A street scene in Chicago, IL.

Exciting Illinois Destinations (That Aren’t Chicago)

There's more to this historic state than cows, corn and water towers.
January 3, 2023
12 mins read

As someone who was born and raised in the suburbs of Illinois, there’s more to this state than the city of Chicago. Even though the Windy City is the main area for tourists and locals to visit, the crime rate has made it less than appealing. Even though this state is in the heart of the Midwest, and is consumed by cows, corn and water towers, the suburbs still have plenty to offer. There are local restaurants, shopping malls and outdoor activities for you and the whole family to enjoy. So the next time you find yourself in Illinois, explore the suburbs and see what they have to offer.

Oakbrook Center

Just off of I-88 is one of the largest shopping malls the suburbs have to offer. Oakbrook Center has plenty of stores to check out along with a range of restaurants. The center has something to offer for everyone, whether it be for yourself or for someone else, the sky’s the limit. Within the mall are rows upon rows of stores; these range from expensive brands like Nordstrom, Chanel or Burberry to more affordable places like GAP, H&M and Hollister. For the kids, a stop at Build-A-Bear Workshop or a trip to the AMC Theater will keep them occupied and entertained.

Alongside some of these brands are restaurants that serve good food and delectable sweets. A personal favorite of mine I would highly recommend if you find yourself shopping here would be California Pizza Kitchen, located on the second floor outside of Nordstrom. There is something for everyone to eat here, not just their favorite stone baked pizza. Their eggroll appetizer are mouthwatering treats: six rolls stuffed with cheese, chicken, avocados and other vegetables that come with two dipping sauces of your choice. Like any Midwesterner will tell you, always pick the ranch. If you’re looking for something other than pizza, head to Nordstrom, they have their own restaurant on the first floor called Ruscello, once referred to as the Nordstrom Cafe. This place offers a fancier menu that includes steak, fish and similar dishes for those willing to pay a bit extra. I recommend their roasted turkey and avocado sandwich or a choice of pasta they have to offer. After you have finished a meal here, your waiter or waitress will leave sweet mint chocolate treats to complete your meal.

Oakbrook Center is always bustling with business, as it offers something to do on every day of the week. Most people go to the center for shopping or a simple lunch but there’s always more to it. Even if you simply want to walk around this half indoor/outdoor shopping center and go window shopping, this is the place to do it. There’s always something to buy here whether it’s for you, your friends or your family.

Raging Waves

This Yorkville waterpark is the largest Illinois has to offer, and is one of the best places to go during humid summers. Raging Waves is full of families and friends sharing laughter and ice cream cones as they relax in the blistering sun. There are over 32 slides to choose from, and you can slide with a tube or without one. If you don’t want to wait in the beating sun to slide down one of the main rides then I would highly recommend the wave pool or their quarter-mile-long lazy river. You can be swept up by the waves if you choose to venture into the deep end of this pool, or you can remain by the shore and feel the waves gently rock against you. The lazy river carries you round and round the entire water park in a single or double tube, but if a tube is unavailable then allow the water to carry you instead. Since Illinois does not have warm weather throughout the entire year like certain states, the park is only open during the summer from the start of June to the end of August. Since it has limited operating hours, locals and visitors are simply dying to get into this park!


Three hours outside the Windy City itself is the state capital of Illinois, where there is a great deal of history about the state and its former president, Abraham Lincoln. While the drive may be long, the stay is well worth the trip. There are plenty of things to explore in the state capital, but the history of Abraham Lincoln is something everyone should take a chance to explore. Washington D.C. may have the Lincoln Memorial, but they do not have the original house that the former president grew up in or a whole museum in his name.

The Lincoln Home stands tall after all these years, no changes have been made to the exterior or interior. The wooden furniture, the patterned wallpaper and the picture frames that remain hanging on the walls are the same as they were when Abraham Lincoln and his family lived there in the late 1800s. If you have the opportunity to take a tour of this Illinois landmark, a tour guide will take you through the entire house from top to bottom.

If you’d rather explore the history of Abraham Lincoln yourself in a quiet manner then I would highly recommend the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. Here, the center shows two depictions of Lincoln encompassed in wax: before he was president and during his presidency. You can choose whichever side to explore first but it is highly recommended to explore Lincoln’s childhood in a Kentucky cabin before exploring his presidency and consequent move to Illinois. There are many wax figures that showcase key points in his life, the final room featuring a coffin and quiet music playing in the background as if people are paying their respects. The entire exhibit is quite moving as you explore the hardships he endured before and during his presidency. I loved the history this building has to offer, as it explores Lincoln, his entire family and the Civil War. If you’re a history buff, stopping in Springfield, Illinois is definitely worth the trip.


While this may come off as a little biased, as Plainfield is my hometown, there is so much to explore in this little midwestern locale. Most of the locals jokingly call this town “Trainfield” due to a train cutting right through busy streets and causing the majority of the traffic, but whenever I visit, the blaring sound of the train’s horn serves as a sort of comfort. In the center of town, on each side of the main street, there are many restaurants and shops that locals and visitors should take the opportunity to explore. Many of these small buildings have been repurposed several times over, switching from homes to shops to restaurants and back to shops. There are also many walking trails in the middle of town that lead to playgrounds and parks that are spread out in the area. These trails can lead visitors and locals alongside the DuPage River. During the summer, many people go floating down the murky river in tubes or kayaks and enjoy the slow ride down into Plainfield.

One of my favorite things Plainfield has to offer is Plainfield Fest.The Plainfield Fest used to be held in the center of town, allowing local business shops to gain traction during this short weekend. As a child, my sister and I were always fond of the rides and carnival games they have to offer. Some rides would soar into the sky while others would spin round and round. But for those who would rather play games than take a ride, be warned, many of these carnival games are rigged. Yet as a local, you begin to learn their secrets and how to truly win them. Most of these games only offer cheap stuffed toys or blow-up bats–all except one. There’s a ring toss game that offers live fish; if you manage to secure your ring around a fishbowl they’ll give you a goldfish for free. My sister and I won four fish in one year, proving it possible while simultaneously annoying our parents with new pets. Then there’s the food: fried dough and freshly squeezed lemonade. It’ll fill you right up on a hot summer day after hours spent walking around the town and exploring the rides and games it has to offer. Even though the Fest is only once a year for a short weekend, it’s one of the many highlights Plainfield and Illinois have to offer.

The suburbs have plenty of activities, restaurants and stores for people to explore and fall in love with as they drive away from Chicago. So if you would prefer to take a chance in the suburbs, these places above are definitely worth a visit. There’s history to be read, water rides to take a dive in and a wide variety of stores to enrapture you. For a short trip, many people could spend a day in each place if they so wished. But don’t just take my word for it, see it for yourself the next time you’re in Illinois because there’s more to the cows, the corn and the water towers than one might think.

Kirsten Kalebich, Arizona State University

Writer Profile

Kirsten Kalebich

Arizona State University
Major in English, Minor in Business

A dreamer who wants to become an author or editor. In her spare time, she writes countless stories on her phone and reads an insane amount of fiction.

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