Second to none

February 2021 View more

Phillips Park Zoo

Aurora is the second-most populous city and has the second-largest Latino community in Illinois. Though in these two particular cases it ranks second to Chicago, Naperville’s western neighbor should be first on your list to rediscover on a future visit.

Just ask Karina Y. Garcia of the Aurora Regional Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. “Aurora is such a welcoming community,” says Garcia, who grew up in Bolingbrook and West Chicago and moved to Aurora in 2000. She has served as the chamber’s president and CEO since 2013 and has overseen its expansion beyond Aurora’s borders to other nearby communities.

“Downtown Aurora has thrived so much within the past couple of years, and there are so many stores you can visit,” Garcia says. One that has a special place in her heart is Muebleria Sergio (36 W. Downers Pl., 630.264.1172). “The owners have always been very welcoming, and about two years ago, they gave my dad the opportunity to start promoting and selling Mexican clothing and set up a little space for him in the store,” she says. “My dad passed away last year, but the owner has continued it.” It’s a go-to destination for anything you’d need to celebrate Mexican holidays, from Day of the Dead skulls to flags for Mexican Independence Day.

On the other side of the Fox River, La Quinta de los Reyes (36 E. New York St., 630.859.4000, is another downtown favorite. “It is the largest Mexican restaurant here in Aurora,” Garcia says. Her go-to dish is the carne a la tampiqueña, marinated steak served with greens, pico de gallo, guacamole, and beans. “And they are obviously very well known for their margaritas.”

Aurora Regional Fire Museum

One of Garcia’s most beloved family-friendly destinations in Aurora is Phillips Park Zoo (1000 Ray Moses Dr., 630.256.3860, “I have been taking my kids there since they were little,” Garcia says. Admission is free and it’s sized just right for short attention spans. “Even though it’s small, I think sometimes taking kids to a bigger place … maybe after 20 minutes you start to lose them,” she says. As of press time, the zoo was temporarily closed with plans to reopen in phase 5 of the Restore Illinois reopening plan.

When state guidelines permit theaters and museums to reopen, Garcia recommends visiting the historic Paramount Theatre (23 E. Galena Blvd., 630.896.6666,, the Aurora Regional Fire Museum (53 N. Broadway, 630.256.4140, located in Aurora’s old Central Fire Station, and SciTech Hands On Museum
(18 W. Benton St., 630.859.3434, “The fire museum is like magic for the kids. They can walk around and experience what it is like to be a fireman,” Garcia says. “And the Paramount just has the best plays ever.”

Photos by Amy Nelson (Fire Museum) and David Sharos/ The Beacon-News (Phillips Park Zoo)