The quirky movie set town of Woodstock, Il

'Groundhog Day' director, Harold Ramis, decided that the town square in Punxsatawney wasn't suitable for the film so he scoured neighboring states looking for the perfect town. Woodstock was Victorian perfection.

Plaque marks the puddle
The film that made it all happen
The film that made it all happen

Woodstock, Illinois is such a perfect, small town USA (down to the bandshell and gazebo in town square) that you’d swear Disney had it built on their back lot. Actually, it’s almost the reverse.

Quaint town corner
Quaint town corner

Remember Groundhog Day, the 1993 critically acclaimed, feel-good movie starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell? Film director, Harold Ramis, decided that the town square in Punxsatawney wasn’t suitable for the film so he scoured neighboring states looking for the perfect town. Once he pulled into Woodstock, he knew he found the ideal “set”, complete with a famous old courthouse, beautifully restored Opera house, brick-paved streets and charming Victorian buildings. What might have been Woodstock’s 15 minutes of fame is still holding firm 20 years later “where everyday is Groundhog Day”.

Our tour guide, Rick Bellairs, was an extra in the film
Our tour guide, Rick Bellairs, was an extra in ‘Groundhog Day’

Film enthusiasts can relive the movie by following the Groundhog Day Walking Tour map. Sites are emblazoned with engraved plaques such as the famous puddle spot marked, “Bill Murray Stepped Here”.

Plaque marks the puddle
Plaque marks the puddle

But for the full-blown effect you’ll want to time your visit around the real Groundhog Day in February. Woodstock celebrates with an entire week of Groundhog mayhem including a pancake breakfast, Chili Cook-off, ice sculpting demonstration, dance, story telling, a symposium, a free screening of the film, all leading up to Woodstock Willie’s (their answer to Punxsutawney Phil) prognostication in the square.

Fab alfresco dining at La Petite Creperie & Bistro
Fab alfresco dining at La Petite Creperie & Bistro

When you’re ground-hogged out there is a variety of fashionable boutiques, antique stores, craft shops, bakeries, live music venues, art galleries and cafes to explore around the charming square, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The favorite dining spot is La Petite Creperie & Bistro, located in the Sheriff’s House which is part of the historic Old McHenry County Court House, built in 1857.

You can't miss with any of the crepe selections
You can’t miss with any of the crepe selections

The restaurant may use the old jail cells for storage but they turn out a far superior product than what was once served to the inmates. Order any of the authentic Brittany crepes, salad and glass of wine for a lovely alfresco lunch on the patio overlooking the square.

Woodstock Opera House
Woodstock Opera House

The town’s piece de resistance is the Roman-esque style Opera House, which was built in 1889 and simultaneously served as the town library, city hall, justice court, and fire department. Many years ago you would have found young Orson Wells or Paul Newman gracing the intimate stage, which had been modeled after popular showboats.

Intimate seating
Intimate seating

This architectural gem is now owned by the City of Woodstock and local residents who took great pride in restoring the historic furnishings, stained glass windows, tin ceilings, original woodwork and hand drawn stencil ornamentations. The Opera house has been home to the Woodstock Mozart Festival for the last 27 years as well as host to an impressive line-up of plays and concerts featuring both world-class and local performers.

The Royal Victorian Manor  was the B & B in the film
The Royal Victorian Manor was the B & B in the film

For a romantic overnight what could be more fitting than a stay at the Royal Victorian Manor, the actual B & B in Groundhog Day (although it was had another name in the movie) where Murray and MacDowell fell in love.

My new buddy
My new buddy, Woodstock Willie
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Janice Nieder
Janice Nieder could be the love child of Indiana Jones and Julia Child. Previously a specialty food consultant in NYC, Janice is currently a SF-based culinary tourism writer who has wined & dined her way through 80 countries. To keep things in balance, Janice also enjoys writing about her Girlfriend Getaways which include spa visits, soft-core adventure, cultural events, shopping, boutique hotels, and chef interviews.