20 Best Things to Do in Dixon, IL

Dixon, IL
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Dixon, a small city nestled along the Rock River, captivates with its timeless charm and natural beauty.

The allure of adventure is inherent in its rich history, unique attractions, and warm community culture.

A haven for those with an appreciation for history, a passion for outdoor activities, or a love for local cuisine, Dixon, Illinois, consistently delivers.

This guide will delve into the most compelling aspects of this quaint city, aiming to inspire exploration of Dixon's hidden treasures.

Next, the focus shifts to the top 20 things to do in Dixon, Illinois!

We extend our heartfelt gratitude to the following individuals for their invaluable contributions to this article: Taliyah McCall, Jonathan Rollins, Paloma Wooten, Maria Humiston, Patrick Greene, Evelyn Vanvalkenburg and Elizabeth Griggs.

Step Back in Time at the Ronald Reagan Boyhood Home

Side view of Ronald Reagan Boyhood Home's exterior
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This weekend, I took a stroll down memory lane at the Ronald Reagan Boyhood Home.

Stepping through the front door was like being transported back to a different era – the time when Reagan himself was growing up right here in Dixon.

The tour was a vivid journey into our local history.

Apart from the Reagan home, there's also a visitor center on the property.

It houses a 15-minute movie that sheds light on Reagan's upbringing and the influence Dixon had on his life.

It's fascinating to see how this small, humble city played a pivotal role in shaping a future President.

History marker of Ronald Reagan Boyhood Home
Pamela Brick / Shutterstock.com

The center also has several displays that offer a chronological journey through the various phases of Reagan's life.

The home, by the way, is beautifully maintained.

The effort that goes into preserving its historic charm is evident; it is a testament to our community's dedication to preserving our rich heritage.

The grounds are just as impressive and are a perfect spot for a leisurely walk, especially on a sunny day. Best of all, there's no cost for the tour.

It's a free, intriguing, and educational experience right in our backyard, a nice way to spend a couple of hours embracing our local history.

Front view of Ronald Reagan Boyhood Home's exterior
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Spend a Memorable Evening at Basil Tree Ristorante

It's a cold Wednesday night, and I find myself standing outside the Basil Tree Ristorante, my eyes skimming over the charming faux-rustic decor as I mentally prepare myself for an authentic Italian feast.

This place is the talk of the city and known to have tables sold out for hours.

Finding a spot at the bar, I settle down and am immediately welcomed by a staff.

As the evening progresses, it's evident why this restaurant is always bustling.

Every dish, from the traditional Italian pastas to the meats and seafood, is mouth-wateringly delicious.

I do wish my meal came with a soup or salad, but the quality of the food and the engaging, attentive service more than make up for it.

Have Sweet Delights at Meusel's Dairy Delite

There's something about the simple joy of a cold treat on a warm day that brings out the child in all of us.

That's what keeps me coming back to Meusel's Dairy Delite.

I can't help but get excited when I see the long, snake-like lines stretching from the counter.

I've learned that these lines, although sometimes lengthy, move quicker than they look.

The variety is enough to make your head spin, but in the best possible way.

The hard ice cream flavors are to die for.

If you're ever there, you must try the Strawberry and Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup.

Each lick is a swirl of creamy sweetness, with the rich and chunky peanut butter cup pieces adding a delightful crunch.

It's not just their ice cream though, their fresh fruit slushes are an absolute delight too.

The ambiance of the place is another reason why I regularly visit.

It's a quaint little shop, something out of an old movie, with a cute charm that's hard to resist.

The seating though is limited to a couple of tables, so I usually prefer to take my scoop, or two, to-go.

The drive-through might feel a little cumbersome with its two lanes, but don't let that deter you.

One thing to remember when you drop by: they only accept cash or check.

Spend a Day at the Northwest Territory Historic Center

Have you ever wondered what it's like to step back in time and experience your hometown's history?

Well, I did, and that’s why I decided to visit the Northwest Territory Historic Center.

And let me tell you, it was more than just a museum visit.

When I walked through the doors of this former school building, I was immediately struck by the beautiful 20th-century architecture.

The charm and beauty of the building alone are worth the visit.

And when I entered the exhibits, I realized this was no ordinary museum.

I was immersed in the life and times of Chief Black Hawk, touched by the tragedies like Truesdale Bridge disaster, and roller rink fire, and intrigued by the diorama exhibits of our city.

Seeing the vivid displays and understanding the history of white settlers intruding on Sauk lands gave me a clear view of our city's past.

Pay a Visit to the John Deere Historic Site

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

I'm lucky to live in a place with such a historical gem: the John Deere Historic Site.

When I first moved here, I was intrigued by its history and roots in the community.

Some weekends, I take my kids for a visit to this remarkable place.

I love seeing my kids' eyes light up as we tour the well-maintained site, taking in the displays and stories of old.

What's great about this site is that it's not just a static museum.

The live blacksmith demonstration is a real hit with my kids, and not to forget the adults.

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

It's fascinating to see how things used to be done, adding a vibrant touch to our experience.

The best part? It doesn't cost a dime to get in.

We could spend an hour here, or three, just wandering around, picnicking, and soaking up the history.

The gift shop also has great prices and unique merchandise that make for perfect little mementos.

The one thing I wish they would add is a tractor exhibit. After all, John Deere is synonymous with tractors!

Despite this, it's a wonderful place to spend a day, especially if you're a history buff like me.

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

Discover Various Artwork at The Next Picture Show

One sunny afternoon, with nothing but time on my hands, I stumbled upon an artist's wonderland called The Next Picture Show.

I was immersed in the life and times of Chief Black Hawk, touched by the tragedies like Truesdale Bridge disaster, and roller rink fire, and intrigued by the diorama exhibits of our city.

Seeing the vivid displays and understanding the history of white settlers intruding on Sauk lands gave me a clear view of our city's past.

The museum seemed to have been built with not just adults but also children in mind.

On Thursdays, they play movies and arrange scavenger hunts for kids - a fun way to learn history, I bet.

They also have a new space exhibit where kids (and adults, if you ask me) can interact with tablets to virtually fire lasers at moons and planets.

It's really an engaging way to learn, don't you think so?

Interestingly, the museum has a shrine dedicated to Ronald Reagan, and his jelly bean idolization was astonishing!

His fame, or as some would say, notoriety, has indeed been a significant drive behind this local hidden gem.

Despite spending a good couple of hours there, I felt there was still more to explore.

Buy Some Wines at Crystal Cork Wine Shoppe

Every city has its special spots, those little treasures that make living there a joy. For us, a hidden gem in our bustling downtown is most definitely The Crystal Cork Wine Shoppe.

A perfect spot to unwind after a long day, catch up with friends, or enjoy a romantic evening with your special someone.

It's not every day you find a place that combines quality beverages with a delightful atmosphere.

This wine shoppe is known for their exquisite martinis - sweeter than usual and very affordable.

It's a thrill to explore their varied cocktail menu.

If you are adventurous enough, definitely try their Spicy Cucumber Watermelon cocktail.

It's a flavor explosion that you wouldn't want to miss!

One other stand out at The Crystal Cork Wine Shoppe is their weekly wine flight.

Experience Great Adventures at Lowell Park

Let me tell you, Lowell Park is an absolute gem in our city.

Just yesterday, I was there with my family, basking in the sun and enjoying nature's bounty.

The size of the playground is just right, with a zippy zip-line for the more adventurous kids and adults alike.

We usually pack a picnic lunch and enjoy it in the large covered eating area.

Trust me, the calmness and beauty of the surroundings make the food taste even better.

Fishing is another relaxing hobby I love to pursue during our visits.

Unlike other areas, Lowell Park has no rock beds, so you don't have to worry about your line getting tangled or lost.

Although the area does get busy with boating at times, the sheer excitement of catching that one elusive fish makes up for it.

Nature lovers won't be disappointed either.

I was amazed when a deer sauntered past us, just three feet away!

And once, we even spotted a group of ten turkeys casually strolling around. The sight was simply awe-inspiring.

Besides, the park often hosts events, like the Easter egg hunt organized by the district park.

During summers, the park becomes our family's favorite hangout, and rightfully so.

Take Pictures of the Lincoln State Monument

Exterior of the Lincoln State Monument
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One thing you can't miss living here is a visit to the Lincoln State Monument.

Nestled in our corner of Illinois, this special landmark stands as a testament to the life and times of one of our greatest presidents, Abraham Lincoln.

I still remember the first time I stepped foot into the monument.

The site's grandeur hit me with the same force as the fascinating tales of Lincoln's life and deeds.

It felt as though I was transported back to an era that influenced the course of our nation's history.

Visiting the site is a surreal experience, filled with a sense of awe and reverence.

Side view of the Lincoln State Monument
Eddie J. Rodriquez / Shutterstock.com

As I explore the monument, I can't help but feel a tinge of horror considering the monumental challenges that Lincoln faced during his presidency.

Yet, this monument also inspires us, reminding us of the potential of human courage and determination.

The monument's architecture is a sight to behold, its imposing presence blending seamlessly with the surrounding environment.

Wander Around the John Dixon Park

Ever have one of those weekends where you just don't know what to do? That's when I bring my child to John Dixon Park.

He's such a fan of the great outdoors, and the park offers that perfect backdrop for us to bond.

Our little ritual starts with him hopping onto the baby swing.

The delight in his eyes is an image I cherish as he sways back and forth, giggling with pure joy.

The park isn't just for him, though.

It's one of the best parks we have in the city, not least because of its recent revamp.

An array of new playground equipment now adorns the park, making it an even more attractive spot for families or anyone looking for some leisure time.

Its location is another major tick.

Less than half a mile from the bustling downtown area, the park serves as a serene escape from the urban jungle.

The park's regular events, like the Dixon auto show we attended recently, add a splash of excitement to the tranquil setting.

Visit Books On First

Ever strolled down the sidewalk on a sunny afternoon and happened upon a little gem of a bookstore?

That's what happened to me the first time I walked into Books On First.

The first thing that grabs you is the coziness of the place.

It's like stepping into a world where time slows down and the worries of life take a backseat to the joy of reading.

What makes this place extra special, however, isn't just the books; it's the heavenly iced vanilla chai latte they serve in their café.

Talk about a perfect companion to a good book.

It's also my go-to spot when I'm on the hunt for the perfect Christmas gifts.

I ring them up or stop by, and they always have something unique to offer.

Now, I must mention that the bookstore has a compact layout.

The aisles are quite narrow - a bit of a challenge if you're on the broader side or use mobility aids.

Explore the Trails at Ruth Edwards Nature Center in Lowell Park

Venturing into the heart of nature's beauty, Ruth Edwards Nature Center in Lowell Park is my personal oasis.

As I walk amidst the lush greenery, the chitter-chatter of birds seem to serenade my journey.

I often find myself standing in awe at the sight of a deer, quietly grazing or calmly watching from afar.

And sometimes, I can't help but chuckle at the playful dance of squirrels, darting around the trees. 

Lowell Park is a beautiful canvas painted by Mother Nature herself.

Now, if you're into fishing, the park has several serene spots to cast your line.

Or maybe you're fond of picnicking in the great outdoors?

There are plenty of picnic tables scattered throughout the park, each offering a peaceful setting amidst nature.

It's not uncommon to see me, a sandwich in one hand and a book in the other, lounging under the shade of an old oak tree.

Just a friendly reminder: swimming isn't allowed in the park.

On days when I'm feeling adventurous, I strap my bike on and take off on the winding biking trails.

And for those of you who cherish hiking, there are countless trails to explore.

My personal favorite is the one that leads to the woodcote house - a picture of historical grandeur, standing tall amidst its natural surroundings.

For the little ones, or the forever young at heart, the visitor center in the park is a must-visit.

They have a live owl in captivity, and it's always a delight to see the wide-eyed amazement on visitors' faces when they spot it.

Watch a Performance at The Dixon

Exterior of Dixon Theatre
Eddie J. Rodriquez / Shutterstock.com

There's something uniquely charming about a historic theatre, and my city's very own gem, The Dixon Theatre, is no exception.

Nestled in the heart of our little downtown, it's a place that oozes nostalgia while still managing to keep up with the times.

Now, I've been to my fair share of events here, but one that really stands out was the time they hosted the 100th anniversary celebration.

The highlight of the night? A Beatles tribute concert that was absolutely phenomenal.

It felt like I'd been transported back to the 60s, surrounded by the classic music and the historic environment.

Every event I've attended at The Dixon is so meticulously organized.

I remember celebrating a birthday here with a Head East concert. We had so much fun that we joked about having traveled west for the great band.

Grab Some Bread at Baker Street

There's an enchanting charm about finding a hidden gem in your own city, a charm that perfectly incapsulates my experiences at Baker Street.

My journey with this delightful bakery began when I was on the hunt for a custom cake for a friend's birthday.

Margie and her team at Baker Street were the heroes of the day, delivering a cake that was a feast for both the eyes and the taste-buds.

I've been hooked ever since, opting for their tantalizing cupcakes for every occasion, be it a birthday or a casual get-together with friends.

Stepping into Baker Street feels like stepping into a warm cocoon, immune from the hubbub of the world outside.

The food at Baker Street is nothing short of exceptional, with the prices being a pleasant surprise.

Have Fun Wondering Around Rosbrook Studio

One thing you learn quickly when you live here is that when you're searching for a throbbing epicenter in Dixon, a place where the pulse of the city is most palpable, you head straight to where the bars are.

And nestled amidst this animated scene, you'll find Rosbrook Studio.

The moment you step foot into Rosbrook, it's clear that this isn't just any venue.

It's stylishly intimate, making it an ideal spot for a performance.

And every time I've seen a show there, the energy from the artists always manages to get the floor shaking and the crowd rocking.

It becomes one of those nights that you'll remember for a long, long time.

But Rosbrook Studio isn't just a venue for performances.

This place has a heart and a soul, and it's reflected in the people who frequent it.

An eclectic blend of artistic souls, friendly locals, and curious passersby, all coming together to create a vibe that is as unique as it is addictive.

And if you're an artist waiting for your break, Rosbrook Studio is the platform you need.

It's one of those rare places that celebrates local talent and provides a stage for aspiring performers.

From personal experience, I can tell you that performing at Rosbrook is unlike anything else.

Experience the Beauty of Clear Creek Knolls

When I first moved to the area, I was immediately taken by the charm and tranquility of Clear Creek Knolls.

My first stroll through the picturesque trails transported me to a place of tranquility and serene beauty.

Initially, I found the trails a bit labyrinthine and confusing, but with time, they became a fascinating maze to explore.

I would suggest bringing a good pair of waterproof boots, especially for crossing the creek.

The creek has this mesmerizing beauty, whether you look at it from the bridge or you're right there in the thick of it.

The picture-perfect bridge nestled within the lush greenery is a sight to behold.

I remember the day I captured a photograph of it in the early morning light, mirrored perfectly in the calm waters of the creek below.

It was so beautiful that it's been on my desktop wallpaper ever since.

And then there's the prairie and the Sandstone Outcrop—a sublime combination of nature's best work.

The beautifully restored prairie, with its array of wildflowers and fauna, is a sight for sore eyes, and the Sandstone Outcrop gives the place a rugged edge.

The creek crossing is undeniably my favorite part of the adventure, serving as a moment of triumph halfway through the trail.

Read Some Books at Dixon Public Library

Exterior of Dixon Public Library
Nicola Patterson / Shutterstock.com

Who says magical adventures don't exist anymore? They clearly haven't visited the Dixon Public Library

My heart always leaps with joy every time I step into the vibrant children's department of this library.

You see, they are not just about books.

They have an array of imagination-based toys that fuel the creativity of every child who sets foot in there.

The selections are vast and diverse, fit for children of any age.

If you think you can't find a specific book, think again!

The Dixon Public Library offers an incredible interlibrary loan service.

Even if the book you're looking for isn't in their collection, the warm-hearted and knowledgeable library staff will help you get your hands on it.

The dedication to their service is just amazing!

The library is not just a treasure trove for children, it extends its wonders to adults as well.

It is arguably the best library around.

They are always restocking, so every visit is a new adventure for bookworms like me.

It's hard to leave the place without a book in hand, especially since the newest books find their way here quickly.

The Dixon Public Library truly is a haven for all the book lovers out there!

Other Things to Do Nearby

See the Beauty of Nature at Franklin Creek State Natural Area

Trail at Franklin Creek State Natural Area
Eddie J. Rodriquez / Shutterstock.com

When the hustle and bustle of city life gets too much, I find my sanctuary two hours away from Chicago in a little haven known as the Franklin Creek State Natural Area.

With its well-tended greenery and diverse landscapes, this park has become my personal retreat space.

Strolling through the winding trails that cut through the dense forest and alongside the serene creek, I often lose myself in the tranquility of the area.

Most weekends, I pack a light lunch and set off on a hiking adventure, eager to explore untouched sections of the park.

On a lucky day, I might stumble onto one of those secluded picnic spots tucked away within the woods, providing a perfect setting for a quiet afternoon.

The park isn't just a playground for outdoor enthusiasts like me but a paradise for bird watchers.

Picnic table at Franklin Creek State Natural Area
Eddie J. Rodriquez / Shutterstock.com

There's a designated prairie, a veritable haven for various bird species, where I've spent countless hours observing and photographing these delightful creatures.

One of the park's highlights for me is the charming grist mill.

This little museum provides an intriguing peek into the past, especially when they demonstrates how the mill operates.

It's like stepping back in time, a fascinating experience that adds a unique historical touch to my nature retreat.

The Franklin Creek State Natural Area may be on the smaller side, but its pristine beauty, diversity, and excellent amenities make it a worthwhile escape.

Visit Franklin Creek Grist Mill

Trail leading to Franklin Creek Grist Mill
Awinek0 / Shutterstock.com

It's difficult to put into words the sheer beauty and tranquility of the Franklin Creek Grist Mill.

Nestled in Franklin Grove, it's become a favorite spot of mine for day trips.

The moment you step into the area, it's as if you've entered a natural paradise.

The mill's pond is a particular highlight. It's the perfect spot for a relaxing afternoon fishing.

And trust me when I say that the fishing here is fantastic.

The pond is so crystal clear that you can easily see the fish as they take the bait.

Not to mention, if you're a nature enthusiast like me, you'll find yourself captivated by the diverse flora and fauna around the pond and the wider conservation area.

It's not just a visual treat, but also an auditory experience – the sound of the flowing creek and the chirping birds is truly hypnotic.

Explore the Serenity of Nachusa Grasslands

Bison at Nachusa Grasslands
James Casil / Shutterstock.com

Imagine a place where silence is the music, where tranquillity is the rhythm, and where untamed wilderness is the dance.

That's Nachusa Grasslands for you. It's a quiet oasis, teeming with life, nestled away from the city's bustle.

The Stone Barn Savanna is my favorite spot there to soak up the calmness and beauty.

The park's numerous trails offer a stunning contrast to the conventional parks.

The liberty to explore off-trail makes every visit a unique adventure of discovery.

Every time I walk around, I feel like nature is revealing her secrets to me, one at a time.

Just a little heads up, pets are not allowed in the park.

Signage of Nachusa Grasslands
JL Jahn / Shutterstock.com

Initially, the map was a bit tricky to figure out, but once I got the hang of it, I found it quite thrilling.

Remember to bring mosquito and tick repellent though. The wilderness is home to a variety of insects.

There's a certain charm in seeing the vast prairies, the wildflowers blooming everywhere, and the bison roaming the hillsides.

Although I've explored Nachusa Grasslands many times now, I haven't been able to cover it entirely.

There's still so much to discover. The vista keeps luring me back, and I am all too happy to oblige.

I relish the chance to explore more of this beautiful gem in our area.

The grounds of Nachusa Grasslands
Eddie J. Rodriquez / Shutterstock.com

Final Thoughts

After spending years exploring the nooks and crannies of Dixon, I've come to realize that this city isn't just about its rich history or the iconic Ronald Reagan Boyhood Home.

It is about the small, simple pleasures that can be found around every corner.

I am proud to call this city my own, and I look forward to many more years of discovering its hidden gems and unique charm.

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