Nestled along the Fox River in Chicago’s western suburbs, the cities of Elgin and South Elgin are some of the area’s most picturesque communities.
Home to lots of greenspaces and nature preserves, as well as scenic architecture that’s a vibrant mix of old and new, these neighborhoods are known for being unique and independent, while still offering easy access to Chicago by way of Metra, Pace bus, or expressway.
So, what should be on your “bucket list” of things to do in these charming communities? Here are ten of the can’t miss experiences that make Elgin and South Elgin stand out:
1.) Step Back In Time at the Fox River Trolley Museum
Electric trolleys and trains were a common sight across Chicagoland just a few generations ago — and now, the Fox River Trolley Museum is keeping their spirit alive! Visitors to the museum can experience what it was like to ride on a trolley car first-hand as they take a scenic trip aboard a genuine old-time trolley car, dating back to the 1920s. Guests can also charter trains out of the museum, and the institution holds special events throughout the year, including a Halloween-themed “Ghost Story Train” and several holiday celebrations in the wintertime.
To learn more about the Fox River Trolley Museum and its mission of education through demonstration, you can visit its official site, here.
2.) Get a Glimpse of One of Illinois’ Most Secluded Waterfalls
Tucked away in the Jon J. Duerr Forest Preserve in South Elgin is one of the area’s only natural waterfalls. Dubbed the Blackhawk Waterfall, this 8-foot high natural waterfall feeds into a picturesque creek, and is a calming and inspiring place to enjoy the beauty of nature. While searching for this secluded spot, be sure to enjoy the other natural wonders of the forest preserve, which is a prime destination for peaceful outdoor activities like fishing, birdwatching, and picnicking.
3.) Eat and Play at Grand Victoria Casino
Conveniently located on the banks of the Fox River, the Grand Victoria Casino offers not only unbeatable Fox Valley views, but endless entertainment. The casino is home to more than 1100 slot machines, as well as a wide variety of Vegas-style table games. The Grand Victoria regularly hosts live entertainment throughout the year, and the complex is home to four unique restaurants, including a winding buffet, a spot serving up freshly grilled burgers, and an award-winning steakhouse and lounge.
Want to plan a trip to this Chicagoland destination for dining, gaming, and entertainment? You can learn more about Grand Victoria here.
4.) Enjoy a Ball Game at Trout Park
Part baseball stadium, part lush green nature preserve, Trout Park is one of those unique destinations that you’ll only find in Elgin. Today known for drawing crowds to watch high school, college, and international teams, Trout Park has been home to America’s pastime since the early 1900s, when it became the home of Elgin’s first professional baseball team, The Kittens. Prior to that, Trout Park was the site of one of Chicagoland’s most thrilling amusement parks. In addition to its active baseball complex, the park draws crowds today thanks to its impressive natural sites, including a unique fen made up of white cedar trees.
To learn more about Trout Park, you can visit its official City of Elgin page, available here.
5.) Explore Elgin’s Historic Architecture
Elgin is a community that has always grown and changed with the times, while still hanging onto its historic charms. Today, Elgin’s architecture is a rich reminder of this Chicagoland community’s storied past. Throughout the Elgin area, you’ll find several different historic districts, comprised of all sorts of houses — from farmhouses, to Queen Annes, to mid-century modern marvels. Elgin’s Downtown Commercial District, which has been named on the National Register of Historic Places, features the stunning gothic architecture of the Elgin Professional Building, and the Art Deco-inspired Elgin Tower Building. The community is also home to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Muirhead Farmhouse, the only known farmhouse designed and built by this Chicagoland architecture icon. You can organize your own personal walking tour to get a glimpse of Elgin’s most inspiring buildings, or explore the area as part of the Historic Elgin House Tour or the annual Open Elgin festival.
6.) Work Up a Sweat at the Elgin Sports Complex
Looking to get active? The Elgin Sports Complex is one of the area’s best destinations for enjoying a game with friends and family. The dog-friendly campus is home to an impressive number of facilities, including ten lighted softball and baseball fields, ten full-size soccer pitches, two sand volleyball courts, and one of the most famous BMX race tracks in the Chicagoland area.
7.) Meet Local Wildlife at Lords Park Zoo
Nestled in the south side of Lords Park, you’ll find one of Elgin’s biggest draws, the Lords Park Zoo. This local institution offers visitors the chance to get up close and personal with some of the area’s most iconic wildlife, including buffalo, elk, and white tail deer. The zoo also regularly hosts farm animals, including pigs, sheep, llamas, and donkeys. And don’t forget to enjoy everything else that Lords Park has to offer! This 108-acre regional park boasts playgrounds, basketball courts, tennis courts, picnic areas, wooded nature trails, and a large aquatic center — everything you need for a great day in the great outdoors.
8.) See a Show at the Hemmens Cultural Center
Looking to enjoy the magic of live music, theater, and comedy? The Elgin area’s premier arts complex, the Hemmens Cultural Center boasts a 1,200-seat theater. Over the years, the center has hosted events featuring artists ranging from B.B. King to Bob Newhart. Throughout the year, the Hemmens is home to the Elgin Symphony Orchestra, one of the Chicago area’s largest and most awarded professional orchestras, as well as the Elgin Summer Theatre and the GreenRoom Improv ensemble.
To see a schedule or plan your visit, be sure to check out the Hemmens Cultural Center’s official site, here.
9.) Embrace Your Artistic Side
Throughout Elgin and South Elgin, you’ll find art around every corner. These communities are home to some truly impressive places to discover local artists and even start creating work of your own. Elgin is home to Side Street Studio Arts, which has been providing classes, gallery spaces, and art events to the Elgin community since 2013. Elsewhere around the area, you’ll find eclectic local artwork on display at Funky Rooster Tattoo & Art Gallery, and an ever-changing selection of work at the Draewell Gallery of Art on the Judson University campus. A Glass Act is one of Chicaogland’s premier destinations to view and craft stained glass works, and the River Trading Post is known throughout the region for its impressive gallery of vintage and modern Native American artwork.
10.) Learn About Chicagoland’s History at the Elgin Public Museum
The only natural history museum in the Fox Valley area, the Elgin Public Museum has been operating since 1907. Today, the museum is a local treasure, connecting visitors with Chicagoland’s past through exhibits that explore the area’s ecosystems, wildlife, geology, and sociology, dating all the way back to the Ice Age. The museum also boasts regularly rotating gallery exhibitions, and hosts educational parties and community events throughout the year.
To learn more about the Public Museum or plan your visit, you can read on at its official site, here.