Iowa Stories and Tips

Galena: Steeped in History and Saturated with Shops

Shops in Galena Photo, Galena, Illinois

Galena, Illinois is rooted in the lead mining industry. US Grant was one of nine Civil War generals who had connections to Galena. The town’s most prosperous era lined the streets with lovely brick and stone buildings. Located in the picturesque hilly NW corner of the state, it has become a destination vacation spot. Tourism has become a major industry here with scores of bed and breakfasts and specialized hotels. In the winter there is skiing. In the summer there are water sports on lakes and rivers including the Mississippi. Spring blooms and fall leaf-peeping bring hoards of tourists to town. The area has become an art colony with studios and galleries mixed in with many many fun shops, antique stores and eateries. Winery shops are scattered along Main Street and tours of some of the wineries are available.

We only spent the day here so our activities were confined to shopping, eating and walking around historic sites. Arrive early, or at least slightly before the stores open, to get a parking spot on Main Street. Parking becomes a challenge by lunch-time. The shops on Main Street I enjoyed the most were: "Poopsie’s" has a large selection of games and toys and is the official "sticks" vendor; "Galena River Wine and Cheese" has a variety of local wines to sample and also flavored oils and vinegars; "Something Special" has colorful intricately pattered Polish pottery; "Chocolat" sells the most beautiful chocolates I have ever seen and they have very unusual flavored centers; and at "Honest John’s Trading Post" there is a plethora of shoes to choose from and attractive gifts and décor. Galena is one of the few older towns I have seen that has almost full occupancy in their downtown storefronts. More shopping off Main Street: "Stone House Pottery Gallery" on Spring Street; and "Galena Antique Mall" at 8201 US 20 West. (A word about that address…. it says West, but it is actually located East of town.)

There is more to do than shop in Galena. Top of my list is to tour the US Grant home. The city gave the Grants’ this brick Federalist home to encourage them to return to Galena after the Civil War. They didn’t live there long as he was called into the world of politics and became our 18th president. Unfortunately the house is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays (our visiting days), when it is open the hours are 9:00 am to 4:45pm. Admission is low at $5 for adults and $3 for children. I have toured the house twice before and found it to be a lovely example of Victorian decoration with a few some personal belongings of the former General/ President and his lady. There is a park like front yard overlooking the river valley and downtown Galena. A statue of Julia Bent Grant overlooks the city. Adjacent to the park’s lower parking lot is the oldest remaining log cabin in the city. There aren’t that many years between it’s date and the dates of the city’s several large mansions. Galena grew fast. In addition to Grants home there are other lovely old mansions to tour and the Galena Trolley tours you around the historic district. There is even an evening Galena Trolley Ghost Tour.

I had many options for lunch, but selected an unpretentious storefront cafe called "Embe Eatery and Lounge." The menu offers two size selections, "Sensible" and "Regular". I ordered a sensible Turkey salad sandwich with Maui Onion Kettle Chips. The portion was just what I needed and it was flavorful, too. Okay…after being sensible I could justify splitting a hot bread pudding with my friend. Embe is located about halfway down the shopping area at 233 South Main. My meal plus tip was $8.14.

This is an ideal town for a "Girl’s Getaway". Or check into a cozy Bed and Breakfast with your honey. I know people who head here every fall for the peak color season.

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