Blake Walsh

15 Best Things to Do in Highland Park, IL

  • Published 2022/07/27

Located along the coast of Lake Michigan, Highland Park, Illinois, is a beautiful destination that offers beautiful nature landscapes near the big city.

Just over 30 miles north of Chicago, Highland Park is a quiet but bustling area offering lots of nature activities.

You can also check out beautiful coastlines and water views, as well as unique destinations and pieces of history.

Highland Park is also home to rich Illinois history, several historical landmarks, and the oldest music festival in North America.

Are you ready to begin your adventure?

Here are the best things to do in Highland Park, IL:

Spend a Day by the Water at Rosewood Beach

High angle view of Rosewood Beach

Michael Heimlich /

Do you think you can’t chill at the beach in the middle of Illinois?

Rosewood Beach should change your mind.

This place is a favorite destination for guests, thanks to its beautiful water views, recreation, and swimming beach.

The property is also an award-winning beach with a nature cove for ecological and nature programs.

People enjoying the sun at Rosewood Beach

Michael Heimlich /

Summer is the ideal time to visit Rosewood Beach and enjoy the sun and sand in the hot Illinois weather.

You can bring your family and friends, lay down a mat and umbrella, and chill on the shore by Lake Michigan.

Rosewood Beach is a great place to relax and spend a sunny day in Highland Park.

Beat the Heat at Hidden Creek Aquapark

Dubbed “a summer escape in your backyard,” the Hidden Creek Aquapark is a great place to beat the heat when in Highland Park.

Located in the enormous expanse of the Sunset Valley Golf Club, the Hidden Creek Aquapark is a refreshing water park perfect for patrons of all ages.

The park features different pools and waterworks.

There are little splash pads and kiddie pools perfect for kids, and twisty slides and deeper pools perfect for doing laps.

For those who don’t want to dip their toes in the water, there are multiple picnic benches and shaded areas for you to lay your mat and relax.

If you’re feeling like a bite or two, the Creekside Café is open.

Grab small bites to fill you up after a day of jumping and sliding in the water.

It’s the perfect summer destination in Highland Park.

Pack your swimsuit and head to Hidden Creek Aquapark today.

Enjoy the Gastronomical Experience at Pixca Seasonal American Bistro

This restaurant’s name originates from the Mayan term for “harvest.”

Pixca Seasonal American Bistro serves some of the freshest fine-dining dishes in Highland Park.

Pixca serves farm-to-table fare, with the restaurant working with local farmers to supply only the best, highest-quality seasonal ingredients.

The owners’ philosophy is to create unique dishes with readily available ingredients, upgrading taste and reducing waste.

Try some of Pixca’s delicious dishes, such as the horseradish crusted whitefish, wild boar bucatini, and teriyaki glazed duroc pork chop.

Don’t forget to pair those delectable mains up with a glass or two from their wine selection.

It’s a one-of-a-kind dining experience you shouldn’t miss.

Reserve a table for you and your friends at Pixca Seasonal American Bistro.

Find Your Next Great Read at the Highland Park Public Library

Exterior of Highland Park Public Library

Teemu008 from Palatine, Illinois, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Highland Park Public Library is an excellent destination for visitors looking for more educational experiences.

The city government of Highland Park operates the library, which is open to all.

Gain access to their vast selection of books and other resources such as online resources and their digital media lab.

You can look through the shelves to borrow a title or two that piques your interest.

Their online resource also enables visitors to stream their selection of movies.

For business and academic travelers, the library is a great place to stop by to find resources for anything from a thesis paper to a business proposal.

It’s an unlikely tourist spot, but a visit to the Highland Park Public Library is an enriching experience that you shouldn’t miss in Highland Park.

Explore Illinois’ Oak Hickory at Heller Nature Center

Located in the northern part of the city, the Heller Nature Center is a unique destination highlighting all the best aspects of Illinois nature.

Heller Nature Center is home to 97 acres of oak-hickory forests, with tallgrass prairies, oak savanna, and natural wetlands.

It offers activities perfect for any visitor.

If you want a relaxing time amid the remarkable hickory trees, you could try a picnic in the woodlands.

For more active visitors, you can take a hike on the over three miles of trail sprawled around the forests.

In the fall, visitors can get the opportunity to harvest honey produced by their Heller honeybees.

Heller Nature Center also offers different programs that highlight their advocacy to preserve and keep the forests alive for future generations.

The center offers summer programs for kids and volunteer programs for adults.

It’s a great destination fit for any nature lover.

Practice Your Serve at the Birchwood Club

The Birchwood Club is one of the premier tennis clubs on Chicago’s North Shore.

It’s also one of the oldest, established in 1958.

The club sits on a 12-acre property, beautifully landscaped, offering world-class tennis facilities for members and visitors.

The club offers year-round outdoor sports programs for tennis, paddling, and pickleball.

The club’s instructors are all award-winning racquet professionals.

They can help you improve your game, whether you’re a beginner or are already an experienced player.

Apart from the tennis clubs, you can go to the pool at the club if you want to cool off and swim a few laps.

After a fun day of outdoor sports and recreation, the Birchwood Club also offers upscale in-house dining.

You can try delicious dishes from their in-house chefs.

Up your racquet game in a beautiful and lush setting at the Birchwood Club.

Sample Classic Italian Fare at Viaggio Highland Park

Viaggio Highland Park serves simple but delicious classic Italian dishes for Highland Park locals.

The restaurant offers a wide array of choices, from appetizers to homemade desserts, completing your Italian dining experience.

Start with their appetizers like the baked clams with butter, garlic sauce, or fried calamari.

Order a plate of two pasta dishes.

Choose from their cheese ravioli, spaghetti marinara, penne Bolognese, linguini clams, and eight-finger cavatelli.

Get one of their house specialties for the table, such as the brick chicken, eggplant, pork chop parmesan, or the classic and ever-delicious lasagna.

Cap the meal off with a glass or two from their wide wine selection.

Viaggio Highland Park offers a simple but delectable Italian meal for you and your family and friends.

Come by for a good dinner and a great time in Highland Park.

See the Historical Sylvester Millard House

Exterior of Sylvester Millard House

Teemu08, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Built in 1893, the Sylvester Millard House is a preserved piece of architecture in Highland Park’s suburbs.

The former mayor of Chicago and local architect William W. Boyington designed the house for the Chicago lawyer Sylvester Millard.

The log house used to be a summer home, complete with multiple screened porches.

In its heyday, the property encompassed over 11 acres.

The current house is the result of years of renovation and remodeling.

The National Register of Historic Places has also added the home to its record.

Visitors can admire the preservation of a classic Highland Park residence in the 1800s.

Get a glimpse into how people lived everyday life during the time.

The adjacent Millard Park is also a great place to visit after going to the house, with beautiful views of Lake Michigan and ample green space for simple recreation.

Enjoy Nature in the Middle of the City at Sunset Woods Park

Sunset Woods Park is a haven for locals looking for a place to relax and spend a lovely afternoon with family and friends.

The park has a bevy of features, having recently undergone improvements and renovations to benefit the city’s locals.

Kids can enjoy a day of play on the park’s numerous playground amenities.

The wide-open fields also make for great venues for ball games between friends.

The park’s expanse makes it an ideal place for a quick run or jog.

You can squeeze in a bit of exercise before or after work or move around during lunch breaks.

The park is also close to nearby local restaurants and shops.

Sunset Woods Park makes for a great central hub and a relaxing destination in the middle of the city.

Grab a Classic Deep Dish Pizza at Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria

Chicago is synonymous with deep-dish pizza, and Lou Malnati’s offers one of the best in the state.

This family chain has multiple locations around the state.

Its branch in Highland Park offers guests a taste of their deliciously rich deep-dish pizza concoctions.

Order the classic flavors such as cheese, pepperoni, or the Malnati Classic, made with lean sausage, extra mozzarella cheese, and their vine-ripened tomato sauce.

You can even make your own deep-dish and fill the crust with any topping combination you can think of.

Apart from the pizzas, you can also get simple but tasty Italian favorites such as pasta, side dishes, and desserts.

Get a taste of Chicago’s best when you visit Lou Malnati’s!

Join the Ravinia Festival

Entryway of Ravinia Festival

Hendrickson Photography /

The Ravinia Festival is North America’s oldest and most musically diverse music festival.

It also happens to be the most popular annual event in the Highland Park area.

Established in 1904, Ravinia initially started as the “summer opera capital of the world,” attracting audiences from other parts of the globe.

It has eventually evolved into a musically diverse festival, attracting over 600,000 visitors to its 120 events yearly.

People on Ravinia Festival's lawn area

YourJudge, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Ravinia hosts a large variety of musical events and acts that run throughout the summer, from classical music to jazz, country, and rock.

Don’t miss the Ravinia Festival in Highland Park.

Drop by for live music and a livelier time!

Exterior of Ravinia Festival's martin theatre

hakkun, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Other Things to Do Nearby

Learn about the History of the Grosse Point Lighthouse

Scenic view of Grosse Point Lighthouse

Eddie J. Rodriquez /

Go to neighboring Evanston, Illinois, to see the Grosse Point Lighthouse, a vital artifact deeply rooted in the area’s history.

It’s only 20 minutes from Highland Park.

Built in 1873, the lighthouse has had a long history of lighting the way to Chicago from the city’s shorelines.

It is also a symbol of Chicago’s past as an essential trading port, rivaling popular coast cities New York and San Francisco.

Visitors can see the beauty of the historical marvel on the outside.

Once you enter, you’ll find a little museum dedicated to telling the centuries-long story of the lighthouse.

The lamp of Grosse Point Lighthouse

D Guest Smith /

You can also climb the peak, traversing all 141 steps to get to the top of the light tower.

It’s a quaint but historically-rich destination to drop by on the road to Highland Park.

Enjoy an Active Day at Skokie Lagoons

Wildflowers along Skokie Lagoons

Chickenflicker, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Located in neighboring Glencoe, Illinois, is Skokie Lagoons, another beautiful nature preserve showcasing the state’s beauty.

It’s nine minutes from Highland Park.

Spanning over 800 acres, the park is a favorite destination of both visitors and locals for various outdoor recreational activities.

The park provides access to both land and water activities.

Spend the day on the water by renting boats to explore the lagoons or fishing for diverse species.

On the ground, you can hike the multiple trails spread out with varying degrees of difficulty.

There are also trails perfect for mountain and dirt biking.

If you want to take it easy, set up mats and tents for a relaxing picnic at the many beautiful spots in Skokie Lagoons.

Lay out your lunch while you relax in the grasslands, with the soft breeze wafting.

Skokie Lagoons is a great destination to visit near Highland Park.

It’s also the perfect location to visit whether you’re with friends, family, or just by yourself.

Marvel at the Beauty of the Chicago Botanic Garden

Scenic view of Chicago Botanic Garden

WhiteBlush /

Located on the southernmost tip of the city is the Chicago Botanic Garden, a beautiful nature abyss on over 385 acres.

The Chicago Botanic Garden opened over 50 years ago, with its beginnings dating back to the Chicago Horticultural Society, founded in 1890.

The gardens have blossomed to become one of the most excellent living museums and conservation science centers.

It’s also a top destination for tourists and locals in the area.

Japanese garden at Chicago Botanic Garden

WhiteBlush /

The garden contains over 28 pocket gardens and landscapes spread out on its over 300 acres, as well as natural areas maintained as preserves.

Visit the different areas to explore a different look and feel of the various areas of the garden.

Check out the English Walled Garden, Evening Island, and Rose Garden and their take on a beautifully-landscaped Japanese garden.

The garden also houses a nature preserve.

From 2009 to 2015, ecologists replanted native plants and trees to restore habitat for local birds.

Don’t miss visiting the Chicago Botanic Garden near Highland Park.

It offers the best examples of local Illinois nature and biodiversity.

You can find the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe, Illinois, eight minutes from Highland Park.

Rose garden at Chicago Botanic Garden

WhiteBlush /

Admire the Scenic Views at Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve

The Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve is a destination you can’t miss in Highland Park.

You can find it in Lake Forest, Illinois, nine minutes from Highland Park.

Spanning a total of 250 acres, the preserve offers unparalleled views of Lake Michigan and access to its multiple biodiversities.

Hikers and cross-country runners would fall in love with the abundance of trails.

Over four miles of trails stretch across Fort Sheridan, namely the Hutchinson Trail, Lake Overlook Trail, and Parade Grounds Trail.

Fort Sheridan is also home to over 236 bird species and rare birds not seen in other parts of the region.

You can catch a glimpse of these beautiful creatures on the Bird Trail Loop, spanning almost two miles.

After exploring the different trails of the preserve, you can relax and bask in the sun and sand of the Lake Michigan shoreline.

Fort Sheridan offers the best of the land and water with its picturesque landscapes and abundant wildlife.

Final Thoughts

With its proximity to the big city and its abundance of nature, Highland Park is a great destination to visit when in Illinois.

It offers so much local flavor for visitors.

Savor the rich Italian food, admire the beautiful Lake Michigan views, and explore the bevy of gardens and green spaces spread in and around the city.

It’s a destination you shouldn’t miss in Illinois.

Book your vacation today!

You might even find more things to do in Highland Park after you arrive.

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