the world.
Illinois Wesleyan University, . Considerably smaller and more selective than its neighbor, with strong liberal-arts programs. Illinois Wesleyan often appears on lists of the nation's best "regional" small colleges.
Heartland Community College, . Community college founded in 1991.
Lincoln College-Normal, 715 W, Raab RD, . An extension of Lincoln College-Lincoln offering bachelors and associates degrees.
Downtown Bloomington has shops, including some that sell beads, crafts, used books, used clothes and other funky items. For more mainstream shopping, most of what you want can be found on the stores lining Veteran's Parkway.
The Coffeehouse & Deli, 114 E Beaufort St (Normal) (1 block East of ISU), ☎ (309) 452-6774, . M-S, 7AM-10PM; Sun, 8AM-9PM. A vegetarian restaurant with many vegan options. Local art work is displayed on the wall, and changes every few months. Live music and poetry slams are held during the evenings.
Lancaster's, 513 N. Main St. (Bloomington), +1 309 827-3333, . Standard (if eclectic) American cuisine. Dinner M-Sa starting at 5PM (reservations advised).
Lucca Grill, 116 E. Market St. (Bloomington), +1 309 828-7521. Italian; a long-time community standard. Call for hours.
Avanti's Italian Restaurant, 407 S Main St or 3302 E. Empire St, . Pizza, pasta, salads and sandwiches. Everything is good and cheap, no matter what, try the bread.
Taqueria El Porton, 901 N. Main. St., ☎ 309-820-1625. 9am-9pm. Family owned restaurant. Enjoy authentic dishes as well as savoring drinks like a Mexican coke and a horchata.$.
All bars close at 1AM Sunday - Thursday 2AM Friday and Saturday, no smoking
Destihl, 318 S. Towanda Avenue (Located at The Shoppes at College Hills), ☎ 309-862-2337, . 11-10. Amazing brewery with exceptional food created in a unique way by the chef. Definitely worth the prices.$$.
The following downtown bars are all walking distance from each other...Townie populated.
Daddio's, 527 North Main Street, Bloomington. Offers live music.
Fat Jack's, 511 North Main Street, Bloomington. Offers live music, has a small, overcrowded dance floor where you can dance to current mainstream music, as well as a room for private functions.
Illinois Brewing Company: Offers live music and karaoke twice a week. Large! 102 North Center Street. Bloomington.
Loft: Upscale by Bloomington standards. Features live music. 220 East Front Street, Bloomington.
Mug Shots Bar and Grill: Live music, karaoke, DJ. 107 West Front Street, Bloomington.
Blueline: A classy, upscale venue. 602 North Main Street, Bloomington.
Rosie's: Quaint atmosphere. Offers a high-priced food menu. 106 East Front Street, Bloomington.
All bars close at 1:30, no smoking allowed
Pub II: Good for earlier fun, but later on it gets a bit crowded. Offers upbeat sportsbar atmosphere with ample seating.
Killarneys Pub: Irish Bar themed, with the stout atmosphere of any Irish pub!
Lunkers Tavern: Great eats and a good atmosphere, Lunkers is inexpensive and enjoyable.
Medici:A visual experience, this restaurant-bar offers a two tiered atmosphere and a breezy sundeck.
Kegler's Pub, 804 North Hershey Road. Small bar, homey atmosphere. Offers karaoke on Thursday, Friday, and Saturdays.
Shooter's Lounge, 503 North Prospect Road Suite 304. Large bar, wide selection of food. Karaoke. Has a large room for playing pool.
Slick Rick's Motor City Lounge, 907 East Oakland Avenue. Biker bar.
Windjammer's Lounge, 2303 Stern Drive. Features karaoke twice a week.
Comfort Inn Bloomington Hotel, 50 Brock Dr. Phone: (309) 828-6000 Fax: (309) 829-4325.  Located at exit #160A of Interstate Highways 55 and 74. Also at this exit are a multitude of restaurants: fast food, not so fast food, and some 24-hour food. Walk to McDonalds or Cracker Barrel, or drive merely minutes to other popular eateries.
Econo Lodge Bloomington Hotel, 403 Brock Dr. Phone: (309) 829-3100 Fax: (309) 827-4716.  Real value and convenience for both business and leisure travelers. Secure Online Reservations.
Hawthorn Suites Bloomington, One Lyon Court Phone: (309) 829-8111.  Guest amenities include a complimentary hot breakfast buffet each morning and an evening reception each Wednesday. Each guest room includes a queen size bed(s), microwave, refrigerator and wet bar or full kitchen, 25" television, hairdryer, iron, ironing board and a full size sofa sleeper, plus complimentary high-speed Internet access. For enjoyment, our indoor swimming pool and patio area as well as our exercise facility are available for all guests.
Quality Inn & Suites Bloomington Hotel, 401 Brock Dr. Phone: (309) 829-7602 Fax: (309) 827-4716.  Located on the East side of the intersection of Illinois Highway 9 and Interstate 74 and 55 on the West side of the city. Full service restaurants and shopping are in the immediate area. Truck and bus parking is available.
Best Western University Inn, 6 Traders Circle. checkin: 3:00PM-11:00AM.
Country Inns & Suites Bloomington Normal West, 923 Maple Hill Road, ☎ (309)-828-7177. checkin: 3:00PM; checkout: 12:00. $79-$129.
Hampton Inn & Suites, 320 South Towanda Ave, ☎ (309) 452-8900.
Lake Bloomington and Evergreen Lake are two man-made lakes north of town that offer fishing, camping, and boating opportunities.
If you're doing the Route 66 tour northbound, the next significant bit of Americana is in the small town of Pontiac, which hosts the annual "Thresermen'sReunion" tractor pull event and is home to the Route 66 Association Hall of Fame & Museum and other similarly themed tourist attractions. Southbound, stop in McLean at the Dixie Truckers Home, a prototypical (and, according to some, the nation's first) truck stop.
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