Visiting Nature’s Splendor In Ottawa IL

Washington Park Ottawa IL by Flower Chick

Washington Square Park – Ottawa, Illinois

Misconceptions are a funny thing …

When people hear we’re from Illinois, their reactions are strikingly similar. “Oh, Chicago!” they might exclaim. Or a more expansive, “Prairies and corn and soybean fields as far as the eye can see …”

And while the latter might be a slight exaggeration, there’s no question geographic locations tend to be typecast.

Such it is with Illinois, whose nickname “The Prairie State” is, in truth, quite apropos …

Venturing past the state’s stereotypes, though, reveals a much richer landscape of rolling hills, lush river valleys, and some of nature’s finest panoramas …

Visiting Ottawa

Ottawa is a north central Illinois historical and cultural gem. Located in the heart of Gardening Zone 5B, this small city of just under 20,000 residents is a scant 90 minute drive from Chicago. If you’re a western suburbanite like us, you’ll reach this appealing river city in about 45 minutes – perfect for a day trip!

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Ottawa IL river view

Illinois River View – Ottawa, IL

The city’s most distinguishing natural characteristic is the confluence of two rivers. The Fox River ends its run from southern Wisconsin and north east Illinois in Ottawa, joining the larger Illinois River, which in turn heads south and west to Peoria and eventually, the Mississippi River near St. Louis …

These two rivers have defined the Ottawa area for centuries. The vision of developing a water transport connection between Lake Michigan with the Illinois River played a key role in the city’s founding, which dates back to the 1820’s and 1830’s …

Around that time, plans were underway for the Illinois and Michigan Canal #ad. When it was completed some years later, Ottawa’s role as a transportation and commercial hub were realized. This shaped the fledgling town’s construction, with limestone from nearby cities like Joliet and Lockport utilized to construct prominent homes and business structures still in evidence to this day …

Ottawa IL logo

Stroll around Ottawa’s historic downtown or leisurely drive through residential neighborhoods both east and west of the Fox River. You’ll encounter ample Victorian and pre-Civil War homes, along with a series of historic murals spotlighting Ottawa’s significant public figures and historic milestones.

Fast forwarding to the present day, the Ottawa Visitors Center oversees and promotes ongoing efforts to highlight the area’s rich history while showcasing Ottawa as a visitor destination.  I love their logo!  Stop by their location just north of beautiful Washington Square Park and the Reddick Mansion & Gardens. Their friendly knowledgeable staff will guide you to all Ottawa has to offer, from shopping to dining to natural attractions and recreation opportunities …

Washington Square Park and the Reddick Mansion & Gardens

As you drive into downtown Ottawa from the north via La Salle Street (IL Route 23), Washington Square Park will be on your left just past the Visitor’s Center. This is one of Ottawa’s two original town squares and it’s a must visit when you’re in town.

Future U.S. President Abraham Lincoln spoke here in 1858 as part of his series of debates with Illinois Senator Stephen A. Douglas. The two men are immortalized with a statue at the park’s center (photo above at top of post) A natural small city urban paradise, Washington Square Park hosts summer concert series, seasonal farmers market, and public events and gatherings.

Click Here For More About The Famous Lincoln – Douglas Debates … #ad
Reddick Mansion Ottawa IL

Reddick Mansion

Just across the street from the park is the handsome Reddick Mansion and Gardens. Dating to before the Civil War, it’s a centerpiece of Ottawa’s history. Open for tours, this 22 room Italionate style mansion was home to land speculator and philanthropist William Reddick, who left major portions of his estate to the City of Ottawa. In fact, the Reddick Mansion served as Ottawa’s public library for decades after Reddick’s passing.

Now owned and managed by the Reddick Mansion Association, gardening enthusiasts will love to visit the grounds. Here you’ll find three distinct gardens, all expertly maintained by area volunteers and members of the local Ottawa Gardening Club …

The Gardens at Reddick Mansion

The Reddick Mansion Gardens were recently certified as both a Certified Wildlife Habitat and Certified Butterfly Garden in recognition of volunteer efforts who created and now maintain the gardens. As you stroll the grounds, chances are great you’ll encounter many species of butterflies, including Monarchs, who visit here seasonally …

Herb Garden at Reddick Mansion by Flower ChickThere are over twenty varieties of plants here well known to attract butterflies and other wildlife.  I spotted coneflowers, black-eyed susans, butterfly bush, beebalm and sunflowers among other pollinator-friendly perennials. On the east side of the mansion you’ll see a Quilt Garden, planted on a raised flower bed. The grounds are also home to an Official Illinois Herb Garden which features dozens of herb plants, including lavender, lemon basil, pineapple sage, spearmint mint, and many more …

Tours of the Reddick Mansion are typically offered on weekends for a small fee and offer a fascinating glimpse into a bygone era. Access to the grounds and gardens are free! A tour is highly recommended and are normally 45 minutes to an hour in duration. Allow for 90 minutes to experience both the tour and the surrounding garden spaces …

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Ottawa’s Local Specialties

While you can easily navigate around Ottawa in a day, it’d take a week or more to experience all the wonderful independent shops, great restaurants and bars, and other businesses that make this river city such a gem …

With that in mind, here’s a handy list of some of our favorites, along with a description. Experiencing nature and natural attractions is definitely our style … as are shopping and enjoying the occasional cold one!

Here are some stops for your next visit to Ottawa. Be sure to tell us how much you enjoyed them!

Polancic’s Meats: Ottawa’s local meat market located on the north side of town on Norris Drive (Illinois Route 6). Folks from all around the area have been stopping here for fresh cuts of meat since 1950. It’s not a large place but their steaks and meat are outstanding …

Polancic's Pork Tenderloins Ottawa IL

Pork Tenderloins!

The star of the show at Polancic’s is their house recipe breaded pork tenderloins. Truly a Midwest specialty, they’re pork cutlets pounded flat, breaded, and typically served as a sandwich with pickles and onions (we like a little BBQ sauce atop as well). You’ll find them here frozen in packages of five, ready to take home and cook. Drop them in a deep fryer or heat a pan with olive oil and cook under medium low heat for about ten minutes per side …

Serve with some fresh corn on the cob and you’ve got an Ottawa IL meal fit for a celebrity!

Berta's Tap Ottawa IL FlowerChick.comick

Berta’s Tap: Oldest Bar In Ottawa

Berta’s Tap: Everybody has a hobby, right? Well, my husband’s hobby is visiting “the oldest bar in town” everywhere we travel. He researches which bar in each destination has been the longest continually operating. We visit and then he talks about it to whoever is willing to listen (and most people think it’s pretty cool!).

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So … that place in Ottawa is Berta’s Tap. It’s located downtown one block off of the main drag and has been around and making people happy since 1945 …

When you walk up to Berta’s, you’ll know you’re walking into an old tavern, from the retro neon sign to the glass block exterior to the long sturdy wooden bar to your right as you enter. Berta’s is an every man’s bar, a place where all are welcome and everybody fits in. As you might expect, the crowd skews older during the day and younger at night.

Berta's Ottawa FlowerChick.comIt’s not just a bar though. Berta’s is great for lunch. They’re best known for their fantastic Berta Burgers, available in 1/4 or 1/2 pound sizes. You can also get a Polancic tenderloin sandwich here if you don’t have the inclination to cook your own at home …

A comfortable local place, Berta’s continues to stand the test of time and it’s one of our Ottawa favorites …

Herman’s Package Store: Steps away from Budget Boutique and Handy Foods, this is Ottawa’s in town liquor / package goods store. They’ve been in business since 1945 and really know what they’re doing …

August Hill Wine Utica IL

August Hill Winery Utica IL

We were very impressed with the selection for a store that doesn’t look too big from the outside. Herman’s has an outstanding selection of beer, from the old standbys to locally brewed and other specialty styles. They also carry quite a few local wines (we purchased two bottles of August Hill wines from nearby Utica) and all the spirits you need for your next gathering.

Not just a liquor store, Herman’s also offers supplies, newspapers, lotto, and much more. They’ll deliver locally too!

Handy Foods: Ottawa’s downtown grocery store with all the modern conveniences and full service amenities (the staff will carry your groceries out to your car if you need assistance) …

Smiley Face Cookies Handy Foods Ottawa IL

This Is How You’ll Feel!

One reason we like Handy Foods so much is they carry locally made products alongside familiar national brands. Also, their deli and bakery sections are top notch. Insider Tip – Pick up a dozen “Smiley Face” cookies from the bakery counter. They’re sugar cookies frosted with smiley faces atop and wow are they good! These cookies are beloved by folks around town … mention them in conversation and you’ll fit right in!

Pumpkin Treats at Handy Foods Ottawa IL by

Pumpkin Treats … Yum!

On our last visit in October, we couldn’t leave Handy Foods without purchasing some autumn treats … pumpkin cookies and pumpkin squares.  Both were out of this world delicious!

You can also buy Ottawa roasted Jeremiah Joe’s coffee here, already ground and packaged fresh just a few blocks away. If you know someone who loves coffee, it’s the perfect gift item …

And of course, Polancic Tenderloins are available here along with Handy Foods own freshly prepared house pork tenderloins, as well as locally famous Valesano Sausage in the meat case. We can’t decide which tenderloins we like better … hmmm … guess we’ll have to have another sampling!

Partridge's Pit Stop Bar in Ottawa IL

Partridge’s Pit Stop Bar

Partridge’s Pit Stop Bar: This friendly establishment was once a Shell gas/service station, then became Partridge’s Marathon gas/service station, and today the Partridge’s Pit Stop Bar. It’s nestled between Handy Foods and Herman’s Package Store. We recently stopped for a cold beer and were warmly welcomed by the bartender.  A pleasant crowd comprised of all ages sat around the bar chatting and watching college football games.

Partridge's Pit Stop Bar Ottawa by

Enjoying a refreshing “pit stop” 

In the summer months, there’s outside patio seating in front of where the old gas pumps were located and live music all year around. A fun place to sit back and relax!


Dockside Bar & Grill: So you’re in a city with two rivers. It’s a nice sunny day out and you’re thirsty from shopping and seeing all the sites.

What to do?

Stop in for a cold one and the fantastic Illinois River #ad vantage point at Dockside Bar & Grill on Ottawa’s east side. From downtown, take Main Street east over the Fox River until Main ends about 6-7 blocks down. Look for the Dockside sign and turn right on a dirt road down to the river. A sprawling lively place with a large, convenient parking area, this is the place to relax for an hour or two …

Dockside Bar Ottawa IL

Dockside Bar & Grill on the Illinois River

We haven’t eaten here yet, but were told Dockside has very good food that’s not very expensive. We can, however, vouch for the cold beer and great views!

A friendly place, Dockside frequently offers live music featuring Ottawa area bands and regional acts. This is one of our go to Ottawa spots, and once you visit, it’s sure to become one of yours too …

Bianchi’s Pizza: Bianchi’s is Ottawa’s beloved local pizza place. It’s located in the heart of downtown, just off the corner of La Salle and Main. The place has been around for decades and it’s easy to see why …

Bianchi's Pizza Ottawa IL by Flower ChickOpen every day at 4:30, it’s guaranteed they’ll be busy by 5 p.m. But Bianchi’s keeps things moving with their unique ordering system. First, they only serve pizza so there’s no complicated menu to peruse. You’ll walk in and place your order at the counter on the left. Add in drinks too. They’ll take your name and then deliver your pizza to your table 15-20 minutes later. Easy!

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We took home a large cheese and sausage thin crust and it was one of the better pizzas we’ve had in quite a while. Bianchi’s is cash only so be prepared. Prices are very reasonable and you won’t leave hungry …

Prairie Fox Books: We love independent bookstores and try to patronize them wherever we go. They’re such an integral addition to any community and quite often offer titles you won’t find elsewhere …

Prairie Fox Books Ottawa IL FlowerChick.comby Flower Chick

Prairie Fox Books – Independent Bookstore

In Ottawa, such a store is Prairie Fox Books, a delightful welcoming downtown book store featuring area authors, special events, and more. If you want to support local authors, this is the place to do it. You can also pick up the latest national best sellers, and if Prairie Fox Books doesn’t have what you want, not to worry … their slogan is “If We Don’t Have it, We Will Get It For You!” .

This wonderful little independent shop is located on La Salle Street a block south of Washington Square Park and across the street. Shop Local, Buy Local, Thrive Local …

JJ's in Ottawa IL by

JJ’s Pub in Ottawa

  JJ’s Pub: Located on Main Street downtown, JJ’s is one of our favorite Ottawa hangouts. It’s a place that checks all the boxes. Witness:

Good food with an approachable menu? Check. JJ’s is famous in the Ottawa area for their burgers, appetizers, and a really good salad bar complete with homemade soup of the day. Comfortable with a diverse beer selection? Check. JJ’s offers plenty of room, a super convenient location, and an appealing variety of draught beer, including a few local selections. Easy on the wallet? Check. We had a cheeseburger, all you can eat salad bar, an appetizer of nachos, and a beer each … the bill was just under $30.

JJ's Pub Interior by

Comfort Food in a Comfortable Setting at JJ’s

JJ’s Pub is a local favorite with area workers, drop in visitors like us, retirees, and families all blending together. In the warmer months, there’s patio seating out front which you’ll notice going to and fro on Main Street. A friendly welcoming place, JJ’s Pub is a great choice for lunch, dinner, or even just a few drinks any time you’re in downtown Ottawa …

Cheese Shop in Ottawa IL by FlowerChick.comThe Cheese Shop ‘n Deli: This bustling deli and casual restaurant is tucked away on the north edge of downtown on Canal Street. The Cheese Shop might be a secret to occasional visitors, but it’s certainly not a secret to locals … even on a Monday afternoon when we visited customers were visiting for lunch, specialty deli items, and to go orders …

In business since 1970, this friendly place is part comfortable restaurant, part deli, and part specialty food items retailer. We were particularly impressed with all the local products available, most notably the fantastic gourmet cheese spread from Ottawa’s own Chuck’s Cheese Company …

Insider Tip: One house made item not to be missed are The Cheese Shop’s homemade chips. Available in small bags at the deli counter, they’re just about the best potato chips we’ve had. We’re already planning our next visit to Ottawa and rest assured picking up a few more bags of chips from The Cheese Shop is atop the list!

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More Ottawa Natural Attractions

Ottawa is a wonderful walking city. The compact downtown area is easy to navigate, friendly, and safe. Having two riverfront areas to explore makes it all the more appealing!

Ottawa’s Streetscape Planters

Container Garden Ottawa IL by Flower ChickOne of the first things I noticed as we drove into Ottawa was the beautiful planters and sidewalk gardens peppered around town!  I kept “oohing” and “ahhing” at the colorful, well-maintained bursts of flowers everywhere I looked.  Creative mixes of annuals, perennials and grasses abound. Love this mix of lantana, verbena, calibrachoa and geraniums.  Of course I am little obsessed with purple flowers!

Another thing I spotted were gorgeous giant hibiscus in the sidewalk plantings. Yes, there are varieties that do well in Zone 5 / 6.  They are not just found in the tropics anymore. Whenever I see them I think of vacation! Giant Hibiscus flower downtown Ottawa by Flower Chick

You never know what delightful garden plot is around the corner in Ottawa. One creative well-tended spot is located in front of Jobst Monuments and Gifts on Main Street. 

Jobst Monuments & Gifts Ottawa by

Jobst Monuments and Gifts

The nice gal at the Ottawa Visitors Center told us Jobst is THE destination for everything garden … gift items, garden inspired art for indoors and out, bird friendly items, hummingbird feeders, statuary, and many more unique things.

Jobst Monuments & Gifts by

A Gardener’s Paradise … Many Garden Inspired Gift Ideas and more!

On our most recent visit, I checked out this wonderful store … terrific selection of garden related doodads and interesting gift ideas. There’s a lot packed in here so make sure to cover all the rooms!

Don’t be turned off by the fact that they carry cemetery monuments (their main business). In fact, they have so much more including a touching section devoted to memorializing your pet friends who have crossed the rainbow bridge. While I was in the store I met the owner’s cute corgi dogs!  I purchased several gifts for friends including a solar garden stake depicting a darling frog, a wine holiday ornament, and a paperweight with a favorite gardening quote. Oodles of cool merchandise!

Ottawa Riverwalk

Two of Ottawa’s many parks form the bookends to the city’s Riverwalk, which extends over a mile along river front and downtown areas.

Fox River Aqueduct in Ottawa by

     Fox River Aqueduct in Ottawa

Fox River Park is located on the river’s north bank on the east side of town. You’ll see access to Ottawa’s Riverwalk adjacent to the famous Fox River Aqueduct, which was once considered the 8th Wonder of the World …

The aqueduct was built in the 1840’s to carry the waters of the Illinois & Michigan Canal over the Fox River. An engineering marvel over 400 feet in length, it is the largest of its kind on the canal.

Ottawa Riverwalk by

Ottawa’s Scenic Riverwalk

The Riverwalk is a perfect place to enjoy outdoors and take in the scenery. The path winds through Fox River Park, hugging the shoreline and heading downtown. The Riverwalk spills out to Jefferson Street downtown, a block south of Washington Square Park. For a great view of the confluence of the Fox and Illinois Rivers, head south over the Route 71 bridge to Allen Park. This 5+ acre green space is located at the confluence of the Fox and Illinois Rivers just south of downtown. A popular gathering spot, the park features a bandstand, boat docks and launch area, and scenic views …

Visit Buffalo Rock State Park

This area of north central Illinois (La Salle County) is well known statewide (and beyond) for Starved Rock State Park, which is on the south side of the Illinois River, just south of Ottawa. Starved Rock is the most visited state park in Illinois and well spotlighted, so we’re going to forego a Starved Rock feature and rather, focus on a much more “under the radar” state park …

Beautiful Buffalo Rock State Park is situated very close to Ottawa, just three miles west of downtown along the north bank of the Illinois River. From downtown, you’ll head west on Ottawa Avenue which becomes Dee Bennett Road. You’ll travel through the unique little village of Naplate, renowned in this area for their proliferation of taverns and restaurants – by the way, you won’t go wrong stopping in at any of them!


Back to nature’s splendor, which you’ll find in abundance at Buffalo Rock State Park. A relatively small park (as state parks go) of just under 300 acres, this destination offers a great deal no matter your interests …

History of Buffalo Rock State Park

It’s hard to imagine this majestic bluff was once an island in the Illinois River. Now situated on the north bank across from Starved Rock, the park was deeded to the State of Illinois in 1928. Prior to that, the grounds served as a sanitarium for employees of a Chicago based company, giving them a place to enjoy the cool breezes of the Illinois river valley …

When this area of the state was originally explored in the 1600’s, the land currently occupied by the state park was home to Native Americans. Their influence is still in evidence in the park today with the presence of five earthen sculptures called Effigy Tumuli. These large sculpted raised mounds of soil were crafted in the 1980’s in the style of Native American mound building to depict wildlife commonly found in the area …

Buffalo Rock State Park by

View from the trails at Buffalo Rock State Park

As you see on the park map above, the Effigy Tumuli are plainly visible along the park’s trail route. They’re each several hundred feet in length and depict a snake, turtle, catfish, water strider, and frog. You’ll be amazed at their size and how well they blend into the park’s landscape …

Today, Buffalo Rock State Park #ad is a hiker’s paradise and popular gathering spot for visiting families.

Buffalo Rock State Park’s Enduring Beauty
Buffalo Rock State Park by

Beautiful Fall Day for a Hike!

As you can see on the map, this park has several trails just waiting for you to explore. We found them perfect for beginner to intermediate hikers (good exercise but not too strenuous!). The park itself is a large bluff which overlooks the Illinois River, so no matter your location on the park’s trails, you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views …

One of the park’s main attractions are a pair of American Bison – which are kept in the park and cared for by park staff naturalists … They have a pen and large grazing field which is located across from the baseball diamond.

The photo below shows “Pebbles” the 14 year old bison (the darker one) along with her new friend Cocoa.  Cocoa got her name from area students, who participated in a contest to name the park’s new bison. We were delighted to see how well they’ve bonded … sharing food and grooming one another!

Bison at Buffalo Rock State Park by Flower Chick Nov 2019

Pebbles and her new friend Cocoa at Buffalo Rock State Park

American bison once roamed the prairies of Illinois in vast numbers before the area became populated. Considered a circle of life, bison played a key role in the culture of American Indians.

Thanks for reading our feature “Visiting Nature’s Splendor In Ottawa IL” and we hope you enjoyed it! Be sure to tell us about your Ottawa area favorites. Reach out to us at our Contact Page

Flowers downtown Ottawa by Flower Chick