A pleasantly warm day had Carolyn Altman looking for a quiet place to take in the nice weather and dive into a good book.
She found the perfect spot by a water fountain in Washington Square nestled in Ottawa’s historic downtown district.
“It’s just so pretty here and I like the water fountain,” Altman said.
Altman, from Toledo, Ohio, regularly travels with her husband and said Ottawa is a must-visit site due to all the “little shops” that populate the city’s active downtown district.
The downtown is located just south of Interstate 80, and less than 10 miles from Starved Rock State Park.
The downtown has grown considerably over the years to offer a little something for everyone whether they're looking for a quiet place to rest their feet or would prefer to put them to work by walking or running along the Illinois or Fox rivers. The downtown also has plenty to offer dining aficionados, beer drinkers, shopaholics and notable landmarks for history buffs.
Larger-than-life statues of Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas stood before Altman near the center of the park overlooking the fountain and reflecting pool.
The park was the site of the first Lincoln-Douglas debate in 1858 and a boulder was placed a few steps from the statues to mark the debate location.
Perhaps one of the better views of the debate was from the balconies of the William Reddick Mansion, which still rests just a block north of the park.
The 22-room Italiante-style mansion also held the city’s library from 1888 to 1975 and today volunteers offer tours taking visitors back through the building, and by extension, Ottawa’s history.
Those looking for a bite to eat and a pint to drink can take a page from Matt Scholes’ itinerary.
A block south of the park on La Salle St., Ottawa's main downtown drag, you'll likely see a number of diners eating along the sidewalk or sharing drinks and laughs outside The Lone Buffalo.
Scholes, originally from England but currently residing in Chicago, said he visits Ottawa once or twice a month and always has dinner along the sidewalk of the restaurant with a drink from their Tangled Roots brewery.
Scholes compares the experience to something he’d expect from a larger city like Chicago or Manhattan, but enjoys the quieter pace of Ottawa’s travelers.
“There’s really nothing like it down here,” Scholes said. “It’s unexpected.”
A quiet ambiance awaits those that would prefer to dine inside, but light chatter and laughter sets the mood outdoors along with views of the city's popular Jermiah Joe coffee shop across the street as well as the iconic Roxy Theaters marquee and a large mural of Civil War General W.H.L. Wallace.
The three-block stretch of La Salle Street between Washington Park and the Illinois River as well as a one-block radius on either side are peppered with a variety of restaurants, bars and shopping destinations. It's easily the most popular space in Ottawa on a warm, summer day and most weekends are host to various events and activities at the city's smaller Jordan Block field.
For a quieter spot, travelers can drive south across Ottawa’s Veterans Memorial Bridge and swing west to visit Allen Park, which resides next to the Illinois River.
Heather Jones works on Ottawa’s South Side and said she routinely brings her lunch to one of the picnic tables to watch boats and barges sail along the river.
“It’s just nice down by the river and quiet,” Jones said. “Anything’s better than eating in an office.”
She said it’s a great spot to get away for a little while or as a gathering place to meet friends and family.
Geese are often seen traveling along the river and Jones said she’s even sat at the park in her car during the winter and watched eagles search for food.
A short walk to the east along the river is a popular spot for fisherman to congregate in an effort to snatch some of the carp and catfish.
Benito Perez, of Berwyn, gave his fishing pole a flick as the hook glided into the river.
He sat the pole next to another fishing pole he planted and kicked back in an outdoor chaise lounge chair.
Perez said he makes the trip about once every week to Allen Park as it’s a great location to fish and lounge about.
He hadn’t caught any of Ottawa’s underwater residents yet, but remained optimistic.
While fishermen aren't always guaranteed a catch, shoppers usually are in Ottawa's downtown shopping district which holds a variety of boutiques and hobby stores for diverse tastes.
Spaces, formerly known as Grandma’s Attic, was a personal favorite of Altman’s and sees a number of visitors from out of the area.
Candles decorate the shop’s entrance to set the mood and you may find Bonnie Chapman behind the counter to help you navigate the store’s three floors that are filled to the brim with handmade antiques and collectibles, similar to Ottawa's own eclectic offerings.
“We’ve got a little bit for everyone,” Chapman said.
“It’s a project place. It’s a place to be inspired. You’re going to see a lot of stuff in here,” she added.
Chapman’s personal favorites are the old, beautiful glass collection as well as miniatures that she uses to decorate her lawn and fairy garden.
Denise Nichols and her daughter Kailee Nichols said a painting caught their eye and they ventured in to explore more.
While looking over some decorative plates and cups they explained the stop was part of a day trip to Starved Rock State Park and they hope to see as much of Ottawa as possible before heading home.
Denise said the pair had a “fabulous” lunch at The Cheese Shop, enjoyed exploring the city’s downtown area and planned to also walk along the Fox River.
She said they still had plenty left to explore as the city offers a wide assortment of destinations.
“It’s been a busy day,” Denise said. “But we’re hitting them all.”