15 Best Things to Do in Dixon, IL

Dixon, IL
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Dixon sits along the scenic Rock River in northwestern Illinois.

It is the county seat and economic center of Lee County, providing opportunities for agriculture, service, recreation, retail, and residential growth.

First inhabited by Joseph Ogee in 1828, Dixon was later bought by John Dixon and began its development by operating a ferry across the Rock River.

Aside from having a thriving commercial district, Dixon is also famed for having a huge chunk of historical significance.

The city is known to be Ronald Reagan’s hometown and a place where Abraham Lincoln stayed during the Blackhawk Indian Wars.

The combination of historical sites and a bustling commercial district has turned Dixon into one of the top tourist spots in the country.

Check out 15 of the best things you can do while visiting Dixon, Illinois.

Visit Ronald Reagan’s Boyhood Home

Side view of Ronald Reagan Boyhood Home's exterior
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The Ronald Reagan Boyhood Home on Hennepin Ave. is one of the must-see places in Dixon.

The 40th president of the US resided along Hennepin Ave. from 1920 to 1924, where he lived with his parents and older brother.

As you walk along Hennepin Ave., you’ll see Reagan’s small-town American home and its gable-roofed, two-story, white frame structure.

History marker of Ronald Reagan Boyhood Home
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Begin the tour by making your way to the front porch, with a white-painted balustrade that stretches across the entire front elevation.

Wander around the first floor and check out the dining room, double parlor, pantry, and kitchen featuring period furniture restored to their 1920s look.

Swing by the front parlor and take a look at the tile-trimmed fireplace positioned in the most formal room in the house.

Front view of Ronald Reagan Boyhood Home's exterior
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Traverse the Lowell Parkway Trail

Explore the wonderful city of Dixon through nature’s lens by traversing the Lowell Parkway Trail.

The three-mile trail welcomed visitors in November 1992 and has since then become a favorite destination for locals and tourists alike.

The trail encompasses the old Illinois Central Railroad rail bed, which makes for a scenic route as you walk, bike, or jog along the paved road and hilly areas.

Take a step back and admire nature’s wonders in the form of lush green forests and cultivated fields.

As you explore the trail, you’ll also get to see the Meadows and Lowell Parks, along with a designated Illinois nature preserve.

Chill Out at Rosbrook Studio

Enjoy a night filled with music and good company at Rosbrook Studio on Peoria Ave.

Unlike other art centers, Rosbrook Studio is an artist co-op featuring live music and an art gallery.

Another thing that makes this studio unique is that it runs on donations and volunteers.

Sing along to the tunes while admiring various artworks from budding talents displayed across the entire studio.

The studio also hosts open mic nights, so if you’re looking to take over the stage, Rosbrook Studio is definitely the place for you.

Take a Photo of the Lincoln Monument

Vibrant flowers in front of the Lincoln Monument
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Pay homage to America’s 16th president and stop by the President’s Park along Galena St. to take a photo of the Lincoln Monument.

Sculpted by Leonard Crunelle, the Lincoln Monument commemorates Abraham Lincoln’s 1832 service during the Black Hawk War.

But if you think this is like any other Lincoln statue you’ve come across, you might want to take a second look.

Closer view of Lincoln Monument's top half
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This is actually the only known statue of Lincoln wearing his military dress.

Spanning a total of 10 feet, the bronze sculpture depicts a 23-year-old Captain Lincoln clad in his sword and belt with his coat hanging over one arm.

Below the statue, you’ll see a granite inscription that commemorates city founder John Dixon, as well as a plaque describing Lincoln’s service during the war.

Remember the Heroes at Veterans Memorial Park

Take a walk around Veterans Memorial Park and pay homage to America’s heroes.

The park is located at the intersection of Palmyra Rd. and Palmyra St. and commemorates those who served in the US military.

As you enter the park, you’ll see a huge inscription that says, “Lest We Forget.”

These words serve as a reminder for everyone to appreciate the country’s heroes for their efforts, sacrifice, and valor.

Walk around the park and check out the legacy stones and walkways.

You’ll also see a round, granite column displaying a battlefield cross, as well as two granite slabs with the park’s name.

The park also displays several artifacts and monuments that played a huge part in the military.

Learn about the US Navy Lightweight Mark 2 Anchor, the M-60 Main Battle Tank, and the Cobra AH-1F Attack Helicopter, among others.

Get to Know America’s Most Influential People at the Northwest Territory Historic Center

The Northwest Territory Historic Center along W 5th St. gives visitors a glimpse of the lives of America’s most influential people and various significant events that shaped the country’s ideals and culture.

The center also offers several exhibits that showcase regional Native American life and early American farming.

Take a walk around the halls and visit installations like the prairie room and a diorama about Dixon in 1846.

The center also features a WWI airfield diorama, a President Reagan history room, and a restored Dutch Reagan classroom, among others.

Get a sneak peek of Ronal Reagan’s vintage movie posters or get a glimpse of planet Earth from an outer space perspective.

The Northwest Territory Historic Center is also a partner in the Veterans History Project, a collection of personal accounts from American war veterans who participated during the first World War all the way to the Iraq War.

Relive History at the John Deere Historic Site

Entrance of John Deere Historic Site
IvoShandor, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Learn about the development of the first commercially successful steel plow at the John Deere Historic Site on Clinton St.

Discover who John Deere is and his most significant contributions to the blacksmithing industry.

Book a front-row seat to a live blacksmith demonstration in a replica of John Deere’s original shop.

Exterior of John Deere Home
IvoShandor, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

You can also walk around the original John Deere family home and relive the pioneer life of 1836.

During the tour, you’ll also get to see furniture and other household items used by the Deere family.

And finally, stand in the same spot where John Deere forged the first self-scouring steel plow while checking out excavated artifacts and listening to how John Deere built his business from the ground up.

History marker of the first steel plow at John Deere Historic Site
IvoShandor, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Taste Authentic Italian Cuisine at Basil Tree Ristorante

There’s no better place to satisfy your Italian food cravings than Basil Tree Ristorante on E 1st St.

Drawing inspiration from the rich flavors of traditional Italian dishes, this restaurant offers customers a wide array of delectable dishes served in a warm and charming atmosphere that guests will surely enjoy.

Founded in 2009, Basil Tree Ristorante boasts over 30 years of combined chef experience.

Start off with an order of Bruschetta or Calamari before diving into a plate of Pomodoro Gorgonzola.

Try out their sandwiches, or if you’re up for it, create your own pasta dish and choose from a wide selection of pasta styles, sauces, and toppings.

Of course, a meal wouldn't be complete without dessert!

Take your pick from sweet creations like tiramisu, lemon cake, baby cannoli, and more.

Walk Under Dixon’s Railroad Street Arches

The stone arch bridge of 1st street
I, IvoShandor, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Walk under a historic site that cultivated Dixon’s heritage.

Dixon’s Railroad Street Arches along 1st, 2nd, and 3rd St. were placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1987.

History marker of 1st street's stone arch bridge
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Built in 1855, the three limestone arches were built to support the Illinois Central Railroad trains.

2nd street's stone arch bridge
I, IvoShandor, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The arches also feature Galena Limestone blocks that were precisely cut, shaped, and balanced, so that they resisted cracking and shifting over time.

Make sure to stop by these picturesque arches and bring home a photo for a souvenir!

History marker of 2nd street's stone arch bridge
I, IvoShandor, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Let Your Creative Juices Flow at The Next Picture Show

Art aficionados are in for a real treat at The Next Picture Show on W 1st St.

The community fine arts center first opened its doors to the public in 2004 and has since then become a space for seasonal art exhibits.

But aside from housing visual art pieces, The Next Picture Show also hosts small musical concerts.

Catch live performances and premium art exhibitions from esteemed artists.

You can also enroll in art classes that run on a six-week cycle.

Expand your art horizons and learn more about oil and acrylic painting, watercolor, and more.

Have a Glass of Wine at The Crystal Cork

End your day on a relaxing note by stopping by The Crystal COrk along W 1st St.

This wine shop is famous for having an extensive selection of wines, martinis, and cocktails that are perfect for just about any occasion.

Try out creative martini concoctions like Caramel Delight, Strawberry Lime Drop, Wedding Cake, and Malibu Dream.

If you’re feeling festive, you can also check out the shop’s mixed drinks.

Enjoy a glass of the classic Watermelon Jolly Rancher, Caribbean Mist, or Marshmallow Fluff.

The shop is also known for its handmade chocolates.

Indulge in individual or boxed milk and dark candies, as well as a chocolate-covered wine bottle.

Catch a Live Show at the Dixon Theater

Exterior of Dixon Theater
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When in Illinois, the Dixon Theater is arguably one of the best places to catch a live performance from esteemed and budding talents.

But if you think the acts are the only thing worth catching, wait until you step inside this historic theater.

The Dixon theater was constructed using fireproof materials, brick, terracotta, concrete, steel, and terrazzo, owing to the idea of “high-quality” all throughout the structure.

It boasts an Italian Renaissance style of architecture, donning understated elegance with fine and decorative features.

At the center of the ceiling is a large dome with a sky treatment that retains marvelous acoustics.

Enjoy a cool night listening to songs from the 60s, as well as classics from Elvis, Johnny Cash, Jerry lee Lewis, and more.

Swing by The Telegraph Museum

Discover the roots of Dixon through old-age newspapers at The Telegraph Museum along S. Peoria Ave.

As you embark on a self-guided tour, you’ll get to know more about the development of the newspaper printing technique.

Take a closer look at an 1850s printing press showcasing the Telegraph and Dixon’s humble beginnings.

You’ll also get to see a dedicated exhibit for President Ronald Reagan, displaying archives from his pre-Washington days and his residency at Dixon.

The museum is typically open during the weekdays and is free of admission fees.

Shop for Great Finds at Books On First

Got a thing for books?

Good news, bookworm! You can shop for great finds at Books On First along 1st St.

The bookstore was founded by Larry Dunphy and Carolyn Chin in 1998.

This independent bookseller and coffeehouse in Sauk Valley is a great place to sit back, relax, and sip on great coffee while you bury your nose in the pages of your book.

From fiction and non-fiction to a wide selection of self-help guides, you’ll find just about any book in this bookstore.

Visit Lee County Historical and Genealogical Society

Tourists looking to know more about their Dixon roots can stop by Lee County Historical and Genealogical Society on Hennepin Ave.

Visitors are very much welcome to conduct research about their family history or have the society do it for them instead.

You can also become a member of the society and get unlimited access to indexed materials like the Lee County histories, birth, marriage, and death indices, Lee County and Dixon newspapers, and plat books.

You can also browse a variety of high school yearbooks from schools like Dixon High, Harmon High, Ashton-Franklin Center, and more.

Members are also granted an all-access pass to the cemetery index.

Final Thoughts

There’s no denying that Dixon is riddled with a wide array of tourist spots that anyone can enjoy.

And with the many things you can do in this beautiful city, you’ll definitely want to keep coming back for more.

So you might want to think twice before planning to stay for just a couple of days.

Book a trip to Dixon today!

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