Blake Walsh

20 Best Things to Do in Northbrook, IL

  • Published 2023/03/02

Northbrook, Illinois, is a village on Chicago’s affluent North Shore.

It features a mix of beautiful natural attractions and enjoyable recreational spots.

The suburb seated at Cook County’s upper border evolved as a stopover between Chicago and Milwaukee travelers.

The area once flourished with the booming brick industry in the late 1800s.

Northbrook was then known as Shermerville, named after Frederick Schermer, who donated land for its first train station.

It became famous for its five saloons and disruptive reputation.

Locals proposed to rename the village Northbrook to revive its public image.

After several decades, Northbrook has become a thriving suburb with educational institutions, family parks, gardens, shops, and local attractions.

Discover the lively Northbrook community and local travel spots around the village.

Here are the best things to do in Northbrook, IL:

Visit the Famous Chicago Botanic Garden

Colorful flowers at the beautiful Chicago Botanic Garden

elesi /

Just a few miles from downtown Northbrook, you can visit the fascinating Chicago Botanic Garden.

It’s in Glencoe, Illinois, 11 minutes from Northbrook.

This remarkable huge garden space has welcomed visitors for more than 40 years and remains one of the most frequently visited attractions in Chicago.

Discover various plants, trees, and blooms on this 300-plus acre landscape.

Pathway to Chicago Botanic Garden's japanese area

elesi /

See the renowned Bonsai Garden collections, climb the waterfall garden, or peek into the different rooms in the English-Walled Garden.

Stroll along the calming bridges over glimmering lakes at the Japanese Garden.

Enjoy the charming view of vibrant roses at the Rose Garden.

Visit other fascinating garden areas like the Bulb Garden, Crescent, Circle Garden, Fruit and Vegetable Garden, etc.

You can also drop by the Garden View Café for snacks and coffee and the Garden Shop to purchase some items.

Rose petal-shaped water fountain at Chicago Botanic Garden's rose area

elesi /

Discover Village History at the Northbrook History Museum

You can find the Northbrook History Museum at the historic Northfield Inn.

You’ll view museum displays, and research materials focused on Northbrook’s colorful history during your visit.

Check out a recreation of the 1890 Shermerville home with a parlor, kitchen, dining area, child’s room, bathroom, and master bedroom.

You’ll get the feel of the 1890s with authentic decors, furnishings, fixtures, and artifacts on display.

Get a glimpse of the Schinleber Photograph Collection and other permanent collections that depict the village’s history at the museum’s lower level.

The museum’s main floor regularly features rotating exhibits.

Get Fit at the Techny Prairie Activity Center

The Techny Prairie Activity Center, more commonly called TPAC, is a state-of-the-art facility in Northbrook.

The 44,200-square-foot building is on a vast prairie and nearby Anetsberger Golf Course.

Immerse yourself in the natural open space while working up a sweat with your fitness routines.

You can use the cardio and strength areas with exercise equipment or use the group fitness studios for aerobics classes.

The facility also has an indoor track, a gymnasium, and a multi-purpose room.

Bring your kids to the Kids’ Corner childcare for some playtime.

Practice Your Golf Swing at Heritage Oaks Golf Club

A Northbrook Park District property, the Heritage Oaks Golf Club is a 27-hole golf course designed to help golfers up their tee game.

The club’s practice range uses TrackMan technology that helps you track vital data to level up your golfing skills.

You can also use the 10,000-square-foot practice putting green to improve your swing.

Experience the fun and engaging indoor simulator bays that feature the Full Swing Pro Series simulator equipment.

Visit the golf shop and find an array of golf apparel and quality merchandise.

After a tiring golf game, you can relax and dine at Acorn Grill + Terrace overlooking the grass-carpeted golf courses.

You can enjoy a great selection of American cuisine and a full-service bar for drinks.

Go Ice Skating at the Northbrook Sports Center

Northbrook Sports Center is among the busiest sports facilities in the North Shore area.

The sports venue is famous for its two NHL-sized ice rinks open year-round.

Several Olympic skating champions also trained there.

Northbrook became known as the “The Speed Skating Capital of the World.”

The Sports Center serves all your skating needs, from skating classes for all ages to public skating and hockey classes.

They also offer freestyle, evening skating, dance camps, speed skating, and party room rentals for special events.

Besides the rinks, you can also swim at the pool, play tennis on the courts, and let kids enjoy the playground.

Enjoy Outdoor Recreation at Techny Prairie Park and Fields

Since 2006, the Techny Prairie Park and Fields has given visitors a place for a tranquil nature adventure and excellent recreational facilities.

For a short and relaxed game of golf, you can play at the nine-hole Anetsberger Golf Course.

You can practice your homerun swings at the park’s batting cages and warm-up facilities.

Walk the Trail Through Time to learn about the period when the Native Potawatomi tribe settled in the area.

See the wetlands, home to various mammals and birds.

Visitors can also enjoy a stroll along the boardwalks for birdwatching, discovering flora, and viewing the suburban landscape.

Have a fun family picnic at the shelters provided with large grills, tables, and a water fountain.

Take your kids to the famous 28-feet sled hill and have some rolling family fun.

Join a Nature Tour at the Somme Prairie Nature Preserve

Landscape of Somme Prairie Nature Preserve

John Ruberry /

The Somme Prairie Nature Preserve is a 74-acre open grassland area west of the Chicago River.

The area is famous for its prairie community.

The Illinois Nature Preserves Commission has designated the area as one of the state’s highest quality nature preserves.

Somme Prairie has a series of unpaved trail paths that allow hikers to immerse themselves in the surrounding nature.

Blue flag iris flower at Somme Prairie Nature Preserve

John Ruberry /

The area is rich in wildlife, perfect for spotting some unique birds like indigo buntings, red-tailed hawks, great crested flycatchers, and rose-breasted grosbeaks.

Check out the lovely rows of cardinal flowers, blue flag iris, fringed gentian, and thick blue-eyed grass adding colors to the prairie.

You can also see different butterflies like the great-spangled fritillary, eyed-browns, and wood nymphs.

You can also spot coyotes roaming the preserve.

Prairie sundrop flower at Somme Prairie Nature Preserve

John Ruberry /

Play Sports at Meadowhill Park

The 32-acre Meadowhill Park is one of Northbrook’s largest and most unique parks, offering a variety of sports activities to the public.

The vast park has five baseball diamonds, football fields, and soccer fields.

Swimmers can enjoy the Meadowhill Aquatic Center or MAC, with four separate pools.

It also offers swimming and diving lessons for all ages, junior lifeguard lessons, and water aerobics.

You can play at the park’s basketball court, ride a bike at the cycling track, and skate on the outdoor ice rink.

If you want some downtime at the park, you can stay at the Chalet, picnic areas, and shelter.

Enjoy the park’s views on the walking path.

Join a Bike Race at Ed Rudolph Velodrome

The Ed Rudolph Velodrome is a famous quarter-mile outdoor bicycle track in Northbrook.

It has regularly hosted bike racing events for more than 50 years.

It was named after Ed Rudolph, an ardent cyclist who also served as one of the Commissioners of the Park District Board.

The velodrome has become a famous attraction for professional cyclists from the Midwest area and as a route for weekly races during the summer and fall seasons.

You can also join training sessions and special events.

Likewise, sign up for the night bike races held every Thursday for amateur riders hosted by the Northbrook Cycle Committee.

You can watch racing events up close and see racers zoom past.

Buy Original Art at the Art Post Gallery

Art Post Gallery is your place for unique original art in the North Shore area and is one of the leading art dealers in Chicago.

The gallery hosts the largest supply of works on canvas like oil paintings, etchings, watercolor, and vintage art.

It opened in 1980 and has specialized in oversized art pieces.

See creations by well-known artists from the United States, South America, Europe, and Asia.

You can also look at antique maps displayed in the exhibit.

Purchase any art on approval, or commission the artists to create pieces similar to your liking or need.

Grab Fresh Produce at the Northbrook Farmers Market

Buy a variety of local goods and fresh produce at the Northbrook Farmers Market.

The Northbrook Farmers Market Association operates the market, hosting local farmers and producers selling locally made goods and products.

It is also the only volunteer-run farmer’s market in the North Shore area.

Visit the vendors and find an array of delectable baked goods, bread, cheese, farm-to-market fruits and vegetables, handcrafted jewelry, and more.

Go on a Shopping Spree at the Northbrook Court

The Northbrook Court is one of Chicago’s premier shopping locations, a shopping mecca with over 125 retailers.

The shopping center opened in 1976, featuring shops like Neiman Marcus, Macy’s, and Lord & Taylor.

Find over 90 specialty and luxury brand stores from accessories to children’s clothing, fashion brands, shoes, electronics, etc.

See the latest blockbuster at the AMC Theatres, or try the AMC Dine-in Northbrook 14, where you can enjoy both the movie theater and restaurant on a luxury recliner.

You can also find good food at the gourmet food court or the wide selection of restaurants, casual restos, and snack houses.

Explore the Village Green Park and River Walk

Village Green offers a quick nature escape in downtown Northbrook with its quaint yet lovely gazebo and lush green landscapes.

The park is well-known as the home of Little League Baseball and the Park Fest concert.

Northbrook celebrations like the Fourth of July and Northbrook Days also take place at the park.

Visitors can enjoy the park grounds, picnic areas, walking paths, baseball diamond, and soccer field.

The children’s playground offers enjoyable slides, bridges, tunnels, and ramps where kids can climb, slide and jump about.

They can also try the swings and sand areas.

If you want to grab some snacks, go to the concessions and vending machines at the pavilion houses.

Bring Your Kids to the Kohl Children’s Museum

Located just a few minutes from Northbrook is the Kohl Children’s Museum, which offers a hands-on learning experience for children up to eight years old.

Named after philanthropist Dolores Kohl, the museum presents exhibits and programs designed to make learning fun for young kids.

See the 17 permanent exhibits that will spark their creativity and imagination.

Encourage your kids to explore and enhance their artistic skills at the Adventures in Art or let them play doctor or nurse at the Baby Nursery.

Get them to learn by experience at the City on the Move exhibit or spark their interest in music, automobiles, markets, and cafés.

Let your kids enjoy nature discoveries at the Habitat Park and Entryway Gardens, or let them meet the turtles at Turtle rock.

Take a Nostalgic Trip to Nickel City

Spice up your Northbrook escapade with a trip down memory lane at Nickel City.

Opened in 1990, this indoor entertainment center specializes in video and redemption games.

It features classic arcade games, including household names like Skee-Ball and Bozo Buckets.

And after scoring some points, you can choose from a wide range of prizes from its prize counter.

And you can play most of these arcade machines for free!

Nickel City is also the ideal venue for all sorts of gatherings and parties.

To book your party at this center, head over to Waukegan Road.

Go for a Stroll along the Trails and Pathways at Wood Oaks Green Park

The waters of Wood Oaks Green Park

Hanniball423, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Wood Oaks Green Park has one of the most breathtaking natural sights you’ll ever see while in a park.

Purchased in 1975, this park offers wide vistas of Lake Shermerville and contains big hill slopes ideal for winter sledding.

Some of the sports games you can engage in while at this park include outdoor tennis and pickleball.

Running all over the park is a walking trail that extends to about 1 and 1/4 miles.

Gather with loved ones at the picnic areas for a quick snack break.

The 55.9-acre Wood Oaks Green Park is on Sanders Road.

Learn a Thing or Two about Wildlife at River Trail Nature Center

River Trail Nature Center is a must-visit if you’re into discovering wildlife and plants.

This center tells the story of the animals, plants, and environment within the Des Plaines River.

Its exhibits are free.

You are also welcome to join a guided tour of the center and discover more about the maple syrup-making process.

Stepping out of the center, find the beauty of nature more alluring with the site’s 1.5-mile walking trails.

Traverse through backwater wetlands and native woodlands where many animals reside.

You can find the entrance of River Trail Nature Center on Milwaukee Avenue.

Go on a Unique Native Tree Spotting Adventure

Whether you avidly study trees or feel fascinated by their beauty, a tree-spotting excursion around Northbrook may make your trip worthwhile.

Northbrook’s collection of trees ranges from native Illinois plants, like Bald Cypress, to pre-historic species, like Dawn Redwood.

The unique White Ash that turns purple in fall is a staple at Sacred Heart Cemetery on Lee Road.

Feel like you’re in a magical fairytale as you catch a glimpse of a Weeping Willow at Heritage Oaks Golf Club.

On Jeffrey Lane, the Red Oak makes its presence known.

On the other hand, the charming branches of the Japanese Maple wave as you pass by Butternut Lane.

And the list doesn’t end there!

Explore more of Northbrook’s native flora and some rare species you might not see growing elsewhere.

Play a Game of Golf at Willow Hill Golf Course

Need a golfing adventure in your Northbrook itinerary?

Then, don’t neglect to add Willow Hill Golf Course to your to-do list.

This 9-hole course spans 87 acres.

The course’s design takes inspiration from traditional Scottish designs of sandy coastland grounds.

Enjoy stunning views of the sunset and challenging elevations while aiming for a hole-in-one.

Willow Hill Golf Course is on Willow Road, awaiting your arrival.

Other Things to Do Nearby

Catch Live Music at the Ravinia Festival

Entryway of Ravinia Festival

Hendrickson Photography /

The Ravinia Festival is the country’s oldest open-air music festival held at Highland Park in Ravinia, Illinois, during the summer.

It’s ten minutes away from Northbrook.

The area used to be an amusement park that operated in 1904.

Since then, it has become the venue for the music festival.

The festival was associated with classical music and opera shows back in the day.

People at the Ravinia Festival

YourJudge, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra has been a festival mainstay since 1936.

After several years, the music selections began to include genres like pop, country, R&B, and many more.

Famous music artists like Gladys Knight, Dolly Parton, Diana Ross, Cynthia Erivo, and Willie Nelson have played at the festival.

You’re in for a treat if you’re staying at Northbrook during the summer because you can catch this star-studded festival.

Learn Important History at the Illinois Holocaust Museum

Exterior of the Illinois Holocaust Museum

Thomas Barrat /

The Illinois Holocaust Museum is a world-class museum designed by Stanley Tigerman, one of Chicago’s renowned architects.

Find it in Skokie, Illinois, 14 minutes away from Northbrook.

This specialized museum is the third largest among the Holocaust Museums in the country.

The exhibits will warn you not to repeat the catastrophes of history.

Illinois Holocaust Museum's room of remembrance

Eddau, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

You will travel through history as you see a glimpse of life before, during, and after the Holocaust.

Visit the impressive galleries and spaces.

Check out the original German rail car and imagine what the victims felt like, carted off to their doom at concentration camps.

You can find over 20,000 artifacts and items belonging to Holocaust victims and survivors that tell their stories.

Visit the Legacy Shop to find various items and merchandise from lovely jewelry, children’s books, souvenirs, and Judaica.

Memorial wall at Illinois Holocaust Museum

Thomas Barrat /

Final Thoughts

The suburban Northbrook village is a lively area that hosts great local and nature attractions.

Dotted with relaxing parks and excellent recreational sports facilities, it is a travel destination fit for the whole family.

Local events and celebrations add life to this dynamic community, attracting many visitors.

Start planning your Northbrook trip today!

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