Blake Walsh

25 Best Things to Do in Rockford, IL

  • Published 2022/08/05

The fifth-largest city in Illinois, Rockford is a lovely picturesque city nestled by the Rock River.

Rockford is often called the City of Gardens, and rightfully so.

It has numerous beautiful gardens that always have something or the other blooming.

The city is a haven for tourists, especially for visitors who love to enjoy lush nature and outdoor adventures.

Rockford has about 20,000 acres of green spaces and boasts several golf courses, adventure parks, botanical gardens, hiking trails, nature centers, parks, and more.

Along with impressive outdoor spaces, the city also has many cultural places, such as museums, theaters, music clubs, and so much more.

Rockford has a fantastic food scene and amazing bars that will satisfy your inner gastronome.

Here are some of the best things to do in Rockford, Illinois:

Walk around and Explore the City’s Nooks and Crannies

Aerial view of Rockford, Illinois

Jacob Boomsma /

Rockford is a wonderfully picturesque city with lots to explore and see.

There are tons of magnificent attractions for you to witness all around the city.

This lovely city is worth exploring on foot.

Stroll around the town and its different neighborhoods and streets to experience the beauty and essence of Rockford.

You will come across less famous and more amazing places known to only locals.

Don’t forget to carry your camera with you to click beautiful pictures of the architecture and streets.

Long walks along the charming streets of Rockford will make you fall in love with this city.

Witness the Impressive Anderson Japanese Gardens

Beautiful flora of Anderson Japanese Gardens

Ana S. Chao /

Often named the highest quality and most beautiful Japanese garden in North America, Anderson Japanese Gardens is a seasonal 12-acre Japanese garden in Rockford, Illinois.

Established in 1978, this impressive Japanese garden has stunning scenery.

It boasts many remarkable features of Japanese gardens that include ponds with koi fish, gravel gardens, waterfalls, and much more.

A footbridge at Anderson Japanese Gardens

Tracy Immordino /

A restaurant on the premises serves delightful food and overlooks the garden’s beautiful scenery.

You can head to the on-site gift shop to purchase souvenirs.

Make sure to visit the impressive Anderson Japanese Gardens to enjoy a tranquil environment with gorgeous views of the garden away from the city’s hustle and bustle.

A pavilion at Anderson Japanese Gardens

joe arrigo /

Shop for Fresh Local Goods at Rockford City Market

Visit Rockford City Market to purchase wholesome, locally sourced produce and the vendors that sell them.

You can buy fresh organic fruits, vegetables, cheese, flowers, baked products, and more.

The market also features live music performances for visitors to enjoy while shopping.

Visit the Impressive Klehm Arboretum and Botanic Garden

A person taking a picture of Klehm Arboretum and Botanical Garden

Brian Kapp /

Klehm Arboretum and Botanic Garden is best known as a living museum and has tons of greenery, with rare plants and trees blooming all year round.

It covers an expansive area of about 155 acres and is covered with lush greenery.

The garden is equally impressive during all seasons.

In the spring, you can see the fragrant magnolia trees and the butterfly garden in the summer.

Moreover, in the winter, you’ll be able to see snow-capped evergreens.

This green space also has trails for walkers and hikers.

During the winter season, visitors can enjoy skiing or snowshoeing in the stunning landscape.

You can book guided tours to explore Klehm Arboretum and Botanic Garden.

Alternatively, you are also welcome to tour the place on your own.

Either way, this delightful living museum is worth visiting.

Stop by the Rockford Art Museum

Founded in 1913, the Rockford Art Museum is located in the heart of Rockford by the Rock River.

The museum features a diverse assortment of contemporary and modern art.

It has been an essential part of Rockford’s community for ages.

The museum features several permanent as well as temporary exhibitions and displays.

Their collection consists of more than 1,900 pieces of work that expand from ancient art to modern art and include sculptures, paintings, and photography.

The temporary exhibitions mainly showcase the works of local artists.

There is an outdoor sculpture garden where you can admire the sculptures while enjoying the river’s impressive view.

The museum also has a gift shop on the premises where you can purchase gifts and souvenirs to remind you of your visit to Rockford.

If you love modern art installations and local artists, the Rockford Art Museum is the place to go.

Buy Vintage Items at East State Antique Mall

Entryway of Main Street Antique Mall

Cheri Alguire /

East State Antique Mall is the perfect place for you to pick up unique souvenirs to remember the lovely city of Rockford.

It consists of over 15 antique shops specializing in vintage Hattie Carnegie jewelry, primitives, English antiques, flow blue china, sterling silver, furniture, and so much more.

You will find something or the other that you will love.

Spend a few hours at the East State Antique Mall to discover and buy cool antique and vintage items.

Learn about Dinosaurs at the Burpee Museum of Natural History

Triceratops skeleton in Burpee Museum of Natural History

Evolutionnumber9, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Located along the Rock River, the Burpee Museum of Natural History is the best place to explore and learn about Illinois’ fascinating geology.

The museum consists of award-winning exhibits and displays that have been attracting visitors since 1942.

The exhibition Jane: Diary of a Dinosaur will take you through the journey of Jane the T-rex and one of the most important dinosaur discoveries, the T-Rex skeleton, among other displays.

Jane the T-Rex displayed in Burpee Museum of Natural History

Ben Jacobson (Kranar Drogin), CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

As it is a working museum, researchers and paleontologists work on newly discovered specimens.

The museum also has a rooftop garden that contains an exhibit dedicated to the Rock River’s flora and fauna.

Visit the Burpee Museum of Natural History to learn about the prehistoric reptiles while enjoying a magnificent view of the Rock River.

Thescelosaurus displayed in Burpee Museum of Natural History

Ben Jacobson (Kranar Drogin), CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Spend a Day at the Lovely Sinnissippi Park and Golf Course

A water fountain at Sinnissippi Park's pond

Tracy Immordino /

Sinnissippi Park is a lovely park with a delightful setting of beautiful natural spaces perfect for a pleasant stroll around the park or a picnic.

The park also has a nine-hole golf course that was opened in 1912.

It was Rockford’s first public course at the time.

The golf course is pretty challenging and provides a fun way to spend an afternoon amid a scenic backdrop and a peaceful environment.

Head to the Stunning Nicholas Conservatory & Gardens

Exterior of Nicholas Conservatory & Gardens

Jw5 Photography /

The third-largest conservatory in the state of Illinois, Nicholas Conservatory & Gardens is an 11,000-square-foot botanical garden with indoor tropical and vibrant plants.

It also has sculptures as well as fountains, patios, and landscaped lagoon.

This conservatory is located by the bank of the River Rock, and it serves sweeping views of the stunning surroundings.

Interior of Nicholas Conservatory & Gardens

Bryan Lee, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

It also hosts several programs and events throughout the year, such as Tunes on the Terrace (a butterfly exhibition), All Aglow (which features various holiday lights), and the Lorikeet exhibit (an up-close interaction with birds).

Make sure to visit the incredible Nicholas Conservatory & Gardens when you visit Rockford.

Treat Yourself to Fresh, Organic Apple Products at Curran’s Orchard

Located in northern Illinois’ rolling hills, Curran’s Orchard is a family-run destination orchard famous for its organic and chemical-free apples, baked goods, and award-winning cider.

The orchard has about a dozen varieties of different apples: Jonagold, Red Delicious, Rome Beauty, Gala, McIntosh, Blushing Gold, Cortland, Jonathan, Empire, Yellow Delicious, Northern Spy, Honeycrisp, and Granny Smith.

Along with several types of fresh apples, the orchard also has a fantastic bakery where you can have delicious apple pies, apple donuts, apple butter, fresh cider, and more.

It also offers different activities for the visitors to participate in, such as hay wagon rides, straw bale mini-maze, apple launcher, farm animal corral, and climbing bales.

So, make sure to stop by the Curran’s Orchard to enjoy delicious apples and other fun activities.

Book a Stay at Hilton Garden Inn Rockford

Hilton Garden Inn Rockford is the perfect play to stay while visiting the city.

It is located near the city’s top-rated attractions and has top-notch amenities to make your stay comforting and worthwhile.

Try the World-Famous Swedish Pancakes at Stockholm Inn

Stockholm Inn is a Swedish-American restaurant popular among tourists and locals for its delicious food and Swedish hospitality.

It also has vegan, gluten-free, and vegetarian-friendly options to cater to their customer’s different culinary preferences.

Don’t forget to try the Swedish meatballs over noodles and Swedish pancakes with imported lingonberries when you dine at the Stockholm Inn.

Catch a Show at the Coronado Performing Arts Center

Exterior of Coronado Performing Arts Center

Jake Mackenzie (Transfinite), CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Built in 1927 and restored in 2000, the Coronado Performing Arts Center is a theater in Rockford.

It is designed as an “atmospheric-style” theater and can seat 2,400 people at once.

The theater is absolutely gorgeous, and its grand interior is worth noticing.

It hosts various traveling shows and other art groups.

Make sure to catch at least one show at the splendid Coronado Performing Arts Center.

Marquee of Coronado Performing Arts Center

I, IvoShandor, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Take the Kids to Discovery Center Museum

Discovery Center Museum is a kid’s science museum that consists of workshops, crafts, exhibits, and experiments for the little ones to dive in.

The museum features more than 250 exhibits to educate the younger explorers about science and art in a fascinating manner.

Discovery Center Museum also features the country’s first outdoor science park built by the community, a dinosaur fossil dig pit, a two-story maze, Secret Garden, and a water play area.

Visit the award-winning Discovery Center Museum to enjoy and educate yourself or your little ones through an interactive experience.

Stop by the Ethnic Heritage Museum

Built in 1850, the Ethnic Heritage Museum is located in the heart of the old water power district and showcases Irish, Hispanic, Lithuanian, Italian, Polish, and African-American heritage.

The museum has a room that contains the history of the aforementioned local immigrant groups.

It is an integral part of the community and shows how Rockford became what it is today through the unity and contribution of these different communities.

Drink and Enjoy Music at Mary’s Place

Mary’s Place is the oldest bar in Rockford and is a staple among locals.

It serves affordable drinks and provides entertainment in the form of eclectic musical performances by local and professional artists.

Visit Mary’s Place to experience the city’s staple bar like a local.

Visit the Tinker Swiss Cottage Museum and Gardens

Located in the heart of Rockford, the Tinker Swiss Cottage Museum and Gardens is a renowned house museum.

It consists of the house, carriage house, and barn from the Tinkers.

The museum is dedicated to the 1875 mayor of Rockford, Robert Hall Tinker.

He played an essential role in the early development of Rockford.

The elaborate garden outside the Victorian house is incredible and provides a tranquil environment with gorgeous views.

The museum has quite a few fun activities and events where you can participate, such as murder mystery parties, paranormal investigations, and much more.

Learn about Swedish Influence at the Erlander Home Museum

The Erlander Home Museum showcases the significant Swedish culture that can still be found in Rockford in its food, buildings, and culture.

The museum portrays how Swedish culture influenced the city of Rockford and contains many artifacts and memorabilia.

You can take guided tours of the museum; however, they must be booked in advance.

Enjoy Delicious Italian Cuisine at Lino’s

Lino’s has been serving the people of Rockford for more than 40 years.

It is the most famous restaurant in the city, and it serves comforting Italian food.

Make sure to try the specialty pizzas, toasted ravioli, tortellini, and gnocchi when you eat at Lino’s.

Drop by and Take a Photo of the Lake–Peterson House

Front view of Lake–Peterson House's exterior

I, IvoShandor, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Rockford, Illinois’s Lake-Peterson House, sometimes referred to as Jenny’s, is a residence built in the Victorian Gothic Revival style.

The home’s architect is unknown, although it was probably built in 1873 by famous Rockford resident John Lake, who was also the home’s initial owner.

The Swedish American Hospital in Rockford is the legal owner of the Lake-Peterson House, which was given special protection by the Jenny Lind Society in 1973.

Patio of Lake–Peterson House

I, IvoShandor, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The residence is regarded as one of the best examples of Gothic Revival architecture in the U.S. state of Illinois and is a noteworthy example of the style.

It is on the National Register of Historic Places and is recognized as an Illinois State Historic Site.

Side view of Lake–Peterson House's exterior

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

Spend an Afternoon Shopping at CherryVale Mall

A retail center called CherryVale Mall, formerly known as The Mall at Cherryvale, is located in Rockford, Illinois, next to Cherry Valley.

A two-story Sears and a three-story Marshall Field were at the Mall at Cherryvale when it first launched in the fall of 1973.

Outside of suburban Chicago, the two-story mall is the biggest retail center in northern Illinois.

In addition to being the earliest Marshall Field department store to open in Illinois outside of the Chicago area, CherryVale is significant for being the first mall in Rockford to be developed as a completely covered shopping center.

JCPenney, Macy’s, Tilt Studio, Choice Furniture, Verizon, Barnes & Noble, Visionworks, and Modern Nails are some of the mall’s anchor retailers.

Have a Drink with Pals at Prairie Street Brewhouse

The Prairie Street Brewhouse upholds the heritage of bringing high-quality brews to Rockford by being located in the original building of the Rockford Brewing Company.

Jonathan Peacock, an English beer fan, moved to Prairie Street near the Rock River in 1849 with the intention of starting his brewery utilizing tried-and-true European techniques and materials from the area.

The Brewhouse offers a selection of ales, lagers, and porters in addition to wines, unique cocktails, a complete lunch and supper menu, and ingredients that are fresh and in season.

In the summertime, there is live entertainment on the docks every Monday and Thursday.

Year-round, special events are hosted, including yoga, golf, pinball, and five-course dinners coupled with the ideal brewhouse beers.

Discover History at Midway Village and Museum Center

An old watermill at Midway Village Museum

Nejdet Duzen /

The Rockford area’s rich history is gathered, preserved, and explained at Midway Village Museum.

By offering top-notch exhibitions, activities, and events, it is dedicated to educating and enhancing its community.

Presently, the 52,700 square-foot Museum Center is home to seven exhibition galleries, storage for the collections, working areas, classrooms, a library, an audio-visual room, and the Museum Store.

Welcome sign of Midway Village Museum

JPaulli207 /

Over 110,000 artifacts now make up the collections, which also include three-dimensional objects, buildings, textiles, and historical material.

Visitors can visit the Midway Village and Museum Center any time of year.

Sock monkey statue at Midway Village Museum

JPaulli207 /

Visit the Well-Known Severson Dells Nature Center

The Severson Dells Nature Center is built in a former deer lodge and is open all year round.

It is located on a 369-acre county forest preserve.

It has a bookstore, meeting room, classroom, screened-in porch with a stone hearth, and display space.

Across the year, numerous bird feeders draw a wide range of species.

Since 1976, Severson Dells Nature Center and its staff have offered tons of people environmental programs through a range of programming involving school field trip activities, outings, guided hikes, and lectures.

Their goal is to build a connection between people and the natural environment through research and education while raising public awareness to encourage respect, appreciation, and preservation of the environment.

Final Thoughts

In Northern Illinois, on each side of the Rock River, is the lovely and historic city of Rockford.

In Rockford, Illinois, the arts, business, and agriculture come together.

The city of Rockford is endowed with a wealth of lovely outdoor spaces, and if you enjoy the outdoors, you won’t get bored here, thanks to the variety of botanical gardens, wildlife preserves, and hiking trails.

The list above contains some must-see and well-liked attractions for those traveling to Rockford.

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