Discover these 8 gems tucked away in the Fox Valley

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Celebrate agriculture: Kirk Manthe from Kewanee trims one of his female sheep before judging at last year's Sandwich Fair. This year marks the 125th anniversary of the fair. | FILE PHOTO

Aurora may have been dubbed a generic suburb back in the days of “Wayne’s World.”

But even Wayne and Garth would do a double-take if they saw what’s going on in their hometown today: a riverfront concert venue downtown, designer clothing stores, hiking trails and more.

And there’s plenty of reasons to “party on”: The city is celebrating its 175th anniversary this year. The U.S. Post Office on North Broadway hosted the official commemoration March 2, celebrating the establishment of Aurora’s first post office. A birthday party honoring the city’s heritage followed at the Aurora Transportation Center that evening. Additional events are planned throughout the year. Visit aurorahistory.net to learn more.

What, you’ve been hanging out in your basement, too? Or you are new to the area? Then it’s time to get out and see what Aurora and the surrounding Fox Valley communities have to offer. Here’s a look at eight can’t-miss Fox Valley treasures.

What’s cool

1. Red Oak Nature Center.

Where it’s at: 2343 S. River St., Batavia.

What it offers: Inside, find hands-on exhibits on natural history, including the legend of Devil’s Cave — a popular site that is a short hike from the nature center. Outside, view the Fox River and explore 40 acres of woods.

To learn more: Call (630) 897-1808 or visit www.foxvalleyparkdistrict.org.

2. Raging Waves.

Where it’s at: 4000 N. Bridge St., Yorkville.

What it offers: Illinois’ largest outdoor water park has 45 acres of water slides, a lazy river, a wave pool, 20 private cabanas and a twisting thrill ride called the Tornado.

To learn more: Call (630) 882-6575 or visit www.ragingwaves.com.

What’s classic

3. The Sunken Garden at Phillips Park.

Where it’s at: 1000 Ray Moses Drive, Aurora.

What it offers: Originally designed and developed in the 1930s by Ray C. Moses, this formal garden invites visitors down its stone steps to enjoy annual plantings, a three-tiered fountain and four statues symbolizing the four seasons.

To learn more: Call (630) 256-3750 or visit www.phillipsparkaurora.com/sunken-garden.html.

4. The Sandwich Fair.

Where it’s at: Somonauk and Pratt roads, Sandwich.

What it offers: The city of Sandwich hosts what is officially the DeKalb County Fair. It turns 125 this year — the longest-running county fair in Illinois. Fairgoers get an old-fashioned agricultural fair amid historic buildings and midway carnival rides.

To learn more: Call (815) 786-2159 or visit www.sandwichfair.com.

5. Mies van der Rohe’s “glass house.”

Where it’s at: 12540 River Road, Plano.

What it offers: When Ludwig Mies van der Rohe built it in 1951, the Farnsworth House was considered unprecedented. It’s still one of the most famous examples of modernist domestic architecture with its clean lines and living spaces that bring the outside in.

To learn more: Call (630) 552-0052 or visit www.farnsworthhouse.org.

What’s coming

6. RiverEdge Park.

Where it’s at: 1 S. Broadway Ave., Aurora.

What it offers: The outdoor recreation and events venue along the riverfront will feature multiple gardens and a landmark suspension bridge spanning the Fox River. It’s scheduled to open for Aurora’s Downtown Alive! concert series in 2013. Today, construction is under way on the sound wall along Broadway Avenue, and the walls of Dunham Pavilion and Guest Services building are going up.

To learn more: Call (630) 256-3080 or visit www.aurora-il.org/riveredge_park.

7. Chicago Premium Outlets expansion.

Where it’s at: 1650 Premium Outlets Blvd., Aurora.

What it offers: The outlet mall near Interstate 88 and Farnsworth Avenue plans to add one more department store and 130,000 square feet of retail space to its existing 440,000 square feet. Mall officials haven’t announced specific stores yet, but they will expand on the “premium” brand names already there, including Coach, Kenneth Cole and Bose.

To learn more: Call (630) 585-2200. www.premiumoutlets.com/outlets/outlet.asp?id=63.

8. Fox Valley Park District amenities.

Where it’s at: The park district serves Aurora, Montgomery and North Aurora as well as several unincorporated areas. The district’s administrative office is at 101 W. Illinois Ave., Aurora.

What it offers: A $44.8 million renovation and construction plan is under way on trails, public facilities and athletic fields. Fox River waterfront preservation also is among dozens of park improvement projects. To learn more: Call (630) 897-0516 or visit www.foxvalleyparkdistrict.org.