17 Best Things to Do in Lake Forest, IL

 Lake Forest, IL

Nestled along the shore of Lake Michigan, this idyllic city is more than just a beautiful landscape.

Its enchanting charm transcends beyond its lush parks and historic architecture.

It is a place where serenity meets adventure, where cultural richness intertwines with the essence of community spirit.

So, whether you're a history buff, nature lover, or food enthusiast, Lake Forest has a treasure trove of experiences waiting to be explored.

Get ready to delve into the heart of this captivating city as we take you through a delightful journey of some of best things to do in Lake Forest, Illinois.

We extend our heartfelt gratitude to the following individuals for their invaluable contributions to this article: Lydia Dimartino, Brandon Young, Alaina Peters, Mark Curl, Nalani Wiley, Connie Evans and David Dunavant.

Explore Nature at Middlefork Savanna Forest Preserve

The waters of Middlefork Savanna Forest Preserve
John Ruberry / Shutterstock.com

Just a stone's throw from my home, the Middlefork Savanna Forest Preserve has given me solace and adventure.

The tremendous beauty of the tallgrass savanna, the allure of wildlife, and the expanse of a four-mile trail make it a standout in the North side of Chicago.

On any given day, you can find me walking or biking along the wide trails, catching glimpses of Blanding's turtles, or simply soaking in this preserve's tranquility.

The trails, made up of grass, are comfortable and inviting.

At the end of the main trail, you are greeted by two separate trails, the east and west north shore trails.

Both offer their distinct charm and perspectives. The bridges over the train tracks are a favorite - they add a rustic charm to the serene environment.

However, the preserve is not just about trails. The animal life here is also quite rich. I often spot cranes, fish, turtles, and various birds.

Watching a heron majestically poised by the ponds has become a regular fixture of my visits.

Close view of a flower at Middlefork Savanna Forest Preserve
John Ruberry / Shutterstock.com

However, visiting Middlefork Savanna Forest Preserve is not just a walk in the park.

The preserve is home to many environments, from shaded woodland to open grassland, hosting a fascinating variety of flora and fauna.

These habitats are not just beautiful but also fragile. Specific paths prohibit dogs from protecting these habitats and nesting birds.

It's a small price to pay to preserve this gem!

Middlefork Savanna Forest Preserve, with its natural beauty and diverse ecosystem, has become my go-to spot for a dose of nature.

Vibrant flowers at Middlefork Savanna Forest Preserve
John Ruberry / Shutterstock.com

Visit the History Center of Lake Forest-Lake Bluff

Every time I venture into the History Center of Lake Forest-Lake Bluff, I feel like I'm stepping back in time.

The center is filled with many intricate, unique miniatures that amaze me with attention to detail.

Just imagine opening a tiny book in a Queen’s miniature display and being able to read the words inside.

The craftsmanship is just incredible!

Apart from the exquisite miniatures, the center offers a unique history walk.

The recent exhibit about African Americans living in Lake Forest since the 1900s is a testament to the city's vibrant past.

It's not just about seeing beautiful artifacts but also about learning the rich history of these families, many of whom still live there.

The exhibit runs through November and is a must-see for anyone interested in local history.

Beyond the impressive exhibits, the handful of displays that tell a story make this place truly captivating.

Like the miniature display, each piece might be small, but the story it tells is grand.

It's an immersive journey to a bygone era and a wonderful experience to enjoy and appreciate.

Enjoy the Day at Prairie Wolf Dog Park

There's nothing quite like the joy of walking my dog in the vast expanse of Prairie Wolf Dog Park.

This sprawling park, nestled within the verdant beauty of Lake County, is undoubtedly one of my favorite corners of the world.

Moreover, this park is a haven for dog owners and furry friends.

My pooch loves exploring the trails that meander through the towering prairie grasses and the enchanting woods.

The park is completely fenced, offering a safe and secure environment for dogs to roam freely and off-leash.

And there's a fenced water area for those hot summer days when my dog needs a cool-down.

If your dog isn't a fan of the water, no worries! They've thought of everything here.

With winding paths perfect for walking and ample space for dogs to run and play, Prairie Wolf Dog Park is a delight for pets and their owners.

Explore the Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve

Imagine a place where nature exists precisely as it has for thousands of years, a sanctuary of untouched beauty overlooking the crystal-clear waters of Lake Michigan.

Let me reveal my secret spot - the Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve. It never fails to take my breath away.

The unassuming Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve is bursting with natural beauty.

It has earned a place in my top 10 scenic parks in the Prairie State. It's the perfect hideaway for those moments when I crave serenity and a break from the daily hustle.

The park's appeal comes from its mesmerizing lake views that are nothing short of a feast for the eyes.

With a pair of sturdy shoes, I am set for an adventure on the well-maintained trails, perfect for a relaxed stroll or an invigorating hike.

The trails wind above the lake, each curve revealing a new vista more beautiful than the last.

It's particularly stunning when everything is alive with color in the spring and summer.

The beach is another favorite spot of mine.

Reaching the sandy shores after a good walk is a delight, especially for children who enjoy the outdoors.

While swimming isn't encouraged, there's something satisfying about dipping your toes in the cool lake waters.

And don't worry about the facilities - the bathrooms are new and well-kept.

Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve also represents the area's natural history.

It's one of the few places where you can see a remnant of oak forest - a grassland savannah that continues to be a haven for various birds, plants, and small mammals.

Who would have thought such an idyllic refuge could be found just a stone's throw away from home?

Each visit to Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve feels like a new experience. I invite you to discover the charm of this local treasure for yourself.

Take a Stroll Through Skokie River Nature Preserve

There's something truly enchanting about stepping off the beaten path and into Skokie River Nature Preserve.

Nestled in the heart of the Lake Forest area, this 120-acre expanse of nature is my go-to spot when I need a breather from everyday life.

The beauty of the preserve lies in its simplicity.

You're greeted by a flurry of natural colors when you step onto the trails.

I've often marveled at the blooming trillium and the vibrant warblers that flutter about, their chirping music to my ears.

Walking the natural trails is a rejuvenating experience.

They're well-maintained and provide plenty of space to take a stroll or go for a brisk walk.

Skokie River Nature Preserve is also a haven for our four-legged friends.

I've seen dogs bounding along the grass and gravel paths, tails wagging with pure joy.

And for those who prefer to keep the pace up, the concrete bike pathways are a great option.

They're even marked with mile markers to ensure you never lose your way.

Its location is quite convenient too. The preserve is directly across from the Lake Forest Hospital, making it easily accessible for those living there.

I prefer the scenic drive down Deerpath Road when I don't fancy taking the train.

Indeed, I highly recommend exploring the Skokie River Nature Preserve if you're ever in the area.

It's an experience unlike any other and the best way to discover and appreciate the beauty of Long Grove and Lake Forest.

Spend the Day at the Elawa Farm Foundation

Have you ever been somewhere and found it hard to leave?

That's exactly how I feel about the Elawa Farm Foundation.

A typical day at Elawa Farm for me begins with a visit to their vibrant farmer's market.

It's brimming with fresh vegetables and fruits, not to mention the unique assortment of homemade jams and pastries.

Aside from the market, Elawa Farm is renowned as a stunning event location.

I attended a wedding there, which was nothing short of perfection.

Everything from the ceremony to the reception was flawlessly coordinated.

The guests moved effortlessly from the ceremony area to the cocktail hour and then to the dinner under a large tent.

Lastly, the dancing session took place in the haybarn - a unique and charming touch that left all the guests in awe.

But the farm also hosts a variety of activities throughout the year.

A personal favorite is the gin class offered during the Christmas season.

It's a fun and engaging way to learn about gin production and, of course, to enjoy some delicious samples!

Elawa Farm Foundation has so much to offer, and it's a place I'm proud to have in my community.

Make a Serene Escape at Mellody Farm Nature Preserve

I cherish my strolls through Mellody Farm Nature Preserve.

It's my little slice of heaven tucked away amidst the hustle and bustle of urban life.

Enveloped by lush greenery and tranquil scenery, it's the perfect place to reconnect with nature and find some solace from everyday stresses.

The majestic grounds and historic buildings at Mellody Farm amaze me.

Each stroll is like stepping into a well-crafted landscape painting, with the preserve’s legacy etched into every corner.

It's a haven for wildlife, too — each visit promises an encounter with various birds, making these walks even more delightful.

Every visit gives me a different picturesque view that calls to be captured through my lens.

The sights, the sounds, and the freshness of the air make this place an absolute joy for nature lovers like me.

If you haven't visited yet, I highly recommend you walk through this serene escape.

Enjoy the Day at Market Square

Shops along Market Square
Slo-mo, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Every morning, as the sun comes up and the aroma of freshly brewed coffee permeates the air, I find myself drawn to the heart of our town, Market Square.

Lake Forest, Illinois's bustling hub, is my sanctuary, playground, and escape, all rolled into one.

Walking around, the park in the center always catches my eye.

It's the perfect place for children to let their imagination run wild or for adults to find a peaceful moment amidst their busy day.

The scattered benches provide a cozy spot to read a book or sit back and marvel at the beauty of the landscape.

Right next to the park, you'll find many charming shops for a delightful shopping day.

One of my favorites is the local bookstore - a haven for book lovers like me.

Every visit is an opportunity to discover new authors and stories, and the serene ambiance makes it a perfect spot to lose track of time.

Macy's at Market Square
Slo-mo, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

But the square is not only about shopping and relaxing. It’s also a foodie’s paradise.

The food options are endless, from tempting coffee places to the spectacular Amidei Mercatino Produce Market.

The market, in particular, always reminds me of the quaint European markets I visited.

It’s a beautiful blend of classic charm and a contemporary vibe, just like our town.

Adjacent to the square is our old train station, a testament to the rich history of Lake Forest.

It's a beautiful sight to behold, especially when a train whistles, adding nostalgia to an otherwise modern town square.

Market Square is an experience I am lucky to have right at my doorstep.

Enjoy the Gorton Center

Not every day do you come across a community gem like the Gorton Center.

This historical building, nestled in our town, is not simply a venue but a place that has nurtured my family.

I remember when my son first attended a class there, the kind teachers welcomed him with open arms.

Over time, I have witnessed its positive impact on him, not only academically but personally as well.

He adores the add-on enrichment activities and is always eager to participate and learn something new.

Their care for him goes beyond just education. It's about nurturing a love for learning.

Moreover, the Gorton Center is a versatile venue that caters to various events professionally.

I've attended numerous events there.

Whether you're planning a significant corporate event or an intimate wedding ceremony, they have many room options to suit your needs.

I've seen how they go above and beyond to ensure that each event is unique.

So, if you ever need a venue for any event or you're simply looking for a place to spark your child's love for learning, the Gorton Center is the place to go.

A building that once started as a historic landmark has become a cornerstone of our community that brings people together and fosters growth.

The Gorton Center truly is a treasure in our town.

Experience the Magic of Theater at Citadel Theatre

There's something incredibly charming about our local Citadel Theatre.

Tucked away in a corner of a high school, it's a place where you wouldn't expect to find such quality performances.

The Citadel has always proven to be much more than meets the eye, though, and I often find myself eagerly anticipating their next production.

For example, the last show I saw there was "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown," a delightful children's musical.

While the building may be small, it's designed to give you a real theater feel - every seat is set up to provide a clear view of the stage.

The performance was simply outstanding; I was impressed by the innovative use of the limited space.

Likewise, the cast transported us all to Charlie Brown's world, a testament to their talent and creativity.

The Citadel Theatre also offers acting classes for children, and it's always heartwarming to see these young talents on stage.

Their performances are nothing short of professional, a tribute to the quality training they receive.

What always strikes me about Citadel are the production values.

Everything is always top-notch, whether it's the set, sound, or lighting.

The theatre is a hub of creativity, a nurturing ground for budding actors and actresses, and a site consistently bringing high-quality performances to our local community.

Enjoy an Unforgettable Day at Deerpath Golf Course

I was standing on the green of Deerpath Golf Course, the sun shining down, casting a warm glow over everything.

The recent snow and storm had done nothing to dampen the spirit of this municipal golf course - it was in excellent condition, as always.

Starting with a round of golf, I immediately noticed the smooth ride of the carts.

It felt like I was gliding over the course, maneuvering my way around easily.

The course was in top condition, despite the weather's wrath just a few weeks ago, making for a great golfing experience.

As I made my way through the course, each swing and putt was challenging, testing my skills and mettle.

My score wasn’t the best that day, but the thought of returning to improve it and the sheer enjoyment of playing kept me going.

Between the games, I decided to take a break at the Sandwedge Grill, nestled within the course.

The casual restaurant was a welcome respite, offering friendly service and delectable food.

Taking a bite of their signature dish while enjoying the scenic views of the course was indeed a delight.

The clubhouse was well-stocked, ensuring all golfing needs were met.

One of the standout features of the course was its driving range.

Practicing my swings there, with the cool breeze brushing past, was a refreshing experience.

Not to forget, it's the largest putting green I’ve ever seen!

It’s a sight that leaves every golfer, novice or pro, in awe.

Relaxing on the outdoor patio after golfing was the perfect way to unwind.

Enjoying the humming of the evening, with the beautiful course as a backdrop, I realized how lucky we are in Lake Forest to have such an incredible public amenity.

If you're a golf enthusiast or even a novice looking to enjoy a day in the sun, Deerpath Golf Course serves up all this and more.

It gives you the feel of a country club while being a public course - a blend that is hard to come by.

Take a Walk in Forest Park

There's nothing quite like starting my day with a brisk morning stroll through the 37-acre district facility of Forest Park.

The 3/4-mile walking trail weaves its way through the park, offering scenic views that make my morning jog feel less like a workout and more like a nature retreat.

One of the park's best features is its clean beach, complete with clear water and nice sand.

My favorite way to unwind is sunbathing on the beach after a long run!

The beach also offers fantastic scenic views of Lake Michigan, making it a perfect spot to stop, rest, and soak in the stunning vista.

This place is a community hub.

You'll often find me there with my dog.

Seeing other residents with their pets adds an extra layer of charm to this place.

And if all that walking or running has made you hungry, fear not.

Forest Park has got you covered.

The park has indoor and outdoor seating areas to enjoy a hearty meal.

They have excellent Mexican - one of my favorites, and the portions are more than adequate to fuel you up for the rest of the day.

Every day in Forest Park feels like a mini vacation filled with exercise, relaxation, and delicious food.

It's a slice of paradise in our town and, undeniably, my favorite local spot.

Enjoy the Private Tranquility of Lake Forest Beach

Every time I visit Lake Forest Beach, it feels like stepping into a secluded paradise.

This isn't your average public beach, and that's precisely its charm.

Since it is exclusive to residents, the beach offers unparalleled privacy, making it the perfect place for some quiet time.

One of my favorite things about Lake Forest Beach is that it's impeccably clean.

Seeing the golden sand and clear waters unspoiled and inviting is always refreshing.

The beach also houses a playground right on the shore.

Seeing the kids frolicking on the sand and enjoying their time on the swings with the scenic lake as their backdrop is incredible.

The walk to the beach can be long, especially if you're parking, but the beauty that awaits you at the end of that walk is worth every step.

Lake Forest Beach is a hidden gem in our community, and if you're fortunate enough to have access to it, it's a place that commands appreciation and frequent visits.

Other Things to Do Nearby

Walk Through Mother Nature's Artwork at the Chicago Botanic Garden

Footbridge at Chicago Botanic Garden
elesi / Shutterstock.com

I can't count the number of times I've returned to the Chicago Botanic Garden.

It's like a living museum, a 385-acre canvas where nature paints her most vibrant colors.

I've watched it change and evolve, a jigsaw puzzle of gardens, each unique yet interlinked, creating a complete picture of growth and beauty that never looks the same twice.

Likewise, I have a particular fondness for walking paths.

They wander all over the garden, curling like ribbons around the different settings.

One moment, you're meandering through a landscape ablaze with roses; the next, you're crossing a bridge into the calm, serene world of the Japanese garden.

You'd think with all these visits, I'd have seen everything, but the garden always surprises me, revealing something new.

It's not just the incredible variety of plants and flowers. It's also the events.

I remember the orchid show a few months back, an explosion of color and perfume that left me breathless.

And then, there were the butterflies and blooms spread over the learning center.

It was like stepping into a fairy tale, surrounded by these delicate winged creatures fluttering around you.

Flora at Chicago Botanic Garden
elesi / Shutterstock.com

The garden is not just a place for leisurely walks. It's also very education-centric.

For instance, they always have something going on: a flower exhibition or a learning program.

It's a dynamic, constantly changing space where you can learn, grow, and find peace amidst the hustle of city life.

Getting in is a breeze if you purchase a reservation and parking beforehand. It's a simple process that guarantees a quick entry.

And for those who need it, the garden is fully accessible, with plenty of parking and a beautiful new welcome center.

It's been an absolute joy to witness the garden through the seasons: awaken in spring, flourish in summer, transform in fall, and slumber in winter.

This treasure, this living piece of art, is something I'd recommend to anyone.

After all, who wouldn't want to walk through Mother Nature's most beautiful artwork?

Waters of Chicago Botanic Garden
Ariana Trinidad / Shutterstock.com

Take a Stroll through Prairie Wolf Forest Preserve

There's a tranquility in the air that's hard to match anywhere else, with the whispering breeze and a symphony of bird songs filling the atmosphere.

I'm talking about the Prairie Wolf Forest Preserve, a sanctuary for the soul.

I haven't seen it in full bloom yet, but the loop walk is a delightful escape, even without that spectacle.

The preserve is home to an array of wildlife, from deer to ducks, and the lack of benches only adds to the preserve's untouched charm.

Sometimes, you might see me at the dog park, a haven for our pets.  

With ample parking and easy-to-use gates, getting in and out for a day of fun is a breeze.

The dog park's maintained grounds and cleanliness extend as far as the restrooms, making it a comfortable spot for us human companions as well.

With the added benefit of picnic tables, it's easy to spend a whole day here, watching the dogs run free and play in a safe, serene environment away from traffic.

This little gem is perfect for a quick, quiet walk or an extended day with our pet dogs.

Enjoy Beach Days at Fort Sheridan

Sunrise at Fort Sheridan Beach
Phani Chaturvedula / Shutterstock.com

One of the best-kept secrets of our town is the petite yet mesmerizing Fort Sheridan Beach.

This place is a gem tucked amidst a forest preserve, once the site of an old US Army fort.

The beach, though small, has always been a place of solace for me.

It's my haven, with the clear, clean water lapping at the shore and the solitude a balm to the city's bustling chaos.

Not to mention, it's semi-secluded, offering privacy not found at bigger, crowded beaches.

What sets Fort Sheridan Beach apart is the forest preserve.

The trails are easy to navigate and perfect for a stroll.

Occasionally, I've seen families, couples, and even solitary souls like myself exploring the trails or lounging on the beach.

Despite its military past, today, the beach is a peaceful spot.

I've spent countless afternoons tossing pebbles into the lake, listening to the calming rhythm of the surf.

The beauty of Fort Sheridan Beach is worth it.

Experience a Peaceful Escapade at Openlands Lakeshore Preserve

Waters of Openlands Lakeshore Preserve
Mark Baldwin / Shutterstock.com

There's something incredibly magical about Openlands Lakeshore Preserve.

It's my ethereal haven where I can lose myself in the tranquil beauty of nature.

The views of the lake are spectacular, and the trails that wind their way through the preserve are picturesque and intriguing.

My dogs and I are here frequently, enjoying the serenity and fresh air.

The beaches are a unique attraction of the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve.

They are fascinatingly distinct, yet all hold a charm of their own.

The preserve is never too crowded, genuinely allowing you to appreciate its beauty and offering a sense of solitude and peace.

You may even be lucky enough to have the beach all to yourself!

Openlands Lakeshore Preserve also offers a variety of walking experiences.

From the bluff walk that offers gorgeous views of the lake to the ravine walk with a gradual incline of 5%, there's something for everyone.

Even in the colder months, like February, the preserve remains a delightful place to visit.

Another alluring aspect of this place is the opportunity to watch the sunrise.

Depending on how far you want to walk, different paths lead to the beach.

Openlands Lakeshore Preserve is a true gem for nature lovers like me, offering solitude, stunning views, and tranquil trails.

It's where you can escape the city's hustle and bustle and be at home with nature.

Final Thoughts

Having spent countless weekends exploring the varied landscapes and enjoying the beautiful attractions in Lake Forest, I can confidently say that there is always something new to discover.

Whether you're a nature enthusiast, a history buff, or simply looking for a peaceful retreat, there's something for everyone in this charming city.

What are you waiting for? Visit us today!

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