“Will it play in Peoria?” was a phrase coined in vaudeville days. Some say the term came from Peoria being a tough town, once considered the whiskey capital of the world, with more bourbon and rye distilled here than anywhere else and apparently much of it consumed here, too. If a vaudeville act was a hit with the tough Peoria crowd, it would be a hit anywhere. Others say that Peoria was the typical American city and therefore an ideal test market. Vaudeville is long gone, and the city’s demographics have changed over the years. It may no longer be considered the ideal test market, but there are still plenty of ways to play in Peoria.
The Peoria Zoo’s Australia Walk-About allows you to feed Budgies in the Budgie Aviary or to get up close and personal with wallabies as you stroll among them. Other exhibits include all the usual zoo animals like lions, tigers and giraffes. Children can pet the donkeys and other tame animals in the Contact Barn.
Bison roam the prairie in nearby Hanna City at the Wildlife Prairie Park, whose mission is conservation, education and recreation. Fish in ponds, ride a miniature train, hike through natural landscapes to view more wildlife, and experience a one-room schoolhouse.
The Peoria Riverfront Museum offers lots of hands-on fun for both kids and adults. The museum focuses on local history, science and culture. Fit gears together to try to make them all spin with one turn of a knob, play with the locks and dam system, or test your athletic or scholastic skills in the IHSA Peak Performance gallery. Take in a sky show in the planetarium or a movie on a screen that’s five stories high and seven stories wide in the Giant Screen Theater.
Next door to the museum at the Caterpillar Visitors Center kids will have fun climbing into cranes and bulldozers, and the entire family will enjoy the simulators. Start your visit with an orientation film in a theater that fits inside the bed of a 797f mining truck, whose tires alone are fourteen feet tall.
Enjoy a Peoria Chiefs minor league baseball game at Dozer field, where the kids can participate in between-innings activities and contests. Get there early, and the kids might be able to get player autographs.
Just eight miles from Peoria, and only five minutes from the Wildlife Prairie Park, the Kickapoo Creek Winery in Edwards, Illinois, offers five wine samples for $3, or pay $5 and keep the glass. Stay for a chef-prepared lunch, but please make reservations.
Try your luck at the Par-a-Dice Riverboat Casino on the Illinois River in East Peoria. Stay for a meal in one of three restaurants or stay longer and spend the night in the Par-a-Dice Hotel.
Peoria’s riverfront is home to many of the city's popular attractions, including the Peoria Riverfront Museum, the Caterpillar Visitors Center, and Dozer Field. The Spirit of Peoria sightseeing paddle wheel boat also docks here. The riverfront is the venue for the Saturday Peoria RiverFront Market spring through fall, and you can often find a festival here on the weekends. At night, bars spring to life with live entertainment.
No matter that vaudeville hasn’t existed for almost a century or that Peoria may no longer be considered the ideal test town, it is still a great city in which to play.
Peoria, Illinois, is located in Central Illinois, along I-74, about a three hour drive from Chicago. For more information about attractions, events and accommodations, visit the Peoria Area CVB web site.
Disclosure: The author’s visit to Peoria was hosted by the Peoria Area CVB, but any opinions expressed in this article are her own.
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Visit the author’s Midwest Wanderer blog to learn about attractions, restaurants, accommodations and events all over the Midwest.