15 Best Things to Do in Decatur, IL

Decatur, IL
Krystal Bennett / shutterstock.com

Many cities in the United States offer a mix of heritage, natural, and cultural attractions.

One of them is Decatur, IL, also known as the “Soybean Capital of the World,” because of its rich agriculture and industry.

In terms of history, Decatur was also the first home of renowned US president Abraham Lincoln.

In fact, he gave one of his first political speeches in the city.

Decatur also hosted the Illinois Republican Convention in 1860, where Lincoln received his first endorsement for president.

Today, Decatur hosts several tourist attractions.

These span from museums, art galleries, historical landmarks, parks, and lakes.

Of course, you can busy yourself with various activities that will keep you from forgetting your Decatur trip anytime soon.

Want to see everything Decatur, IL has to offer? Check out this list below.

Wait for the Trains at the Decatur Transfer House

View of Decatur Transfer House
Krystal Bennett / Shutterstock.com

Decatur stands between two railroads, which enabled the city to thrive as a manufacturing hub.

If you’d like to experience this history, you can visit the Transfer House in Lincoln Square.

When it was built, the Transfer House served passengers of the City Electric ZRailway streetcars and Illinois Traction System interurban trains.

Passengers entered the Transfer House during hot or rainy days.

The Transfer House currently holds artifacts from its era, preserved by the city.

As a major historical landmark, the Transfer House now belongs to the National Register of Historic Places.

See Rare Animals at the Scovill Zoo

At the 62-acre Scovill Park sits the Scovill Zoo, which you can visit if you’re in the mood to see rare wildlife.

The zoo has been active since 1967.

Since then, it has become a vital part of the Decatur community.

What’s so special about the Scovill Zoo? For instance, the zoo hosts 400 animals from six continents.

It also has an Endangered Species Carousel, an express train, and a Project Playground built by the community.

Other activities include summer camps, adult volunteer and mobile classroom programs.

If you visit, you’ll get to see animals like timberwolves and cheetahs. Plus, you’ll also learn how you can help protect the environment.

You can visit the Scovill Zoo at 71 South Country Club Road, Decatur, IL 62521.

Teach Your Kids the Fun Way at the Children's Museum of Illinois

Traveling to Decatur with kids?

Why not bring them to the Children’s Museum for a fun learning experience?

The Children’s Museum is an interactive museum intended for kids two to ten years old.

All over the museum are activities and exhibits in arts and science, which are also derived from real-world scenarios.

Through fun hands-on activities, your kids can exercise their imagination and practice critical thinking.

Prepare your kids for the real world by teaching them to have fun!

Visit the Children’s Museum at 55 South Country Club Road, Decatur IL.

Race Through Car History at the Chevrolet Hall of Fame Museum

If you’re a car aficionado, your first order of business in Decatur should be the Chevrolet Hall of Fame Museum.

Relive the heyday of American automaking by gazing at the museum’s vast collection of Chevys.

Open since 2009, the museum shows Chevrolet’s finest cars and memorabilia dating as far back as the 1920s.

Motorheads of all stripes can while away the day looking at show cars, race cars, and Indianapolis Pace cars on display.

With over 55 vehicles on display, the Chevrolet Hall of Fame Museum is an unmissable destination for car fanatics.

Drop by the Museum at 3635 US-36, Decatur IL 62521.

Chase the American Dream at the Hieronymus Mueller Museum

Celebrate the American Dream by honoring the legacy of successful entrepreneur Hieronymus Mueller.

Founded in 1995, the museum holds artifacts and memorabilia gathered from the life of the pioneer German immigrant.

Why is Hieronymus Mueller a major figure?

He has started many businesses that still thrive today.

One of these is making water pressure valves.

Through his success, you’ll learn the importance of immigrants to American prosperity.

The Hieronymus Mueller Museum is at 420 West Eldorado Street, Decatur IL 62522.

Learn About Decatur History at the Governor Richard J. Oglesby Mansion

J. Pinta (Redline2200), CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Some say that if you want to learn about a city’s history, you do it through its most distinguished citizens.

In Decatur, one such person is Richard J. Oglesby.

A three-time Illinois Governor, a Civil War veteran, and a US Senator, Oglesby was one of the city’s finest sons.

If you want to learn more about Decatur, visit the Oglesby Mansion.

The place has undergone some restoration and is now as close as possible to its original state.

You’ll also find artifacts inside.

Both the dining room and library remain as they were first built.

In fact, the library contains the original books owned by the Oglesby family.

The dining room contains wallpaper and décor first installed during the governor’s time.

The Governor Richard J. Oglesby Mansion is at 421 West William Street, Decatur, IL 62522.

Enjoy Theater at the Kirkland Fine Arts Center

In the mood for some live entertainment?

Head over to the Kirkland Fine Arts Center for a night at the theater.

If you just want to look at paintings, the center also hosts art galleries.

Otherwise, you can also sit inside the lecture halls to learn about art.

Since 1970, the Kirkland Fine Arts Center has seen several glowing productions of musical theater.

This success has become a vital part of Decatur’s flourishing arts and culture scene.

Among the shows staged at the center are Rent, Grease, Jesus Christ Superstar, and Cats.

Likewise, the center has also produced concerts by legendary musicians like Ray Charles, Duke Ellington, and Little Richard.

The Kirkland Fine Arts Center is inside the Millikin University campus, at 1184 West Main Street, Decatur IL 62522.

Revel in Nature at the Rock Springs Conservation Area & Nature Center

Another nature destination in Decatur is the Rock Springs Conservation Area & Nature Center.

You can bring your kids along the hiking trails, and you can also let your pet dogs roam the big oak loop trail.

Next, you can visit the indoor museum to keep your kids entertained even after they’ve hiked.

The exhibits and interactive activities will also teach your kids about nature conservation.

The Rock Springs Conservation Area & Nature Center is located at 3939 Nearing Lane, Decatur, IL 62521.

Dive Deeper Into Decatur History at the Staley Museum

Decatur, IL, is known as the “Soybean Capital of the World” because of the success of A. E. Staley, another of the city’s finest sons.

From 1920 to 1930, Staley built many things.

These include the Staley viaduct, the Staley Office building, and even the Staleys football team, which became the Chicago Bears.

However, it’s Staley’s pioneering work on soybean cultivation and processing that made his name.

Built in 2015, the Staley Museum continues to gather artifacts and memorabilia that explore the man’s contributions to Decatur.

Visit the Staley Museum at 361 N. College Street, Decatur, IL.

Go Hiking and Riding at the Sand Creek Conservation Area

If you want to experience horseback riding on the open plains, the Sand Creek Conservation Area is the place for you.

The 755-acre area consists of forests and open prairie, which are suitable homes for various wildlife.

You can hike along the trails or ride horses along the 7.6-mile trail that crosses Sand Creek.

Sand Creek also belongs to the Paris-Springfield Road, where many historical figures traveled once upon a time.

One of them was Abraham Lincoln, and the site itself has signs reading “Mr. Lincoln’s Footsteps.”

The Sand Creek Conservation Area is at 944 East Elwin Road, Decatur, IL 62521.

Drink the Perfect Beer at Golden Fox Brewing

Starting from a shared dream by three friends, the Golden Fox Brewing & Taproom now offers a rich selection of craft beer to enthusiasts.

Itching to try craft beers in Decatur? Go to the Golden Fox right away.

Among their beers are New England IPAs, English IPAs, and Stouts.

You can also try Belgian Strong Dark Ales and Rye Beer.

Likewise, Golden Fox also serves ciders if you want something else.

You can find Golden Fox Brewing at 2874 N. Dinneen Street, Decatur, IL 62526.

Seek the Company of Nature at Lake Decatur

View of Lake Decatur
n9qhf, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Looking to fish in Decatur?

You’re in luck, for Lake Decatur is just a drive away.

The lake offers a fun fishing experience for both beginners and experts.

Because of the lake’s large population of catfish, you’ll always get a bite.

If you have kids, you can also teach them the value of patience through fishing.

Start your trip in the early morning since colder temperatures mean more chances of catching fish.

You could also teach your kids the basics of fishing if you stay at the docks.

Teach them how to hook the line and how to cast.

Likewise, you can teach them to use smaller fish near the docks to lure the fish you want.

Drive down to Lake Decatur at 200 Nelson Boulevard, Decatur IL 62521.

Catch a Film at the Historic Avon Theatre

Aside from the Lincoln Square Theater, the  Avon Theatre is another significant landmark in American cinema history.

Both theaters were built in 1916.

Unlike the Lincoln, though, the Avon only screened “moving pictures.”

The Avon Theatre is a major landmark in part because of its extravagant design and ornaments.

Local artist Mrs. CO Knapp of Bement decorated the place. Her expensive décor also added to Avon’s reputation.

Today,  Avon Theatre still screens the latest movies.

Catch the latest blockbuster there while enjoying the theater’s original designs.

You can go to the Avon Theatre at 426 N Water Street, Decatur, IL 62523.

Visit Another Mansion at the James Millikin Homestead

While the house might look haunted, the James Millikin Homestead is a historical Gothic-style house that is now in the National Register of Historic Places.

This house once belonged to James and Anna Millikin, who founded the eponymous university in Decatur.

The Millikins also founded the Millikin Bank and Estate Trust.

Today, the home offers regularly scheduled tours for travelers, drawn by the size of the house.

The mansion contains a spacious grand hall, which ends at a towering central staircase and a stained-glass window.

Look at the ceiling to see a mural of cherubs.

Visit the James Millikin Homestead at 125 N. Pine Street, Decatur, IL.

Scare the Pants Out of Your Friends With Haunted Decatur

If commonplace tours aren’t your thing, then why not try a hair-raising and spine-chilling tour of Decatur’s most haunted places?

Haunted Decatur provides history tours and excursions to the city’s notorious haunted spots.

The group’s longest-running tour is called the Haunted History Tour, a three-hour excursion that reveals the grislier side of Decatur.

You’ll visit old crime scenes, hear about unsolved murders, and more.

If you’re lucky, you might even meet a ghost face-to-face!

Another tour is called the Ghost Hunters’ Tour, a four-hour trip to Decatur’s most haunted places.

Haunted Decatur only offers a limited number of these tours every year, so don’t miss out.

Haunted Decatur Tours is at 141 North Main Street, Decatur, IL 62523.

Final Thoughts

Decatur, IL, boasts of rich history and a deep connection with nature.

Curious people will find several unforgettable sights and sites in town, whether picturesque nature trails or museums.

Likewise, if you want to start a specialized hobby, Decatur is the place for you.

The city’s fishing spots and horse trails will help you begin adding another hobby to your inventory.

You can also try craft beer.

History buffs would also appreciate the museums dedicated to several major figures in Decatur, including Abraham Lincoln.

If you prefer offbeat history, you can even join haunted tours to visit Decatur’s more infamous locations.

Make your way to Decatur, IL, for a stress-free vacation, but with a splash of excitement.

Get a little spice in your holiday by searching every corner of Decatur and relishing everything the city has to offer!

Spotted a mistake, have some feedback, or just want to chat with our editorial team? Click here to get in touch.
Find out more about Travel Lens and read our editorial guidelines here.