Get ready for great experiences in Lake County, Illinois. It’s a destination that has a taste (and a brew, too) for plenty to do. Traveling: getting there is easy; halfway between Chicago and Milwaukee convenient by major roadways, train or two airports. There are highlights like scenic Lake Michigan and miles of shoreline, the “thrill of the Midwest” Six Flags Great America, countless lakes (it’s Lake County for a reason), outdoor adventures, bragging-right foods served on-water and lakeside, an annual culinary call-to-action for foodies with Lake County Restaurant Week (LakeCountyRestaurantWeek.com), to the Lake County Libation Trail™, a growing network of artisans for the adult-beverage fan—craft beer, wines and spirits.
On the water
Northern Lake County’s Chain O’Lakes brings about some of the best fishing and boating spots around. All that fresh air and water can make a person hungry. That’s where Blarney Island floats in. An on-water tropical retreat in the center of Grass Lake, Antioch’s Blarney Island (visitlakecounty.org/BlarneyIsland), has some of the best pub-style food you can find with over-the-top views and soft breezes. Favorites like shrimp tacos to their key lime pie, straight from Key West, are worth coming back for, along with live music for the 21 and over crowd and high-performance drag boat races. A water taxi is available from shore for those without direct boat access.
Further down the water, lakeside dining takes on spices and specialties at Fox Lake’s El Puerto Mexican Restaurant (visitlakecounty.org/ElPuertoMexicanRestaurant). Beautiful sunset dining overlooking the water to fireplaces that can keep you cozy during winter months are what’s in store. This popular fixture for nearly 20 years specializes in authentic Mexican dishes using long-held family recipes, and a dynamic and seasonal menu made by top-rated chefs. Favorites include Filete de Huachinango al Mojo de Ajo (Red Snapper) and caramel flan.
Best in class, pint, wine glass or snifter
Lake County has greatly skilled artisans that help fill your pint, wine glass or snifter, award-winning, too. The Lake County Libation Trail™, a network of craft brewers, wineries and distilleries from Highland Park’s north shore to northern-most Winthrop Harbor and in-between, brings out beverage connoisseurs, newbies to loyal fans of special brews and mixology, for an experience-making libation list trail. There’s a camaraderie and heritage to Lake County amongst this close-knit group, leading the industry (visitlakecounty.org/libation-trail/). Tighthead Brewing Company in Mundelein (visitlakecounty.org/TightheadBrewingCompany) received a gold medal at last year’s Great American Beer Festival, the largest commercial beer competition in the world. Visitors should be sure to try their Scarlet Fire Red Ale, the winner in the Irish-Style Red Ale category. Next stop should be Glunz Family Winery & Cellars (visitlakecounty.org/GlunzFamilyWineryCellarsGrayslake). With a long history beginning in Chicago, their vineyards are in California (along with Lake County-sourced produce), and distribution of their popular and extensive wine collection throughout the Midwest. Their Grayslake tasting room is open year-round and is a wonderful escape from fast-paced activities and something different to try. Knowledgeable hosts guide your experience whether it’s for the intense flavor and color of the Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon or the Oakville Zinfandel, full-bodied, sweet and spicy. For a passion for distilled liquor or “spirits,” there’s North Shore Distillery with an expansive showroom/tasting room near Libertyville. Proprietors Derek and Sonja are true artisans, doing most things by hand—peeling lemons for each batch of gin, distilling 60 gallons at a time, bottling each spirit, one bottle at a time. Their signature midwestern-grain North Shore Vodka (visitlakecounty.org/NorthShoreDistilleryLLC) has all the qualities of a top shelf vodka—clean, smooth and crisp with a velvety texture. Come find out why the New York Times says it’s, “… smooth and elegant and would make an excellent martini.”