Peoria is a city in Illinois and the county seat of Peoria County. It serves as a regional hub for the primarily rural and agricultural center of the state. Peoria is a small but diverse city of approximately 115,000 people that anchors a three-county metropolitan area of nearly 400,000.
Situated on a river bluff with excellent natural resources and easy river access, the area has been settled since prehistory, with artifacts and burial mounds showing settlement as far back as 10,000 B.C. Peoria was first settled by French explorers in 1680 and is one of the oldest continuously-occupied European settlements in what is now Illinois. Thanks to its position on the Illinois River, Peoria enjoyed comfortable growth from shipping business in the 1800s and early 1900s. Like Muncie in Indiana, it became known as an Average American Town, leading to the famous phrase, used by Jack Benny as a radio punchline (and the Nixon administration for political spin): "Will it play in Peoria?"
Residents may rankle at the implied lack of sophistication in the phrase; right or wrong, they take fierce pride in what their city has to offer, and they see the only differences between their city and Chicago as being size and cost-of-living. Today, most of Peoria's economy revolves around Caterpillar, a manufacturer of construction equipment, and business conventions. Illinois high school sports tournaments are also a major draw for visitors. Famous natives include Richard Pryor, for whom a street leading from town to the airport is named, and Betty Friedan, author of The Feminine Mystique.
The Peoria Area Convention and Visitors Bureau can help groups and individuals plan an itinerary in Peoria.
Mt. Hawley Airport on the north side of Peoria is a general aviation airport available for charter flights.
The Central Illinois Regional Airport in Bloomington/Normal is located about 50 miles from Peoria and provides further air options.
Many visitors fly into Chicago or St. Louis and drive to Peoria. Each city is approximately 150 miles from Peoria and the drive takes 2 1/2 to 3 hours, depending on traffic. Indianapolis is 200 miles away and takes 3 1/2 to 4 hours to reach by car.
I-74 is the main interstate that runs through the city. Peoria can also be approached from Interstate 55 (which connects Chicago and St. Louis) by taking a state highway such as IL 116 from Interstate 55 into Peoria, about 50 miles. This provides a somewhat more scenic trip through farming country and small towns.
Taxi service is available throughout the city; however, it is recommended you call for a taxi, as it is rare to find a taxi to hail outside the downtown or during odd hours. You can locate taxi companies online, in the phone book, or through your hotel's front desk.
While Peoria's downtown is very walkable and parts of the city are amid a New Urbanist revival, to get around outside the downtown most visitors will want a car. All major car rental companies have outlets in Peoria; most have outlets at the airport, in the downtown, and in various outlying commercial areas.
Lakeview Museum is Peoria's regional museum, with emphasis on art and science, with rotating galleries that change every few months. The regional folk art collection is particularly nice. Lakeview is a Smithsonian Member Institution with reciprocal admission discounts/waivers for members of other Member Institutions. Recent visiting exhibits have included the pottery of Picasso and a large Ansel Adams exhibit. Exhibits are well-curated. The museum is also a teaching institution, with its own classes and with sponsored activities in local schools. (For example, the Ansel Adams exhibit had an ancillary exhibit of high school photography in the style of Ansel Adams.) Daily Planetarium shows (not included in general admission). Gift shop. Lakeview is currently located on Lake Street, north of downtown, but will be moving to a new, larger facility in the downtown in the next couple years.
The Glen Oak Zoo (in Glen Oak Park) , which is currently expanding (and changing its name to the Peoria Zoo) has an excellent collection of smaller animals, including meerkats, a variety of smaller monkeys, and capybaras. (Admission $5.95 adults/$3.75 kids. Open 10AM to 5PM daily.)
The Luthy Botanical Gardens, also located in Glen Oak Park, features both traditional ornamental collections and (increasingly) native plantings on five acres. (Admission $2.50 for adults (13 and up). Children 12 and under and Garden Members are free; Tuesday-Saturday 10 am-5 pm, Sunday 12-5 pm, Monday Closed.) During holiday seasons, the Gardens host special events.
Minor League baseball in the summer and minor league hockey in the winter keeps sports fans happy. The Peoria Chiefs, a class A St. Louis Cardinals affiliate, play at Dozer Park in the downtown. (There is local bad blood because the Chiefs were until recently a Cubs affiliate, and local baseball fans are evenly split between the Cubs and Cards.) In the winter, the Peoria Rivermen, the oldest active minor league hockey team, play at the Civic Center.
Caterpillar also has its headquarters in the Peoria area, so Peoria is a popular destination for Cat fans. Cat opened a visitor's center downtown in October 2012.
Tower Park in Peoria Heights is a popular attraction with a water tower you can ascend and see panoramic views up to 40 miles in clear weather. The river valley is quite lovely.
For more spectacular river views, try Grandview Drive. This road, which can be accessed from the top or bottom, features some of Peoria's grandest homes and a variety of truly spectacular views of the river. The best river views have pull-offs and small parking lots so you can take pictures and take your time looking. The Park District maintains the overlooks as well as a park at the bottom of the drive.
Wheels O' Time, a quirky local museum, is definitely worth a visit. It's in the far north of the city and features a variety of things have to do with wheels and gears -- antique cars, clocks, carnival machines, old washing machines, farm equipment, a train (!), and more. Most are old-fashioned or antique. It's seriously wacky and seriously enjoyable -- the mechanical "barbershop quartet" in which all of the figures bear faces of former United States Presidents(!) is worth the price of admission all by itself. Open May to October, noon to 5PM, $5 adults/$2.50 children.
Glen Oak Park, one of Peoria's oldest city parks, makes a nice all-day or half-day destination. In addition to traditional park activities (grassy and tree-shaded areas, picnic tables, playing fields, tennis courts), Glen Oak Park has an ampitheater used for outdoor concerts and is home to the Glen Oak Zoo and Luthy Botanical Gardens. In late 2009, the Peoria PlayHouse Children's Museum will open in the Pavilion in Glen Oak Park.
Wildlife Prairie State Park, just west of Peoria, offers a spectacular natural prairie park with massive wildlife enclosures. The park houses buffalo, elk, wolves, a bear, and many smaller prairie animals. It has an interpretive center for the wildlife park, a small zoo-like building featuring snakes and amphibians, an old-fashioned general store-type gift shop, hiking, fishing, overnight lodging in cabins or decommissioned cabooses, an extremely popular train that tours the park, and a frontier farmstead with animals, gardens, a cabin, and a one-room schoolhouse. Interpreters are available throughout the park. Admission is $5.50 per adult, $3.50 for children 4-12 (free for 3 and under), which is steep for Peoria but the park is definitely worth it. Visiting on $2 Tuesday cuts the cost quite a bit.
Further natural beauty can be found at the Forest Park Nature Center, a native river bluff forest with hiking and an interpretive center (and shop). Admission is free. Be forewarned, this is the hilliest hiking you'll find in the Peoria area; the trails are not flat! The shorter trails are very popular with families. It's also an excellent place to spot butterflies and native birds, including bald eagles, which winter along the Illinois River.
Cruise the Illinois River on the Spirit of Peoria paddlewheel riverboat, which offers local sightseeing trips on Wednesdays and weekends and overnight trips to Starved Rock State Park on Monday/Tuesday. Operates May to October.
The Par-a-dice Casino, 1-800-PAR-A-DICE, . Riverboat gambling just across the river in East Peoria. It is open from 9AM to 6AM daily; admission is free.
Peoria's Riverfront has undergone massive revitalization in recent years and features a variety of local and independent retailers in a pleasant, walkable riverfront setting. Free parking is available along the riverfront. The outdoor Riverfront Market, every Saturday from June to September, is a combination farmers' market and local art market.
Peoria has an unusual number of working local artists (including sculptor Preston Jackson ), many of whom are showcased at the Peoria Art Guild's  gallery and store. (Others may be located on the web.) Peoria hosts two large art fairs every year, the Fine Art Fair, a national juried fair held each September, and the Junction City Art Fair, a juried fair showcasing regional artists in early June.
For local shopping flavor, Peoria Heights, a small village enclosed by Peoria but politically distinct, has a quaint main street with a large variety of locally-owned shops, including art galleries, gift stores, bakeries, restaurants, coffee shops, and various services.
Sheridan Village, located in the center of town, houses a Bergner's department store and several other minor retailers. Sheridan Village was the nation's first "mall-style" shopping center featuring a variety of stores situated around a parking lot to provide a less formal, less time-intensive shopping experience than venturing downtown to the major department stores. The test was successful and the model spread across the United States.
There are two main malls in the Peoria regional area. These are frequently referred to as the "old mall" and "new mall" by locals.
Northwoods Mall was established in 1973, and is Peoria's only enclosed mall. Many other retail establishments are located within the vicinity, including Target, Cub Foods, Bob Evans, Barnes and Noble, and many hotels.
The Shoppes at Grand Prairie, opened in 2003, is a more upscale mall intended to bring regional as well as local traffic. Grand Prairie is located in the rapidly developing northwest corridor of Peoria.
Junction City, 5901 N. Prospect Road (On north Knoxville, corner of Prospect and Knoxville, before you get to Pioneer Parkway), . A quaint shopping center with unique botiques for clothing and interior decorating, great restaurants, and fun events.edit
Peoria offers variety of places to eat, including a large number of local independent restaurants. Nationwide "casual dining" chain restaurants are also available, as is the standard compliment of fast food joints.
Particular local favorites include (but are not limited to):
Rizzi's -- an Italian restaurant with two locations, one on State Street and the other on Sheridan Road.
Alexander Street Steakhouse -- an amazing steakhouse where you pick out your own steak from the fridge and can grill it yourself or let the chef do it for you.
The 50's Diner-- a 50s-style diner (with 50s-style prices) that serves the elusive Green River soda, in the Metro Centre and at Willow Knolls Court. The owners of this location were featured on the exercise television show The Biggest Loser.
Peoria Hofbrau -- a German restaurant located in an industrial part of town, with a beer list to absolutely die for. (The Haufbrau Red Ale may be the crowning beer experience of some visitor's lives.) Peoria's primary ethnic populations were traditionally German and Lebanese and Peoria does German food really well.
30-30 Coffee -- a coffee house between the medical center and downtown with a great atmosphere and plenty of space. Their coffee is excellent and they small-batch roast it themselves.
The Ryhthm Kitchen Music Cafe, Waterstreet (on the riverfront downtown, in the Contemporary Art Center). A cafe with a distinctly bohemian feel and menu often featuring live music.edit
Peoria Marriott Pere Marquette (The Pere Marquette), 501 Main Street Peoria, Illinois 61602, ☎ +1-309-637-6500, . checkin: 15:00; checkout: 12:00. Located in the heart of downtown and serving as a business hub since 1927, the Pere Marquette has undergone an extensive renovation while preserving its unique heritage. Rooms include custom bedding, spacious workspaces and high-speed Internet. $139 and above. edit
Embassy Suites East Peoria 100 Conference Center Drive, 309 694-0200. Located amid the renowned shopping, dining and entertainment centers of the Peoria RiverFront, the new Embassy Suites East Peoria offers a relaxing stay for travelers of every kind.
The Mark Twain is another independent, located on the periphery of the downtown (near the expressway). It is a smaller, "hipper" hotel than the Pere Marquette. Pets are welcome.
Paradice Hotel is a full-service hotel attached to the East Peoria casino.
Comfort Suites, 1812 W. War Memorial Dr. Every room is a suite. Located off of I-74 just minutes away from Downtown Peoria, Bradley University, Northwoods Mall, three hospitals and Caterpillar Corporate.
Sleep Inn & Suites, 4244 Brandywine Drive, 309 682-3322. Centrally located near Northwoods Mall off I-74 at exit 89 West with several fine restaurants are located nearby. The Peoria Civic Center, Riverfront and Exposition Gardens are all located within 5 miles of the hotel. Riverboat gambling is 10 miles away.
Four Points Peoria Downtown, 500 Hamilton Blvd, ☎ 309-674-2500, . Located off of I-74 in Downtown Peoria across from US Courthouse, and short distance to Peoria Civic Center. Indoor door, free shuttle, restaurant on site. edit
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