Things to Do in Bloomington, Illinois
A stretch of Route 66. A local zoo. Two aquatic parks. Two dog parks. Entertainment venues. Shopping opportunities. A children’s museum. A Shakespeare Festival.
Those are just a few of the amenities McLean County has to offer its residents and visitors.
“Visitors spend a lot of money here – $365 million in 2017,” said Crystal Howard, president and chief executive officer of the Bloomington-Normal Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. That total ranked the county ninth in the state for visitor expenditure, she said.
So just what is attracting visitors and is part of the daily life in Bloomington-Normal and the surrounding area? Here’s a sampling:
attractions near bloomington il
You can step into yesteryear and travel along 40 miles of the nation’s Mother Road, Route 66. Among the attractions you can visit are Sprague’s Super Service and Ryburn Place, a restored 1920s Tudor building that served as a service station until 1971 and is on the National Register of Historic Places; Cruisin’ with Lincoln on 66 Visitors Center in the lower level of Bloomington’s McLean County Museum of History that features Route 66 history and information about Abraham Lincoln’s ties to the community; and Funks Grove Pure Maple Sirup shop and its sirup-making forest.
The kids will have the time of their life playing at Normal’s Children’s Discovery Museum. There’s Innovation Station, designed to engage children in STEM activities; Imagine Air; an art studio; a two-story climbing structure; an agriculture exhibit; a preschool area and more.
Visit lions, wolves, sun bears, snow leopards, otters and dozens of other animals at the 125-plus-year-old Miller Park Zoo, located in the midst of Miller Park in Bloomington. The zoo includes a Tropical Rainforest, Wallaby WalkAbout and Children’s Zoo. The park has a spray park, miniature golf course, fishing and paddle boats.
University Galleries of Illinois State is one of the premier exhibition spaces for contemporary art in the Midwest. Its permanent collection includes the works of hundreds of artists. It also “produces exhibitions and interpretive programming that reflect the shifting dynamics of contemporary artistic practice.”
Numerous events take place in Bloomington-Normal annually including: the Gamma Phi Circus, the oldest collegiate circus in the nation, which performs each spring; Sugar Creek Arts Festival, a July event featuring the works of 130 artists from throughout the Midwest and beyond; and the Shakespeare Festival, which produces three Shakespeare plays each summer with the talent of actors from the Actors Equity Association and theater graduates from across the country. The Pepsi Ice Center which offers year-round ice skating and a variety of programs including learn to play ice hockey and learn to ice skate.
Parks and recreation
There are 19 parks in Normal including Fairview Park and Anderson Park, home to the town’s two aquatic centers. Fairview Aquatic Center features three water slides, diving boards and drop slides, a lap pool, a zero-depth pool and a splash pad.
Anderson Aquatic Center has two water slides, a submarine slide, a kiddie slide, an activity pool and a kiddie pool.
Bloomington has 41 parks including two with swimming facilities – Holiday Pool and O’Neil Pool. Holiday Pool has a small water slide, a children’s pool with spray features, and a deep-water pool. O’Neil Pool has a competitive length pool, two flume slides and diving boards.
Constitution Trail, a 45-plus-mile long, hard-surface linear trail is a joint venture between Bloomington and Normal. The trail runs throughout the Twin Cities and includes shelters, restroom facilities, drinking fountains and picnic tables. It’s a favorite of bicyclists, walkers, joggers and hikers.
Bloomington offers three golf courses. Highland Golf Course was built in the 1930s and features a hilly terrain and mature trees. Prairie Vista Golf Course is an American Contemporary Style, 18-hole course designed by Roger Packard and opened in 1991. It received a 72.2 course rating and 129 slope rating from the USGA. The Den at Fox Creek is an Arnold Palmer Signature Golf Course that opened in 1997. The course features 131 sand traps and water hazards on the ninth and 18th holes.
The 18-hole Ironwood Golf Course is located in Normal and features a par 72 championship layout designed by Roger Packard.
Normal is home to two dog parks, one at Maxwell Park, the other at Shepard Park. Each has separate areas for large and smaller dogs, doggie water fountains and double gate access.
Comlara Park is operated by McLean County. It includes biking and hiking paths, horse trails, camping facilities, fishing, hunting and swimming.
McLean County also is developing the Historic Route 66 Trail and Greenways. The 32-mile trail will link to other area natural resources. Several legs of the trail are already complete.
Entertainment in Bloomington
Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts offers performing and visual arts as well as arts education venues. Its lineup includes the Russian Ballet performing Swan Lake; the Glen Miller Orchestra; the Vienna Boys Choir; and the 1920s silent film, The Mark of Zorro.
Grossinger Motors Arena presents a variety of events including concerts, family shows and ice shows. It also is home to indoor football team, Bloomington Edge, and ice hockey team Central Illinois Aces.
The Corn Crib stadium in Normal is home to the Corn Belters professional minor league baseball team and also hosts live concerts as well as community events.
The Castle Theater was built in 1916 and served as one of Bloomington’s premier places to see a movie for decades. After sitting dormant for years, a $1.5 million renovation project brought it back to new life as one of the go-to places for live entertainment by national emerging touring artists in a variety of music types.
Normal Theater opened in 1937 and was the Twin Cities’ first movie house built for sound. It served as a premier movie destination for years before turning into a $1 theater and ultimately closing in 1991. The Town of Normal purchased the theater and restored its Art Moderne architecture back to its original glory, earning it a place on the National Register of Historic Places. It now features classic title, modern independent, foreign and documentary films and hosts live theater events.
The Twin Cities has more restaurants per capita than any other community in the country so eating choices are endless. Among those choices are several restaurants that got their starts in Bloomington-Normal.
Biaggi’s Ristorante Italiano opened its first restaurant in Bloomington in 1999 and now has 20 locations in nine states. Its authentic Italian dishes and fine service has earned it numerous recognitions including Best Italian Restaurant from Consumer Reports.
Epiphany Farms, Anju Above, Bakery and Pickle, all located in Bloomington, and Old Bank Restaurant and Bar in LeRoy, were created by Ephiphany Farms Hospitality Group. Most of the food served at each of the restaurants comes from two local farms operated by the hospitality group. The effort has earned Epiphany Farms recognition from across the world.
Medici in Normal is an offshoot of the popular Medici that started in Hyde Park, Chicago. The Uptown Normal restaurant has a nature-inspired atmosphere including a tree that was on the site before construction and tabletops hand-made by two Amish woodworkers.
Lucca Grill has been a downtown Bloomington destination since 1936. Among its specialties is a paper-thin pizza.
Downtown Shopping in Bloomington Illinois
The Twin Cities offers numerous shopping opportunities including two shopping malls, several strip malls and many locally-owned shops in Uptown Normal and downtown Bloomington. In addition, Bloomington hosts a farmers market featuring regionally grown produce and the work of local artists each Saturday from spring to fall.