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    • Pekin

    • The birthplace of Partridge Susan Dey, astronaut Scott D. Altman, and one-hit-wonder Head East (of “Never Been Any Reason” fame), Tazewell County seat Pekin, Illinois, has long been a quirky, historically fascinating place.  2010 census info lists the population at a modest 34,094, but the city – which stretches its long municipal arms into nearby Peoria county – has a truly thriving community, with ten-plus schools, a country club, a water park, a yearly Marigold Festival, and an excellent assortment of businesses, golf courses, restaurants and other recreational draws.  Combining the best parts of a mid-sized city and a more relaxed suburb, Pekin is a great choice for those who want both low-stress, family friendly environs and a variety of things to do on the weekend.  The specs:

      Local Schools

      Though it’s a relatively small city, Pekin has a stellar, multifaceted school system with a number of options for students and families.  Weighing in at eleven discrete schools, District 108 covers a great deal of educational ground: it features a well-loved Pre-K program (Pekin Pre Family Education Center School),  seven K-3rd grade institutions (Scott Altman Primary, C.B. Smith Elementary, Dirksen Elementary, Jefferson Primary, L.E. Starke Primary, Sunset Hills Elementary, and Willow Primary), two 4-6th grade intermediate schools (Washington and Wilson), and two 7-8th grade junior highs (Broadmoor and Edison).  Outside of District 108, CSD 98 also offers Rankin Elementary, a full K-8th grade school; after going through those districts, students enter District 303’s Pekin Community High School.

      Recreation and Amenities

      Few Central Illinois parks and rec organizations pack the punch of Pekin Park District, which operates a water park (Dragonland Water Park), a classic playing- and hiking-type park (Mineral Springs Park), an ice rink (Memorial Ice Rink), golf courses (Parkview and Lick Creek), and more.  The P.P.D.’s wild expanse of fun and exercise is ably complemented by the local YWCA, which features a pool, fitness classes, and adult literacy courses, and the Pekin Country Club, which offers weddings/events, dining, and so on (as well as plenty of its own swimming and golfing opportunities).  For those who like a good community get-together, Labor Day is always immediately followed by Pekin’s famous Marigold Festival, a funnel cake- and carnival ride-driven last splash before the school year kicks in.  The city has more cerebral amenities, too, including the Pekin Daily Times and the Pekin Public Library.

      Businesses and Restaurants

      If you’re business-minded, Pekin may be one of the more welcoming cities in the area.  Both the Pekin Area Chamber of Commerce and the Pekin Main Street initiative have a long history of shoring up – and protecting – new businesses in the city; the latter’s mission statement is specifically to combat threats on historic downtown buildings and make them thrive once again.  (A large list of local businesses can be found here: http://business.pekinchamber.com/list?moduleversion=3)  The city also has a Housing Authority in place to help low- to moderate-income families get homes, as well as a homebuyer assistance program.  For gourmands, comfort food like the pub food at Maquet’s Rail House, burgers and fries at Andy’s Diner, pizza and wings at Jimbo’s Jumbo, and American fare at Missy’s Corner Cafe can be had on the cheap, as well more international pleasures like the cuisine at Asian Bistro, Hacienda Fuentes, and – of course – perennial Italian favorite Avanti’s.  Pekin has plenty of Jimmy John’s, Steak ‘n Shake, and Applebee’s, too, if a nice chain meal is your bag.