Champaign & Urbana’s Hidden Gems: A Local’s Guide to the UnGoogleable

Woman in Illinois dancing with her child, enjoying being outside in Champaign and Urbana’s hidden gems

Informing yourself about the place you are about to visit is now easier than it ever was.

Going online provides us with an opportunity to gather a plethora of data in a couple of minutes, right? But does the resource we obtain online always provide us with accurate information?

Certainly not.

Not to mention that people have different perspectives, and they tend to be biased. I do not want to pretend that I am not, but I try to be as realistic as possible.

Plus, I always want to write from a local’s perspective.

With that in mind, let me provide you with some of the hidden gems in Champaign and Urbana you need to visit. What is more, I prepared a FREE 2-DAY TRIP PLAN for you, in case you’ve been thinking about coming here.

Meadowbrook Park & Wandell Sculpture Garden


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I can wholeheartedly recommend a visit to Meadowbrook Park, a 130-acre landscape in Urbana. The park is frequently maintained, with numerous trails—both paved and unpaved.

While the park’s management actively shapes the landscape, cutting back brush and managing wildlife, it preserves the essence of nature, prominently featuring colorful prairie flowers like coneflowers that add vibrant bursts of color to the vast greens.

The Wandell Sculpture Garden within Meadowbrook Park is another highlight not to be missed. Featuring an array of intriguing statues that dot the landscape, the garden turns a simple walk into an immersive cultural experience.

For families, the large playground is a fantastic spot for children to play and explore, surrounded by the park’s natural splendor. If you love gardens, you’ll be delighted by the community garden—a place where locals cultivate everything from flowers to vegetables.

When my family had a plot there, it was not only a source of fresh produce but also a way to connect with fellow gardeners. Often, those with bountiful harvests would leave extra veggies by the wagon cart for others to take home.

This spirit of sharing and community is what makes Meadowbrook Park truly unique.

Krannert Art Museum

The treasure found at Krannert Art Museum is an outstanding array of collections that are not only beautifully displayed but are continuously growing, reflecting a conscious effort to embrace a more inclusive range of artists. The staff at Krannert are delightful, and always eager to guide visitors to not miss any special exhibits.

On a recent visit during the hectic, humid period of “return to campus,” the museum provided a cool, calm oasis. My experience was so enriching that I found myself returning the next day to soak in all the wonders I had missed initially. Each temporary exhibit tells a compelling story, often moving and deeply engaging.

The architectural aspect of Krannert Art Museum adds another layer of intrigue. Designed in the 1960s by Ambrose Richardson and influenced by the modernist Mies van der Rohe, the building today is a blend of the original structure and later additions.

Although these modifications have somewhat obscured Richardson’s initial vision, as seen with his work on the Indianapolis Museum of Art, the museum’s layout remains fascinating. Among the remarkable pieces housed here is a Sevres punch bowl, a part of the service given by Louis XV to Vittorio Amadeo III on a grand royal occasion.

While the museum label may not recount the entire history, knowing the backstory adds to the allure of this exquisite artifact. The museum holds a Sevres biscuit group titled ‘Les mangeurs de raisins’, beautifully complementing Boucher’s painting on the same theme.

Exile on Main St.

The Exile on Main St. store has undergone a significant upgrade in the last couple of years. The space is filled with boxes of used vinyl, shelves of new releases, CDs, and an assortment of vintage clothes. Recently, they acquired several boxes of jazz vinyl, including 2-record Blue Note reissues which are nearly impossible to find these days.

I was thrilled to find some used BB King and a first pressing of Coltrane on Impulse with his famous quartet. I appreciate vinyl records and that’s why I find this store to be a highlight.

The owner is incredibly knowledgeable and approachable, making any visit to the store feel like a day spent with a friend. Each visit tempts me to spend all day and all my money exploring the racks.

I’ve shopped at other local stores, but Exile has quickly become my favorite, offering a much-needed breath of fresh air compared to my previous experiences.

Despite the steep competition, Exile remains the best-equipped shop in town, despite what might seem an unlikely thriving market among the undergraduate population of the University of Illinois.

While the prices on used vinyl are slightly higher compared to other stores across the country—even those in larger cities—the occasional sales of new vinyl make up for it.

Although the higher prices may deter me from becoming a regular for used records, the store’s unique finds and sales events keep pulling me back. Visiting this store is an absolute must for those who love vinyl whenever they visit Champaign.

The Champaign Farmer’s Market is a community-centric event that takes place every Tuesday from May to October in the parking lot at Neil & Washington, downtown Champaign. This local market is the area’s agricultural bounty, offering a variety of fresh produce directly from local farmers.

The event is organized several times a year.

If you’re interested in upcoming events and need an idea of where to go out, I listed some of the most popular ones coming to Champaign and Urbana in May this year.

Nothing gives a sense of community like supporting local producers, right? The idea behind the farmer’s market is just that. Visitors to the market can enjoy not only the high-quality, fresh food but also the opportunity to engage directly with the growers.

The market also serves as a social venue where locals meet and mingle, enhancing the sense of community within Champaign. It’s an essential stop for anyone interested in supporting local agriculture and enjoying some of the freshest seasonal produce available.

At the same time, those who make a stop in Champagne should visit it and have a one-of-a-kind experience.

Busey Woods

Despite its modest acreage, Busey Woods has a surprising sense of seclusion and vastness that belies its actual size.

The presence of a gently flowing river adjacent to the park adds to the charm, with a pedestrian bridge leading from the nature center over the river, offering exceptional views and easy access to different sections of the woods. It makes it a perfect place to spend time with your children.

It’s this setup that makes Busey Woods a perfect retreat from the urban parts, providing a peaceful haven where one can truly reconnect with nature.

There is one particular trail locals enjoy, but this is not the only one.

During my long walks, I’ve often encountered various wildlife. The deer are a common sight, and though it’s disheartening to see their watering spots occasionally drained, making their survival challenging, these moments remind us of the delicate balance of nature and our role in preserving it.

On a particularly memorable day, a researcher studying the local fauna invited me to observe the fairy shrimp he was cataloging, an experience that highlighted the educational potential of the woods. Sadly, we’ve seen fewer turtles and frogs in recent years, because of the changes in the water bodies within the park.

I hope they will return with conservation efforts to keep our visits frequent and our spirits hopeful. If you’re looking for a place where you can escape the everyday loudness, immerse yourself in nature, and perhaps even lose yourself for a few hours, Busey Woods is waiting for you.

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