Champaign, Illinois Makes for a Perfect Rest Stop

Downtown Champaign

With a location on the Interstate system’s route 74 and 57 (and the origination of 72), you may find yourself passing by Champaign, Illinois. Rather than pulling off at a non-descript exit with the usual fast food restaurants and gas stations, why not take a little extra time and go into downtown Champaign and discover a nice historic Midwestern town?

Downtown Champaign is filled with easy to locate maps showing the locations of all the highlights.
Downtown Champaign is filled with easy to locate maps showing the locations of all the highlights.

Lunch in Champaign

It is easy to park and easy to navigate and there is a great little place called the Café Kopi. It is located at 109 N Walnut Street and within easy access to a brief walk around the town’s historic streets. The Café Kopi itself is a homegrown coffee house that serves great food too.

The front of Cafe Kopi on Walnut Street in downtown Champaign Illinois.
The front of Cafe Kopi on Walnut Street in downtown Champaign Illinois.

It was busy when we were there yet there were plenty of seats. I had the Turkey and Brie sandwich, which has a mango chutney on it and is served open-faced. It was incredible and something impossible to get at an exit fast food place. There was wi-fi available and a quick walk around the outside after lunch allowed us to see a small part of the downtown.

The food at Cafe Kopi was exceptionally good and the turkey and Brie open faced sandwich really stood out at this Champaign, Illinois cafe.
The food at Cafe Kopi was exceptionally good and the turkey and Brie open faced sandwich really stood out at this Champaign, Illinois café.

Not knowing anything about Champaign before visiting, I was pleasantly surprised that it had a nice railway station, transit system and lots of students. There is a very nice theater that looks lost in time called the Art Theater which is on Church Street and still shows movies. It is a cooperatively owned art-house cinema.

The facade of the art house cinema Art Theater in downtown Champaign, Illinois
The facade of the art house cinema Art Theater in downtown Champaign, Illinois

We just enjoyed seeing the building – imagine enjoying a movie in it? I found what I thought was an old abandoned department store, Joseph Kuhn & Company, but it was actually an active men’s store. It was so nice to see that this sort of thing still survives in a downtown and not part of an urban renewal project that includes the words “walk” or “side” in them. Upon researching it, I found that it is the oldest business in Champaign with roots to 1865, five years after the town of Champaign was established. The business is still operated by the family.

The men's store, Joseph Kuhn & Company is still trading in downtown Champaign, Illinois since 1865.
The men’s store, Joseph Kuhn & Company is still trading in downtown Champaign, Illinois since 1865.

Another pleasant surprise is the G R Grubb & Company building which is now occupied by an art gallery for, hold on for the longest name of a school, the College of Fine and Applied Arts at the School of Art and Design within the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. The building is now referred to as the A+D Building. It is directly across from Café Kopi on Walnut Street so take a wander over.

The art gallery across from Cafe Kopi is worth a look during a visit to Champaign Illinois
The art gallery across from Cafe Kopi is worth a look during a visit to Champaign Illinois

And if you like, there’s the Blind Pig Company next door which has all sorts of neon beer signs out front to attract the students and is, in fact, a brewery. Well worth a pop in to that I’m sure, though we didn’t. All in all, why visit a non-descript exit area fast food or chain restaurant when you can explore this great town and find something to eat at the same time? Happy explorations!

The inside of Cafe Kopi on Walnut Street in downtown Champaign, Illinois.
The inside of Cafe Kopi on Walnut Street in downtown Champaign, Illinois.
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