Things to Do in Joliet Illinois
“See you In J-Town,” Joliet tells tourists
From Route 66 nostalgia to NASCAR racing, casinos, pro baseball and stars of entertainment – including a 160-year-old building that often stars in entertainment – Joliet offers both residents and visitors a cornucopia of reasons to “See You In J-Town.”
Summer 2018 saw the long-awaited opening of the world-famous Old Joliet Prison to the public as a tourist attraction. Built in 1858, the prison has attracted curiosity seekers plus TV and movie crews ever since it closed in 2002.
People from the Joliet Area Historical Museum lead tours through the limestone prison three days per week from April through October. Always one of the country’s best known correctional centers, it became a legend of modern pop culture when it was used to film the first scenes of “The Blues Brothers.” The Blues Brother played by John Belushi, was named Joliet Jake.
As a sign of how widely Joliet now attracts tourists, the first prison tour in 2018 included three people from England, a couple from Lithuania and visitors from South Carolina and Massachusetts.
One of the fastest-growing tourist attractions is also one of the oldest. Historic Route 66 has become further entrenched in history due to “The Grapes of Wrath,” a hit 1960s song and two network TV series. Commissioned in 1926, this “Mother Road of America” went all the way from Chicago’s Loop to the Pacific Ocean. Its original route through the streets of America’s hometowns now draws tens of thousands of tourists a year.
“Route 66 is known around the world and it’s common for people to come from Europe or Asia wanting to drive the entire route,” said Robert Navarro, president of the Heritage Corridor Convention and Visitors Bureau. “They realize this is a taste of Americana, from our big cities to our small towns to the deserts to the farm country.”
The Joliet Area Historical Museum has opened “The Route 66 Experience” with interactive activities and interpretation to celebrate the historic road. These include a car traveling along the ceiling and a chance to pose for photos with the Blues Brothers. It’s open by appointment.
Route 66 Park on Broadway Street has informational kiosks, Blues Brothers statues dancing on the roof of the Rich and Creamy Ice Cream Shop and a 1920s-style gas pump.
“The Route 66 Corridor Red Carpet” is held along the sections of the road from Joliet to Towanda, Illinois, in May, with festivals, craft shows, car shows and more. And a Route 66 Trail is being developed for bike riders.
Also dating back to 1926 is the classically designed Rialto Square Theatre. Built for silent movies and Vaudeville acts, it was converted in 1981 into a performing-arts center that has hosted stars such as the Moody Blues, the Doobie Brothers, Tony Bennett, Taylor Swift, Vince Gill, Jerry Seinfeld and Olivia Newton-John.
Joliet’s other entertainment venues include The Forge for live music and several local bars that feature bands.
Drawing people from near and far are the Chicagoland Speedway, the Route 66 Raceway and professional baseball’s Joliet Slammers.
NASCAR holds its Sprint Cup Series weekend at Chicagoland Speedway in September, preceded by a “Race Fan Rally” with music, food, celebrities and fireworks. The National Hot Rod Association holds a drag-race meet at Route 66 Raceway in July.
The Slammers won the 2018 Frontier League championship and will host the Illinois High School Association’s Class 3A and 4A boys state baseball tournaments through 2021.
Joliet is the only city in Illinois to have two gaming casino/hotels – Harrah’s Joliet and Hollywood Casino Joliet. Each includes a variety of restaurants.
If history excites you, be sure to visit the Illinois & Michigan Canal, which linked the Great Lakes to the Mississippi River in the 1800s and was largely responsible for the growth of Chicago. A trail that runs alongside can be used for walking, running and biking.
For more details about Joliet-area entertainment and attractions, visit www.jolietkicks.com and www.visitjoliet.com.
Rialto Square Theatre
Billie Limacher Bicentennial Park
Hollywood Casino, Aurora and Joliet
Route 66 Raceway
Joliet Area Historical Museum