If you are anything like me, the holiday season is a time for exploring close to home. It’s about supporting local, appreciating where we live, and finding traditions we can repeat year after year. That is why mid-November through early January is one of my favorite seasons to grab the family and head out on a Midwest road trip.

Each year we find a new place that really knocks Christmas out of the park, and this year it’s Rockford! I am already a gushing fan of this unexpectedly sustainable city, but I had no idea how magical the holidays in Rockford would be.

Stroll on State is a Mini Midwest Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade

It only makes sense that would we be lured into Rockford on Small Business Saturday, a day dedicated to giving a giant nod to all things local. Rockford gives us plenty of reasons to spend our cash close to home. 

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Stroll on State is a free holiday festival in its 11th year, featuring a day full of outdoor activities in the refreshing winter air. You’ll definitely want to don a Santa hat, and your ugliest Christmas sweater to efficiently absorb the good vibes and infectious widespread cheer!

A day at Rockford’s annual Stroll on State looks like this:

Noon - Dasher Dash, a casual or serious 5k (that is up to you), of jingle-belled runners cascading through the streets spreading cheer for all to hear!

2 p.m. - The Stroll on State Parade is a mini–Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade featuring numerous big balloons, floats, bands, and dancing troops igniting the holiday spirit

3 – 9 p.m. After the parade, explore downtown Rockford as a pedestrian zone filled with over 25+ unique holiday attractions including photo ops, gift markets, food trucks, music stages, skating rinks, fire pits, horse wagon rides, s’mores stations, and more.

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6 p.m. Gather ‘round the Main Street Christmas Tree for a local tree lighting ceremony beautifully mimicking Times Square, full of crowds, commotions, live music, and holiday buzz

8:30 p.m. Grab a cocoa and viewing spot facing the Jefferson Street Bridge for a spectacular fireworks display reflecting on the Rock River

9 p.m. Plan in advance to stay the night at Embassy Suites Rockford Riverfront Hotel, you cannot miss the hotel along the water dressed up like a giant Christmas gift. And you will be so happy it’s within walking distance of all things Stroll on State.

More Jolly Things to do in Rockford for the Holidays

Before you head out on the road, pause for all of these don’t-miss festive attractions to add to your Christmas in Rockford road trip. We’re talking about a super-sized Christmas store, free drive through Christmas lights, and an old-fashioned Christmas tree farm!

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Ambrose Christmas Store

Ho ho ho your way to this holiday warehouse located in Loves Park, just 5 miles north of downtown Rockford. You cannot miss it, since this year-round Christmas store is flanked by a giant Santa statue waving you in from the parking lot. Outside, you will be further greeted by whimsical holiday windows before heading inside to room after room of decorated trees, wreaths, ornaments, and all things Christmas decor.

Whether you want to spend a little or a lot, it is worth stopping for a look. Ornaments can be as affordable as five dollars right alongside statues and trees well into the hundreds.

The Ambrose Christmas Store is typically open Monday-Saturday 9 a.m.- 5 p.m.

Sinnissippi Festival of Lights

The iconic Sinnissippi Park hosts a free drive thru lights festival from November 24th through December 31st, 2024. Just set your compass to 1401 N Second Street and follow the signs to enjoy the lights. Help keep this Rockford tradition alive by making a cash donation at the site or online.

Sinnissippi Festival of Lights hours:

Thursday-Sunday 5  -11 p.m through December 17th

Monday, December 18th thru Saturday December 23, 5  - 11 p.m.

December 24th and December 25th, 24 hours

December 26 - December 30th, 5 -11 p.m.

New Year’s Eve - 5 p.m. - Midnight

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Williams Tree Farm

Create your own Hallmark movie moments right in Rockford by visiting a family-owned Christmas tree farm. Williams Tree Farm is located in Rockton, about 20 miles north of downtown Rockford. You can cut your own tree here (saws, wagon ride, hauling, and wrapping are all provided) for $22-128 dollars or buy a pre-cut tree for $11-13 per foot.

Williams Tree Farm is sold out for the 2023 season.