It seems like spring has really struggled to break through here in The Midwest. Finally the rains are abating a bit and we can venture out and see some sites. One of our favorite stops is the Central Illinois city of Normal. Now nobody likes to be normal for too long but this is a great little city to spend the day or weekend. With its sister city, Bloomington, and two local universities (Illinois State University and Illinois Wesleyan University) it is a quick drive from Chicago, Indianapolis or St. Louis and a great way to get out and enjoy the springtime.
Our first stop has got to have some caffeine for the parents and a snack for the younger geeks. Luckily, in Uptown Normal you have a variety of options, but this morning we head to The Coffee Hound. Its dark wood accents and brightly lit bakery cases entice shoppers with a variety of treats and java inspired beverages. It has the appropriate gathering of college students and post-grads hanging about as well. While the kids enjoy their morning pastry, the adults get a chance to check our email, check up on facebook and twitter plus getting that much needed jolt of caffeine to get us up and moving.
Uptown Normal has really undergone a tremendous revitalization over the last several years and it beckons you to stroll and linger as you move up and down the streets. There are numerous shops with collections for the kitchen and home but our destination next is ACME Comics right here on the main drag.
ACME has been around for years now, and it is everything you want in your neighborhood comic book shop. As you walk through the door, the smell of the ink and paper encourages you to start sorting through their massive collection of comics. The owner, Jim, has cases of back issues and packages of collections and story arcs that could keep you busy for hours (that is if your traveling companions can stay busy for that long). One sidewall and the entire back-wall are lined with the newest releases from DC, Marvel and many of the smaller comic distributors. You never feel as if you are rushed. And for the kids, they can dig through the menagerie of gently used action figures for sale. Also, there is a kid-friendly rack of comics at the front and they get a coupon to pick a comic off the free rack at their next visit. My little geeks love wandering around, looking at the collectibles and toys that line the walls and racks throughout the store. However, if that elusive issue for your collection is still calling to you, there is plenty to keep the family busy nearby while you keep searching the bins.
For us, my wife and the kids head over to Children's Discover Museum. Located just down the block near the new Transportation Center/Amtrak Station this museum has something for kids of any age.
The exhibits are spread out over more than three stories with some dedicated to science, art, the environment, and industry. The children can shop at the market, make a pizza, learn how the body works, put on a puppet show, drive a tractor and much, much more. The Luckey Climber spans the three story atrium and is suspended from the ceiling! The Discover More Store on the first level offers toys and games to spark their imagination and make their little brains work.
Next, after everyone is worn out from all the exhibits, head just down the block to Babbitt's Books. This store has been around for decades and has stacks and shelves bulging with used books from every genre you could image. Looking to find your missing David Eddings book to complete your collection? Wander up and down the aisles and see if you can't find it. You will probably become weighted down with all the other great selections that you pick up along the way.
By this time, the whole family is ready to grab a meal. Uptown Normal has a full selection of restaurants, from counter service, full course meals, and pub food. But for us, we head back down near our starting spot for one of our favorite places. The Rock's Mediterranean inspired menu offers a departure from the traditional midwestern meal. Can you say, falafel? When the university is in full session, you will most likely have to wait briefly for a table or get the food to go. But today, seating is not an issue for a late afternoon meal. You can find a table outside and enjoy the sunshine as you watch the college students move back and forth on their more relaxed summer schedule.
There is a lot more to see and do as you wander around this small city. But for my family, this is a perfect day to spend some time together, seek our geek, do some shopping and get just a little bit of Normal!
Photos courtesy of uptownnormal.com