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16 Fun & Best Things to Do in Rockford, Illinois

16 Fun & Best Things to Do in Rockford, Illinois

There’s always something going on in Forest City, also known as Rockford! Rockford, Illinois, is a city with plenty going on to keep you and your family entertained. After all, its “officially unofficial” name is “Trickford,” after the hometown heroes Cheap Trick!

Spend a day at the Midway Village and Museum Center and relive a part of WWII or bring on the natural history at the Burpee Museum of Natural History. 

Rockford, Illinois, has a vibrant food scene, beautiful parks, a walking bridge over the Rock River, and even the most intact T-Rex fossil in the world. Come prepared to watch the kids be amazed at the Discovery Center Museum or spend a casual afternoon rafting or listening to music at the Rock Cut State Park summer concert series.

If you’re planning a trip, check out the Rockford activities below. There’s always something happening, no matter the time of year. Read on for a list of the top fun things to do in Rockford, Illinois.

Holiday Inn Rockford an IHG Hotel
1. Holiday Inn Rockford, an IHG Hotel Top Recommendation

Experience the charm of Holiday Inn Rockford, an IHG Hotel. Situated 4 miles from Magic Waters Water Park, this hotel offers free transfers within 5 miles, an on-site restaurant, and an indoor pool. Free Wi-Fi is available in every room at Holiday Inn Rockford. A microwave, fridge, and tea and coffee-making facilities are included.

Hampton Inn Rockford
2. Hampton Inn Rockford

Hampton Inn Rockford is located in the heart of downtown, just minutes from Rock Valley College. Enjoy all the hotel amenities and use the convenient location for your business travels or leisure time. The Hampton Inn offers a scenic view of the Rock River and a variety of dining options within walking distance. A free breakfast buffet is served each morning and also offers guests 24-hour fitness center, spa tub and indoor pool.

Embassy Suites By Hilton Rockford Riverfront
3. Embassy Suites By Hilton Rockford Riverfront

Embassy Suites by Hilton Rockford -Riverfront Hotel is a full-service hotel, featuring spacious suites with separate living and sleeping areas, free Wi-Fi, work desks and sofa beds. Guests can enjoy the indoor pool, hot tub and fitness centre or relax in the lobby lounge. The 24-hour Embassy Suite Shop is also located on site for snacks, sundries and other convenience items.

TLDR

  • Most significant landmarks – Nicholas Conservatory and Gardens
  • Best park – Anderson Japanese Gardens
  • Best free activity – Rock Cut State Park
  • Best activities for kids – Volcano Falls Adventure Park
  • Best activities for adults – Indian Hill Manor
  • Best food – Prairie Street Brewing Co.
  • Best nightlife – Octane
  • Best all-around accommodations – Embassy Suites

Best & Fun Things to Do in Rockford, Illinois 

1. Visit the Anderson Japanese Gardens

Anderson Japanese Gardens, Rockford Illinois

Address: 318 Spring Creek Rd, Rockford, IL 61107

The Anderson Japanese Gardens consistently appear on lists as one of the best Japanese gardens in North America. At just over 12 acres, the award-winning gardens are filled with koi ponds, walking paths, streams, raked gardens, beautiful waterfalls, and incredible pines that have been lovingly sculpted. It’s truly a world-class botanic garden.

Join a yoga class or get centered with song bowls during a relaxation class. The gardens are regarded as one of the best things to do in Rockford, and the scenery is among the best in the country. Plan ahead for your trip. You can book classes in advance. Guided tours are also available.

Spend some time in the calm surroundings and then head to Fresco at the Gardens. The menu has organic and locally sourced sandwiches, grass-fed meats, excellent breakfast options, and there’s a coffee bar. Sit indoors or outside while you enjoy the fantastic foods on offer. Be sure to take advantage of the scenery while you eat.

The botanical gardens are not to be missed and can be viewed from the tables at the cafe. Check out Anderson Japanese Gardens and pick up your tickets here. This northern Illinois state historic site

2. A Taste of the Tropics at Nicholas Conservatory and Gardens

NICHOLAS CONSERVATORY & GARDENS
Jw5 Photography / Shutterstock.com

Address: 1354 N. 2nd Street, Rockford, IL 61107

Nicholas Conservatory and Gardens is set along the banks of the Rock River. Visitors get a chance to experience an 11,000-square-foot exhibit filled with tropical plants, water features, ponds, and sculptures before heading outside to the Eclipse Lagoon. This is one of the top Rockford points of interest.

The lagoon at Nicholas Conservatory and Gardens has fountains, a beautiful waterfall, patios, and a pedestrian bridge. There’s also a walkway to take you to the amazing Sinnissippi Rose Garden, Sinnissippi Park with playground equipment, and the Sinnissippi Golf Course. The botanic garden here is incredible.

The kids will love the children’s garden and rose garden as it houses Sinnissippi Station. The station is an incredible miniature train display that runs through the tropical plants of the Nicholas Conservatory. Landmarks of Rockford are recreated and included along the tracks. Trestle bridges built with willows lifting the trains above you as you walk through the magical landscape. Stop by the Sinnissippi Park summer concert series on a lovely summer evening.

Visit the Conservatory on Tuesdays from May through October for Food Truck Tuesdays. Grab a bite from a local vendor before making your way into the tropics! Then check out Sinnissippi Park! You can pre-purchase tickets here.

See Related: Fun & Best Things to do in Schaumburg, Illinois

3. Meet a T-Rex at the Burpee Museum of Natural History

Burpee Museum of Natural History Front view

Address: 737 North Main Street, Rockford, IL 61103

Burpee Museum of Natural History has something for everyone. Founded in 1942, the museum houses the most complete T-Rex ever discovered. There are several animal exhibits that get you close to nature, including turtles, snakes and other reptiles, amphibians, and more!

Spend the day at the Burpee Museum of Natural History and introduce the kids to an internationally renowned collection of fossils. Saber Tooth Tigers, the giant Jefferson’s Ground Sloth, and even a Giant Beaver await you in the Ice Age exhibit. The natural history at the Burpee Museum is incredible while also being educational.

Walk through the different ages and see depictions of indigenous residents of the region at the ethnic heritage museum. Summer camps and special events are held for students and adults alike. Rent a classroom or auditorium at the Burpee Museum of Natural History for a meeting or gathering. 

Three stories of exhibits will educate and entertain the family, making this a must-visit location. Stop at the paleontology lab to see the world-renowned scientists do their work. The Burpee Museum of Natural History is the perfect way to spend a rainy day! Get your passes here!

4. Bring the Kids to Discovery Center Museum

Address: 711 North Main Street, Rockford, IL 61103

The Discovery Center Museum is the perfect place to spend a day with the kids. It is located on the Rock River waterfront and shares the campus with the Burpee Museum and the Rockford Art Museum. There’s enough here to entertain the entire group.

The Discovery Center offers over 300 hands-on exhibits for kids of all ages. The Rock River Discovery Park, just outside the Discovery Center, brings the hands-on exhibits to a whole new level! Water management, mazes, a secret garden, and much more await the curious.

The Rock River Discovery Park is the first outdoor science park to be built by its community in the nation. Spend the day at the Discovery Center to see why it’s always on the list of the best discovery centers in the country.

Another must-see attraction in the center is the Collins Aerospace Live Science Theater. It features 30-minute shows that are interactive, fun, and engaging for the entire family. Learn about chemistry, physics, electricity, color, and sound in new and creative ways.

After the Discovery Center museum, make your way to the Rockford Art Museum and take in the collection of world-famous art, along with a focus on local artists. Buy your pass here, and check out the additional offerings and special events while you’re at it.

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5. Visit Rockford’s Past at the Midway Village and Museum Center

Address: 6799 Guilford Road, Rockford, IL 61107

Step back in time to the Midway Village Museum. Experience life as it was in the early 1900s in Rockford. This is one of the best places in Rockford! Explore the exhibits and take in the history of Northern Illinois as you wind your way through the beautifully sculptured grounds.

Stop in at the Victorian Village while visiting the Midway Village and Museum Center. Experience the authentic victorian feel of 26 buildings that offer a wide range of artifacts and a remarkable 19th-century garden.

Check out Camp Grant, a US Army training center for soldiers preparing to enter WWI. The original camp is now under the Chicago-Rockford International Airport. See the history and the struggles the soldiers experienced during their training.

If you’re in town during the annual WWII days special events, you’ll want to buy tickets in advance. The community does a very authentic reenactment, including tanks! If you find yourself wondering what to do in Rockford, the Midway Village museum is the answer.

Wednesdays are “Free Tour Days,” which allow you to experience the museum and go on self-guided tours at no cost. Don’t miss the Midway shop for all of your souvenirs.

See Related: Fun & Best Things to Do in Bloomington, Illinois

6. Mini-golf and Laser Tag at Volcano Falls Adventure Park

Address: 7602 Rock Valley Pkwy, Loves Park, IL 61111

Set out for adventure at the Volcano Falls Adventure Park! Located a short drive from Rockford in neighboring Loves Park, the park has something for everyone. It’s not just for the little ones. Laser tag, mini-golf, arcade games, and so much more await families and friends out for a day’s entertainment.

Volcano Falls has lava and fire-themed mini-golf course built for everyone to take a turn. The grownups will enjoy it as much as the kids. The young at heart will love the entire park, finding fun around every corner. 

Once you’ve played to your heart’s content, it’s time to head to the Nancy Olsen Children’s Garden at the Klehm Arboretum and Botanic Garden. It’s the perfect place to relax after a day at the adventure park. Let the kids run and traverse Rhododendrons and the splash pad.

See Related: Tips for Traveling with Toddlers and Kids

7. Adventure Awaits at the Rock Cut State Park

Wooden bridge at Rock Cut State Park

Address: 7223 West Lane Road, Loves Park, IL 61111

Just a short 20-minute-drive from Rockford is a state park worth the travel! Rock Cut State Park offers all the fun things to do in one stop. Whether you want to go camping, hiking, fishing, kayaking, or just relaxing by the lake, there’s something for everyone at Rock Cut State Park.

Stop at the outdoor store and rent kayaks, fishing equipment, and anything else you might need. There’s plenty of food, and the kids will love the ice cream cones! Don’t forget the sunscreen before heading over to the lake.

The Lone Rock Café provides scratch-made food, fantastic ice cream, smoothies, and fountain drinks. Sit back and enjoy one of the best views in all of Rockford while you dine.

Head out on one of the many hiking trails or take a bike ride through the area. There are several equestrian trails along the route as well, and time on horseback is always cherished.

Cross-country skiing trails, snowshoeing, and more await the winter adventurers. There’s always something to do at Rock Cut State Park.  Rock Cut State Park is a must-visit among the things to do in Rockford. Check out the website for times and events.

8. Head Out on a Rockford Scavenger Hunt

Address: 711 N Main St, Rockford, IL 61103

The Rockford Scavenger Hunt: Rolling Through Rockford tour is the perfect way to explore Rockford. Wander through the city as you rack up points on the Let’s Roam app. Bring along your friends as your team works together to find the landmarks on the list.

You’ll visit the Riverfront Museum Park, East Rockford, the Coronado Theatre, and much more. All this while spending a fun-filled afternoon strolling through the city.

While you’re hunting down the landmarks, be sure to stop in at one of the many cafes and restaurants scattered throughout Rockford. There are some real gems out there with fantastic fare and the perfect ambiance for your trip. Stop by one of the hotels in the city center to be close to everything nearby. Find the tickets and all the details for this and more Rockford, Illinois activities here.

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9. Visit the Indian Hill Manor

Address: 6901 Kishwaukee Rd, Rockford, IL 61109

Indian Hill Manor and Farm Historic District is an attraction listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The farm, located in Rockford, is definitely worth visiting. 

Dating back to the 1900s, the Indian Hill Manor and Farm Historic District provide visitors with a beautiful view of the Kishwaukee and Rock rivers. You can take guided tours of the preserved coach house and historic manor house. 

Be sure to visit the adjacent dairy farm and get a glimpse into the lives of people in old-time Rockford. There are plenty of artifacts of the era throughout the property, and those that are looking for an authentic museum have found the right place. 

After spending some time at Indian Hill Manor, head to the Tinker Swiss Cottage House Museum and Gardens. The Swedish Historical Society works with Rockford to provide access to this incredible Victorian-era home and its eight separate gardens. 

Tinker Swiss Cottage Museum and Gardens is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is one of the last remaining Swiss-style original buildings in the country.

10. Visit the Rockford City Market

Address: 116 N Madison St, Rockford, IL 61107

Rockford City Market features local growers and vendors who sell handmade products, including vegetables, fruit, eggs, meat, cheeses, flowers, herbs, baked goods, wine and prepared food, as well as artisans and vendors with unique offerings.

The Rockford City Market hosts a number of different events and programs throughout the year, from live outdoor music during the summertime, to off-season fall and winter indoor markets with live music for the chillier parts of the year.

Local markets are a great way to get to know a community, and Rockford City Market is no exception. Come by for ArtScene evenings and more vintage specialist nights. The Saturday market is also great, with plenty of snacks, quirky wares, and music.

See Related: Best Day Trips From Chicago, Illinois

11. The Klehm Arboretum and Botanic Garden

Address: 2715 S. Main St., Rockford, IL 61102

Klehm Arboretum and Botanic Garden is a magnificent 155-acre wonderland filled with incredible gardens, rare trees, water features, and fun. Bring your furry friends along for a walk down the over 3 miles of chipped trails and a 1.8-mile handicapped-friendly paved walkway.

Springtime arrives at the Klehm Arboretum and Botanic Garden, with fragrant magnolia making way for a butterfly garden in the summer. Fall provides a brilliant color show as the leaves change before the evergreens are frosted with snow in the winter. The botanic garden Klehm Arboretum has created is worth the visit, no matter the season.

Bring your leashed dog along for a stroll, or bring the kids for a stop in the children’s area, complete with a splash pad. Don’t miss the ornamental grass garden. Klehm Arboretum and Botanic Garden is the perfect place to get away from the bustle of the day.

12. Prairie Street Brewing Co.

Address: 200 Prairie St, Rockford, IL 61107

Prairie Street Brewing Company is housed in the oldest brewery in the state of Illinois, a beautiful red brick National Historic Landmark building. Older breweries existed but they all burned to the ground in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.

Once named Rockford Brewing Company, the Prairie Street Brewhouse is a must-visit, highly-rated location for food and beers. The brewhouse building itself is an inspired adaptive re-use designed by local restoration specialist, Gary Anderson. It features brewing, dining, drinking, living, working, and events spaces in one of the most picturesque and historic locations in the Midwest.

All the bar tops and most of the public furniture at the Prairie Street Brewhouse are hand-crafted of retrieved lumber removed from the building during its earlier renovations. Bring your friends to the Prairie Street Brewhouse and prepare to make memories at this fun, historic, and welcoming establishment.

See Related: Best Things to do on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile

13. Honor the Fallen at LZ Peace Memorial

LZ Peace Memorial

Address: 6595 Guilford Rd, Rockford, IL 61107

The LZ Peace Memorial honors the fallen soldiers of Rockford. The memorial provides a Wall of Honor dedicated to those who fell while serving in the Vietnam War. The wall took over 20 years to complete and includes a list of names of the fallen.

The Guilford County Forest Preserve houses the LZ Peace Memorial, offering visitors the opportunity to take a hike after paying respects at the wall. Spend your day hiking, animal watching, and reflecting before heading back to town for dinner. Check out the surrounding area for places to stay, like the Blackhawk’s Trail Lodge.

14. Nightlife Begins at Octane

Food and wine

Address: 124 North Main St., Rockford, IL 61101

Octane is the perfect spot to meet before a show at the Coronado Theatre. Come in for the great food and drinks. Craft cocktails and a globally inspired cuisine make this hip restaurant the perfect place to start or end your night out.

The food is delicious, from the Octane Burger, which is covered in Cajun spiced onions, white cheddar, and pickles, to the Filipino Half Chicken Adobo. The Adobo comes with two fried eggs, scallions, and delectable garlic fried rice. After meeting your group, plan to head over to the Coronado Theatre to complete the perfect evening. Reservations are accepted.

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15. The Coronado Performing Arts Center

Address: 314 N. Main St., Rockford, IL 61101

The Coronado Performing Arts Center opened its doors in 1927. It’s played host to several legends in its time, with more to come. Watch an act on the same stage that Frank Sinatra, the Marx Brothers, and Louis Armstrong once performed on.

The theatre was restored and then reopened in 2001 and has been instrumental in creating an exciting, fun vibe in downtown Rockford. Book a room at one of the local hotels like the 7th Street Loft or the Embassy Suites, and make it a night out to remember.

Attend one of the concerts or plays hosted at the theatre or stop by for one of the many events they hold. Reach out to see what’s happening for a night at the Coronado Performing Arts Center.

 16. Delve Into the Delicious Creations at Abreo

An empty restaurant

Address: 515 E State St, Rockford, IL 61104

Right in the heart of the city, you’ll find Abreo. The fare is heavily sourced from local farmers, and it shows. The head chef, Paul Sletten, and his crew create gastronomical delights and are constantly reinventing the concept of fine dining.

Choose from the Bar, Open Air Dining Room, Private Wine Cellar, and Heated Outdoor Patio for your dining pleasure. Formal dining and quick bites are treated with the same care and expertise.

Seasonal, inspired menus meet you at the table with fantastic wine and whiskey list. If you’re out and about, check out the chef’s food truck Disco Chicken and VeeDubs, the Mobile Cocktail Bar. The drinks are spectacular, as is the chicken. Reservations are encouraged, so reach out to Abreo here.

See Related: Hidden Gems in Old Town Chicago, Illinois

FAQ

What is the best thing to do with kids in Rockford, Illinois?

Rockford is home to some great children’s museums. The Discovery Center Museum is perfect for kids and is one of the most popular activities in Rockford. Volcano Falls Adventure Park is also great for kids and families. Away from the hustle and bustle of Chicago, yet not too remote, Rockford is definitely a place to visit with your family.

What are some fun things to do in Rockford, Illinois?

There are so many fun things to do in Rockford that it’s hard to narrow down. Schedule a time at West Rock Wake Park for some epic wakeboarding, or head out to Rock Cut State Park. The Rockford Art Museum makes for a lovely afternoon.

What are some things to do in Rockford, Illinois, when it’s raining?

Rockford has excellent museums and theatres that are perfect for a day inside. Burpee Museum of Natural History or the Rockford Art Museum are ideal for those rainy days. Or take in a show at the Coronado Theatre!

What are the best tourist attractions in Rockford, Illinois?

Rockford is known as Forest City and sometimes called the City of Gardens. The forests, gardens, and parks throughout the city have given it these monikers. There are museums like the Anderson Japanese Gardens and the Klehm Arboretum that showcase the amazing botanical gardens of the area.

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