In the third entry to our new “family guide” series, we’re taking a close look at the Fox River town of St. Charles, written by contributor Dawn Santucci. These posts are designed to help you pull together a daylong outing with your family. But they could also be helpful to anyone considering a move. As a result, they are being sponsored by realtor Beth Spindle, one of our valued sponsors here at Go West. Beth, a Geneva resident and mom to three girls, has worked with buyers and sellers all over the western and northwestern suburbs. If you’d like to learn more about Beth, you can check out her website. Read on for Dawn’s recommendations about making a fun outing to St. Charles!
Name and Location: In: St. Charles located in Kane County (a small section of it is in DuPage).
Population: About 33,000
A bit about its history: This area was home to the Pottawatomie Native American Community. After the Black Hawk War in 1832, the entire Fox Valley was opened to American settlement. The first claim of the area was staked in 1833. The township was originally known as Charleston, but Illinois already had a town with that name, so the name St. Charles was adopted in 1839. St. Charles became incorporated as a city in 1834, three years before the city of Chicago! St. Charles has some interesting history with the Underground Railroad, Al Capone, and a sordid tale of grave robbing connected to Franklin Medical College, which was Illinois’ first medical school.
Geography: The official city slogan is “Pride of the Fox” after the Fox River that runs through the center of downtown. There are many natural preserves and open spaces showcasing the native prairies of Illinois. The geography of the area is quite beautiful.
Is it on a Metra line? If so, which one? The closest Metra line is in neighboring Geneva- the Union Pacific/West Line located at 328 Crescent Place.
Is there a great path for a family bike ride? Yes, several! There are miles and miles of trails connecting to adjacent communities. The biggest and most popular are the Fox River Trail and the Great Western Trail, but there are others.
Where would you recommend a family take a stroll? Either (or both!) Pottawatomie Park or Mount Saint Mary Park. Both of these parks are near the historic downtown, which is also a nice place for a stroll. Both of these parks lie along the Fox River and have beautiful scenery, and both have paved trails.
Pottawatomie Park is along the east edge of the Fox River just north of downtown. It can be accessed easily from downtown via a riverwalk (or you can park at the park). It is a beautiful place to hang out and relax, but there is also so much to do: Riverboat cruises, paddle boat and canoe rentals, a pavilion with a lookout tower which provides beautiful views, a mini-golf course, a concession stand, volleyball nets, tennis courts, a baseball diamond with unique stone seating, two playgrounds, a swimming pool, a walking bridge spanning the river which provides nice views, and a great bonus — nice bathrooms!
Mt. St. Mary Park is along the west end of the river just south of downtown (though not quite as easily accessed from the main downtown area). This park is home of the annual Sculpture in the Park exhibit, which is a magnificent exhibition of original sculptures created by artists from all over the country placed along a walking trail. The sculptures change every year, except for a few that have become permanent exhibits. The newest permanent acquisition, Mr. Eggwards, is a very popular and fun photo spot. This is a free exhibit and runs May-September. There is also a playground and skateboard area at this park.
What is your favorite community event? There are four events that I love and look forward to year after year. It is very hard to pick a favorite. These four events include Scarecrow Fest which takes place Columbus Day weekend in October, the Electric Christmas Parade, which takes place the Saturday after Thanksgiving, Riverfest, which takes place early/mid-June, and Concerts in the Park, which recur Thursday evenings at 7 p.m. in Lincoln Park during the summer months.
Where is your favorite park for a picnic? Pottawatomie or Mt. St. Mary Park as described above. Both are great for spreading out a picnic blanket and taking in the scenery, but both also have picnic tables. Pottawatomie has more picnic tables available, but it is also a more popular park. Pottawatomie has snack food and ice cream available for purchase at the concession stand near the mini golf course. Pottawatomie also has a community center with vending machines inside. Both parks are within walking distance of downtown, so it would be easy to grab a meal to go and take it to the park.
Where is your favorite playground? Both parks mentioned above have playgrounds. Of the two, Pottawatomie has more to offer. Pottawatomie has two separate playgrounds. The southern playground was rebuilt recently and is very nice. Another popular park in St. Charles is Kehoe Park, known by locals as “Rocket Ship Park,” because it has an enormous old school rocket ship for kids to climb.
What is your family’s favorite place to eat and why? St. Charles has so many great restaurants, but the “family” part of this question makes it tricky because my kids only want to eat one place for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and that is Colonial Café. It is a family friendly restaurant and is very popular among local kids. However, if just visiting for a day I would probably prefer to stick to one of the many restaurants downtown. A few of my favorites are Wok n Fire (Asian), Taste of the Himalayas (Nepalese-Indian), and Isacco Kitchen (Contemporary Italian). If you are looking for more casual food with great outside dining I would recommend Pub 222, The Filling Station, or The Office. If you are looking for a snack/light meal or a great cup of coffee check out the Arcedium Coffeehouse.
What is your family’s favorite place to get ice cream or candy or dessert and why? Kimmer’s Ice Cream located at 1 Illinois Street in downtown St. Charles. Kimmers serves “Gourmet Ice Cream homemade with love.” They offer unique flavors and use local, fresh ingredients! It is delicious!
Is there a shop, a museum or another spot that you consider a can’t-miss destination for visitors to your town? While downtown you definitely want to check out the Arcada Theater, it is such a cool place with a rich history. Owner Ron Onesti is an amazing guy to chat with if he is available. They offer free movies and shows from time to time. St. Charles also has two very nice nature centers that are worth a visit: Hickory Knolls Discovery Center (3795 Campton Hills Drive) and Creek Bend Nature Center (37W700 Dean Street). Both of the nature centers are a fun place for kids to hang out and explore and both have very beautiful scenery and are a great place for a hike.
Why do you love your town? It’s beautiful, it’s family friendly, the schools are great, and there is so much to do!
A few more photos of St. Charles, taken by Dawn Santucci: