Every town has its hidden secrets, and I was hoping to find one that day. But, I did not.
Because of this, I feel that it is my duty to pass on some of my favorite places and things about my home for the last 8 years. These 25 items are in no specific order.
**Please keep in mind that these are my opinions, and in no way are meant to represent the views of the companies named. I just really like what they have to offer, and wanted to share!**
The Secrets of Carbondale:
Thai Taste - Seated on a corner of the Carbondale Strip, is a restaurant you won’t want to miss out on! It’s small and intimate inside…but the food is something I’ll crave for a lifetime. And if you love wings as much as we do, order the Thai wings for an appetizer. There’s a reason why they won the “best wings in town” award over BDubs.
Thai Taste website
Von Jakob Kristofer’s - What started out as “Friday night dinners”, has become a wonderful weekend-only restaurant. On Friday and Saturday evenings, you can be treated to an exquisite 4-course dinner. You get soup, salad (with the BEST homemade dressing you’ll ever try), an entree, and dessert. Nothing about the meal is rushed. The plates come when you are ready…so you can take time to enjoy every. single. bite. And, trust me, you will. No detail is missed by the staff.
You can get food at Von Jakob any time they are open…but you don’t want to miss out on this treat. We’ve had many of our favorite date-nights there :)
Giant City - Deep in the woods of the Shawnee, lies Giant City State Park. Here, there are many trails, picnic tables, and playgrounds. You can easily spend an entire day soaking in the beauty of nature. Plus, if you get hungry…head over to the lodge for great family-style dining!
Bottom’s Up - I have discovered that, in life, you’ll find some of the best food in the most inconspicuous of places. On Wednesday nights in Jacob, a town of only 300, Bottom’s Up serves fried chicken as a “special”. For just $6 you get a whole fried chicken…all 8 pieces! It’s so good and specifically popular with individuals on a college-budget. It’s about 30 minutes from Carbondale, but worth the drive!
*bonus info: aim to arrive early! (Before 5:30) It fills up quickly!
Little Grand Canyon - This is a trail in the Shawnee National Forest that will test your athleticism. A 3.6 mile loop that varies in elevation by 350 feet. Over time, erosion has carved out what looks like a smaller version of the Grand Canyon…hence, the name. But the trail itself is lined with waterfalls, overhangs, and the most beautiful trees! Take a water bottle and a camera :)
The Goddard Place - This one is a gem. A true, hidden gem. In the wooded hills near Anna, lies this cozy one-room cabin (except for the bathroom). Even if you are only minutes away from home…it will feel like a whole new place. It’s perfect for a “weekend getaway”. And I cannot say enough good things about the owners… they have thought of everything. When you arrive the fireplace is lit, lamps are on, music is playing, and on the kitchen table is a loaf of freshly-baked Amish bread. If you are staying in Southern Illinois…skip the hotel. Stay here!
Goddard Place website
Spillway - Tucked in the end of Kincaid Lake is this local secret. Your GPS won’t find it, so you’ll need to take someone local…but it’s such a fun place to go swimming! There is a three-level cascade spilling into an invigorating, fresh water pool.
Wine Trails - You can’t think Southern Illinois without thinking about the wine trails. They’re kind-of our main attraction. There are 12 wineries on the “official trail”, but many more tucked into quiet places along the way. Each and every one is different in its own unique way. Many serve food, and all have things other than wine (love the live music!)…so even if you don’t like wine, I highly encourage you to go and take in the scenery. Some of the best stories can be heard from the owners.
Shawnee Hills website
Walker’s Bluff Events - What started out as a restaurant, has quickly blossomed into a huge spread of things to do. Besides the awesome fine dining, they now have a vineyard, a wine cave & tasting room, an outdoor amphitheater, a lake, a general store, and playgrounds for the young and young at heart. (example: a life-size chess set!) When it’s warm outside, look for lots of entertainment from Walker’s Bluff. They are constantly bringing in big-name concerts, hosting movie nights, and throwing festivals.
*I may be slightly biased…the Gin Blossoms’ concert in October 2011 is where I met my husband!
Walker's Bluff website
Vintage Soul - As an avid crafter, I LOVE this furniture store. You will never find two things alike here. Every single item is different and has its own special character. Whether you are looking for something different to redecorate with, searching for a “project”, or in need of an entire house full of furnishings…they’ve got it. And the best part: they donate 50% of their profits to Ekklesia - a ministry that serves the homeless/underprivileged local community.
Vintage Soul website
Sunset Concerts - On Thursday nights in the summer, Carbondale hosts a series of outdoor concerts. This is always a fun time! The concerts bounce between lawns at SIU and a local park, and are a great opportunity to just relax and listen to some local music!
SIU Athletics - Even if you’re not a huge sports fan, you will enjoy SIU events! They are very entertaining, and a great way to support the students. And make sure not to miss the tailgating events prior to the football games!
Winston’s Bagels - Winston is a staple. Everybody knows him. And if you like food…you need to try one of these specialties! You can find Winston and his little food cart across the street from local bars in the evening and all through the night. (He even stays out for all those college kids who are “studying” until 2am) Served on a giant charcoal-grilled bagel is an assortment of delicious toppings of your choice. I recommend cream cheese, cinnamon, and apples. But the possibilities are endless!
Quatro’s - Famous for their deep-pan pizza, Quatro’s has been a staple since 1975. Located just a block away from SIU’s campus, it is frequently overflowing with a mix of college kids and the locals. Plus, if you’re in need of cups for your kitchen…you always get to keep that yellow cup.
Neighboring towns - Don’t forget to explore the “suburbs” of Carbondale! In Cobden you’ll find some great places like Yellow Moon Café, Palace Pizzeria, Darn Hot Peppers, and Flamm Orchards. Makanda is famous for their artsy boardwalk. And Alto Pass has Rendleman Orchards. There are so many local businesses that I have enjoyed supporting!
17th Street in Murphysboro - Because my husband loves watching the Food Network (and similar channels), I have frequently seen Mr. Mike Mills featured on a special about barbeque. He is known as “The Legend”, and for a very good reason. He is a four-time world champion (plus MANY others!) in barbeque competitions, and it all started at this location in Murphysboro. The others are great too…but there’s just something special about the original. Try it, and thank me later.
17th Street website
Rule of Pie - As the newest addition to the community, not too many folks know about this secret just yet. But I’m aiming to change that! A local friend with a passion for pie has opened a store in Murphysboro specializing in… well, pie. They focus on getting their ingredients locally, which makes them even better! You can go in for just a slice, or take home a whole pie to share. But you probably won’t want to share. They’re so very tasty!
Rule of Pie website
SIU Campus - If you’re looking for something “different” to do on a day off, just head over to campus! You don’t have to be a student…and no one will look at you weird. Well, no promises. But there is a ton of stuff to do. Take a walk around Campus Lake. Try your skills on the Frisbee Golf Course. Get lost in Morris Library. Or challenge some friends to a round or two of bowling!
Friday Night Fireworks - Every Friday night in Marion is like the 4th of July. Immediately following the Southern Illinois Miner’s baseball game, the sky is illuminated with an impressive 10-15 minute display of fireworks. The games are fun to watch, and the fireworks make it even better!
Cedar Lake Beach - Enjoy a day fishing or relaxing on the beach at one of the most beautiful lakes in Southern Illinois: Cedar Lake. The City owns and maintains the public beach and boat dock. The beach is best known for its family atmosphere and beautiful scenery. Fishermen enjoy regular success reeling in fish amid the beautiful coves surrounded by breath-taking bluffs.
Bald Knob Cross - Towering over the beautiful hills of Alto Pass is this iconic landmark. You can see it from miles away, or venture right up next to it…either way, it’s a sight you don’t want to miss!
Bald Knob website
Root Beer Saloon - This is a place unlike any other. While you’re sipping on delicious root beer (in frosted mugs!), there is no shortage of things to look at. There are hundreds of antlers, animals of call kinds, statues, antiques, and other random things hanging from the walls and ceilings. And if you happen to go on a day that the owner is there…there will also be no shortage of great stories!
Root Beer Saloon website
Harbaugh’s Café - This is where I’ve had some of my most favorite mornings! They also serve lunch…but I always find myself there just as the sun is waking. It’s an adorable diner where you always get a different style of coffee mug. Maybe even “World’s Best Grandma!” Also, order the ranch potatoes. They’re a sure-fire way to guarantee a great morning.
Arnold’s Market - On the southern side of Carbondale, just as you’re about to leave town, you’ll find this little grocery shop. Arnold’s is, hands down, the best place to purchase meat. While the prices are often a little higher, your food is always fresher. And you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the large variety of items that such a small place has to offer. They also have a small sandwich shop…that uses meat and veggies straight from the market!
Arnold's facebook page
Cristaudo’s - As a lover of all things sweet…of course I’d have a bakery on my list! Cristaudo’s is my favorite! Whether you just need to fill a craving, or are having a party, their homemade treats are worth every calorie.
Cristaudo's facebook page
Two bonus tips:
1. Avoid Walmart on the first week of school (at SIU) at ALL COSTS. If not, you may lose your sanity.
2. If you're driving... steer clear of the 6-way intersection of Mill Street and Highway 51 during this time. No one new understands how to use it.
If you're not driving... pull up a chair and people-watch this area. It's rather hilarious.
Now go explore!!