Waukegan fronts Lake Michigan halfway between Chicago and Milwaukee, just south of the Wisconsin border and a bit north of Chicago's famed and exclusive North Shore communities. As a destination, it's often thought of in the same breath as Gurnee, the village directly west, which is home to Six Flags Great America and the adjoining indoor water park resort, KeyLime Cove, also a major conference center. Venues in the Waukegan-Gurnee area are unique for their mixture of established city amenities, diversity and development; as well as protected green spaces, both along the lakeshore and in western Lake County, where 75 separate inland lakes and 25,000 acres of forest preserves make Waukegan-Gurnee a top regional outdoors destination.
Lake County does not have a stand-alone convention center, and so KeyLime Cove in Gurnee and another resort, Illinois Beach Resort & Conference Center in Zion, serve as the major meeting venues in the Waukegan area. KeyLime Cove, completed in 2008, is a family resort and year-round destination with 414 guest rooms and 8,000 square feet of total meeting space in four rooms, including a 5,000-square-foot ballroom, enough for 310 attendees in a banquet setup. The venue is ideal for smaller work-play meetings, family reunions, incentive trips, and formal social gatherings such as weddings and class reunions.
Illinois Beach Resort is a bit bigger, at 11,000 square feet, and offers 13 meeting rooms and 92 guest rooms on a serene stretch of lakefront 15 minutes north of Waukegan, in 4,100-acre Illinois Beach State Park. The resort has a full-service restaurant in the Sandpiper Lounge and a large health club with spa, sauna, pool, mountain bike rentals, and group classes like yoga and Zumba. It also offers on-site catering and a 3,000-square-foot outdoor pavilion terrace/function space overlooking Lake Michigan.
Outside of meetings, visitors come to the area for Six Flags Great America, one of the largest parks in the Six Flags collection and the only major amusement park in Chicagoland. In 2011 its outdoor water park, Hurricane Harbor (open late May to early September), added a three-acre section called Riptide Bay with a double-sided surf simulator, Caribbean-inspired activity pool and new waterslides and cabanas. Nearby, Gurnee Mills outlet mall draws 23 million shoppers annually to 220 stores, from Saks Fifth Avenue to Bass Pro Shops.
There are several appealing specialty meeting venues in Waukegan and Gurnee, such as the renovated Genesee Theatre and the Greenbelt Cultural Center, which more than doubled in size in 2011, from 7,500 square feet to 18,500 square feet, and typifies the appeal of Lake County's forest preserves. When visitors hunger for a taste of the big city, the Metra connects Waukegan to downtown Chicago with an hour-and-15-minute ride on Union Pacific's North Line.
Photo by Wikimedia Commons user : edward P