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Naperville’s mayor, A. George Pradel, calls it “our river of life.” He’s referring to the Riverwalk, the five-mile-long brick path—begun in 1981 to commemorate the town’s sesquicentennial—that winds along the DuPage River in downtown Naperville. Take a stroll after lunch at one of the nearby restaurants—or work up an appetite before dinner by indulging in some of the walk’s seasonal attractions: careening down the sled hill, competing on any of several athletic fields, or just floating lazily at Centennial Beach (500 W. Jackson St.; 630-848-5000), a charming swimming hole fashioned from a former granite quarry in 1931. Also along the route: a covered bridge, a gazebo, wooded areas, playgrounds, and the Millennium Carillon at Moser Tower (on Aurora Avenue, west of Washington Street; 630-428-4239), which resembles an unfinished rocket ship. The 158-foot tower houses 72 bronze bells, making it one of the four largest carillons in the world. (A summer series of live concerts begins in mid-June; for more information about the series and other Riverwalk attractions, go to www.visitnaperville.com.)
With its costumed interpreters and collection of 19th-century buildings—including a replica of historic Fort Payne, a blacksmith shop, and the Victorian-era Martin Mitchell Mansion—the 13-acre Naper Settlement (523 S. Webster; 630-420-6010) conjures up Naperville’s past, from its founding in 1831 to the dawn of the 20th century.
Three blocks north of Naperville’s downtown sits the DuPage Children’s Museum, a playful, brightly colored building. Inside, kids can enjoy a variety of activities, including “Wet N’ Messy,” a series of workshops; visits by musicians and dancers; and help for Girl and Boy Scouts working on merit badges (301 N. Washington St.; 630-637-8000).
Nature provides relief from the suburban sprawl in the Springbrook Prairie Forest Preserve, which offers 1,849 acres of restored prairie and wetlands threaded with trails that travel along streams and through open lands. Whatever the season, the scenery—be it perky spring wildflowers and a chorus of frogs, late-summer prairie blooms, or a white-on-beige winter landscape—is welcome nourishment for the soul. (Enter from Plainfield-Naperville Road, a quarter of a mile south of 75th Street; 630-933-7200).
Amid the landscape of bland big-box stores on Naperville’s southwest side, two pieces of fashion-forward contemporary architecture have emerged in the past few years. In late 2005, Calvary Church completed a stellar 150,000-square-foot addition that blows away the plain-wrap look of its original building. Designed by Goss/Pasma Architects of Evanston, the new sections stylishly employ the same common salmon brick and steel tops of the old structure. Best of all, the Schmidgall Memorial Chapel, an asymmetrical structure with a geometrical steeple, still says “church,” but with contemporary dash (9S200 Hwy. 59; 630-851-7000).
Creeping along the heavily trafficked Highway 59, drivers can’t fail to appreciate 95th Street location of the Naperville Public Library, with its glassy expanse (showing off the activity inside) and huge steel prow tipping toward the ground. Completed in 2003, the $15-million library (designed by PSA-Dewberry) showcases a stunning interior, too, with views from the ground-level children’s area up to the second-floor study rooms, which have come to be known as the “skyboxes.” When the light is right (around midmorning in late fall and winter), you can catch an indoor rainbow glittering on the white stairway near the lobby (3015 Cedar Glade Dr.; 630-961-4100).
Some quarter of a million people flock to Knoch Park (724 S. West St.) in early July each year for Naperville’s enormous Ribfest. A project of the Naperville Exchange Club—with all proceeds going to groups that fight child abuse—this is the quintessential community party, with virtually everyone in town dropping in for barbecue and music. There’s lots of music on several stages, and the barbecue is as endless as Naperville’s borders (July 1st to 4th; for more information, go to www.ribfest.net).