Hot air balloons light up the sky in Grayslake

The most colorful event of the summer, the 4th Annual Grayslake Color Aloft Balloon Festival, will take flight on August 27. It’s definitely worth making the trip to Northern Lake County County for this chance to get up close with these large balloons. In fact, it’s a perfect day to get to know historic downtown Grayslake and all the fun and tasty things it has to offer.

Head out early

If you go

Grayslake Color Aloft Hot Air Balloon Festival

Saturday, Aug. 27

Central Park

100 Library Lane

Grayslake, IL 60030

4-9 p.m.


The festival doesn’t start until 4 p.m. and the balloons don’t take off until sometime after 5:30 p.m., but the biscuits, go for the biscuits. They are hot at 8 a.m. and they almost always sell out by noon.

Start your day with breakfast at Cacao Sweets & Treats. This all-from-scratch organic bakery serves up amazing breakfast specialties, but you need to get there early to indulge. On Saturday mornings the bakery serves up baker’s choice biscuits and a house-made butter, but you only know the flavors sometime after 7 a.m. when they are announced on the bakery’s Facebook page. Past flavors have included Bacon, Onion and Goat Cheese, Caprese with Balsamic Butter, Jalapeno Popper and Cilantro Butter and Bacon with Blueberry Butter. There are also original biscuits, croissants and other delicious treats like fresh fruit galettes.

After you enjoy your breakfast take a stroll through downtown Grayslake and do some window shopping. Stop at This Old Book and pick up a new-to-you book from their huge selection. If you have gamers in the family, head to Unique Gifts & Games at 82 Center Street, they have all types of board and card games you can imagine.

Fuel up

This year there will be no food available for purchase at the fest so you need to fuel up before you go or pack a picnic lunch. Two great options for take out are Twisted Burger and Emil’s Tavern on Center.

Emil’s serves up pub food and burgers as well a craft beers (dine-in). They also make great pizza and wings that are perfect for take out. Our favorite pizza toppings are sausages and green peppers.

If burgers are your thing, head to Twisted Burger on the corner of Center St. and Whitney. The eatery serves up classic and crazy burgers, as well as hand spun milkshakes and more.

Follow them on Facebook to see their daily specials which range from the Walking Dead burger (jalapenos, bacon, zombie BBQ sauce and a fried egg) to the Good Morning America burger (American cheese, bacon wrapped dog, grilled onions, chipotle mayo and a fried egg). Don’t forget to try the garlic fries, they’re the best! Take your meal out to the park or sit in the new community courtyard right next door.

In between

The Balloon festival is held in Grayslake’s Central Park. The 66-acre park features two playgrounds as well as multiple playing fields and shelters. You will want to park near the Aquatic Center or at the library (100 Library Lane) for the shortest walk. There is also parking off of Lake street at the railroad tracks and at the high school.

While you wait for the balloons to take off or to return there will be plenty to do in the park with local businesses and vendors. If you have young children, head to the east playground (closest to the pool and splash pad) as it has a smaller structure perfect for toddlers. Bigger kids will love the new playground on the west side which includes lots of climbing, spinning and swinging structures that are perfect for ninjas in training. Central Park also has a Frolf course if you are into that and is a great location for catching Pokemon.

After the balloons take off for the “Fox and Hound chase” you can head back downtown and hit The Freeze for some ice cream. I recommend the peanut butter cup sundae.

Now you might be tempted to leave once the balloons are out of sight, but don’t. After the balloons land they will be driven back, usually about 20-40 minutes after take off. Sometime around 7 or 7:30 p.m. they will be inflated again and lit up like giant light bulbs for an evening glow. In addition to the pure wonder and beauty of seeing them like this, families can walk around, talk to the pilots and even step into the baskets in some cases. It’s really an amazing experience!

Before you leave for the night, reward yourself with a stop at Light the Lamp Brewery. This unassuming hockey themed bar serves up some pretty incredible locally brewed beer. Pick up a Growler or Crowler to go. My favorites include the Sin Bin Stout or the Red Line Ale.

Then head home, pour yourself a glass and kick up your heels. You just spent a day in the ‘burbs.

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