‘Just Off The Tracks’
Your ticket to memorable summer adventures is just off the Metra rail line.
If you’ve been aboard the Metra train, you undoubtedly noticed the unique downtown areas that you pass along the way. You may have wondered if they have a tasty place for lunch or dinner, a great little boutique or some other fun adventure. That same thought is what prompted Mary Wisniewski and Laura Fergus, founders of Just Off the Tracks, to exit the train and find out.
“After exploring the stops along the way, we were delighted to find a hidden gem or two at almost every stop — some right here in our own backyard in McHenry County,” Wisniewski said. “We are both longtime residents of Crystal Lake, and know the area well, and were surprised by how much there was to discover.”
“We also noticed that many of the stores and restaurants in the towns were really struggling,” Fergus added. “Shopping small businesses has always been a priority for us. We wondered if there was some way to help bring more people into the towns to make them prosper.”
With that, the duo dedicated justoffthetracks.com to their newfound knowledge and passion for our downtowns and their eclectic restaurants, businesses and community events.
Justoffthetracks.com includes current events and suggested outings to help plan your day, evening or weekend. These outings feature family fun, live theater, shopping, dining, entertainment and bar crawls. There is also a wealth of information about outdoor dining, bike trails, children’s birthday parties, theaters, bowling alleys — even resale and yarn shops.
Raising the Bar
One of the outing suggestions for a group of friends is the Woodstock to Cary pub crawl featuring four great bars that are right across the street from their Metra stations.
Starting in Cary with The Tracks Bar & Grill, enjoy a renowned specialty burger on the outdoor patio. In Crystal Lake, Duke’s Alehouse & Kitchen offers a beer garden, live entertainment, a locally grown and sustainable menu, and more than 140 craft beers.
Georgio’s Chicago Pizzeria & Pub is best known for its pizza, but the bar always packs a crowd. In Woodstock, Ortmann’s Red Iron Tavern has an outdoor patio and a fun neighborhood feel.
For a more quaint experience, La Petite Creperie & Bistro on the Woodstock Square offers one the best views of the area’s historic charm overlooking the cobblestoned streets and beautiful park in the center of the square. Its global wine list changes regularly.
Music, Art and More
Throughout the summer, there is a multitude of other events to get you out and going, such as farmers markets, art fairs, festivals, parades, cruise nights and more.
“There are so many things to see and do along the rail lines and it is always changing,” Wisniewski said.
For a free, memorable family night out this summer, try a concert in the park. There is one almost every night of the week, including the following:
- Tuesdays: Main Beach band shell, Crystal Lake (crystallakeparks.org).
- Wednesdays: Woodstock Square (woodstockil.gov); and Citizens Park, Barrington (barringtonparkdistrict.org).
- Thursdays: Veteran’s Memorial Park, McHenry (with farmers market) (mchenrycityband.com); and Rotary Bandshell, Lions Park, Cary (carypark.com).
- Fridays: Lunch and Dinner at Depot Park, Crystal Lake (downtowncl.org).
At $5, you can’t beat these two favorites for an inexpensive Friday night out: On the first and third Fridays of every month, enjoy Jazz on the Square at Stage Left Café in Woodstock. Here you will find quality live music in an intimate setting (jazzonthesquare.com). Next, Harvard’s 4th Fridays at The Starline Gallery feature a fresh new art exhibit every month, live music and hors d’oeuvres (starlinefactory.com).
Lakeside Legacy Arts Park First Friday events in Crystal Lake include art, live music, food and a new theme every month — it’s a free event, but donations are appreciated (lakesidelegacy.org).
Visit justoffthetracks.com/events-2 for a complete listing of events.