Open Spaces, Great Shopping, Crowd-pleasing Sights and Attractive Hotel Options Await Groups in the Suburbs of Chicago
Perched on the doorstep of the Big City, suburban Chicago makes a safe, secure and affordable base of operations for fun-seeking tour groups. From just south of the city limits to Illinois’ far northeastern corner, the suburbs abound with reasonably priced hotels and ample free space for motorcoaches, not to mention a bounty of things to see and do—all within an easy drive from downtown Chicago on interstate highways.
Tour planners, moreover, can rest assured that their group’s health and safety are important to tourism partners throughout the metropolitan region. Illinois is open for business and has strictly followed CDC guidelines from the outset of the pandemic.
Everyone these days is looking for fresh air and elbow room, and suburban communities beckon with outdoor attractions that connect people with nature. Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe offers 27 gardens and four natural areas that can be seen on a tram tour or leisurely stroll. Or groups can commune with plants and flowers at Lake Katherine Nature Center & Botanic Gardens in Palos Heights. World-renowned Nathan Manilow Sculpture Park features more than 30 large-scale art pieces sited across a prairie landscape on the campus of Governors State University in University Park.
Forest preserves and two state parks (Chain O’ Lakes and Illinois Beach) provide acres and acres of greenspace for picnics, hiking and other outdoor fun in Chicagoland. At Busse Woods in Elk Grove Village, you can visit a herd of elk or rent a canoe, kayak or rowboat on Busse Lake.
The area’s agricultural heritage is on display at historic Stellwagen Farm in Orland Park. Navigate your way through the “World’s Largest Corn Maze” at Richardson Adventure Farm in Spring Grove. Groups at Lambs Farm in Libertyville can shop in the pet shop and thrift store, pet animals and experience its mission of helping developmentally disabled adults. At Tempel Farms in Old Mill Creek, see a performance of the Tempel Lipizzans and then meet the majestic white stallions in their stables.
Suburban Chicago boasts two massive indoor shopping centers—Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg and Gurnee Mills in Gurnee. Woodfield Mall, boasting a new dining pavilion and nearly 300 stores covering more than 2 million feet, is Illinois’ top tourist attraction. Nearby are the Streets of Woodfield mall, plus one of the largest IKEA stores in the country.
For boutique and specialty shopping, there’s Downtown Arlington Heights, Downtown Roselle, Historic Downtown Long Grove, Main Street Libertyville, Frankfort Historic District, Old Orland Historic District and Downtown Homewood. Mitsuwa Japanese Marketplace in Arlington Heights, with a food court and variety of stores, is the largest Asian market in the Midwest. Bargains galore lure groups to Swap O Rama Flea Market, Chicagoland’s largest indoor/outdoor flea market.
The suburbs of Chicago offer many educational tours that reveal how things are produced. Groups, for example, can explore Thornton Quarry, a 410-million-year-old fossil reef that ranks as one of the world’s largest limestone quarries. In Chicago’s historic Pullman neighborhood, tours can be arranged at Method Soap Factory, which makes products ranging from hand soaps and body washes to floor cleaners and laundry detergents. Chocolate lovers find heaven on tours of Long Grove Confectionery Co. At Lynfred Winery in Roselle, guests get a lesson on how wine is made, take a tour and learn about food pairings. Tours of Lotton Art Glass Gallery & Studios in Crete focus on the art of glassblowing. The Amazon Tour is fun and futuristic as you learn about the ordering process from A to Z, including robotics, engineering and packaging. Located in Mundelein the Peter Patterson Glassworks offers demonstrations and hands-on classes for groups.
Suburban Chicago has its own vibrant sports scene. Catch a minor league baseball game at Ozinga Field in Crestwood, home of the Windy City Thunderbolts, or see the Schaumburg Boomers play at Wintrust Field. Bridgeview’s SeatGeek Stadium hosts the new Chicago House Athletic Club professional soccer team (starting in August 2021) and Chicago Red Stars professional women’s soccer club. Arlington Park International Racecourse in Arlington Heights is one of the Midwest’s premier Thoroughbred racing venue.
Be a participant and revel in the party atmosphere at brand new Topgolf Schaumburg, a high-tech complex featuring games in climate-controlled hitting bays overlooking a vast outfield with dartboard-like targets in the ground. A driving range on steroids, it’s a golfer’s paradise and lots of fun for non-golfers as well, with food and beverages, music and an outdoor patio. For the real deal, check out the suburbs’ many golf offerings, including Schaumburg Golf Club, Eagle Ridge Resort Golf Course, Cog Hill Golf & Country Club in Palos Park, Ravisloe Country Club in Homewood and Crane’s Landing Golf Club at Lincolnshire Marriott Resort, to name just a few. For something truly unique, try footgolf at Salt Creek Golf Club in Wood Dale.
Group members can test their skills at axe-throwing and go-karting at Mokena’s Accelerate Indoor Speedway & Events. They can exercise their minds at places like Mastermind Escape Games and Odyssey Escape Game, both in Schaumburg.
Suburban Chicago abounds with theaters and other showplaces. The Lake Michigan shore in Highland Park is home to the internationally famous Ravinia Festival, the country’s oldest music festival. It has lawn and pavilion seating for a season of summer concerts starring the biggest names in a variety of music genres. Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre in Tinley Park is another outdoor music venue that welcomes tour buses.
Comedy clubs include IMPROV Chicago at Woodfield Mall and Laugh Out Loud Theater at the Streets of Woodfield. The Second City traveling group makes appearances at Metropolis Performing Arts Centre in Downtown Arlington Heights. Marriott Lincolnshire Resort’s in-the-round Marriott Theatre, the largest subscribed theater in the country, stages time-tested musicals.
Groups can combine stage shows and thrill rides at Six Flags Great America in Gurnee, one of the Midwest’s top theme parks. Adjacent to Six Flags, which boasts 17 roller coasters, is Caribbean-themed water park Hurricane Harbor.
Museums and historical attractions also spice up tour itineraries in the suburbs of Chicago. Sanfilippo Estate in Barrington Hills, open to group tours only, showcases an eclectic collection of antique music machines and other mechanical oddities. Groups touring the sumptuous private home, known as Place de la Musique, also enjoy a mini organ concert and the new Perfume Passage Museum. Cuneo Mansion and Gardens in Vernon Hills is another beautiful home tour. Among many other museums are the National Museum of the American Sailor at Great Lakes Naval Station and Volo Auto Museum, a treasure chest of classic and celebrity cars in Volo.
At Chicago’s Pullman National Monument, a landmark district just a short drive from the southern suburbs, walking tours shed light on the planned industrial town where Pullman sleeper cars were manufactured in the 19th century. Several rail fan locations in southern suburbia provide great views of trains running through the region, while tales of escaping slaves on a different kind of railroad come alive on Underground Railroad tours that include two designated sites on the National Park Service’s Network to Freedom. In North Barrington, visitors can indulge in the fantasy world of miniature trains in the garden of Wandering Tree Estate and meet its creator, Elaine “Train Lady” Silets.
Groups can time-travel to the days of yore at Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament in Schaumburg, enjoying a four-course banquet served by serfs and wenches while cheering on jousting knights on horseback inside an 11th century-style castle. Touring the grounds of Gothic-style Bettendorf Castle, a real castle built in 1931 by a Luxembourgian immigrant in Fox River Grove, is a privilege extended to private groups.
Good times and good deals await tour groups amid the open spaces far removed from the skyscrapers and urban frenzy of the Big City.