15 Best Things to Do in Bloomington, IL

Bloomington, IL
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The prospect of a two-in-one visit looms as a possibility if you’re planning a pleasure trip to the city of Bloomington in central Illinois.

Normal, the town wedged to the city’s north, was once North Bloomington but later evolved as a separate jurisdiction in the 1830s.

This split came as the Normal University in North Bloomington dramatically transformed from a teachers’ school to a multi-course Illinois State University.

Other elements in Bloomington’s rich history contributed much in shaping various points of interest for visitors.

Bloomington was founded in 1831 and incorporated as the seat of McClean County.

The Bloomington Downtown that soon rapidly developed drew the likes of the then-young attorney Abraham Lincoln.

Traders and business people also came in hordes to set up shop in Bloomington Downtown, contributing much toward grooming the city’s magnets for visitors.

The vibe of a historic city, its bike-friendly trails and roads to picturesque countryside spots are but a few samplings of what’s in store in a visit to Bloomington.

Find out more on this list of the top things to do in Bloomington.

Brush Up on History at the McLean County Museum

Exterior of the McLean County Museum
Michael from Palatine, Illinois, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Old McLean County Courthouse on North Main Street is home to this museum at a public square in the historic Bloomington Central Business District.

Built between 1901 and 1903, the courthouse flaunts American Renaissance architectural style in its domed structure.

Aptly, the courthouse-turned-museum and its home district are both listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

A tilbury flash plane displayed inside the McLean County Museum
Stephaniepier, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The award-winning McLean County Museum of History is an offshoot of the 1892 founding of the McLean County Historical Society.

The museum gathers the society’s vast collection in seven exhibit galleries chronicling the times of Abraham Lincoln.

The museum contains over 20,000 artifacts and lends more than 15,000 rare books on local history and genealogy.

Shop and Dine at Bloomington Commons

The quadrants of Historic US 66 and Illinois State Route 6 are hosts to the major shopping and dining hubs of McClean County.

Bloomington Commons is the flagship in this area, providing a 188,250-square-foot shopping center anchored on Barnes & Noble, Schnucks Grocery, JoAnn Fabrics, and Chuck E Cheese.

Another retail hub, Eastland Mall, is directly across the street and features Kohl’s, JCPenney, Bergner’s, and Sears.

Competing for attention, too, the nearby Shoppes at College Hills Mall have Target, Von Maur, and Hobby Lobby among its tenants.

Another shopping mall in this Bloomington area, Empire Crossing boasts 27 stores, including OshKosh B'gosh, DICK'S Sporting Goods, and HomeGoods.

Tour the David Davis Mansion

Entry way to David Davis Mansion
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This Victorian-era mansion was the former residence of Abe Lincoln’s mentor David Davis who was also a Supreme Court Justice and an Illinois senator.

Also called the Clover Lawn, this restored mansion is also a museum and listed on the National Register of Historic Places and also designated as National Historic Landmark.

The circa 1872 David Davis Mansion stands out in its residential neighborhood on Bloomington's near-south side.

David Davis Mansion with lawn, benches and trees in the foreground
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It is impressive with its yellow brick three-story structure, featuring 36 rooms in an Italianate villa style.

The mansion's yard includes a barn and stable, an 1872 wood house, foaling shed, privies, carriage barn, and a flower and ornamental cutting garden.

Events, like vintage car shows on the property, are also hosted in the David Davis Mansion.

Exterior view of David Davis Mansion
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View the Grandeur of the Ewing Manor

This majestic mansion, located on Sunset Road off Towanda Avenue and Emerson Street, is open for architectural tours.

It was completed in 1929 and was built in the Channel-Norman architectural style.

Ewing Mansion’s grounds are as impressive in its Genevieve Green Gardens.

The garden’s design came from the drawing boards of the noted landscape architect Jens Jensen who was also the designer of the Lincoln Memorial Gardens in Springfield,

The theatre on the mansion grounds hosts the prestigious Illinois Shakespeare Festival each summer.

Watch out, too, for the October ShakesFEAR, a haunted tour of the Ewing Mansion grounds with Shakespeare’s ghoulish characters.

Make-Believe You’re a Pilot at the Prairie Aviation Museum

Planes in front of the Prairie Aviation Museum
Eric Friedebach, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Set your visit to this museum on the third Saturday of summer/fall months for its event Open Cockpit Days.

This family-friendly event allows visitors of the museum to board the aircraft cockpits of the planes on its outdoor Airpark.

The static aircraft display in the Prairie Aviation Museum, located on East Empire Street, includes nine military planes and two helicopters.

During Open Cockpit Days, a Convair 880 simulator is also on display, plus exhibits on one piston and three jet engines.

The museum also maintains three indoor exhibit areas to support its public education programs on aviation and aerospace.

The indoor exhibits include a scale model of the Hiroshima bomber Enola Gay with autographs of its pilot and navigator.

Enjoy Family Fun at Miller Park

Besides its fishing lake on its southern side, Miller Park features many other family-friendly facilities.

It has a zoo with exciting animals like snow leopards, Sumatran tiger, red wolves, lemurs, Galapagos tortoise, river otters, red pandas, flamingos, and bald eagles.

Similarly, family activity in Miller Park is provided in its playground, mini-golf course, and sand volleyball courts.

The park also features two war memorials, a preserved steam locomotive, and a caboose that formerly served the Bloomington area.

Miller Park hosts local theater productions during summer, as well as fireworks on the 4th of July celebrations.

Explore the Constitution Trail

Long narrow paved road with trees on both the sides
Mauro Andre / Shutterstock.com

This trail helps explain why Bloomington and its neighboring town Normal are known as the Twin Cities.

The Constitution Trail is a Bloomington-Normal joint project to commemorate the 200th promulgation anniversary of the US Constitution in 1987.

This paved trail covers more than 45 miles, mainly covering the stretch of the old Illinois Central Gulf Railroad.

It is open to bikers, in-line skaters, runners, walkers, wheelchair users, and riders of non-motorized transportation modes.

Access to Constitution Trail is easy because of its numerous connections and trailheads with parking areas.

Along the trail route, there are water fountains, restrooms, benches, picnic tables, and shelters.

Stretches of the Constitution Trail are cleared of snow to make it accessible during the winter months.

Roll On at the Bloomington Skatepark

Skateboarders visiting Bloomington will enjoy O'Neil Park on West Chestnut Street.

The Bloomington Skatepark, after all, is one of the facilities in this 18.7-acre park.

Completed in 2008, this skatepark combines all the elements of different skateboarding styles.

It sends skateboarders on a continuous circular flow and provides ramps ranging from 1.5 feet to 6 feet in height.

They can also perfect their technical tricks on the skatepark’s free-standing obstacles.

If skateboarding isn’t your cup of tea, O’Neil Park provides other facilities like a swimming pool, courts for tennis and basketball, a softball diamond, and a football field.

Visiting families can also enjoy the park’s picnic facilities and playground equipment.

Pick Fresh Produce at the Bloomington Farmers’ Market

Stick to a healthy diet in a visit to Bloomington, with the purchase of fresh produce from the Downtown Bloomington Farmers’ Market.

Its outdoor market is held on the side streets of the Historic Downtown Square every Saturday from 7:30 a.m. till noon from May to October.

From November to April, with the same schedule, the Bloomington Farmers’ Market goes indoors at the Grossinger Motors Arena on South Madison Street, a few blocks south of the public square.

This weekly market is a producer-only retail event offering a wide array of local farm products.

Here, you can buy direct from local producers and growers of vegetables, plants, flowers, fruits, cheeses, poultry, eggs, and herbs, among other farm items.

Pick a Bloomington Lake for Fishing

Bloomington Lake surrounded by trees
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The city of Bloomington has several public park lakes where, with a license, you can fish for largemouth and smallmouth bass, trout, and channel catfish.

One great choice for fishing is at the 11-acre Anglers Lake Nature Preserve on South Mercer Street.

Besides fishing, this park also has access to the Constitution Trail and flaunts native Illinois prairie and forest ecosystems.

Fishing is also good at the 13.8-acre Miller Park Lake off Morris Avenue.

Here, a catchable trout program is being sponsored by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

Other lake fishing spots within the city limits of Bloomington include the 6-acre Holiday Park Lake on the city’s southeast edge and White Oak Park on North Cottage.

Splash with Fun in Bloomington Aquatics

Have a tankful of fun in Bloomington’s facilities for aquatics in several parks of the city.

The Bloomington Parks, Recreation & Cultural Arts Department, for one, runs an inviting outdoor swimming pool at Holiday Park on South McGregor Street.

The Holiday Pool of the park boasts a zero-depth children’s pool with a spray feature and a small waterslide.

Its main aquatic facility, a 25-meter, six-lane pool with a deep end, also has a water slide.

Splashpads with a variety of spray features are also provided in several Bloomington parks.

Tipton Park, a 50-acre linear park on Stone Mountain Road, provides this facility that activates spray features when you touch a sensor.

Ride the Roller-Coaster of Grady's Family Fun Park

This amusement park, located on Morrisey Drive, has an Orient Express Roller Coaster as one of its attractions.

Family-owned and operated, Grady's Family Fun Park also features go-karts, bumper boats and cars, mini-golf, and batting cages.

Besides its roller-coaster, this fun park also offers adult rides, including Tilt-A-Whirl, Family Sizzler, Round Up, and Paratrooper.

Kids, on the other hand, can choose from Jump N Star, Western Train, Himalaya, Dragon Wagon, Tea Cups, Red Baron Airplane, Motorcycle Jump, Merry-Go-Round, Jr. Ferris Wheel, and Super Fun Slide.

Grady's Family Fun Park is also known in Bloomington for its pizza parlor operating since 1959 and grew out of its recipe for a delicious pizza with a sweet sauce.

Test the Fairways of the Highland Park Golf Course

Aerial view of Highland Park Golf Course during flood
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Par busters visit Bloomington to test their shot-making skills on the narrow fairways and small greens of the Highland Park Golf Course on South Main Street.

This layout was built in the 1930s, and the trees lining its fairways have matured, thus enhancing the natural beauty of the well-groomed course.

A scenic creek traverses the hilly terrain of the Highland Park Golf Course, adding to the pleasure of those who score birdies on its holes.

Par 70 is the regulation round in this 5,539-yard course with a rating of 66.9 and a slope rating of 111 on Bent grass.

Cart and golf club rentals are available at the Highland Park Golf Course.

Hunt for Souvenirs at Inside Out: Accessible Art and Art Cooperative

Bloomington takes pride in The Inside Out: Accessible Art Gallery and Cooperative on West Monroe Street.

Its member boutiques and galleries offer diverse motifs high-quality artwork at reasonable prices.

The art sales of this cooperative are complemented by events and classes open to the public.

Visit this cooperative for an opportunity to learn in its paint pouring fest, weaving, and bracelet making.

Bring the Kids to Normal's Children's Discovery Museum

Kids will enjoy this museum specifically catering to their playful interests.

Located on East Beaufort Street, Normal’s Children’s Museum provides hands-on learning from its three interactive exhibits.

Kids visiting this museum can choose from an array of free science activities offered daily in its FETCH! Lab.

They can try creating a masterpiece too in the museum’s art studio or on a giant paint wall.

The kids will also enjoy climbing the two-story Luckey Climber of the museum.

Another fun-filled experience comes in the museum’s agriculture exhibit, AgMazing.

Here, the kids harvest corn, feed the cows, or drive a combine.

With their parents, the children will enjoy exploring Healthy Kids-Healthy Future with a Fresh Market and Healthy Pizza.

Final Thoughts

There’s much to enjoy and discover in a visit to Bloomington, given the richness of its history.

The city’s strong link with Normal, its neighboring academic center, has also helped much in further building up the points of interest in Bloomington.

Surely, it’s satisfaction guaranteed if you go on a tour of this amazing seat of McClean County.