Blake Walsh

25 Best Things to Do in Kankakee, IL

  • Published 2023/08/19

Welcome to Kankakee, my hometown nestled along the scenic Kankakee River in Illinois.

A place where Midwestern charm meets natural beauty, and each season paints a distinct portrait across the landscape.

Our bustling small city perfectly blends a rich history, vibrant culture, outdoor adventures, and community spirit.

Let me take you on a virtual tour of the best things to do in Kankakee, Illinois, and share a treasure trove of experiences that make each day in our city a unique and special memory.

**About this article: This article was written by a local contributor based on their own experiences and those around them. While this list showcases some remarkable places, it’s important to note that this is an opinion piece, and there are many other exceptional places to visit that are not featured here.
Our aim is not just to guide you to popular places but to encourage you to venture out and experience the city for yourself.

Unveil History at B Harley Bradley House

Exterior of the B Harley Bradley House

Jim Packett /

Every afternoon, like clockwork, I stroll along the riverfront, and it is hard not to glance adoringly at the B Harley Bradley House.

This striking architectural masterpiece is Frank Lloyd Wright’s first Prairie School home, built in 1900.

A sneak peek at the B Harley Bradley House is like opening a richly illustrated book of history – every nook and cranny has a story to tell, an anecdote to share.

The house offers tours, and I would highly recommend pre-booking them.

I still vividly remember my time – our small group of four enjoyed the home’s beauty in its full glory without any rush.

The guides are knowledgeable and passionate about the history intertwined with the house, and their fascinating narratives are the cherry on top.

Picture this: the house, a beautiful representation of Frank Lloyd Wright’s meticulous style, stands majestically on the riverfront.

The strategic placement of the house right by the river adds to its charm, and I often find myself reminiscing about the architectural splendor while enjoying the tranquil river view.

Side facade of the B Harley Bradley House

Jim Packett /

The house also boasts a gift shop where you can buy a booklet about the house’s history.

It’s an exciting keepsake with pictures of the original furnishings that aren’t even displayed inside the house.

Foreign visitors, don’t forget to let the ladies in the shop know you’re visiting.

They have a lovely tradition of placing a small pin on a map for each visitor from a foreign country.

And if you visit in the warmer months, don’t miss the boat tour. I can’t wait to experience it myself.

It’s on my summer to-do list.

The B Harley Bradley House is not just a house. It’s a journey into history, design, and the genius of Frank Lloyd Wright.

Enjoy a Musical Extravaganza on Merchant Street

You know summer’s in full swing when the Merchant Street MusicFest rocks into town! It’s one of those events I eagerly wait for each year.

What a riot of music, color, and fun it is!

Merchant Street MusicFest allows everyone to showcase their talents, from hometown bands to big names.

It’s the heartbeat of Kankakee.

And believe me, when this fest is in town, you wouldn’t want to be anywhere else!

Kankakee wouldn’t be the same without this annual musical bonanza.

See you next year, Merchant Street MusicFest!

Enjoy an Evening Out at Grapes & Hops

There’s no place quite like Grapes & Hops.

This little gem is tucked away in our Kankakee neighborhood. And let me tell you.

It’s got everything you need for a perfect evening out.

You can’t beat their wine and beer flights. It’s an understatement to say they are simply the bomb!

The beer range is impressive, and their hood bourbons are top-notch, especially if you opt for the whiskey flight.

Trust me when I say you don’t want to miss their wine slushies.

The July special is a jungle juice that tastes so good that you dream of summer nights.

The outdoor seating is a charm, with a lovely back and front space.

It’s a sight for sore eyes, especially when you need a quick escape from bustling city life.

And they are dog-friendly, too, with a bowl out front for your furry friends.

But the jewel in the crown has to be their event venue.

It’s a perfect spot for a bridal shower or any other celebration, accommodating 45-50 guests.

The mural in the back patio adds a touch of art, making every event truly special.

Their variety is impressive, staying true to the name Grapes & Hops.

The rotation of wines brings in a new experience every time you visit.

Moreover, the ovulus cheese sampler trays with crackers are perfect for pairing with your drink.

As a wine and beer enthusiast, I keep coming back to enjoy their different varieties.

Swing by Grapes & Hops next time you’re in the mood for a relaxed evening.

Embrace the Serenity at Willowhaven

I can’t help but feel a sense of peace and serenity every time I visit Willowhaven within the Bourbonnais Township Park District.

The expansive, well-maintained dog park is, hands down, the best in town, making it a regular haunt for me and my furry friend.

The spacious area gives dogs plenty of room to run and play. And what’s more exciting?

Beyond the dog park, Willowhaven is an absolute sanctuary for nature lovers like me.

The ample fishing spots and the trails offer a beautiful escape into nature, although a little bumpy in places.

Besides, the path provides an excellent opportunity for biking, but a word of caution: watch out for the rough sections.

But even the bumps can’t take away from the trail’s picturesque views.

One of the highlights of the park is the Willowhaven Education Center. It’s not just about fun and games here.

There’s a lot to learn too!

And when it’s time to take a break, the park provides clean and air-conditioned restrooms, a much-appreciated amenity for visitors.

I must mention the cleanliness of the park.

It is kept spotlessly clean, making walking, playing, and relaxing pleasure.

If you’re looking for a great day out with lots of room for walking, playing, fishing, or simply soaking in the beauty of nature, Willowhaven is the place to be.

Take a Trip Down Memory Lane at the French Heritage Museum

The French Heritage Museum in Kankakee County was once a 19th-century stone wall building that served as a carriage house.

Today, it’s the third oldest building in Kankakee, right after the First Baptist Church and the Asbury United Methodist Church Sanctuary.

The museum may be small, but it’s rich in history.

It transports you back in time, telling tales of French migration to the United States and how the local French community has contributed to our society.

You can even visit the assembly hall and the roof on the second floor.

There’s also ample parking, so you need not worry about that.

Each visit is like a nostalgic journey, reminding me of the town’s rich heritage.

Discover the Underwater World at Haigh Quarry

It’s no secret that when you’re a place resident, you find hidden gems that only locals would know about. Haigh Quarry is one such gem.

It’s a well-organized and well-maintained site that has become my go-to place for honing my diving skills.

What sets them apart is how seriously they take the safety of their visitors, something I genuinely appreciate.

Now, you might ask, why would one dive in a quarry, especially when there are oceans to explore?

Well, there’s a certain charm to diving in this underwater park.

The visibility might not be the best, particularly in the summer months, but the plethora of aquatic life to explore more than makes up for it.

It’s a fantastic place for divers of all skill levels, and there’s always something new to discover every time you dive.

Being a familiar haunt for local dive shops, I’ve seen many who don’t take safety measures as seriously as Haigh Quarry.

Still, it’s an invaluable resource for locals to keep our diving skills sharp.

Especially when traveling to exotic locations isn’t feasible, Haigh Quarry offers us an opportunity to dive closer to home.

A word to the wise – if you’re planning a dive, try to go on a weekday when it’s less crowded.

They offer rental gear, tanks, and even air fills if you need them.

Affectionately called the Caribbean of the Midwest, Haigh Quarry has been my underwater sanctuary for nearly a decade.

It’s incredible to have this little diving paradise in our backyard.

Visit the Illinois Railroad Museum

Exterior of the Kankakee Illinois Railroad Museum

Michael, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Have you ever strolled around your town and stumbled upon a hidden treasure?

That’s exactly what happened to me with the Kankakee Illinois Railroad Museum.

I’ve been a resident here for over a decade, and somehow, this gem evaded me.

Festive lights are a tradition in our town, and my family and I make it a point to attend the annual Christmas light show at the museum.

But this year, we discovered something new.

You could climb aboard and explore the trains!

There’s something incredibly humbling about standing in these historical carriages.

It’s as though you’re transported back in time, away from the hustle and bustle of the modern world.

It’s a trip down memory lane, with the whistles and clanking of the trains providing a perfect soundtrack.

But remember to bring cash; the place is run old-fashioned, just like the trains it houses.

Nonetheless, I managed to get a couple of postcards as souvenirs. A small price to pay for the wealth of knowledge and experience this place offers.

The Kankakee Illinois Railroad Museum is a time machine. And it’s worth every penny of the two dollars you pay to step aboard.

Don’t rush through your visit – give yourself at least an hour to soak in the history and ambiance.

It’s an experience that chugs along at its own pace, just like the trains it celebrates.

Discover History at the Kankakee County Museum

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to step back in time and experience a community’s rich history?

I did just that when I visited the Kankakee County Museum.

It’s a quaint little museum compound surrounded by beautiful trees in the picturesque Governor Small Park.

I remember stepping in and getting instantly enveloped in the historical essence of our community.

The museum brilliantly showcases national historical events and how our local community was involved in them.

Walking through the exhibits, I learned the story of our community’s journey – from the first migration to the present day.

One of my favorite parts was the historic schoolhouse, just a stone’s throw away from the main museum building.

Walking into that one-room schoolhouse gave me an overwhelming feeling of nostalgia.

It’s like stepping into another era, where I could almost hear the chatter and laughter of students from bygone days.

Apart from the permanent exhibits, there are also seasonal attractions that I eagerly look forward to.

The Rhubarb Fest, for example, is something you wouldn’t want to miss.

But be warned; you might want to get there early – the rhubarb pie is an absolute treat and sells out fast!

And then there’s the annual Christmas tree exhibit – a tradition I’ve held onto yearly.

Each tree is more beautiful than the last, and choosing the best one is tricky.

My trips to the Kankakee County Museum have always been more than just visits to a museum.

They’ve been journeys interspersed with delightful encounters – like when I met some fantastic authors or those young kids running a lemonade stand near Popeyes on Kennedy Dr. It’s a beautiful gem of Kankakee County.

If you haven’t been there, you simply must!

Spend the Day at Bird Park

My typical day always includes a brisk walk through Bird Park.

There’s something peaceful about stepping onto the trail just as the sun rises over the Kankakee River.

The park is along the riverfront, and the view is a sight to behold, especially in the early morning.

Now, let me tell you about the various activities you can do here.

From the splash pad for the little ones to the ballpark for a quick game with friends and the band shell for local events – it’s like having your outdoor recreation center.

Not to mention the Bird Park quarry that adds a raw beauty to the whole scene. It’s a good place for fishing too!

On weekends, I usually take a longer route that leads to the Perry Farm and Kankakee State Park via the Kankakee Bike Trail.

This trail starts at Bird Park and crosses the Kankakee River near Riverside Hospital.

It’s a superb trail for biking and even a stroll. You can enjoy the sights of the river, nature, and the occasional wildlife.

One thing that always amazes me is the variety of birds that make the park their home.

Bird-watching is an added perk here, and spotting a new species is always like finding a small treasure.

For more information about the park and its facilities, visit the KVPD website.

Bird Park is a cherished asset of Kankakee, a place we are lucky to have and enjoy.

Experience the Serenity at Cobb Park

I adore spending time at Cobb Park.

You might think, “It’s just a park,” but it’s so much more to me.

I never thought this place would become an integral part of my life.

Growing up, I frequented the park, and now, I still find the same charm and beauty.

It’s not just a green space but a memory lane where I remember playing as a kid and witnessing the young ones indulge in soccer in the open area.

Feeling the gentle breeze wafting from the Kankakee River and listening to the musical tunes of the brass quintet under the shade of the large Oak trees make the experience blissful.

One of the best experiences at the park is during the outdoor musical shows.

I still remember the brilliant performance of Cinderella under the star-studded sky. It was breathtaking.

The park provides excellent spots for these performances, making it a perfect choice.

Moreover, this historic park is surrounded by beautiful trees offering a picturesque view.

For those who enjoy sports, there are tennis courts and shuffleboard areas. And, of course, there’s a fantastic playground to keep the kids entertained.

The icing on the cake is the presence of ice cream and taco vendors, making the social gatherings even more enjoyable.

I would highly recommend visiting Cobb Park for anyone looking to experience a peaceful, enjoyable day.

You can visit their website for more information about the park and its upcoming events.

This place has something to offer for every age group.

Spend the Day at Kankakee Speedway

A particular thrill comes with the revving of engines and the smell of burning rubber.

For me, Kankakee Speedway is where I find that thrill.

Having lived here in Kankakee, Illinois, for over a decade, I can tell you there’s no place quite like it.

When the lights come on at Kankakee Speedway, it transforms into a hub of adrenaline-pumping action that’s got something for everyone.

From the stock car races I grew up watching to the Go-Kart racing for kids and adults alike, the Speedway is a place that always keeps you on your toes.

The best part? It’s all under the Illinois sky, offering a unique experience you won’t find anywhere else in the state.

Plus, the ticket prices are a steal at only 15 bucks!

One thing I’ve learned over the years is to come prepared.

Pack your earplugs and sunglasses – trust me, you’ll need them.

And since it’s a cash-only establishment, remember to bring enough for the tickets and a little extra for some food and drinks.

The people here are friendly, the atmosphere is electric, and the races are exhilarating.

So if you’re ever in Kankakee, don’t miss out on a Friday night at the Speedway.

There’s a reason I’ve been coming back for years, and I don’t see that changing any time soon.

Enjoy a Day at the Kankakee Farmers’ Market

You know it’s Saturday when the vibrant energy of the Kankakee Farmers’ Market radiates through town.

As soon as I enter the open-air market, cheerful live music greets me, instantly putting a spring in my step.

The friendly tunes, whether a lively accordion or a soulful saxophone, are a signature part of the market experience and set a tranquil atmosphere for the day.

The market, located in the heart of our town, is a not-to-be-missed event.

Moreover, the stalls are filled with various vendors, each adding their unique flair to the market.

I’m always delighted by the wide selection of handmade crafts, perfect for a personalized gift or a fantastic addition to your home.

However, the food stalls keep me coming back every week.

One particular stall always catches my eye – a vendor selling fresh juice with no sugar added. It’s the perfect pick-me-up on a sunny day.

And let’s not forget about the irresistible baked goods.

The aroma of freshly baked cookies wafts through the air, luring me in every time.

Yes, the market has changed over the years.

The number of local farmers has decreased, making room for more craft and food stands.

But there is still a selection of vendors selling fresh, locally-sourced produce and meats.

And those two vegetable stalls?

They have some of the freshest, tastiest veggies in town.

And while you’re there, why not take a moment to sit back and watch the world go by simply?

The market buzzes with a beautiful mix of locals, each with their own stories.

You might even get a chance to pet a friendly dog or two.

If you’re interested in experiencing the charm of our town, there’s no better place to start than the heart of it all – the Kankakee Farmers’ Market.

Take a Stroll Through Riverview Historic District

Charles Cobb house at Riverview Historic District

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

Waking up in the heart of the Riverview Historic District is like walking into a time capsule.

The sun greets the carefully restored houses, casting shadows that dance on the architectural details from yesteryears.

Moreover, the district is a symphony of history played every day.

My morning routine usually starts with a walk along the winding streets, lined with trees standing tall and proud, perhaps as old as the buildings themselves.

You cannot help but admire the Victorian, Italianate, Queen Anne, and Craftsman-styled homes.

They stand as a testament to the architectural grandeur of centuries past, their stories embedded in each brick and stained glass window.

At the heart of the district, the inviting scents of the local bakery waft through the air – a beacon of warmth in the crisp morning atmosphere.

Exterior of a house at Riverview Historic District

Teemu08, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The pastries here are made following age-old recipes, each a paean of praise to the district’s rich heritage.

Further down the road, the humdrum of the local farmer’s market takes over.

The haggling and banter sounds and the rich smells of fresh produce draw you in.

Local artisans showcase their work, combining traditional techniques and modern aesthetics.

The Riverview Historic District is not just a place.

It is a living, breathing painting of a bygone era, a tribute to the past, and a window to our heritage.

Each day living here is a new opportunity to walk through the pages of history and experience the echoes of the past.

Dr. John and Violet Brown house at Riverview Historic District

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

Go Paddling at Reed’s Canoe Trips

Picture this: a sunny day, clear skies, and the river’s gentle flow.

This was the setting for my most recent adventure with Reed’s Canoe Trips.

I’ve always loved the water, and when a friend suggested we spend an afternoon on a canoe trip, I was all in.

We decided to bring two canoes and rent one from Reed’s.

And we chose the 6-mile route, perfect for a leisurely afternoon paddle.

The journey took us around three hours, but the time flew by as we drifted downstream, enjoying the peaceful atmosphere and picturesque scenery.

The best part? We didn’t have to worry about getting back to our car.

Last year, I had the opportunity to take my group of sophomores kayaking with Reed’s.

They were just as accommodating then, with well-maintained equipment and clear directions.

It was a trip the students and I will never forget.

One word of advice, though, especially for those new to kayaking or canoeing – ask for a quick tutorial before heading out.

I’ve had such great experiences with Reed’s Canoe Trips, and I’m already looking forward to my next river adventure with them.

Don’t miss out on this fantastic local experience; paddle through the calm waters for an unforgettable afternoon!

Enjoy a Day Out at Hero City Adventure Park

From the moment Hero City Adventure Park opened its doors in our town, I was thrilled at the prospect of a new family hangout spot.

The ample space makes it a popular choice amongst families in the Kankakee area.

Moreover, the prices are pretty reasonable compared to the northern area, and their on-site food options, such as fresh pizza and smoothies, are delicious.

We’ve had a lot of fun here despite the issues.

To top it off, a visit on a summer weekday proved to be a relaxing family outing.

The park was not crowded, and it was clean.

Hero City Adventure Park holds a lot of potential.

It could become the go-to adventure park for all local families.

Enjoy a Summer Day at Kankakee Valley Park District

Bird Park in the Kankakee Valley Park District is one of my favorite relaxing spots, especially during the warmer months.

Filled with various birds and other animals, it’s a wildlife haven in our town.

I often sit on the benches, munching on a packed lunch while watching the ducks and geese paddle around the pond.

It’s such a simple joy that brings peace to my busy days.

On a brighter note, the park also offers versatile spaces for rent.

Ample parking and the beautiful surroundings added to the charm of the day.

My love for Kankakee Valley Park District remains strong.

It’s a part of my life, a local spot where I can unwind, celebrate special moments, and connect with nature.

Make a Splash at Splash Valley Aquatic Center

Tell me about my family’s recent trip to Splash Valley Aquatic Center.

We had a bit of a mix-up initially because we were unaware of a few rules.

But don’t let that scare you off! Once we understood the regulations, we were all set for a fantastic time.

My kids couldn’t contain their excitement!

There was nothing but joy and laughter from the moment we stepped in.

I’ve seen them swim before, but never with the kind of enthusiasm they had at Splash Valley.

This place is truly a paradise for kids who love to swim, and honestly, what kid doesn’t?

Speaking of safety, I was impressed by the lifeguards on duty.

It is a great relief for parents like me to know that our kids are under watchful eyes while having fun.

The peace of mind that comes with that is priceless.

Moreover, the cleanliness of the facility was another highlight of our experience.

Maintaining a public place like a waterpark is difficult, but Splash Valley does it well. No wonder it’s a favorite among local families!

Not to forget, the admission fees are surprisingly affordable.

So, if you’re planning a day out with your family, Splash Valley Aquatic Center is worth considering.

Just remember to familiarize yourself with their rules before heading out, and you’re guaranteed to have a splashing good time!

Enjoy Bowling Nights at Brookmont Bowling Center

Just last weekend, my family and I went to the Brookmont Bowling Center, a bowling gem right in the heart of Kankakee.

The pizza was fantastic, and the family-friendly vibe was perfect. It reminded me of my childhood days with the nostalgic, older-style bench seating.

It accommodated more people than modern seating, making the place feel cozy and inviting.

The kids had a blast at the bowling lanes.

They were incredibly well-maintained, and the balls rolled as smooth as butter.

What we enjoyed the most, however, was Saturday’s blacklight bowling. It gave a fun, vibrant twist to regular bowling and made everyone’s evening enjoyable.

So, if you’re looking for a way to spice up your bowling routine, check out Brookmont.

Their blacklight bowling nights are a sight to behold, and it’s worth keeping a close eye on the kids in the arcade section.

It might be an average bowling alley, but it’s our little slice of bowling heaven in Kankakee.

Other Things to Do Nearby

Explore Perry Farm Park

Sinuous narrow gorge at Perry Farm Park

Jason Patrick Ross /

Nothing quite compares to the peace and tranquility I find at Perry Farm Park.

This vast gem is truly the heart of our town.

Whenever I need to escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life, I head to the park.

It’s just a short drive away, and parking is never an issue.

There’s ample space to park, and the adventure begins.

Kids can’t get enough of the playground.

Seeing their eyes light up as they explore the various stations is always a joy.

As for me, animals are a natural attraction.

I never get tired of visiting the farm animals.

But the true jewel of the park, in my opinion, is the vast network of trails.

I make it a point to walk along these trails every visit.

The scenery is breathtaking, especially when you reach the riverside caves.

It’s a pretty fantastic sight, something I never tire of seeing.

The historic farmhouse is another must-see.

It adds a touch of nostalgia and pays tribute to our town’s rich heritage.

There’s always something new to discover at Perry Farm Park, making every visit a unique experience.

Bring Your Family to Exploration Station

Let me tell you about our unforgettable afternoons at Exploration Station.

It’s a beautiful place to bring the kids, a treasure trove of fun and learning in our community.

The kids adore the castle play area.

Despite this incident, we continue to find joy in our visits to the Exploration Station.

They have a fantastic outdoor play area that is always clean and inviting.

Moreover, the kids can run freely while we sit back and relax.

It’s a perfect blend of fun and education for the little ones.

Discover the Natural Splendor of Kankakee River State Park

The calm waters of Kankakee River State Park

Mark Baldwin /

I was mesmerized when I first set foot on the verdant expanses of Kankakee River State Park.

Stretching over 4,000 acres alongside 11 miles of shimmering river, the park is an outdoor lover’s paradise that I am lucky to have in my backyard.

The park boasts a 10-mile bike path that is mostly paved and perfect for my leisurely weekend rides.

It winds through the park, offering mesmerizing views and secluded spots to rest and soak in the serenity.

The charming horse stables add a rustic touch, and I often find myself lost in the soothing rhythm of the horses’ gentle trot.

One of the park’s unique features is its well-maintained camping sites – a haven for adventure seekers like myself.

The camp hosts are always welcoming and helpful, adding to the delightful camping experience.

Picnic shed along Kankakee River State Park

Brian Kapp /

The park’s wildlife is fascinating; the creek hosts colorful fish and crayfish.

With the absence of mosquitoes, it becomes an even more enjoyable experience to sit by the water, watching the world go by.

The picnic areas are my favorite spots to unwind and relax.

I’ve celebrated special occasions here more than once, relishing the warm, friendly atmosphere and the diverse crowd that the park attracts.

With its scenic beauty and ample recreational opportunities, Kankakee River State Park holds a special place in my heart.

As the seasons change, I eagerly anticipate the spectacular views the park is sure to offer, making every visit a new adventure.

I plan to return there, perhaps in the fall, when the garden fills with vibrant autumn hues.

A bridge over the waters of Kankakee River State Park

Brian Kapp /

Final Thoughts

I must say that living in Kankakee has been nothing short of an adventure.

Every corner of Kankakee tells a story, and it’s been an absolute pleasure to live those stories daily.

Kankakee truly has my heart, and I hope visitors and fellow residents feel the same kind of love for this beautiful place.

© All rights reserved.