Blake Walsh

17 Best Things to Do in Lake County, IL

  • Published 2023/04/02

Situated along the shores of Lake Michigan, Lake County is a primarily suburban region in Illinois.

It is also the state’s wealthiest county.

Located just north of Cook County, it’s one of the five collar counties of Chicagoland.

Before its creation in 1839, the county was a prairie inhabited by the native Potawatomi Indians.

Its initial county seat was present-day Liberty, then known as Independence Grove.

However, residents voted to move the government to Little Fort, which became present-day Waukegan.

Today, Lake County is one of the fastest developing regions in the state, thanks to its strategic location that brought about rapid suburbanization.

Here are the best things to do in Lake County, Illinois.

Ride the American Eagle at Six Flags Great America

Games and prizes at Six Flags Great America

E Fehrenbacher /

Located in Gurnee, Six Flags Great America is a 304-acre amusement park dubbed The Thrill Capital of the Midwest.

Originally named Marriott’s Great America after its developer, Six Flags opened its doors in 1976 as the sister park of California’s Great America in Santa Clara.

Designed by famed architect Randall Duell, the park follows the Duell loop design, which implements a primary guest path that forms a complete circuit around the park, allowing visitors to see every attraction.

Six Flags Great America is famous for its 15 roller coasters—the fourth-most in the world—including the inverted roller coaster Batman: The Ride.

But the park’s centerpiece attraction is the American Eagle, the tallest and fastest wooden racing roller coaster in the world.

Soak up the Sun at Rosewood Beach

Located in Highland Park is the award-winning Rosewood Beach.

The beach houses a natural cove, the site of several ecological and nature programs.

Its wooded bluffs hide a unique beachfront Interpretive Center and concession stands and restrooms connected by a boardwalk.

The boardwalk runs through the length of the beach, offering scenic views of Lake Michigan.

Rosewood Beach has certified lifeguards manning the beach during public swimming hours, so you’ll feel safe while enjoying the waters.

See Antique Cars at the Volo Museum

Display of an antique car at Volo Museum

sporst, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Located in Volo is the 36-acre Volo Museum.

The attraction houses more than 300 classic, antique, and Muscle cars, including some of the most iconic vehicles used in Hollywood movies.

Volo Museum is divided into 45 exhibits, each following a theme and showcasing different mechanical marvels.

The Vintage Campers exhibit houses some of the first and rarest RVs and campers, including a 1928 Ford Model A House Car.

This car was converted into a place to allow the owner to move from city to city looking for jobs.

The Warner Brothers Gallery is the studio’s largest display of store props, which include life-sized characters from Looney Tunes and decors from theme parks.

Shop Till You Drop at Gurnee Mills

If you want to do retail therapy while on vacation, visit the Gurnee Mills.

Located in Gurnee, the shopping complex has a 1,936,699-square-foot retail area where you can find designer items at outlet prices.

Gurnee Mills opened in 1981, primarily constructed to draw more visitors.

More than 30 years later, it’s one of the busiest shopping centers in the world, with annual foot traffic of around 20 million.

The Z-shaped, single-story building houses brands like Macy’s, Kohl’s, and Marshall’s.

Walk along the Shores of Illinois Beach State Park

Scenic view of Illinois Beach State Park

Jacob Boomsma /

Located in Zion, Illinois Beach State Park is a 4,160-acre park divided into two units.

It’s known for the 6.5-mile sandy shores of Lake Michigan, where you can walk and watch the sunset.

The park also contains dunes, wetlands, prairies, and vast forests of oaks.

Foggy morning at Illinois Beach State Park

Donna Ochoa /

The dunes are home to more than 600 plants and wildflowers, while the dry areas are dotted with prickly pear cactuses.

The Illinois Beach State Park offers recreational activities like swimming, boating, hiking, and fishing.

View of the Illinois Beach State Park

Jacob Boomsma /

Help People with Disabilities at Lambs Farm

In Libertyville, Lambs Farm is a 72-acre farm facility that employs people with developmental disabilities.

Bob Terese and Corinne Owen founded it in 1961 as a small pet shop with 12 employees with disabilities.

Today, the non-profit organization provides homes and livelihood to more than 250 people with special needs.

Lambs Farm has six attractions: Farmyard, Dogwood Garden & Pet Center, Magnolia Cafe & Bakery, Cedar Chest Thrift Shop, Sugar Maple Country Store, and Lambs Industries.

Pet animals at the Farmyard and enjoy snacks at the Magnolia Café & Bakery afterward.

Catch a Musical at the Marriott Theatre

Exterior view of the Marriott Theatre

LittleT889, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The renowned regional theatre, the Marriott Theatre, is in Lincolnshire.

The theatre produces around five musicals each year, with a small, live orchestra providing accompaniment.

The Marriott Theatre was founded in 1975 and has since staged more than 170 productions of well-beloved musicals.

Broadway considers the theatre a prime venue for launching Broadway shows into a regional market.

It has brought local adaptations of classics like Miss Saigon, Cats, and Les Misérables closer to the local audience.

The 838-seater theatre is a great way to experience world-class shows in an intimate setting.

Rent a Boat at Independence Grove Forest Preserve

Located in Libertyville is the Independence Grove Forest Preserve.

The 115-acre nature preserve has a lake where you can kayak or fish.

Boat and bike rentals are available inside the park.

It also has 7.5 miles of walking trails that circle the lake and snake through scenic areas.

Within the park is the Beer Garden at Independence Grove, where you can sample local craft brews on tap and enjoy snacks at the lakeside.

Go to a Concert at the Genesee Theatre

Exterior view of the Genesee Theatre

edward P. steinburg desnged, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Located in Waukegan, the Genesee Theatre is a historic concert hall and movie palace with a seating capacity of 2,403.

Built in 1926, the luxurious theatre was designed by Chicago Architect Edward P. Steinberg.

The design used terra cotta and pressed bricks in the façade to accommodate the ornate decorative details.

In the lobby hangs a luxurious chandelier, illuminating the grand staircase.

At the center of the Genesee Theatre auditorium is a large dome made of hammered silver, with elegant lighting adding to the grandeur of the building.

The Theatre hosts vaudeville shows as well as movies and concerts.

Stroll around the Historic Downtown Long Grove

Located in Long Grove is the Historic Downtown Long Grove.

The historic district is a well-preserved testament to its rich farming roots, with homes and building dating back to the 1800s still standing strong.

Walk on its cobblestone streets and check out the boutiques, antique shops, and cafes.

Admire lush seasonal gardens and scenic views on your stroll and discover a mix of local shops and restaurants.

Festivals are held at the Historic Downtown Long Grove throughout the year, including the famous Chocolate Fest and Apple Fest.

Book a Stay at the Great Wolf Lodge

Outside view of the Great Wolf Lodge

Harobouri, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

The indoor water park and resort Great Wolf Lodge is in Gurnee.

The 80,000-square-foot facility opened in 2018.

It is the first in Chicagoland, providing families from the city with a weekend getaway opportunity.

The facility has an indoor rock-climbing wall, bowling alley, arcade, and eight on-site dining options.

The waterpark has 13 stations with water rides, slides, caves, and coves to try and explore.

Every room at the Great Wolf Lodge has a flat-screen LED TV, a small refrigerator, and a coffee maker.

A wide selection of themed rooms provides guests with a fun and unique stay.

Flee the Mystery Manor at 60 to Escape

Located in Gurnee is the escape room 60 to Escape.

The live interaction puzzle rooms have different themes, puzzles, clues, and codes to decipher to escape.

You will receive 60 minutes to complete the adventure, playing games handcrafted by experienced puzzle designers and set builders.

One of the most popular rooms is the Mystery Manor, which involves a family that left their entire fortune to their only living relative.

Test your mind and beat the clock to solve a mystery or complete a mission at 60 to Escape.

Watch Horses Perform at the Tempel Lipizzans

Beautiful horses at Tempel Lipizzans

Brian Kapp /

Located in Old Mill Creek, The Tempel Lipizzans is a performing arts group showcasing the beauty of horsemanship.

Founded in 1958, the family-owned attraction promotes classical dressage and the Lipizzan breed through breeding and training programs.

The full-time dressage facility hosts horse shows where stallions and riders perform synchronized movements with accompanying music.

The Tempel Lipizzans offers several shows, including Lipizzan Tradition: The Mares and Foals, where 2-5-month old foals run freely around the area.

There’s also The Quadrille: Ballet of the White Stallions, where stallions and riders perform a coordinated program of classical steps.

Join the World-Renowned Ravinia Festival

Entrance to Ravinia Festival

Hendrickson Photography /

Located in Highland Park is the outdoor music venue Ravinia Festival.

The facility hosts the annual music festival of the same name every summer from June to September.

The series of outdoor concerts feature musical artists from Yo-Yo Ma to John Legend, as well as the annual summer residency of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Visitors enjoying their day at Ravinia Festival

YourJudge, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

As the oldest of its kind in the country, Ravinia Festival has hosted world-class opera acts throughout its history, including French soprano Yvonne Gall and Canadian tenor Edward Johnson.

It’s also a popular venue for ballet performances and jazz, rock, and pop concerts.

Martin theatre at Ravinia Festival

hakkun, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Learn Naval History at the National Museum of the American Sailor

Located in Great Lakes is the National Museum of the American Sailor.

Formerly known as the Great Lakes Naval Museum, NMAS was established in 2009 to preserve the history of the United States Navy and its enlisted sailors.

The museum houses over 40,000 artifacts and is one of the US Navy’s most important collections.

The collection includes naval uniforms and accessories from the early 1900s and an archive of boot camp-related photographs.

The National Museum of the American Sailor also features items depicting the sailors’ rich traditions and incredible diversity.

Spend the Day at Bowen Park

Bowen Park during fall

Holland Hise /

The 60-acre Bowen Park in Waukegan includes an old-growth forest and a ravine, adding to its natural charm.

It’s home to the Waukegan History Museum and the John L. Raymond Historical Research Library.

Originally a residential property, Bowen Park was the home of politician John Charles Haines before becoming a summer retreat house in the early 1900s.

The Waukegan Park District bought the land in 1963 and transformed it into a park featuring themed sections like ‘Forest Findings.’

This section houses a modern playground and several learning stations about the ecosystem.

There’s also a water spray area and forty-foot tunnel slides where kids can slide down.

Explore the Edward L. Ryerson Conservation Area

Facade of the Edward L. Ryerson Country house

Teemu08, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Located in Riverwoods is the Edward L. Ryerson Conservation Area.

The protected area and historic district were originally the property of businessman Edward L. Ryerson, where he built several cabins and a country house.

The Ryerson family eventually donated 451 acres of the property to the Lake County Forest Preserve District for public use.

Cabin at Edward L. Ryerson Conservation Area

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

Before development, the area was inhabited by Native American tribes, including the Chippewa, Ottawa, and Potawatomi nations.

Ryerson soon built four cabins for himself and his friends, and other wealthy business people in the area followed suit.

Today, the Edward L. Ryerson Conservation Area offers several trails for exploration, including a 6.5-mile trail for hiking and cross-country skiing.

Final Thoughts

Lake County has come a long way from its farming beginnings.

As one of the state’s fastest developing regions, the county has retained its heritage while keeping up with suburbanization.

From historical finds to recreational adventures, there’s something for everyone in this region.

Pack your bags and try the best things to do in Lake County, Illinois.

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