Not your father's Peoria
While far from perfect, Peoria, Illinois is a well kept secret in the state and beyond. Though the city once had a reputation as a backwater, today city leaders are pushing forward with progress, modernizing their city with new facilities and encouraging new business to move to the city. There's a reason the saying goes, "Will it play in Peoria?" This is a place for the average American who is looking for a great place to live.
World class businesses
What a lot of people from outside the city don't realize about Peoria is that a number of outstanding businesses make their home here. The most noteworthy is Caterpillar, one of the biggest companies in the world that specializes in construction equipment. Caterpillar is a driving force of the area's economy.
But Cat is not the only big company in Peoria. You'll also find RLI, an insurance company and Komatsu, a Cat competitor, among many, many others. Additionally, there are amazing health care facilities in Peoria. There are three hospitals in Peoria, and the largest two, OSF and Methodist, are known as among the best in the Midwest. OSF recently underwent a huge expansion which made its children's hospital one of the best in the country. OSF is the sister hospital to St. Jude in Memphis, bringing world class cancer treatment to children.
There are some great things to do in Peoria, in large part due to the city's effort to revitalize itself over the last 10 years. Much of the effort has focused on the downtown and riverfront area. The Peoria Civic Center was built several decades ago, but recently underwent a major addition to make it into a first class convention center as well. The Civic Center now has a 10,000+ seat arena for athletic events and shows, a theater for concerts, a banquet hall, and an enormous convention center.
Head down the street and you'll find the 8 year old O'Brien Field, home of the Peoria Chiefs, a A affiliate of the Chicago Cubs. The stadium is almost as much of an attraction as the team. It has a beautiful setting, including palm trees that are very distinctive in a Midwestern town.
Down a couple of blocks you'll find the revitalized riverfront. The city is in the process of building a massive riverfront museum, designed to spur interest in tourism. The riverwalk is just across the street, where you'll find entertainment and festivals almost every weekend from Memorial Day to Labor Day. It's also where the Spirit of Peoria steamboat ferries visitors up and down the Illinois River, in some cases on overnight trips to Starved Rock State Park.
Of course, this neighborhoods is just one piece of the Peoria puzzle. Head east and you'll end up in the quaint Peoria Heights shopping and dining district. Head North to Grand Prairie, a newer shopping district, and there are many other options in between.
Where to begin on this one? There are so many great places to eat in Peoria. I've got to narrow it down, so let me just stick to a few. First, if I'm looking for pizza, my all time favorite place still has be Pizza Works in the Heights. It's a simple place, nothing fancy, but the food is top notch, and the owner is a great guy who makes sure you're taken care of. If I'm looking for a burger, I'm headed to the Burger Barge. The place is totally a dive, but the burgers are so good. It's actually located right next to the Paradice Riverboat.
Of course, some people might be looking for a nicer place to go out. Two25 is an oddly named, but great restaurant that has steaks and pizza. It's located in the Mark Twain hotel downtown. If you are on the Bradley University campus, check out the One World Cafe. They have a lot of different kinds of what I would call yuppie food.
Places to stay
If you're going to be in town for any length of time, you're going to need a place to stay. For a short term stay, of course you'll want a hotel or motel. There are several areas to consider staying if you plan on a short term lodging.
First, you could stay downtown. There are some very nice hotels downtown, such as the Mark Twain hotel. If you are in town because you are doing business with Caterpillar or are here for a convention at the Civic Center, these are great options. Downtown hotels are in very close proximity to both Caterpillar's world headquarters and the convention center. There are some things to do downtown as well, but Peoria is a fairly spread out city, so there's no reason to confine yourself to downtown.
For downtown needs, you could also cross over the river into East Peoria. There are more restaurants and shopping in East Peoria than downtown Peoria and it's only a short drive, probably 2 minutes. There's a new Bass Pro Shops and a Target and Costco are set to open shortly. In East Peoria, my top choice would be the Embassy Suites, which I've stayed at a couple of times and really love.
If you don't care about being near downtown, it's worth considering the North side of the city. The Shoppes and Grand Prairie are just off of I-474 and have attracted a lot of new shopping, restaurants, and hotels. It is about 15 minutes from the heart of the city, but close to many shopping and entertainment options. On this side of town, you'll find many newer options. I like the Country Inn and Suites.
If you're going to be here longer but not long enough to buy, you'll be looking for a rental home or apartment. Caterpillar has been known to put short term residents up in the Woodsage Apartments near Grand Prairie. The crown jewel of Peoria apartments is probably the Prairie Vista Apartments on North Allen road. You may also want to consider looking at options on North Knoxville, where there are several nice complexes.