I was in Champaign/Urbana earlier this month for the Penn State/Illinois football game. Having never been to C/U before, I tried to find some information on TripAdvisor in advance of the weekend. I found a few helpful hints, but wanted to post my experience in case others are looking for similar information.
Our traveling party consisted of 3 guys coming from Wash DC (2) and Philly (1). We all flew into Chicago/Midway early Fri morning (10/2) and rented a car through Thrifty. No problem meeting up with each other when we arrived, and securing the car was quick/easy. Total cost for a midsize car from Fri morning to Sun morning was $150 total (included pre-paid gas). Car rental is on-site at Midway...no need to take a shuttle to pick up the car.
Smooth and easy ride from Chicago to C/U. It takes some time getting out of Chicago (lots of lights), but once you get on the highway it is literally open road. We stopped for breakfast at a restaurant called The Loft right off the Ashcum exit (about an hour north of C/U). Local place with good, cheap food. Made it to C/U in 2 1/2 hours.
We stayed at the Motel 6 in Urbana, on Cunningham Rd just off Rt. 74. We arrived a little after noon, but the room wasn't ready and they wouldn't let us complete the paperwork or secure the keys. They told us check-in is 3pm, and it seems they are pretty strict about that.
Drove to Memorial Stadium to look around and get a sense of what the tailgating was going to be like. Took less than 10 minutes to drive from the motel to the stadium. We tried to walk into Assembly Hall (basketball facility across from Memorial Stadium), but there was an event scheduled for that evening and they wouldn't let anyone in.
Drove to the CampusTown area for some lunch and liquid refreshments. Easy to get into CampusTown, but tough to find parking. There was some side-street metered parking, and one lot where you pay in advance, but we didn't find any multi-level parking garages. It was busy when we got there (lunch crowd), but we got lucky and found a spot in the pay-in-advance lot (~$1.25/hour). Otherwise, we would have been feeding the meters. However, once you park your car you can walk everywhere.
We had lunch at Murphy's. Good burgers/onion rings, and a plentiful selection of beer. Prices were reasonable ($12/pitcher for Fat Tire; $8 for burgers/rings) and they had a number of specials. It's a big place, with lots of TVs and a few pool tables. We spent a good 3+ hours here.
Walked across the street to Brothers, but they don't open until 8pm. Instead, we walked to Legends. Again, multiple beer options with some good specials. Seemed to be a fun environment, and we ran into a number of other PSU fans here. Spent 2+ hours here.
Drove back to the hotel (10 minute ride) to check in and freshen up. The Motel 6 is exactly what you'd expect: no frills and bare bones. The room was clean and the beds comfortable. Plenty of parking available. They had a number of detailed maps of the area available in the lobby, as well as flyers/brochures of local attractions. Total cost for 1 room for two nights was $90. If you're planning to spend a lot of time in the hotel, this is NOT the place for you. If you want a place to lay your head for a few hours at night, you won't find a better bargain.
We realized we'd be better off using a cab for the rest of the night, and there were cards available in the lobby. Our cab arrived within 15 minutes of our call.
We went to downtown Champaign for dinner and more refreshments. The cab dropped us off at Firehaus; ride cost $9. Firehaus is a brewpub and does not have food, so we went to the restaurant just down the sidewalk (can't remember the name). They have outdoor seating under a heated awning and a good beer selection. Two of the guys had individual pizzas (very good) and one had a salami sandwich (awful). With a few beers each, the bill came to ~$25/person.
We asked some locals for ideas for the evening, and they suggested a bar called Fat City...less than a mile from the restaurant and pretty direct. We stopped at the Tumble Inn on our way for a few beers...was a nice way to break up the 15-minute walk.
Fat City was well marked, and the cover was $7/each. They had a band playing, and beer was $2/bottle. Good crowd of young adults. We stayed here until midnight then called the cab, He arrived in less than 15 minutes, and the ride back to the hotel was $9.
Saturday (10/3) was game day. We were at the stadium by 9am. We had printed off a map of the stadium and surrounding lots in advance, so we knew where we needed to go. Cost to park was $20. It seemed pretty unorganized when we arrived...you could park anywhere within the lot. As the traffic got heavier throughout the day, it became more structured. You park in a field, so be prepared if it rains...it will be sloppy. Note that most of the lots are for season ticket holders w/ parking passes, so make sure you know where you can park upon arrival.
Very good tailgating experience all around. Lots of multi-vehicle tailgates with tents, grills, beerpong tables, cornhole, etc. They even allow open fire pits (something strictly prohibited at PSU). All the people we came in contact with were friendly, and the group next to us invited us to whatever food they had available. We really enjoyed the 5+ hours we spent here before the game.
The walk from our lot (east side of the stadium) to Memorial Stadium was ~10 minutes and very direct...one road right up to the stadium entrance. Perhaps we weren't paying as much attention as we should, but we found it somewhat difficult to find our section. We had to stop and ask at least twice, but all the attendants were helpful and friendly.
Our seats were in the southwest corner of the stadium. Even though we were in the corner of the endzone, we could still see everything quite well and watch the plays develop. Cost of the tickets were $60/each purchased through the Illinois ticket office...a fair value.
The game experience was very good. The fans were respectful, and the food was good and priced accordingly. Bathrooms were clean and -- other than halftime -- there was never a line or any kind of a wait. Easy to get out of the stadium after the game was over.
We tailgated for a couple hours after the game, then headed back to the hotel to shower and get ready for the evening. We ate sandwiches in the room, then called the cab. It arrived in less than 10 minutes, and the ride to the Tumble Inn was $9. We had a few beers there, then walked to Fat City (another $7/person cover charge) for another enjoyable evening of live music and cheap ($2) beer. Called it a night a 1:30am and the cab picked us up and drove us back to the hotel ($9).
Up at 6am on Sunday (10/3) for the ride back to Chicago. No traffic to speak of, and made it to Midway in 2 hours (no stops). No problem dropping off the car. Check-in and security was quick and easy, and we had time for breakfast after passing through security. We all made our scheduled flights on time.
Thanks for letting me share, and hope this was helpful for some.