Population: 140,352

Location: DeKalb County may be the place where barbed wire was invented, but there’s no keeping visitors away from this easy accessible northwest Illinois zone, just 60 miles from Chicago and 25 minutes from Rockford. Two tollways, I-90 and I-88, will get you there, and Route 38 (also known as the IllinoisLincoln Highway) runs through some of the county’s communities. In addition to the town of DeKalb, that list also includes Cortland, Genoa, Hinckley, Kingston, Kirkland, Lee, Malta, Maple Park, Sandwich, Shabbona, Somonauk, Sycamore and Waterman. “We also have a regional municipal airport that can accommodate corporate jets,” says Debbie Armstrong, executive director of the DeKalb County Convention & Visitors Bureau. It’s open from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. seven days a week, allowing a convenient option for executive transportation.

Key Contact: Debbie Armstrong, executive director

Phone Number: 877.335.2521

The Must-Sees: The county has been a favorite of Hollywood director Ramin Bahrani in recent years. One of his latest movies was filmed in the area: 2013’s “At Any Price,” starring Dennis Quaid and Zac Efron. “It contributed about a million dollars to our local economy,” says Armstrong. 

Part of the charm is DeKalb County’s marriage of burgeoning metropolises with working farmlands. Two of the most popular attractions give a glimpse into this dichotomy. “One is the Ellwood House Museum, which is a restored 1920s Victorian mansion, and the other one is the J.F. Glidden Homestead, which has a barn on the property and also a working blacksmith shop,” says Armstrong.

DeKalb is also home to Northern Illinois University, and neighboring Malta is the site of the accredited Kishwaukee Community College, “so, education is a focus of this area,” she furthers. 

Hotels & Conference Centers: There are 580 total hotel beds within the 14 communities that make up DeKalb County, with most focused in DeKalb proper and Sycamore. “One of the things that we can do, too, is in the summer we’re able to rent out the NIU dormitory rooms for larger groups that come in and host events,” notes Armstrong. “We also have campgrounds in our area.”

The university also comes in handy for larger conferences, specifically with the use of the 10,000-seat NIU Convocation Center. “It’s really multipurpose so we can hold conferences there, sporting events, theatrical shows, it runs the full gamut,” says Armstrong. The campus’ Holmes Student Center also has multiple spaces for rent and an on-site hotel with an additional 77 rooms. 

Other meeting and event venues include the 1920 art deco Egyptian Theatre (on the National Register of Historic Places) and the lush green rooms and courtyards at Sycamore’s Blumen Gardens, as well as a number of orchards and rustic barns. Says Armstrong, “We have unique and cost-effective meeting spaces for every need and budget.”

Restaurants: There’s a lot of international flair within the county’s over 300 restaurants, which is reflective of the diversity at NIU, but one of the things the region really takes pride in is the development of the DeKalb County Community Gardens. “Like most other areas, we’re really promoting farm-totable, but here you can actually tour one of the big farms [including Walnut Grove Vocational Farm] where the gardens grow a number of sourced plants,” says Armstrong, noting there are about 200 (and growing) plots within the network. “We’re growing our own, feeding our own and promoting healthy lifestyles.”

In addition, DeKalb is home to the only estate distillery in Illinois, called Whiskey Acres, and has several wineries and microbreweries open for tours and tastings.

How the CVB Helps: “We are usually the first point of contact for the visitor or the event planner, so we want to provide them with a friendly face and our local expertise about the whole area,” says Armstrong. “We give them objective information to make sure that their event or visit is pleasurable and successful.” Some of the services include customized welcome bags with visitor’s guides, restaurant discounts and fast facts. The CVB can also host on-site visits, secure speakers and help with hotel room blocks. 

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