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]

16 great farmers’ markets

Farmers’ markets are not only a great way to sample a community’s natural bounty, they’re also a unique setting to experience its culture. While each farmers’ market is different, a really good farmers’ market brings a sense of community to the cities and municipalities where they operate. Wondering where you can experience some of the freshest produce, tastiest snacks and friendliest people across the country? Check out our picks for 16 of our favorites below.

Saint Louis – Soulard Farmer’s Market

The Soulard Farmers Market began in St. Louis in 1779, making it the oldest continuously operating farmers market west of the Mississippi. In addition to the fresh fruit, produce, baked goods and flowers, the market includes a craft and flea market in the two wings of an old train terminal. A bit “Old World” in atmosphere, shoppers can buy live chickens, barter with vendors and enjoy a festive, energetic atmosphere all year round.

Indianapolis – Indianapolis City Market
The Indianapolis City Market was built in 1886 and today includes an arts market on Saturday, a farmers’ market on Wednesdays, cooking classes and ethnic theme events that may focus on the foods of Asia one week or the spices of the Middle East the next. The common thread through it all is that homegrown goodness of corn, tomatoes and other produce from the soil of Indiana.

Madison, Wisconsin
The Madison Wisconsin Farmers Market fills the grounds of the state capitol building and draws a huge crowd to the pedestrian-only mall and shops nearby. Fresh produce is only part of the fun. One Saturday, Wisconsin’s famous dairy cows may be on display; at other times there might be an iron man competition underway. Since it’s the state capitol, don’t be surprised if you’re asked to sign a petition or happen to see an up-and-coming politician working the crowd.

Kansas City – City Market
Kansas City’s City Market
overflows with activity weekend mornings all year when as many as 10,000 people have been known to shop for produce and bedding plants one more, artwork on another and bargains from the community garage sale another weekend morning. Valet service is available for big purchases. Some of the city’s most prosperous farm-to-table restaurants have found a naturally successful home here.

Des Moines, Iowa
All products sold at the Des Moines Farmers Market must be grown within the state of Iowa and that means 160 or more booths carrying the freshest produce grown in some of the world’s best farmland. There are also hand-made items, such as dried flower arrangements, seed murals and wheat weaving. A miniature train for children is a standard fixture and most Saturday mornings, you’ll find musicians, clowns or dance troupes performing.

Woodstock, Illinois

Voted the best farmers market in the state of Illinois in 2008, the Woodstock Farmers Market could easily be called a “producers market” because everything must be grown, raised or made by the seller. Located on the town square of this historic community, shoppers are accompanied by folk music performed live from a nearby gazebo on Tuesday and Saturday mornings.

Holland, Michigan

The Holland Michigan Farmers Market literally overflows with blueberries, cherries, strawberries and other fresh fruit from the fields of western Michigan. The market also carries farm fresh cheese, eggs, herbs and spices. In the craft area, handmade furniture is an unexpected treat. But just wandering the aisles, munching on freshly baked Danish and feeling the breeze from Lake Michigan is a treat in itself.

Columbus, Ohio – North Market
Columbus Ohio’s North Market comes with its own kitchen and James Beard-award winning chef to prepare meals right on the spot from items bought at the market. In addition to fresh dairy products, including ice cream, and prepared foods from international vendors, the North Market sells just the right utensils and cookware to bring any meal together.

Lincoln, Nebraska – Historic Haymarket
The Historic Haymarket in Lincoln, Nebraska was originally a place where livestock and produce were sold in the state capitol, but now it is the site of the trendiest restaurants and retail outlets in the city. Every Saturday morning from May to October, the activity jumps another notch when more than 200 of the Midwest’s best farmers bring their produce. It’s also the best place in the city for Kolaches and coffee.

Little Rock, Arkansas – River Market

As polished as any supermarket, the Little Rock Arkansas River Market, located in the historic Quapaw Quarter, is a year-round destination for ethnic cuisine, entertainment and in the summer months, some of Arkansas’ famous tomatoes and watermelons. Something is always happening at the adjacent park overlooking the Arkansas River, and just a few blocks from the William Jefferson Clinton Presidential Library.

— The above was written by Diana Lambdin Meyer, Seed contributor

Washington D.C. – Eastern Market

Casualty of a fire that ripped through the stalls in April of 2007, the historical Eastern Market has made a comeback and continues to serve meats, poultry, breads and gourmet goodies throughout the week in the South Hall, where many employees of nearby Capitol Hill migrate for lunch. On the weekends, stalls extend to the surrounding outdoor areas and offer antiques, crafts, photography, handmade jewelry and other collectibles. On our last visit, we purchased some vintage fruit labels and stocked up on distinctive greeting cards for less than a dollar apiece.

Santa Monica, California – Virginia Avenue Park
There are several markets that sprout up over the course of the week in this beach city. The best is the Saturday one in Virginia Avenue Park where weekly appearances are made by local restaurateurs featuring the best of their menus.

New York, NY – Union Square Greenmarket
One of the best markets in New York City is the Union Square Farmer’s Market, which extends the length of the west side of the square. Stalls are filled with local fruits, vegetables, dairy, meats, poultry, fish, spices… just about anything you can imagine. At the tail end, you’ll find tables with artists selling their wares. We picked up some local goat cheese and wine, plus a hilarious comic-book version of the Grimm brother tales, handed to us directly by the author.

Chicago, IL – French Market
Inspired by European markets, the French Market was recently developed as an effort to promote community in the city. It’s located adjacent to the Ogilvie Transportation Center. The vendors sell delicious pastries and prepared foods as well as produce, meats, cheese and seafood. Grab some mussels and delicious Sicilian sandwiches before hopping on a train to the Chicago suburbs. Make sure to stop by Chicago’s world-renowned Green City Market while you’re in town.

— The above was written by M. Fuchsloch, Seed contributor

Portland, OR – Portland State University
Portland has long relished in its status as one of the country’s most eco-conscious, sophisticated food cities, and the town’s wealth of farmer’s markets certainly doesn’t disappoint. Each Saturday the shoppers of Portland flock to the grounds of Portland State University, home to Portland’s biggest and most famous of the city’s six recognized downtown markets.

San Francisco, CA – Ferry Building and Plaza
No list of farmers markets could be complete without mentioning this titan of the food world. Ground zero for the birth of slow food and much of the current revolution in local, organic eating sweeping the nation, San Francisco and the Bay Area is king and its historic Ferry Building and nearby Plaza Farmer’s Market is the capital building. Stop by for delicious favorites like locally produced cheeses, more mushrooms than you’ve ever seen and some tasty gelato.

West Fest: 40th Anniversary of Woodstock is FREE!

If you missed Woodstock forty years ago, or feel that counterculture may have passed you by, the West Fest: 40th Anniversary of Woodstock festival is a place to catch up.

At Golden Gate Park in San Francisco this Sunday, Oct. 25th, counter culture is using its voice again–big time.

From 9 a.m to 6 p.m, hundreds of San Francisco-based musicians, Beat Generation poets, anti-war speakers, members of the Free Speech Movement, members of the Green Movement and others are joining forces to celebrate California’s trend-setting role in the counterculture movement.

As part of the venue, 3,000 musicians will play Jimmy Hendrix’s “Purple Haze” at the same time in an effort to break the world record for the largest guitar ensemble.

Several of the musicians are from groups that might sound familiar, i.e., Starship, Jefferson Airplane, The Doors, Greg Allman’s Band, and the Byrds. To be clear–this doesn’t mean these bands will appear, but people who are from these groups will be performing.

As the West Fest page of the Woodstock Story website points out, the San Francisco area is where the Free Speech Movement, Free Love Movement, Farm Workers Movement, Women’s Movement, Gay Rights Movement, and the Sexual Revolution first took hold.

Whether you’re a counterculture type or not, West Fest sounds like an event not to miss if you’re within shouting distance of San Francisco. Couldn’t you use a bit of peace, love and good cheer?

As a plus, unlike 40 years ago, the weather on Sunday in San Francisco is supposed to be sublime. How does mostly sunny and a high of 75 degrees sound?

During three days of the four-day Woodstock concert, it mostly rained.

If you’re looking for a budget-friendly place to stay in San Francisco, check out The Good Hotel.

Gadlinks for Wednesday 8.12.09

I don’t know about you guys, but I needed this past weekend to get some R&R that Monday came and went without sending my usual Gadlinks. I’m happy to report that Malibu is alive and well and the surf was, well, crowded — but good this weekend. And here are some other reports around the travel blogosphere.

‘Til tomorrow, have a great evening!

More Gadlinks HERE.

Undiscovered New York: Up the Hudson River Valley

Welcome to this week’s installment of Undiscovered New York. This week we’re going to be heading north, following the path of the Hudson River, one of the great waterways of the Northeastern United States. Many New Yorkers will tell your our city is “the center of the world,” and in some ways, they have a good case. But the land bordering the Hudson River up to the capital in Albany has been just as important in shaping New York as the city itself in matters historical, political and cultural.

Along the shores of this picturesque valley lie all sorts of fascinating destinations which have shaped New York City, the United States and arguably the world. The Hudson River Valley is home to the mansions of former Presidents and wealthy industrialists, famous enclaves of artists and culinary experts and birthplace of one of our nation’s great military schools.

Are you ready to leave the confines of New York City? Come along with Undiscovered New York as we “head up the Hudson.”Stop One: West Point Military Academy
Just fifty miles up the Hudson from New York is West Point, site of the oldest continuously occupied military post in the United States and home to around 4,000 cadets. Though the academy was first established by President Thomas Jefferson in 1802, the site was founded as a military installation in 1778, when it helped deter British troop movements along the river during the Revolutionary War. Visitors who are interested in checking out the grounds can stop by the Visitor’s Center where they can arrange guided tours. There’s also one of the world’s biggest military museums on site, providing a interesting look at the history of U.S. military.

Stop Two: Storm King Art Center
Next on our tour of the Hudson, is Storm King, an outdoor sculpture gallery set against the backdrop of scenic Mountainville, NY. Nestled among over 500 acres of gorgeous rolling hills are enormous sculptures crafted from famous artists like Alexander Calder and Richard Serra. It’s a peaceful place to spend the day strolling the grounds or to bring along a picnic and enjoy the outdoors (OK, yes winter is coming, but you never know with global warming these days).

Stop Three: Hyde Park
As we move further up the Hudson, we arrive at Hyde Park, a historic New York town that dates back to the 18th Century. It’s famous for several great attractions, all within close proximity. Perhaps most renowned is the former home of Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was born in Hyde Park and spent many years living there during his time as President. In addition to tours inside Roosevelt’s home, visitors can also take a look at FDR’s Presidential Library with many artifacts from the momentous years of the Great Depression and World War II. Also nearby is the Vanderbilt Mansion, one of the family’s many opulent retreats and a monument to Gilded Age excess. Foodies should also make a stop at the Culinary Institute of America, where they can sample world class cuisine from the school’s chefs in training.

Stop Four: Woodstock and the Catskills
What trip up the Hudson would be complete without a stop in Woodstock, notorious home of the world’s best known music festival and long time hippie enclave? If schlocky tie-dyed t-shirts are not your thing, don’t despair – there are plenty of awesome attractions nearby that will make the trip more than worth it. Nature lovers will be pleased to find the Catskills are just minutes away. It’s a gorgeous unspoiled wilderness where you can take in the scenery and perhaps check out the Buddhist Monastery that sits at the top of one of the area’s many hills. Make sure to finish your day at The Bear Cafe – the food is absolutely outstanding.