Culture About Peoria, IL

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Peoria is a mid-sized city located along the Illinois River in central Illinois. With a population of around 115,000 residents, Peoria has a rich cultural scene and history. Known for being the headquarters of Caterpillar Inc., Peoria was founded in 1691 and has been an important economic and cultural hub in the state ever since.

From its museums and performing arts to its festivals and culinary offerings, Peoria has something to offer everyone. The city has a vibrant arts community, stunning architecture, and a diverse population that contributes to its cultural fabric. Peoria is an affordable place to experience Midwest culture, hospitality, and entertainment.

Museums

Peoria is home to several excellent museums that cover everything from art to history. Here are some of the top museums to check out when visiting Peoria:

Peoria Riverfront Museum

The Peoria Riverfront Museum is the city’s main museum located right on the riverfront. This impressive museum contains exhibits on science, technology, art, and history. Some highlights include:

  • Illinois River Encounter – An interactive exhibit teaching about the ecology and history of the Illinois River Valley.
  • Steamboat Studio – Get hands-on with real artifacts in this indoor play area for kids.
  • Hall of President Lincoln – See Lincoln artifacts and learn about his connection to Peoria.
  • Contemporary Art Gallery – rotating exhibits of modern and contemporary art.

Peoria PlayHouse Children’s Museum

This children’s museum is full of hands-on exhibits designed to spark creativity and imagination. Kids can pretend to be on a construction site, go shopping in a miniature grocery store, perform circus acts, and more.

Pettengill-Morron House

Built in 1902, this beautiful Victorian home allows visitors to step back in time. It contains furniture and decor from when the Morron family lived there in the early 1900th century. Guided tours provided.

Caterpillar Visitors Center

Get an inside look at one of Peoria’s most iconic companies. The Caterpillar Visitors Center has exhibits on the history of the company and how their equipment is manufactured.

Peoria Riverfront Museum

Overview of the city’s main museum with exhibits on history, art, science, and technology.

Performing Arts

Peoria has a thriving performing arts scene, from Broadway shows to symphony performances. The city’s two main venues for the dramatic arts are:

Peoria Civic Center

This large theater and convention complex hosts traveling Broadway shows, concerts, and other entertainment. Some of the venues inside include:

  • Carver Arena – Seats up to 13,500 for concerts and sporting events
  • Theater – Main theater perfect for Broadway musicals and plays
  • Ballrooms – Used for conventions, corporate events, and intimate concerts

Peoria Players Theatre

Community theater producing a mix of comedies, dramas, and musicals. Talented local actors perform in this historic theater dating back to 1913.

For classical music, the Peoria Symphony Orchestra performs at the Peoria Civic Center throughout the year with different soloists and themes.

There are also several dance schools and companies like Peoria Ballet that put on productions annually. Live music lovers can find concerts happening weekly at smaller venues like Kenny’s Westside Pub or Contemporary Art Center.

Festivals and Events

Peoria hosts various annual festivals celebrating everything from music and food to hot air balloons. These are some of the city’s can’t miss festivals and events.

Peoria Music Festival

This free three-day festival held in June features live music, arts and crafts, food trucks and beer gardens with local bands and performers.

Riverfront Jazz Festival

Every September, jazz musicians from across the country converge along the riverfront for a weekend of stellar music.

Peoria Turkey Testicle Festival

This off-beat festival held each year before Thanksgiving promises turkey testicle food items, live music, contests and other entertainment to celebrate the turkey harvesting tradition.

Grand Illinois Balloon Fest

For three days in July, stunning hot air balloons launch into the skies above Peoria during this aerial festival.

GardenWalk Peoria

Held in late June, this self-guided tour allows visitors to tour beautiful private gardens across the city.

4th of July Red, White and Boom

Independence day is celebrated with live bands, food vendors and an extravagant fireworks display along the Illinois River.

Peoria Oktoberfest

Each October, enjoy German music, food, and beer in celebration of Oktoberfest.

Architecture

Peoria has an impressive collection of historic homes, buildings, and places of worship showcasing various styles of architecture. Here are some of the top architectural gems to see:

  • Scottish Rite Cathedral – This ornate cathedral exhibits a neoclassical Byzantine style with striking mosaics and a 185-foot tower.
  • Pettengill-Morron House – A stunning Victorian mansion built in 1902 that’s open for tours.
  • First Baptist Church – Dating back to 1897, this Romanesque Revival church has a 150-foot bell tower.
  • Pere Marquette Hotel – Built in 1926, this hotel exemplifies Beaux-Arts architecture with marble columns and detailed relief carvings.
  • **Villa Marie – A Catholic retreat house situated on 150 acres constructed in the Spanish Mission style.
  • Grand Army of the Republic Memorial Hall – Historic meeting hall built in 1893 for Civil War veterans with Castle architecture.

Cuisine

Peoria has culinary influences from various cultures that have shaped its food scene over the years. Here are some local specialties and classic Peoria eateries to try:

Peanut Pancakes

These fluffy peanut butter infused pancakes can be found at breakfast joints across the city, especially famous at Hermann’s Rest-a-While Inn.

Horseshoe Sandwich

A Prairie Farms original – this open-faced sandwich has thick-sliced bread topped with a hamburger patty and fries, all covered in a homemade cheddar cheese sauce.

Peoria Pizza Puffs

These savory deep fried dough pockets filled with pizza sauce, cheese and pepperoni originated right in Peoria.

Obed and Isaac’s Microbrewery and Eatery

Popular pub and eatery serving award-winning microbrews and hearty American fare in a historic building.

Thirty Thirty Coffee Co.

Trendy coffee shop offering pour overs, espresso drinks and light cafe fare.

Fleetwood Restaurant

Landmark diner operating since the 1940s dishing up classic breakfast plates like omelets and biscuits and gravy.

Nightlife

After the sun goes down, Peoria comes alive with plenty of options for nighttime entertainment. Here’s a sampling of hotspots:

Live Music and Comedy Venues

  • Kenny’s Westside Pub – Catch local bands performing while enjoying craft beer and brick oven pizza.
  • Contemporary Art Center – Hosts live music nights, open mic nights and comedy showcases.
  • Blue Duck Barbecue Tavern – Features live blues, jazz and rock artists.

Bars and Lounges

  • Kellehers Irish Pub and Eatery – Lively Irish pub with Guinness on tap.

-Alexander’s Steakhouse – Upscale cocktail lounge atop a steakhouse.

  • Obed and Isaac’s Microbrewery – Local microbrewery with a cozy bar setting.

Entertainment Centers

  • Par-A-Dice Hotel Casino – Try your luck at slots and table games at this riverboat casino.
  • Vision Entertainment – Offers bowling lanes, billiards, karaoke and an arcade.
  • Fire Escape Bar – Two-story bar with a dance floor, DJs and an escape room.

Theatres

  • Peoria Civic Center – Hosts Broadway musicals and concerts in their theater venue.
  • Contemporary Art Center – Smaller theater that shows indie films.
  • Peoria Players Theatre – Community theater producing musicals and plays.

Shopping Destinations

Peoria has no shortage of places to shop, from enclosed malls to charming downtown boutiques. Here are some top spots to get your retail therapy:

Northwoods Mall

Major indoor shopping mall anchored by big department stores like Macy’s and JC Penney along with over 100 other national retailers.

The Shoppes at Grand Prairie

This lifestyle shopping center offers luxury boutiques like Louis Vuitton alongside specialty stores like Apple and restaurants like Cheesecake Factory.

Downtown Peoria

The downtown area along Main Street features indie boutiques, antique stores, galleries and more. Stop into places likeodbc, Iron and Main or Four Sisters.

The Junction City Shopping District

Over 15 home furnishing stores like Birkey’s, Waldschmidt Home Furnishings and Midwest Sofa Factory are clustered together in this Peoria shopping district.

Grandview Plaza

Retail development with big box stores like Target, Dick’s Sporting Goods and specialty chains like Old Navy and Burlington.

Annual Events

In addition to its many festivals, Peoria hosts a variety of other annual events to take part in. Mark your calendars for these recurring favorites:

Steamboat Classic

This annual road race held every June attracts runners from across the country, competing in a half marathon, 5K and 10K.

Easter Pageant

Each Easter season, the city puts on a large passion play production portraying the life of Jesus Christ leading up to his resurrection.

Peoria Santa Claus Parade

On the day after Thanksgiving, St. Nick makes his grand entrance in this parade marching through downtown.

Greater Peoria Honor Flight Homecoming Celebration

Veterans are welcomed home from visiting war memorials in Washington D.C. with bands, crowds and fanfare at the airport.

Redbird Homecoming

Illinois State University alumni flock back to campus every fall for this weekend bash of parties, food and entertainment.

Outdoors

Peoria’s proximity to the Illinois River and abundance of parkland make it a great city to enjoy outdoor recreation.Popular outdoor spots include:

  • Peoria Riverfront – Extensive paths perfect for walking, jogging, biking or rollerblading along the river.
  • Grand View Drive – Meandering scenic road offering spectacular river views.
  • Detweiller Marina – Starting point for river cruises, fishing charters and kayak rentals.
  • Forest Park Nature Center – Nature preserve with hiking trails through restored prairie land and wetlands. Educational programs offered.
  • Bradley Park – Lush park featuring baseball diamonds, playgrounds, disc golf course and Peoria Zoo.
  • Rock Island Greenway – Rail trail conversion connecting Peoria to Rock Island along the historic Rock Island railroad corridor.
  • Wildlife Prairie Park – Zoo focused on native Illinois animals like black bears, elk and bison located in nearby Edwards, IL.
  • Jubilee State Park – State park just outside the city with camping, boating, fishing and equestrian trails.

Day Trip Destinations

Peoria’s central location makes it easy to take a variety of fantastic day trips. Here are some top day trip destinations:

Springfield – Illinois state capital home to historic sites like the Lincoln Home National Historic Site. About 2 hours away.

Galena – Historic 19th century river town with quaint shops, galleries and haunted tours. 1.5 hour drive.

Starved Rock State Park – Beautiful state park with canyons, waterfalls and hiking. 1.5 hours away.

Canton – Pay homage to hometown hero Dick Van Dyke and explore shops and restaurants. 45 minute drive.

Galesburg – Visit boutiques and eateries in this charming railroad town. 1 hour away.

Nauvoo – Step back in time exploring this historic Mormon town. 1 hour drive.

Quad Cities – Check out the river towns of Davenport and Bettendorf boasting museums, shops and parks. 1.5 hour drive.

Springfield – Illinois state capital with historic sites like Lincoln’s Home. About 2 hour drive.

Living in Peoria

Peoria is an affordable and family-friendly city with a slower pace of life compared to major metros. Education is centered around Bradley University, Illinois Central College and several well-regarded K-12 public and private schools. The job market has strengths in healthcare, manufacturing and technology fields.

Popular residential neighborhoods include the historic districts near Bradley University and Grandview Drive along the bluffs of the Illinois River. Peoria offers a comfortable Midwestern lifestyle with all the amenities of a sizeable city but with a more tight-knit community feel. Whatever you enjoy, you’re sure to find it in Peoria!

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Directions

  • Head east on E Orchard Ave toward S Powerline Rd. The destination will be on your right just past S Elder St. Look for the green house with white trim. If you reach the intersection with S Fern St, you’ve gone too far. The total drive is approximately 0.2 miles from S Powerline Rd.
  • From downtown Nampa, take 3rd St S heading south. Turn right onto E Roosevelt Ave and continue for 1.8 miles. Turn left onto S Elder St and drive 0.1 miles until you reach E Orchard Ave. Take a right onto E Orchard Ave. The green house with white trim will be on your right just after turning.
  • Take I-84 W towards Nampa. Take exit 38 for Franklin Blvd toward Nampa/Caldwell. Turn right onto Franklin Blvd and drive 3.2 miles. Turn left onto E Orchard Ave and continue for 0.9 miles. The destination is the green house with white trim on the right just past S Elder St. The total drive from I-84 is approximately 4.5 miles.