While driving to Tennessee, we passed through Champaign, Illinois, a small college town in the central region of the state and the home of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. When I saw that our route would pass through Champaign, I knew we had to stop there. Back when my plan was to go to graduate school, before I met D, before I ever had any connection to Illinois, I was seriously considering applying to UIUC. I didn’t end up going to graduate school but ever since moving to Chicagoland, I have wanted to go and explore the town. I asked Erika from The Midwest Press if she had any suggestions of things to do while we were there and she did not disappoint.
Curtis Orchard is a family farm on the outskirts of Champaign. I was really excited to check it out since exploring farms is one of our favorite family activities. We arrived mid morning and expected to spend about an hour exploring the place. Let me tell you, this place far exceeded our expectations. It took us THREE HOURS to find our way back to our car and even then I wished we had been able to stay even longer.
Of course our tour of Curtis Orchard began at the playground. After being in the car for the better part of three hours, Ladybug needed to stretch her legs and expel some energy. The playground wasn’t fancy- just a bunch of those plastic play houses and a few small plastic slides surrounded by a fence- but it was perfect for toddlers and preschoolers like Ladybug.
Once Ladybug had had enough of playing for the moment (we went back to the playground later) we made our way down to feed the goats. That’s right, folks, Curtis Orchard has goats that you can feed and pet. How cool! Ladybug wouldn’t; she’s more of a distant animal lover. She’s not too keen up close. But I love that the kids have the option to get close to the animals.
Shortly before lunchtime, we meandered up to the charming farm store to try the cinnamon doughnuts. There were shelves upon shelves stacked neatly with jars filled with preserves, butters and sauces. Rows of cold apple cider were lined up in refrigerators. Little treasures could be found around every corner.
Everyone we met was so nice and friendly. As I was perusing the aisles snapping pictures of fun things I found, I was met by one of the workers who was so kind to tell us about the orchard and all the activities that were offered throughout the fall season. She also explained some of the history of the farm. I’ll spare you the details but if you’re interested in reading about it, you can find it here.
Before leaving, we bought some cinnamon doughnuts and apple cider. We also splurged on some pumpkin butter and their award-winning honey. We took our delicacies outside and found a shady spot to eat our “lunch.” The doughnuts were amazing- possibly the best I’ve eaten, and I don’t even like doughnuts. But these were so fresh and soft that they reminded me more of a piece of cake than a doughnut. The apple cider was awesome as well- sweet and refreshing. My only regret was not springing for the gallon instead of the half gallon, but we didn’t have any way to keep it cold. Oh well, I guess we’ll just have to go back. Although not the healthiest lunch, it definitely hit the spot.
After one more trip to the playground for some last minute playtime before our next leg, we begrudgingly made our way back to our car and passed the original farmhouse. Of course we had to stop for a picture.
Unfortunately, we were there the weekend before the apple picking season began. I would have loved to pick some for the road but we didn’t need any reason to stay even longer. But that is just another good reason to go back.
Curtis Orchard is truly a gem. If you ever find yourself in Champaign, make sure to add this fun family farm to your itinerary.
Have you ever found any gems while traveling? Tell me about them!
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