Blake Walsh

20 Best Things to Do in Pontiac, IL

  • Published 2023/03/03

A delightful discovery awaits visitors to Pontiac, Illinois.

Known as the county seat of the Livingston County, this thriving mid-western city has much to offer.

Pontiac is famous for its museums and historical homes located within a one-mile loop within the city center.

The historic houses are open for viewing only a few times throughout the year.

However, you should check out their meticulously restored exteriors and well-maintained landscapes.

The city also has a wide selection of natural and sports attractions where you can relax, exercise, or have fun.

If you visit Pontiac, never miss the opportunity to look for the Walldogs murals.

More than 20 of them are painted on public buildings and walls across the city, depicting events, people, and places from Pontiac’s history.

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

Marvel at the Livingston County Courthouse

Exterior of Livingston County Courthouse

Henryk Sadura /

The Livingston County Courthouse is a historical Second Empire-style building that was the longtime judicial center for the county.

The courthouse includes a clock tower and bell, one of its most notable features.

Clocktower of Livingston County Courthouse

Eddie J. Rodriquez /

The white clocktower provides an exciting contrast with the red bricks that make up the entire building.

The current building is the third to carry the name of the Livingston County Courthouse.

Built in 1875, this building replaced the second courthouse, which a fire destroyed the previous year.

Memorial on the grounds of Livingston County Courthouse

IvoShandor, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Peer into the Past at the Route 66 Association Hall of Fame & Museum

A visit to the Route 66 Association Hall of Fame & Museum promises an insight into the history and culture of the iconic Route 66.

You’ll also see how it became an integral part of US folklore and pop culture.

Find an extensive collection of signs, posters, and other memorabilia from Route 66’s heyday, giving visitors a glimpse into what made this historic highway so famous.

The museum showcases vintage vehicles, maps, murals, brochures, guides, and even news clippings.

It is devoted to preserving the history of Route 66 and connecting visitors with the individuals who made it great.

You can also stop by this museum and have your photo taken beside an enormous Route 66 shield painted onto the building’s back wall.

The mural makes for a stunning backdrop for photographs, whether candid snapshots taken with friends or selfies.

Bring Your Fur Babies to the Draco Dog Park

The Draco Dog Park is the best place to bring your dog for a bit of exercise, fun, and socialization.

The spacious dog park, located at the Pontiac Recreation Complex, offers a spacious off-leash play environment for your four-legged friends to run freely.

Let your dogs meet and play with other dogs and enjoy the outdoors.

It has two separate areas for large dogs and smaller ones.

Both sides have shaded benches and cold-water fountains for your pups to drink from.

They also provide free waste bags to encourage guests to clean the area themselves.

This place is great for meeting new like-minded people and seeing your fur babies play!

The Draco Dog Park is dedicated to the memory of the Pontiac Police K9 named Draco, tragically killed in an accident.

Honor the Veterans at the Livingston County War Museum

The Livingston County War Museum is a living tribute to all the veterans from Livingston County who have given their lives for the country.

The museum displays over 275 uniforms and a wide variety of military equipment, weapons, radios, and other items dating from World War II.

There are several significant display cases with related items displayed throughout the museum.

Many veterans and families in the county donated the memorabilia on display.

Whether you are interested in World War II, the Vietnam War or a more recent war, you’ll find something that interests you at the museum.

Veterans and non-veterans operate the museum, fully supported by donations from visitors.

You can access the Livingston County War Museum through an elevator at the Route 66 Museum and Hall of Fame.

Admire the Architecture of the Jones House

Exterior of Jones House

IvoShandor, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Jones House, constructed in 1857, is the second oldest brick home in Pontiac.

This Gothic Revival-style house features a steep roof with gables and pointed second-story windows.

The Jones House has an exquisite facade.

It’s one of the most well-preserved examples of the Gothic Revival style in Illinois.

It was built when only one other brick building had been built in Pontiac.

In 1978, the National Register of Historic Places listed the house on its record.

They recognized its architectural value and association with two prominent citizens of Pontiac.

Among those who lived there were the families of John Dehner, one of Pontiac’s early merchants, and Henry C. Jones, a newspaper publisher,

The house’s namesake was also the founding president of the Pontiac Light, Heat and Power Company.

The house has undergone restoration and is now accessible to the general public by appointment.

Go for a Morning Stroll at the Dargan Park

Dargan Park is a two-acre cultural feature park located on Madison Street in Pontiac that offers various activities and attractions to visitors.

The park’s centerpieces include the Season of Life Statues, three 25-foot-tall rusty metal statues that symbolize the seasons of life—childhood, middle age, and old age.

A sculpture walk is also in the park, where you can go for a morning stroll to clear your mind.

You can also take your kids to enjoy the park’s playground or visit its monarch butterfly habitat.

When visiting, pack snacks and eat at the park’s spacious picnic pavilion.

Bring Your Kids to the Pontiac Doll & Toy Museum

Do you remember your childhood dolls and toys?

If so, perhaps you’d like to share those memories with your children or grandchildren.

Never miss the opportunity to take your kids to the Pontiac Doll & Toy Museum.

The Pontiac Doll & Toy Museum is a museum and toy store that specializes in dolls, toys, and collectible items.

It has an impressive selection of porcelain dolls, vintage Barbies, Raggedy Anns and Beanie Babies, children’s antique toys, adult collectibles like Christmas villages, music boxes, etc.

The museum houses a Barbie room with over 300 barbie dolls in a picture-perfect exhibit.

Several dolls and toys displayed in the museum are also available for sale.

Visit the Historic Catharine V. Yost Museum

The Catharine V. Yost Museum is a three-story, wood-frame house built in 1898 for Z.F. Yost, an attorney from Pontiac.

This Queen Anne-style house features five spacious bedrooms once occupied by the Yost family for nearly 100 years.

When the last member of the Yost family passed away, the estate deeded the house to the City of Pontiac.

The museum exhibits antique furnishings and historical artifacts initially owned by the family dating from the 1850s.

With its original furnishings and decor, the museum transports visitors to an earlier time when life was simpler and more carefree.

They offer free guided tours during regular visiting hours to educate you about the cultural and historical background of the house.

Hike at the Humiston Woods Nature Preserve

Humiston Woods Nature Center is an outdoor classroom in Pontiac that offers over 160 varieties of native plants and accompanying wildlife.

You won’t have any trouble finding something fun to do here, whether hiking trails through lush green forests or relaxing by the pond.

The eight-acre nature center features seven hiking trails leading through hardwood forest along the Vermilion River.

After your hike, you can fish at the fishing pond, canoe down the creek, or relax in the pavilion and picnic grounds on a sunny day.

It is open year-round for self-guided nature walks, special tours, and activities.

Learn about Gilding at the Museum of the Gilding Arts

Learn about the craft of gilding with hands-on demonstrations, and see how ancient people did it by visiting the Museum of the Gilding Arts.

The museum is dedicated to the preservation, study, and encouragement of the craft of gilding–the art of applying thin sheets of gold to a surface.

The museum contains a collection of artifacts related to the history, manufacture, and use of gilding.

The museum staff demonstrates traditional gilding techniques and hosts artists’ talks about working with gold leaves.

The museum also features a re-created gold beating room to offer a glimpse of how goldsmiths worked in the past.

Check Out Historic Murals at the International Walldog Mural and Sign Art Museum

Explore the history and art of outdoor murals and advertising sign painting at the International Wall Dog Mural and Sign Art Museum.

The art gallery is dedicated to preserving this unique art and advertising form that was popular before digital media.

Artifacts found in this museum exhibit tell the history of early sign painters called “Walldogs” and modern artists who continue their tradition.

This museum pays tribute to the muralists of the past, whose contributions remain an integral part of the US advertising industry’s history.

A few signs remain today, recording the colorful history that today’s advertising giants often overlook.

Cross Pontiac’s Historic Swinging Bridges

Pontiac's swinging bridge over Vermilion river

hakkun, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Pontiac is home to three historic swinging pedestrian bridges, collectively called the Pontiac’s Swinging Bridges.

These bridges cross the Vermilion River at various points within the city.

They are historically significant and offer a unique attraction within the city.

All bridges have undergone several restorations, but their ironwork remains original.

Built in 1898, the first bridge connected Riverside Drive and Play Park, which allowed workers to reach the shoe factories on the north side of the city.

The second bridge linked the Play Park and Chautauqua Park.

Built in 1926, this bridge provided easy access to the swimming pool at Camp Humiston that opened in 1925.

The city built the last bridge in 1978 in the present-day Humiston-Riverside Park.

The bridges’ wooden walkways provide an excellent place for families and friends to walk and take pictures.

View Vintage Cars at the Pontiac-Oakland Automobile Museum

The Pontiac-Oakland Automobile Museum is an excellent place for anyone interested in vintage cars or automotive history.

The museum offers various exhibits, including vintage cars, engines, parts and even oil cans.

You can tour their car collection or even join an automotive heritage workshop.

Learn about some of the tools used during early automobile manufacturing.

The museum has temporary exhibits covering everything from rare vintage cars from the 1920s to 1930s to more recent car models from the 1970s and 1980s.

The museum also has a library with archives of thousand-old highway maps, brochures, original car design drawings, and service and owner’s manuals.

Listen to War Songs at the Music of the Civil War Exhibit

Whether you are an avid music lover or interested in the history of the American Civil War, this exhibit offers some surprises.

The Music of the Civil War Exhibit highlights antique instruments and music sheets used during and after the American Civil War.

This exhibit features recorded music from the period and explores how the war impacted musicians.

Many people don’t realize that music was a massive part of the Civil War.

This exhibit shows how some musicians used their talents as propaganda to encourage enlistment and how others wrote songs to keep soldiers’ spirits high during battle.

Unearth the Past at the Livingston County Courthouse Museum

Unearth the past of Livingston County at the Livingston County Courthouse Museum.

The museum features a small but impressive collection of artifacts inside the Livingston County Courthouse that tells the story of the county’s cultural heritage.

There are items from the county’s past that will capture your imagination.

The collections include prehistoric items, such as fossils and Native-American artifacts like stone axes and arrowheads.

The Livingston County Historical Society maintains the exhibit to protect and preserve the county’s local history.

Check Out Pontiac Visitors Center

Pontiac Visitors Center is a great way to kickstart your trip to the city, as you’ll learn a lot about what it has to offer.

There’s a lot of interesting exhibits and displays here, making Pontiac Visitors Center seem like a mini museum as well.

You’ll find lots of vintage items here, ranging from 20th Century vehicles to old radios and signages relevant to the city.

On top of that, the visitor center also has a gorgeous, red brick facade that makes for a great photo souvenir.

You can visit Pontiac Visitors Center along West Howard Street.

Enjoy the Vermillion River at Humiston-Riverside Park

Humiston-Riverside Park is an underrated spot in Pontiac, not often visited by a lot of people despite its scenery.

This is the place where you can find the city’s historic swinging bridges, but Humiston-Riverside Park is also an attraction on its own.

Sprawling with beautiful gardens and walking paths, this is a picturesque place to do some jogging.

Of course, you can get access to the Vermillion River from here as well; plenty of its greenery allows you to relax at the riverside.

The park is also quite sizable, so you can easily spend a couple of hours here, best done during the early morning.

Humiston-Riverside Park is located along West Water Street.

Taste City Favorites at Pontiac Family Kitchen

Pontiac Family Kitchen is a culinary institution in the city, famous for serving customers with classic American dishes.

What makes Pontiac Family Kitchen famous is its buffet, serving a lot of different all-you-can-eat promos year-round.

Some of their most famous food items here are their deep fried walleye, something you can have buffet-style during certain parts of the week.

Pontiac Family Kitchen also has excellent service, as they’re known for having minimal wait times.

Find this famous restaurant along West Custer Avenue.

Watch the Ducks at Play Park

Play Park is another scenic park in Pontiac along the Vermillion River, located along East Park Street.

You can find tons of ducks at Play Park which makes it unique; it’s a great place to immerse children with nature.

There are also a couple of wooden bridges here that’s great for photography with friends and family.

Besides these, Play Park is also teeming with all sorts of trees and shrubbery that gives it an oasis-like appeal.

Whether you’re in the mood for a scenic stroll, a picnic, or you’re just passing by, Play Park is a relaxing place to be.

Play Disc Golf at Riverview Disc Golf Course

Just a stone’s throw away from Humiston Riverside Park lies Riverview Disc Golf Course.

It’s a well-maintained disc golf course that offers views of the Vermillion River, making this a picturesque place to play the sport with friends and family.

While the river itself is a water hazard, there are a lot more other fun challenges at this disc golf course to keep even veteran players occupied.

Because it’s so close to riverside parks and the swinging bridges, this makes for a convenient stopover during your trip.

If you’re up for a round, you can access Riverview Disc Golf Course along East Park Street.

Final Thoughts

Pontiac is where visitors find the things they love about small towns, from friendly faces to a quiet and restful atmosphere.

Learn about Livingston County’s rich history and culture during your Pontiac visit.

The city is near Chicago and St. Louis, making it attractive to individuals commuting from these larger cities.

No matter what activities you choose, you’re sure to create special memories in this city.

Start planning your Pontiac trip today!

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