From small towns to big-shouldered Chicago, there are plenty of things to do in Illinois for groups of all sizes
Chicago is an awe-inspiring city that has everything a group could want. Not far from Chicago are a host of other fabulous destinations that will delight groups as well. From Rockford to Schaumburg to Kankakee, pay a visit to Chicago and beyond and experience all the great things this region has to offer.
Duration: 4 Days
This itinerary is ideal for: Adults
Not-to-be-missed Illinois Activities:
- Anderson Japanese Garden
- Nicholas Conservatory & Gardens
- Chicago Premium Outlets
- Paramount Theatre
- Art Institute of Chicago
- Morton Arboretum
Day 1: Japanese Gardens, Botanic Garden and other Illinois Outdoor Things To Do
Begin your excursion in Rockford with a trip to the Anderson Japanese Gardens, one of the top Japanese gardens in North America. This 12-acre oasis includes two gardens, a pond strolling garden and a contemporary Garden of Reflection. It also contains waterfalls, ponds, coin basins and examples of Japanese carpentry.
Another popular Rockford attraction is the Nicholas Conservatory & Gardens, the third-largest conservatory in Illinois. Nicholas features an 11,000-square-foot plant exhibition area complete with water features and seating areas. Another fine option is the Klehm Arboretum and Botanic Garden in Rockford, where your group will view hundreds of different species of trees and plants along with many demonstrative gardens.
Enjoy lunch at the Stockholm Inn in Rockford, an iconic Swedish-American eatery known for delicious food and a homey atmosphere. Groups looking to explore northern Illinois can take a 25-mile drive to the town of Rochelle, where they can shop at quaint shops like Artists Garden, Bill’s Trading Post and Cheri Picked Vintage.
Take in a show at the Coronado Performing Arts Center, which has played host to artists, shows, concerts and events since 1927. This iconic Rockford venue is a place where history and entertainment unite. Those craving a warm and welcoming dinner establishment can visit Lino’s in Rockford, which serves pizza along with main courses of parmigiana, gnocchi, tortellini, and a range of steaks and seafood plates. With interesting decor and live jazz music, Lino’s is a memorable dining option.
Day 2: A President’s Boyhood Home, Easy-on-the-Wallet Shopping and an Illinois Brewery
Less than an hour from Rockford resides the city of Dixon, where groups can visit the Ronald Reagan Boyhood Home. Nestled near the Rock River, this historic landmark is the place where the beloved president was shaped.
Groups looking for a shopping outing can proceed to Aurora, home to Chicago Premium Outlets. This outdoor center has more than 170 stores including Adidas, Coach, Nike, Kate Spade New York and more. With amenities including fireplaces, art installations and a reflecting pond, Chicago Premium Outlets is a popular shopping destination.
Another nearby hot spot is Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg. One of the largest shopping destinations in the country, Woodfield Mall houses more than 2 million square feet of shops including Armani Exchange, Aveda, Coach, H&M, Macys and more.
For dinner, stop at Two Brothers Roundhouse in Aurora, a full-service brewpub, restaurant and music venue. Two Brothers feature one of the largest and most interesting beer gardens in the state. This historic 70,000-square-foot facility sports a roundhouse that was constructed in 1856 to serve Aurora on the Chicago & Aurora Railroad. The building is the oldest limestone roundhouse in the United States and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Cap the night with a stop at the historic Paramount Theatre in Aurora. Opened in 1931, the theater presents Broadway shows, concerts, comedy and more in a classic setting.
Day 3: World-class Art, a Classic Restaurant, Riverfront Casinos, Iconic Theaters and More Illinois Activities
Those seeking a trip to Chicago can visit the famous Art Institute of Chicago. One of the world’s oldest and largest art museums, the Art Institute houses a collection that spans centuries and the globe. Its permanent collection of nearly 300,000 works of art is augmented by more than 30 special exhibitions mounted yearly. For a hearty breakfast or lunch, stop at Lou Mitchell’s Restaurant in Chicago. This legendary diner was founded in 1923 and is located near the start of U.S. Route 66 and serves delicious coffee, pancakes, omelets, burgers and from-scratch diner food.
Declared “The world’s most perfect town,” George Pullman created one of the first racially diverse industrial communities when he launched the Pullman Palace Car Company in 1867 to manufacture luxury sleeping train cars. At the Pullman National Monument, groups will experience the interactive exhibits at the Administration Clock Tower Building, explore the factory grounds and tour Pullman homes. While in the historic district, groups can also see Hotel Florence, Greenstone Church and visit the A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum, which celebrates the contributions of porters and the experiences of the African American railroad worker.
Twenty-five miles west of Chicago is the city of Lisle, home to the Morton Arboretum, a 1,700-acre public garden and outdoor museum. Protecting more than 100 rare and endangered tree species, the arboretum’s grounds include more than 4,100 different plant species and more than 200,000 catalogued plants. Opened in 1922, the arboretum is celebrating its centennial anniversary this year.
Another afternoon option is a 46-mile trip south of Chicago to Joliet. This hearty city features two riverfront casinos (Hollywood Casino and Hotel and Harrah’s Casino) along with the Joliet Area Historical Museum. This historical museum documents the history of Joliet and surrounding Will County and features the Route 66 Welcome Center. Groups can tour the Old Joliet Prison and learn about its haunted history and how it was featured in the classic film The Blues Brothers.
Chicago is renowned for its Broadway-style shows and has a multitude of excellent options for groups to enjoy a live performance. The Cadillac Palace Theatre has been entertaining audiences since 1926 while the James M. Nederlander Theatre (also opened in 1926) at one time presented first-run motion pictures and now lights the stage with a variety of fun theater shows.
Day 4: Handmade Quilts, a Frank Lloyd Wright Home and an Illinois Railroad Museum
A trip south to Kankakee will take groups to a charming area where more than 50 decorative barn quilts welcome visitors to explore Kankakee County’s scenic countryside. Take a guided tour of these 8-foot-by 8-foot quilt patters at select homesteads across the area.
Another noteworthy Kankakee stop is the B. Harley Bradley House, the first house designed by famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright in his famous Prairie Style. The riverfront house, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, is adored by architecture fans from around the world. The Kankakee Railroad Museum was founded in 1999 and features large operating model train displays and railroad memorabilia housed in a restored train depot.
For more travel ideas, download our current issue of Leisure Travel Guide.