20 Best Things to Do in Des Plaines, IL

Des Plaines, IL
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If you haven’t been to the beautiful city of Des Plaines, you should make it your next travel destination.

It’s conveniently located northwest of Chicago and north of O’Hare International Airport.

Belonging to Cook County, Illinois, Des Plaines is included in the Chicago metropolitan area or Chicagoland.

The city was named after its namesake river, which runs through the east of its downtown area.

The Potawatomi, Ottawa, and Chippewa Indians occupied the Des Plaines River Valley before the arrival of European settlers around 1833.

Des Plaines was incorporated as a town in 1869, reincorporated as a village in 1873, and converted into a city in 1925.

The population in this Chicago suburb reached more than 60,000 per the 2020 census.

Des Plaines was also awarded a Better Business Town in 2021.

Money Magazine named this city America’s #35 Best Place to Live out of 100 in 2017 and one of eight Best Places to Retire in 2018.

Here are some of the best things to do in Des Plaines, Illinois:

Stroll around Prairie Lakes Park

Waters at Prairie Lakes Park
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Located on East Thacker Street, Prairie Lakes Park is a Des Plaines attraction you should add to your list.

Take a relaxing stroll along a walking path, sit on the bench, and watch your kids play in the playground with slides, swings, and climbing structures.

The park has several appealing retention ponds, with free fishing opportunities in the east and north ponds daily.

A person at Prairie Lakes Park
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Apart from these, this excellent park has an aquatic center, fitness center, community center, gymnasium, and theater.

Other amenities at Prairie Lakes Park include a basketball court, a sand volleyball court, a drinking fountain, picnic tables, benches, and a pavilion.

You’ll also find a large open field for various recreational activities like soccer, frisbee, and kite flying.

A trail at Prairie Lakes Park
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Catch a Show at the Des Plaines Theatre

Many entertainment options are available in the city, including the Des Plaines Theatre across the street from the Metra Train station.

This historic downtown movie theater first opened in 1925 with some vaudeville acts performed on the stage.

Before it was beautifully renovated, it faced many challenges, including surviving a 1982 three-alarm fire and struggles in recent years.

It has eye-catching architecture combining Spanish Baroque decorative ceramics with modern elements like the neon marquee.

The Des Plaines Theatre has a nearly 1,000 seating capacity, providing entertainment to locals and visitors alike.

Here, you can enjoy watching live performances, dining, and drinking with your family or best pals.

See Shoes from a Bygone Era at Square Deal Shoe Store

Now on its third and fourth generation, Square Deal Shoe Store has been a Des Plaines staple since 1921.

If you want to have your shoes custom-fit and personally designed for you, this place is a must-visit.

The historic store boasts a mini antique shoe museum exhibiting shoes dating back to the 1900s.

It’s an interesting spot to see once-popular shoe designs and trends no longer found in shoe shops or on the street.

The standout in the exhibit is a pair of kicks worn by Robert Wadlow, an Illinois native and the world’s tallest man recorded in history, in his teen years.

He went on to wear a shoe size of 37AA; the pair displayed in the museum is a 28.

Stepping into Square Deal Shoe Store on Miner Street is like traveling back in time because of its retained homey, vintage vibe.

Celebrate with Your Family at the Annual Fall Fest

Those who love the fall season should check out the annual Des Plaines Fall Fest.

This popular family-friendly outdoor festival guarantees three days of fun and festivities.

The event features food, beverages, live music, booths, carnival rides, games, car shows, historical exhibits, and more.

Children can also frolic in the kids’ zone, which includes a petting zoo, climbing walls, face painting, and interactive activities.

In addition, admission, musical entertainment, and parking at Fall Fest are free!

Flock to Lake Park on Lee Street in September with your family and friends and join the community in celebrating this festivity.

Take a Tour of the Des Plaines History Center

Exterior of the Des Plaines History Center
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For history buffs, the Des Plaines History Center on Pearson Street in downtown Des Plaines is a must-visit.

The center houses comprehensive collections of historical artifacts, photos, archives, art objects, and research about the history of Des Plaines.

Be amazed by the Kinder House, a 1907 Queen Anne revival-style house, and the Visitor Center built in the 1950s.

You can also see fascinating temporary exhibits at the Des Plaines History Center.

The best thing about this local history museum is its free admission, tours, and programs; donations are appreciated.

Beat the Summer Heat at Mystic Waters Family Aquatic Center

Mystic Waters Family Aquatic Center is the best destination to enjoy the summer months with your family.

It’s one of the biggest and most beautiful outdoor waterparks in Northern Illinois that will delight visitors, especially the children.

Attractions include the giant slides of Otter’s Run, the drop slides and cliff dives in Sea Lion Falls, and the 550-foot Crocodile Cove lazy river.

Don’t miss Dolphin Bay, a zero-depth leisure pool, and Beluga Beach spray park for the youngest members of your family.

Meanwhile, The Island Café is your go-to spot if you crave something for snacks, refreshments, or lunch.

Find the famous Mystic Waters Family Aquatic Center on Miner Street to relax and have fun in the waters.

Enjoy Water Activities at Lake Park

The majestic 76-acre Lake Park is a popular spot you won’t want to miss on your Des Plaines trip.

Located on Lee Street between Howard Avenue and Touhy Avenue, this park offers plenty of outdoor activities for locals and tourists alike.

The lovely Lake Opeka is perfect for relaxing and enjoying fishing, boating, sailing, wildlife viewing, and strolling along the shorelines.

Boat rentals are available in the clubhouse adjoining the marina.

Play a short game of golf at the exquisite Lake Park Golf Course, an 18-hole par-3 course suitable for golfers of every skill level.

Lake Park also has picnic shelters, a playground, water fountains, courts for volleyball and bocce ball, and a wide grassy area with shady trees.

After walking along the trail that curls around the lake’s shore, sit on one of the benches with your special someone and watch the breathtaking sunset.

A memorial pavilion honors the Des Plaines men and women who served the country and is also a site for many family-friendly events.

Hop on a Kayak at Big Bend Lake

Located on Bender Road, just south of Golf Road, Big Bend Lake measures 27 acres and has a depth of 27.8 feet.

Here, you can enjoy multiple activities, such as kayaking, canoeing, boating, and fishing for species like bluegill, largemouth bass, and crappie.

The lake has a trailered boat launch for kayaks, canoes, sailboats, rowboats, and boats with electric trolling motors.

Note, though, that Big Bend Lake is connected to the Des Plaines River by a spillway.

That means the water level can greatly fluctuate during floods.

Likewise, before heading out, you should check out the fishing and boating regulations.

Take in the Splendid Views at Mountain View Adventure Center

Waters at Mountain View Adventure Center
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If you love mountains and breathtaking views, you should head to Mountain View Adventure Center.

Its main attraction is Mountain View Mine, a beautiful and challenging 18-hole adventure mini-golf course with a mining theme.

Its scenic waterfalls, creeks, bridges, rock formations, artifacts, signs, and other interesting stuff provide a feast for the senses.

Blacksmith shop at Mountain View Adventure Center
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Take advantage of the Skate and Bike Park or bring your helmet and bat and play baseball and softball at the batting cages.

There’s also a concession stand to sate your stomach with your favorite snacks, ice cream treats, and drinks.

Mountain View Adventure Center, open from April through October, is perfect for all ages and a great place to spend a sunny day.

It's located on Algonquin Road.

Join in the Fun at Taste of Des Plaines

Join the fun at the annual summer street festival called Taste of Des Plaines.

Take your entire family and friends with you in June in downtown Des Plaines because this event is perfect for all ages.

There are inflatable games, a rock climbing wall, and activities that will delight the kids.

Live entertainment, a beer garden, various food vendors, and more make this an exciting summer festivity.

Play Golf under the Lights at Golf Center Des Plaines

The Golf Range Association of America has consistently ranked Golf Center Des Plaines as one of America’s top 50 golf ranges.

It’s among Chicagoland’s favorite practice facilities, a reason to consider this in your golf adventure in Des Plaines.

It features Chicagoland’s only fully lighted par-3 nine-hole course, with holes ranging from 80-200 yards.

It also has a lake, prairie grass, hills, and berms as hazards.

Besides challenging golfers of every skill level, the course is also an oasis offering majestic views and a relaxing atmosphere.

Its three-tiered driving range, with 80 lighted and heated hitting stations, makes for a comfortable practice session.

Likewise, you can hone your skills in a lighted 1½-acre short game area with bunkers and putting greens.

Golf Center Des Plaines is on River Road.

Test Your Shooting Skills at Maxon Shooter’s Supplies and Indoor Range

Those after a different kind of action-packed adventure might find Maxon Shooter’s Supplies and Indoor Range a good option.

Located on Bradrock Drive, this place is best for those who are into guns.

This indoor shooting range has a well-stocked gun shop with pistols, rifles, magazines, ammo, and more.

Rent a gun and shoot some targets in the pistol and rifle ranges, which span 75 feet with nine lanes each.

If you’re new to shooting sports, Maxon Shooter’s Supplies and Indoor Range can help you with its offered training classes.

Try Your Luck at Rivers Casino

Slot machine in Rivers Casino
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For fun things to do with your buddies, check out Rivers Casino, Chicagoland’s leading gaming destination.

It’s just a few minutes from O’Hare International Airport, making it a popular destination for visitors since its opening in 2011.

The Rivers Casino has more than 1,490 slot machines, ranging from 50¢ to $100, and more than 95 table games, including blackjack, roulette, baccarat, and craps.

A person gambling in Rivers Casino
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When you get hungry, dine at the restaurants within, like Hugo’s Frog Bar & Fish House, one of the city’s most visited restaurants serving the finest seafood.

There are also other entertainment options, including live music and DJs.

Interestingly, the building sits on top of a few inches of water in a shallow pit.

Watch the Annual Holiday Tree Lighting

There’s nothing more magical than witnessing the annual Holiday Tree Lighting at Metropolitan Square.

Take your kids with you and watch the huge tree and other hand-decorated holiday trees light up with beautiful colors.

There’s also an appearance from Santa and live entertainment, making the event more fun.

You can also enjoy trolley tours around the city.

Everyone is invited to this family-friendly holiday festivity, so plan your trip accordingly.

View Fascinating Art Exhibits at the Koehnline Museum of Art

If you're into arts, don't miss exploring the Koehnline Museum of Art.

This small art museum focuses on modern and contemporary art and local artists.

Check out its permanent collection with artworks from artists Alexander Calder, Salvador Dali, Margaret Burroughs, William Jacobs, and more.

At the same time, the Koehnline Museum of Art showcases student art and current exhibits, which you shouldn’t miss.

You can find this museum at Oakton Community College, where you'll be amazed by impressive paintings, watercolors, lithographs, sculptures, and more.

Take the Kids to the Des Plaines Public Library

Another excellent location to take the kids is the Des Plaines Public Library, which has served the city since 1907.

This beautiful, well-kept library is the perfect place for those looking to do some research, a space to study, read a book, view exhibits, and enjoy the tranquility.

The four-story building contains dazzling murals, sculptures, and other major artworks.

There are plenty of rooms and spaces, including children’s areas, where you can take your kids.

You can also browse its Des Plaines Memory, an archive of Des Plaines’ historical and cultural materials dating from the 1800s to the present.

The Des Plaines Public Library holds many exciting events for kids, teens, adults, and the community, including movies, lectures, crafts, and performances.

The library sits in the heart of downtown Des Plaines near the historic Des Plaines Theatre.

Cycle along the Des Plaines River Trail

A person cycling along Des Plaines River Trail
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For those who want to escape into nature, the Des Plaines River Trail is the best choice.

This charming trail measures over 50 miles long.

It winds through Cook County and Lake County, meandering its namesake river through over a dozen forest reserves.

The Des Plaines River Trail allows visitors to enjoy a full day of outdoor adventures.

These include hiking, biking, horseback riding, fishing, kayaking, canoeing, wildlife viewing, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing in some sections in winter.

Experience the truly untouched nature and encounter multiple attractions along this magnificent trail with your fellow outdoor enthusiasts.

Go Ice Skating at West Park

On South Wolf Road, West Park is an excellent spot to unwind and spend a lovely day alone or with loved ones.

It has a concessions stand, picnic facilities, and a famous field house that’s rentable for parties, family gatherings, and other special events.

There are full-and-half basketball courts, a bocce ball court, a tennis court, and baseball or softball fields with bleachers.

Sit on one of the benches while watching your kids enjoy the huge, colorful playground with a teeter-totter, swings, slides, and climbing structures.

Surrounding the beautiful park is a trail best for walking, jogging, and biking.

Moreover, you might want to visit West Park in winter since an outdoor ice rink is available for skating and hockey.

You can even watch the annual ice hockey tournament hosted here.

Dine at LongHorn Steakhouse

Your Des Plaines trip won’t be complete without trying the city’s excellent restaurants, such as LongHorn Steakhouse.

This steakhouse chain prides itself on serving the tastiest steaks grilled to perfection that could become one of your favorites.

Pick from its legendary best-loved steaks like tender center-cut Flo’s Filet, bone-in Outlaw Ribeye, and juicy Renegade Sirloin.

Its menu also includes chicken, seafood, salads, desserts, beers, wines, handcrafted margaritas, and signature cocktails.

If you have kids with you, there’s a kid’s menu, too.

LongHorn Steakhouse is conveniently located near several attractions like Lake Park.

Visit Friendship Park Conservatory

Reward yourself with a stunning landscape by visiting Friendship Park Conservatory.

It has an indoor atrium, a banquet hall, a greenhouse, beautifully maintained outdoor gardens, and a courtyard.

This charming place is excellent for weddings, parties, showers, graduations, and other special occasions.

If you want to escape from the noise, relax in a serene atmosphere, and commune with nature, Friendship Park Conservatory is the place to be.

You can find it on West Algonquin Road.

Final Thoughts

Des Plaines is a destination worth visiting for its history, natural parks, diverse cuisine, family-friendly festivals, and entertainment options.

All you need to do is plan your trip and visit it with family or friends.

Give the city a shot by trying these best things to do in Des Plaines, Illinois!

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