Anna Maria Locke

Eating, drinking, and hiking our way through Galena, Illinois

2017Anna Locke

It's crazy that this summer marks the fifth year Ben and I have lived in Chicago!

I grew up in central Illinois and never thought I'd be a city girl, but I guess it's official now. I do love this town. It's where we were newlyweds, where I went through my crazy quarter life crisis, and where we've made some lifelong friends. 

But oh my gosh you guys, the energy of Chicago is intense. It's a scrappy, fast paced city of hustlers, movers, shakers, corruption, violence, extreme weather, more delicious restaurants than you could ever visit in a lifetime, and a patchwork of neighborhoods that are each as culturally and economically distinct as a small country. 

We live in a neighborhood that's as quiet as it gets, but there's still always a sense of urgency and go-go-go. I try my best to carve out a little oasis at home, but sometimes I just have to get out of town back into the "normal" part of Illinois to relax and breathe!

In just one hour you can drive out into cornfields and big skies, and take a giant exhale.

Ben and I love to explore new places together and take mini getaways, since there are so many cool towns within a half day's drive of us in Illinois, Wisconsin, and Michigan.

Last week he had some time off work between the end of the school year and the beginning of summer school, so we decided to visit Galena, IL. It was my first time there and I fell in love because it's SO ADORABLE!

It's on the northwestern most edge of Illinois, only 20 minutes or so from the borders of Iowa and Wisconsin. In the 1800's it was one of the biggest steamboat ports, and the very first mining "boomtown" before the silver and gold rushes in California. (Lead deposits = the name Galena).

The topography and history of the area is also unique and fascinating, especially to a geography nerd like me.

It's situated in a patch of land stretching into southern Wisconsin called the Driftless area, untouched by the glaciers that scraped the rest of the Midwest flat, leaving glacial "drift" (fertile, mineral rich soil) behind. 

There are rolling hills, rare species of plants, archeological remains, deposits of minerals, and unique microclimates as a result of the un-glaciated terrain, which gives you the feeling of being in a completely different country.

On top of the landscape, the actual town of Galena hasn't really been touched since the glory days of lead and zinc mining, and it's been revitalized into a trendy tourist destination full of boutiques and restaurants. 

Since Ben is a history teacher, we also wanted to visit because Ulysses S. Grant had a home in Galena and there's a lot of Civil War era history there, including an unexpectedly awesome small history museum!

Because we're cheap, we stayed at a Ramada on the edge of town but next time I definitely want to check out one of the cute bed and breakfasts or inns. 

In 36 hours, we packed as much into our trip as we could!


The town was very quiet since it was the middle of the week right after Memorial Day, and the weather was perfect so we started our adventures at the Casper Bluff reserve, where there are ancient burial mounds that are part of the larger Effigy Mound culture that existed between A.D. 700 and A.D. 1000 in Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota and Illinois. We honestly couldn't figure out what was a mound versus a hill, and the bugs were driving Ben cray, but we met some adorable cows!

Oh, don't mind us. We're just the cliche city folk who are gonna take a selfie with your cows...

Oh, don't mind us. We're just the cliche city folk who are gonna take a selfie with your cows...

After our hike, we drove over to Galena Cellars vineyard, a gorgeous little winery, for a tour and wine tasting. After living in Oregon, I've turned into a bit of a wine snob, but I was really impressed with this place. It was super homey and friendly, and they had dozens of wines to try! We'll definitely be back. There are also lots of fun events there and hellooooo wedding venue if you are looking for a unique event space.

For just $10 you can get a tour of the facility and a wine tasting with 6 pours. The wine tasting ladies were very nice, friendly, and enthusiastic about the wines and gave us a couple extra tastes too. We ended our visit by grabbing a couple of (CHEAP AND HUGE) glasses of our favorite wines, some cheese and crackers, and sat on the front porch looking out over the countryside.


That night we had dinner at Vinny Vanucchis, an adorable Italian restaurant with a great patio. 

The next day we started off at the Galena Historical Society and U.S. Grant Museum which was very impressive and full of things to learn about the geographic, cultural, and political history of the area (must visit if you are a Civil War buff). In a really cool twist of fate, the building is situated literally on top of one of the original mining shafts, which you can peek down into! The museum also houses the original Peace in Union painting by Thomas Nast, depicting the surrender of Lee to Grant at Appomattox.

It was still fairly early by the time we made it out of the museum, so we grabbed coffee and wandered around the park and downtown shops. 

We wanted to check out the brewery for lunch, but it was unfortunately closed on Wednesdays so we went to a tavern called Gobbie's with the most AMAZING unhealthy appetizer I've ever eaten in my entire life. They're called beer nuggets and I still don't know what that means, but they appear to be deep fried herbed dough bites dusted with Parmesan and served with a delicious chunky marinara sauce. NOM. 

On our way out of town we stopped at Blaum Bros Distilling Co. because heck, the theme of this trip was eating and drinking everything possible. It followed the theme of every other place: unexpectedly amaaaaazing! Ben sampled a few of the liquors and I had a delicious bourbon cocktail.

We worked off the buzz with a visit to Horseshoe Mound, which seems to be the highest point in the area with gorgeous views and a painfully steep little hiking loop. I mean, can you believe this is Illinois, only 3 hours from Chicago?

When people call the Midwest a "flyover zone," I say hey. Watch yo'self and come see and eat and drink your way through MY Midwest. (Also see: Bayfield, WI).

What to do in Galena

Galena Historical Society & Grant Museum
Wander up and down the boutiques and shops -- eat all the samples in the kitchen and canned good stores!
Hike or picnic at a nature preserve
Galena Cellars Vineyard (there's also a tasting room downtown)
Blaum Bros. Distilling Co.

On our list for next time:

The Grant Home
Belvedere Mansion and Gardens

Where to eat in Galena

Gobbie's -- Lunch or dinner, great outdoor space. EAT THE BEER NUGGETS (they come as a side with pretty much everything). The pizza looked good too.
Vinny Vannucchis -- Family style Italian restaurant with lots of pasta. Great outdoor patio and Negroni cocktails.
The Market House Restaurant -- Basic Midwest comfort food with lots of gluten free options. Good for cheap lunch!

On our list for next time (lots of places are closed Tuesday and Wednesdays):

Victory Cafe
Otto's Place
Fried Green Tomatoes
Fritz and Frites
Galena Brewing Company


Where to stay in Galena

We stayed at the Ramada Inn because we wanted to spend all our money on food and drinks, lol! It was a very nice and clean motel, but skip the continental breakfast. If you want more of a special experience, there are a bajillion adorable bed and breakfasts and quaint inns downtown.

Where is your favorite place to go for a weekend getaway?

xo Anna