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

There 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.

The 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]

Swimming With Pigs In The Bahamas (GALLERY)

While some little piggies go to market, a lucky bunch calls their home a beautiful beach in the Caribbean. These pictures were taken on a place underwater photographer Eric Cheng says the locals affectionately called “Pig Beach” on Big Major, Exumas, Bahamas. The family of pink and brown pigs pictured above and in the gallery below not only spend their days lying around on white sand beaches and showing off their aquatic skills in the cool waters, but they’ve also become so accustomed to being fed by locals that they’ll swim out to boats to greet people. The pigs are so friendly and cute that they’re fast becoming a tourist attraction on the island. Would you snorkel next to a pig on your next vacation to the Bahamas?


Photo of the Day (10.08.10)

In my travels, I’ve noticed that there are cat countries and dog countries. Some places, like Morocco, are littered (pun alert) with stray cats. There are other nations, like many of those in the Caribbean, that are home to large populations of stray dogs. Then, of course, there are the monkey countries, but that’s a story for another day. What you don’t see nearly enough of, however, are pig countries. Sure. there are populations of dangerous wild pigs out there, but one wants to encounter a pack of those. I’m talking about cute little pigs. Who wouldn’t enjoy stumbling into a couple of cuddly porkers downtown?

This photo by Flickr user Where and Back shows off just such a dream scenario. That must be the nice part of town because those two look dapper. And they provide a nice change of pace from the stray dogs and cats (and monkeys) that we’re all used to seeing.

Have a picture of some unexpected urban animals? Or maybe just some great travel photos? Submit your images to Gadling’s Flickr group and we might use one for a future Photo of the Day.

Gadlinks for Monday 7.20.09

In keeping with the beach theme today on Gadling, here are some beach-related travel reads for you, this glorious summer Monday.

‘Til tomorrow, have a great evening!

More Gadlinks HERE.

Swim with wild pigs on Big Major Spot Island, Bahamas

Are pigs the new dolphins? While many visitors to the Caribbean shell out big bucks to swim with Flipper, it seems others would rather watch the antics of Porky. On the Bahamas‘ Big Major Spot Island, people are heading to Pig Beach, which has been home to a family of wild pigs for decades, to watch the pigs swim and play in the water.

The little pink and brown porkers, which I dare say are almost downright cute, scrounge off roots and brush on the beach, but survive mainly on scraps fed to them by locals and tour guides. Though the pigs are feral, they’ll happily swim out to greet passing boats and are friendly to swimmers and beach-goers. The piggies are so popular with tourists that many nearby resorts now offer day trips to go watch the pigs frolic and give guests the chance to cavort in the crystal clear water alongside them.

[via Jaunted]