For travelers coming from any direction the wind blows, Illinois may well be one of the easiest states to get to, with several major airlines and Amtrak using it as a central hub, and Lake Michigan making the city of Chicago not only windy, but also a fairly major port of call. This easy accessibility is one of the many reasons that Illinois has historically attracted large groups of emigrants -- notably, Germans, Polish, Irish, and Mexicans, and African Americans escaping slavery -- to settle within its boundaries, looking for work and a new home. Illinois fell to the side of its most favored son, Abraham Lincoln -- who spent all of his adult pre-presidential years calling the state home -- and thus was an anti-slavery state prior to the Civil War. However, there was a sad smear on this status when in 1853 Illinois state senator John Logan helped the local legislature to pass the appalling Black Codes, prohibiting African Americans, particularly those escaping slavery in the South, from immigrating into the state. Despite his success with the legislature, though, Logan clearly didn't have the support of his entire state. Because of its location on the Mississippi River, Illinois became one of many active Underground Railroad states in the Union, with the cities of Alton and Jacksonville in southwestern Illinois being particularly notable spots. Today, many of those sites and their artifacts have been preserved and are open to visitors year-round.

Known as the Prairie State, there is indeed much in the form of natural beauty to check out, whether driving any of Illinois' five scenic byways where you can witness river, lake, prairie, and acres and acres of bucolic farmland, or traversing one of the more than 50 state parks and myriad wildlife and nature centers. But Illinois is also home to the third-largest city in the country, Chicago (no, it's not the capital -- that would be Springfield, Lincoln's home city), birthplace of skyscrapers and its own brand of the blues, and home to Wrigley Field and fantastic arts and food scenes, with great pockets of authentic Greek, Swedish, Italian, German, Chinese, and Mexican eateries creating a veritable smorgasbord of culture to explore.