Blake Walsh

15 Free Things to Do in Bloomington, IL

  • Published 2022/12/24

The tree-lined streets of Bloomington in McLean County, Illinois, bring a flavor of history and culture to the beautiful city.

Set within the heart of Illinois and adjacent to the city of Normal, Bloomington is a vibrant city filled with museums and public recreational spots.

Home to the State Farm world headquarters, this city brings the whole community together with its array of tourist spots and its annual festivals.

One of these well-known festivals is the annual Shakespeare festival, which keeps the art of literature alive.

Before its modern landscapes, Bloomington was once known for its large grove of trees, even earning the name “Keg Grove.”

When the early settlers settled within the city limits, they found a hidden liquor keg, thus, the moniker.

Now, the city’s urbanscape shines with countless business establishments and recreational centers.

If you want to stick to your budget while traveling to this city, here are some free things to do in Bloomington, Illinois.

See the Tuesday Exhibits at the McLean County Museum of History

Exterior of McLean County Museum of History

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

Since 1892, the McLean County Museum of History has served the community of Bloomington with five permanent galleries and two rotating ones.

Along the collections, you will find over 18,000 objects and artifacts relating to the past of McLean County.

Learn about early farming, lifestyles, culture, and even notable figures throughout history and their contribution to the diversity and openness of America today.

This museum, situated on North Main Street, is also your excellent source for ancient archives, from photographs, manuscripts, and newspapers.

The McLean County Museum of History offers free admission to everyone every Tuesday, so mark your calendars!

Play Ball at O’Neil Park

Within West Chestnut Street, O’Neil Park offers a day of outdoor play and relaxation.

Spanning 18.7 acres, this park offers free amenities you and your loved ones can enjoy.

Challenge your family members to a game or two within the sports fields and courts.

Bring your A-game as you practice your tennis swings at the specialized tennis court.

If you want to take your meal to the park, you may do so at the grilling stations and picnic areas.

O’Neil Park also has a skate park completed in 2008 but had to undergo renovations as part of the summer park project in 2023.

Catch a Free Concert at Franklin Park Concerts

Do you want to enjoy live music in Bloomington for free?

On East Chestnut Street, treat yourself to a night of pure entertainment and novelty music.

Listen to the Community Concert Band, spearheaded by conductor Michael Wallace at Franklin Park Concerts.

You can expect a wide range of music genres, from overtures and marches to dance music.

For a more comfortable music-listening experience, bring a chair or a blanket to lay out on the lawn.

Bring your partner to this event from mid-June to early July, and make it a date you won’t forget for a long time.

Come by on a Thursday before 7:00 p.m. so you don’t miss the hour-long Franklin Park Concerts.

See the Colorful Flowers at the Genevieve Green Gardens

Prepare for a world of vibrancy and color at the Genevieve Green Gardens.

This public garden collection features a variety of perennials, conifers, and a unique Japanese flower selection.

Tucked in various sections, the garden also comes with a central plaza with a highlighted water feature that refreshes the entire place.

Within the topography, find signages and walkways to guide you.

This park is free at all times and is best explored during nighttime.

It was made in honor of Genevieve Carlock Green by her husband.

You can find the Genevieve Green Gardens on Sunset Road within the property of Ewing Cultural Center.

Hike or Bike along the Constitution Trail

The Constitution Trail is a part of this list because of its 24-mile walkway for both hikers and bikers.

Created to connect the twin cities of Bloomington and Normal, this trail’s initial plan started in the 80s.

At that time, most cities had bike trails, so to add to Bloomington’s city appeal, Hugh Atwood led the planning for a path.

Now, this trail stands where the line of Illinois Central Gulf Railroad once served the public.

The Constitution Trail, opened in 1989, has become a picturesque linear park ideal for hikers of all expertise and ranges.

You’ll come across Beer Nuts and various parks and recreation sites along the pathway.

There are various trailheads leading to the trail, including one at Atwood Wayside on North Robinson Street.

See the Native Plants at Walt Bittner Park

Spanning 11 acres, Walt Bittner Park is the ultimate family destination for gatherings and soft sports games.

Amuse yourself and your loved ones at the football field or the softball diamond.

There’s also a drinking fountain on site that keeps you refreshed while outdoors.

Named after Bloomington Mayor Walt Bittner, this park is also home to native Illinois prairie plantings, which bring a charismatic addition to the park’s amenities.

Follow the walking paths and have your fill of sweet scents and pleasant flower sightings.

Head to Rave Road to reach the subtle yet serene Walt Bittner Park.

Cool Off at McGraw Park

When the summer heat in Bloomington gets too much, drive to the 30-acre McGraw Park and cool down.

This park, named after former Mayor Bob McGraw, spans 30 acres of fun and excitement.

Have your kids wander, crawl, and run around the playground equipment set within the park property.

The picnic tables are also ideal for a quick snack break after a grueling hike all over the park.

Situated on Cornelius Drive, McGraw Park also has a boardwalk that leads you across rose gardens and a refreshing fountain.

You may catch its seasonal spray pad when you visit from May to September.

Take Home a Book from the Little Free Library

One unique activity in Bloomington is to get a free book from a street bookcase.

The Little Free Library aims to remove book access restrictions and help defeat illiteracy within various communities worldwide.

And best of all, it’s free!

You can quickly go to a Little Free Library bookcase and get free books there.

What started as a small campaign in 2009 soon evolved into a worldwide program that changed the trajectory of over 50 states and over 110 countries.

You can visit Little Free Library stations on various streets and roads in Bloomington.

The most remarkable streets include Keystone Road, Pembrook Circle, Arrowhead Drive, and Hamilton Road.

Join First Friday Events at Downtown Bloomington

First Friday Events are essential to the community culture of Bloomington.

Every first Friday, local businesses and establishments adjust their regular working hours to serve the people more throughout the day.

Special deals and offerings are up for grabs at various bakeries, boutiques, and other service shops.

You can also browse local art galleries and find new additions to their exhibits.

Most importantly, it’s your chance to play up with every monthly theme.

Who knows?

You might even sample local delicacies for free!

Celebrate Bloomington by joining First Friday Events in the city’s downtown district starting on East Washington Street.

See the Public Art of Downtown Bloomington

Exploring Downtown Bloomington is an art exploration in and of itself.

The public artworks all over this area have been a sight to behold since the 1900s.

The Trotter Fountain in Withers Park is one of the city’s earliest public art pieces and the first project born out of this program.

Over the years, several additions decorated Bloomington’s Main Street.

Admire the colorful, cartoon-style Dragonflies created by Mickey Lower on Main Street.

Get a touch of history along your travels with a stop by Seth Gorden’s portraits of Abraham Lincoln and David Davis on North Main Street.

Alongside box and murals, there are sculptures, too!

At the entrance of McLean County Museum of History, rest by the Lincoln Bench—made by Rick Harney—and strike a pose with the sitting figure of the former president.

Join a Public Tour of the Manor at Ewing Cultural Center

Ewing Cultural Center is a Bloomington attraction you should not leave behind on your itinerary.

This cultural center on Sunset Road offers wooded landscapes spanning 6.5 acres.

This center showcases Bloomington’s rich history and heritage and has a manor that Davis and Hazle Buck Ewing originally owned.

Built from 1928 to 1929, the home’s architecture took inspiration from the affluent structures of the post-Victorian era.

Anticipate wooden beams and striking spiral staircases as you join the free public tours of the Ewing Manor.

Enjoy Bloomington’s early days with a stop by the Ewing Cultural Center.

Other Things to Do Nearby

You can also have fun in nearby cities while staying within budget!

Below are more free activities you can do near Bloomington.

See a Live Clown Performance at Sweet Corn Circus

August is an essential month in Normal, Illinois, because this is when the Sweet Corn Circus graces the city for two days.

Originally named Sweet Corn Blues Festival, this annual event brings back the circus and corn roots of both Bloomington and Normal.

Marvel at the acrobatic performances and aerial shows on the street.

Laugh at clowns and cheer for professional wrestlers.

It’s a fun and free event you don’t want to miss!

You only have to travel seven minutes from Bloomington to reach the Sweet Corn Circus in Uptown Circle.

Pick Free Fresh Produce at Refuge Food Forest

Refuge Food Forest in Normal is free and open to the public, a paradise of greenery, tranquil landscapes, and topography.

This park in One Normal Plaza features organic produce.

Since its development in 2015, this community project has aimed to bring the community manually grown edible plants and crops that are free to pick.

You can also volunteer to harvest and weed out some outcrops if you have time.

Not only do you feel relaxed with the amount of nature at your fingertips, but you might also learn something about gardening.

Refuge Food Forest is on East Lincoln Street, ten minutes from Bloomington.

Meet the Alpacas at Houchin Family Alpacas

The annual Alpaca Open Farm Day in Houchin Family Alpacas is a family-friendly event occurring every September.

The farm opens its gates to everyone; you can meet the alpacas within the property.

Bring your little ones and learn more about these fun and curious creatures and feed them.

Alpaca Open Farm Day also hosts spinning demonstrations for everyone to see and sells alpaca products within that weekend.

Head to North Road in Heyworth, Illinois, an 18-minute drive from Bloomington, to reach Houchin Family Alpacas.

Unleash Your Kid’s Creativity at the Children’s Discovery Museum

It’s your child’s time to shine when you travel with them to the city of Normal.

The annual Day of Play hosted by the Children’s Discovery Museum provides them with an avenue to cultivate their creativity and meet peers they can connect with.

Through interactive programs and play structures, the museum cultivates the love for learning within your little ones!

Bring them to Touch-a-Truck for an educational experience on machinery and equipment.

On the other hand, the PNC Mobile Learning Adventure takes your little one through different stations that strengthen their interests in dressing up and coloring.

There’s more that awaits your kid!

Since 2004, Day of Play has occurred every September and highlights the importance and impact of the play.

Take a five-minute drive from Bloomington to the Children’s Discovery Museum on East Beaufort Street.

Final Thoughts

When it comes to outdoor recreation, Bloomington never disappoints.

From trails and gardens to unconventional events and programs, this city’s free sites promise a good and memorable time.

Plan your trip today and discover the free things to do in Bloomington, Illinois!

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