Chicago Day Trip: Pig Racing, Groundhogs And A Few Hippies In Woodstock, IL

woodstock illinoisThere is nothing like a really good pig race on a glorious autumn afternoon in the Midwest. I have to admit, I had never really associated pigs with speed until I happened upon my first ever pig race while on a family outing at the All Seasons Apple Orchard and Pumpkin Patch in Woodstock, a graceful small town built around a picturesque square about an hour northwest of Chicago. But those pigs could really fly (as the video below proves).

Last weekend, my wife and I took our two little boys, ages 3 and 5, to All Seasons and several other stops on Woodstock’s annual Autumn Drive. We didn’t make it to all 14 stops because my children had to be dragged, practically kicking and screaming from All Seasons, which, aside from the pumpkin patch and apple picking, also has slides, a petting zoo, go karts, swings, pig races, jumpy houses, hay rides, a corn maze and a host of other kid friendly activities. For $10 (children 2 and under are free and it’s $7 on weekdays), your kids get to run wild for as long as they like and three heats of pigs race four times a day.

all seasons farm woodstock illinoisThe place is open daily through Halloween and serves pretty good pulled pork sandwiches, corn on the cob and apple cider donuts. But if you head out to the farm, make some time to explore the town of Woodstock, where the movie “Groundhog Day” was filmed. (Each year, the town hosts a commemorative event called Groundhog Days in honor of this connection.)

The town center features a great green space that features two gazebos, trees that right now have gorgeous red and orange leaves and a plaque dedicated to Gobbler’s Knob, the place where the groundhog from the film lived (see video below).

Woodstock is so nicely preserved that five years ago, the town was named one of a dozen “distinctive destinations” by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. And a number of notable figures have lived in the town. Orson Welles, who turned down a scholarship offer at Harvard because he wanted to travel, was educated at a now defunct boys school in the town and returned to the town on several occasions to direct theatrical performances at his alma mater.

The real show stopper in Woodstock is the stunning Victorian style opera house, which was built in 1889 at a cost of just $25,000. These days, the venue is mostly used for live theater, but they occasionally put on an opera as well. Paul Newman cut his teeth doing live theater here in 1947. And if you’re looking for a seasonal offering, they’re hosting a one-woman performance of Dracula on Sunday October 28 at 2 p.m.

You might imagine that a town called Woodstock would be filled with hippies. On this score, Woodstock is a mild disappointment, but there are some signs of crunchiness if you look hard enough. I saw two guys with ponytails in the square and there’s a vegetarian restaurant, a gluten free grocery and a shop that has some tie-dye T-shirts. And many of the downtown shops close early, even on Saturday afternoons, so the hippie work ethic is apparently alive and well.

If you don’t have wheels, you can get to Woodstock via Metra’s Union Pacific line. One stop down the line in Crystal Lake, you’ll find Taqueria Las Cumbres, as authentic a hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant as you’ll find anywhere in the Midwest. Go with the al-pastor tacos if you’re having a pig themed outing; otherwise, don’t miss the chicken and shrimp fajita dish.

[Photo and video credit: Dave Seminara]