25 Best Things to Do in Peoria (IL)

Source: Flickr / Scott McLeod | CC BY 2.0

As the largest city on the Illinois River, Peoria, Illinois makes the perfect launching point for exploring the Midwest’s river heritage.  The city welcomes travelers with plentiful parks, fishing, and cultural activities.  Caterpillar, the global industrial equipment powerhouse, maintains its headquarters here.  Don’t miss the lovely Grand View Drive, identified by Teddy Roosevelt as “the world’s most beautiful.”

Interactive Map of 25 Things to Do in Peoria (IL)

Source: Map data @2022 Google

1. Peoria Riverfront Museum

Peoria Riverfront Museum
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Peoria’s Riverfront Museum defies easy description.  Combining art, science, history, and more, the 15,000 square foot facility offers visitors a little bit of everything.  For art lovers, the museum’s collections cover a wide range of media, from paintings and sculptures to Native American and African pieces.  Historical exhibits range from early motorized vehicles to a 3D printed replica of Neil Armstrong’s space suit. 

An onsite planetarium offers programs for stargazers.  The museum even houses a 400-gallon aquarium featuring native species from the Illinois River, alongside interactive displays about the river’s history.  Do not miss the Schoenheider Goose, a famous cast iron hunting decoy.

2. Grand View Drive

Grand View Drive
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When President Theodore Roosevelt visited Peoria in 1910, he labeled the two and a half-mile Grand View Drive as “the world’s most beautiful drive.”  Today, visitors can still enjoy scenic panoramas of the Illinois River as they cruise along Grand View’s length.  Aside from the river, travelers will see historic homes and lovely forest views along the way. 

The dive’s linear park includes a paved sidewalk open for walkers, bikers, and hikers to enjoy at a more leisurely pace.  Pets are welcome, and picnic tables, playgrounds, baseball fields, and volleyball courts round out the park’s offerings.

3. Peoria Zoo and Glen Oak Park

Peoria Zoo and Glen Oak Park
Source: Flickr / Joseph Gage | CC BY-SA 2.0

The Peoria Zoo is pleasantly situated in the lovely nineteenth-century Glen Oak Park.  The Zoo’s roots go back to a donation of a herd of elk to Peoria in the late 1800s.  Known as Glen Oak Zoo for many years, the Peoria Zoological Society changed the name to the Peoria Zoo after a major expansion in 2009. 

In the Africa exhibit visitors will find giraffes, gazelles, zebras, and rhinos.  Separate sections showcase lions and various monkeys.  The Australia Walk-About section of the Zoo invites visitors to explore a variety of Australian animals, and even to feed the colorful Budgies (parakeets) in a walk-in aviary.  Glen Oak Park also contains a children’s museum, the Rotary Adventure Grove, an amphitheater, and a lagoon.

4. Forest Park Nature Center

Forest Park Nature Center
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Forest Park Nature Center draws visitors into the local woodlands for excellent birdwatching and wildlife viewing.  Its seven miles of hiking trails are set in more than 500 acres of Illinois State Nature Preserve.

The site includes a natural history museum that frequently hosts educational talks and workshops by groups such as the Audubon Society and the Sierra Club.  The bird observation room onsite is an ideal spot to view local bird species.  The Trailhead Nature Store serves as a gift shop for mementos of your visit.  Note that pets are not allowed at the park.

5. Louisville Slugger Sports Complex

Louisville Slugger Sport Complex
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At Peoria’s Louisville Slugger Sports Complex sports fans can participate in a wide range of athletic activity.  The site’s 125,000 square foot Slugger Dome houses two synthetic softball fields and ten volleyball courts for year-round action.  With batting cage rentals, multi-event floor space, and frequent tournaments, the climate-controlled dome is always bustling. 

The Slugger Stadiumplex features two highly equipped softball fields with room for 1,300 spectators.  The in-ground dugouts, LED scoreboard, and backstop netting enhance the professional feel.  Adult recreational leagues at the sports complex include softball, volleyball, kickball, and soccer. 

6. Peoria PlayHouse

Peoria PlayHouse
Source: Flickr / Joseph Gage | CC BY-SA 2.0

As Peoria’s premier children’s museum, the Peoria PlayHouse seeks to foster imaginative play to support child development.  Opened in 2015, the PlayHouse features a range of exhibits for children of all ages.  At Fossils Rock kids can become a paleontologist as they dig through real fossils.  Future historians can explore the past in Peoria, Then and Now, including a train ride and vaudeville production. 

The museum is staffed with experts in art and history who welcome families to the site and facilitate learning through play.  Whether working construction with loaders and dump trucks or harvesting produce on a family farm, Peoria PlayHouse is certain to spark the imagination.

7. Par-A-Dice Hotel Casino

Par-A-Dice Hotel Casino
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Peoria is home to the mega-yacht Par-A-Dice Hotel Casino.  Docked on the Illinois River in East Peoria, the Par-A-Dice offers a smoke-free gambling experience.  With nearly one thousand slot machines and thirty table games, the casino features round-the-clock excitement.  The four-deck riverboat’s three restaurants feed hungry gamblers in between games. 

Table games at the Par-A-Dice include blackjack, craps, roulette, three-card poker, Mississippi Stud, and Mini Baccarat.  Sports fans will be excited to check out the onsite sportsbook, offering options to wager on all major U.S. sports.  Extend your stay overnight at the 202-room hotel.

8. Luthy Botanical Garden

Luthy Botanical Garden
Source: Wikimedia / ProfDEH | CC BY-SA 4.0

The five-acre George L. Luthy Memorial Botanical Garden is set in Glen Oak Park, providing visitors with a pleasant break from its urban surroundings.  Its various sections include an herb garden, collections of roses and viburnum, and an all-season garden.  The garden also includes a tropical conservatory.  The Luthy hosts educational programming and community events. 

Each year the garden hosts a series of flower shows, featuring orchids, chrysanthemum, and poinsettas.  For guests hoping to draw inspiration for their home gardens, the Luthy offers landscape consultation on techniques for pruning, fertilizing, and pest control.

9. Corn Stock Theatre at Laura Bradley Park

Corn Stock Theatre at the Laura Bradley Park
Source: Pexels / Monica Silvestre

Theatre fans can take in a show under a big-top tent at Peoria’s Corn Stock Theatre.  Located on the grounds of Laura Bradley park, Corn Stock is an outdoor community theatre with both a summer and winter season. 

Corn Stock opened in 1954 with a performance in Detweiller Park.  The company formed a partnership with the Peoria Park District and moved to its permanent home in Bradley Park the following year.  Corn Stock’s mission is to deliver quality performances by the community for the community.  They offer a Corn Stock for Kids program that produces two shows and a summer workshop each year.

10. Caterpillar Visitors Center

Caterpillar Visitors Center
Source: Flickr / Scott McLeod | CC BY 2.0

Have you ever wished you could ride in a two-and-a-half story construction vehicle?  Guests at the Caterpillar Visitors Center begin their tour with a virtual ride in a Caterpillar Mining Truck.  Located in downtown Peoria, the unique exhibits present guests with the history of the Caterpillar company. 

The center also engages them in an immersive experience of the heavy equipment that has constructed buildings, roads, and other infrastructure around the world.  Simulators allow guests to imagine themselves in the driver’s seat of multiple vehicles.  Another activity allows visitors to design their own Caterpillar equipment.

11. Wheels O’Time Museum

Wheels O Time Museum
Source: Pexels / Maria Geller

A unique museum dedicated to vintage vehicles of all sorts, Wheels O’Time contains 30,000 square feet of exhibits.  The museum originated in 1977 as a space for antique cars.  The original Packards, Ford Model Ts, and Chevys have been joined since then by fire trucks, bicycles, and airplanes.  Wheels O’Time is also home to a Rock Island steam locomotive and various heavy-duty Caterpillar equipment. 

The ever-expanding museum opened a new 5000 square foot building in September, 2020.  Visitors can also learn about the history of Peoria through the many exhibits, as most of the vehicles were sourced locally. 

12. Betty Jayne Brimmer Center for the Performing Arts

Betty Jayne Brimmer Center of the Performing Arts
Source: Flickr / Brandon Hunt | CC BY 2.0

As one of Peoria’s newest facilities, the Betty Jayne Brimmer Center for the Performing Arts reflects Peoria’s emphasis on community renewal.  Designed as a performing arts center, the venue hosts musical theatre, concerts, drama, lectures, and other events throughout the year.  Opened in 2019, the center was constructed around the shell of the old Peoria Heights Library. 

The facility is named for the mother of developer Kim Blickenstaff, who led the project to renovate the library.  Betty Jayne Brimmer was a vaudeville performer and dancer in Peoria’s Big Band era.  Visitors should check the center’s upcoming events to stay connected with Peoria’s cultural scene.

13. Peoria Heights and Tower Park

Peoria Heights and Tower Park
Source: Flickr / Roger W | CC BY-SA 2.0

 The pleasant village of Peoria Heights is located on the bluffs along the western back of the Illinois River. Grand View Drive winds its way along the edge of Peoria Heights, which is also home to many popular restaurants and shops

Just beside the village hall is Tower Park, a pleasant green space with a 200-foot water tower offering panoramic views of the surrounding region.  A glass elevator provides access to the three observation decks.  Tower Park’s gazebo also frequently hosts live performances.  Forest Park Nature Center and Rock Island Greenway are also easily accessible from Peoria Heights.

14. Pettengil-Morron House Museum

Pettengil-Morron House Museum
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Built for abolitionist Moses Pettengill in 1868, the Pettengill-Morron House provides a glimpse into Peoria’s past.  An excellent example of Second Empire architecture, the house also boasts an impressive Colonial Revival porch. 

Displays tell the story of Moses and Lucy Pettengill’s abolitionist work.  Originally from Salisbury, New Hampshire, Pettingill began his professional life as a teacher before building a successful career as a hardware merchant and builder.  Pettengill family artifacts are still present in the home.  A later occupant, Jean McLean Morron, left additional antique furnishings to the Peoria Historical Society, which operates the house museum.

15. Rock Island Trail Kickapoo Creek access

Rock Island Trail Kickapoo Creek access
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From its southernmost access point on the Peoria riverfront, Rock Island Trail stretches for thirteen miles to the northwest of Peoria.  Aside from a small street side section with a dedicated bike lane, the multi-use trail runs off-street for most of its length.  The trail connects the Riverfront Museum with the Caterpillar Visitor Center.  It also runs by Springdale Cemetery and Glen Oak Park. 

A longer section of trail can be accessed via the Kickapoo Creek Recreation area near the community of Alta, to the north of Peoria.  The northern section is managed as an Illinois state park and features scenic overlooks.

16. John C. Flanagan House Museum

John C. Flanagan House Museum
Source: Wikimedia / Wonderrenae | CC BY-SA 3.0

The Peoria Historical Society’s John C. Flanagan House Museum invites travelers to learn about Peoria’s history in an authentic nineteenth-century atmosphere.  Local Judge John C. Flanagan built the Federalist home in 1837.  Visitors will find period furnishings and collections of antique items displayed in the house. 

The Peoria Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution maintain their headquarters here.  It is said that Abraham Lincoln stayed at the home during the Lincoln-Douglas debates. Tours are offered on a regular basis by Historical Society volunteers.  The home is also available for event rental.

17. Peoria Civic Center

Peoria Civic Center
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Visitors to Peoria will find a host of activities to enjoy year-round at the multiuse Peoria Civic Center.  The center was designed by noted architect Philip Johnson.  It opened in 1982.  Its mission is to support Peoria’s quality of life and economic development through hosting a variety of events.  Local basketball and hockey teams use the center’s 10,000-seat arena as their home floor. 

Conventions and conferences make use of the center’s 100,000 square feet of exhibit space.  The center is also home to the Peoria Symphony Orchestra and Peoria Ballet.  Ameren Illinois puts on a frequent slate of Broadway performances at the center, too. 

18. Detweiler Park and Riverside

Detweiler Park and Riverside
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With over five miles of hiking trails just north of Peoria, Detweiler Park offers a quick and peaceful escape from the city.  The multi-use area includes 740 acres to explore, with sports fields, and riverside access to fishing and boating.  Visitors can drop in at the boat ramp or hang out on the riverfront beach to do a little sunbathing or birdwatching. 

A massive redwood log brought to the area in 1915 by the Caterpillar Company is a local landmark.  Detweiler Park was established in 1928, and named in honor of the donor’s father, Captain Henry Detweiler, a prominent steamboat captain.  Captain Detweiler’s nineteenth century icehouse is on display at the park.

19. Charter Oak Park

Charter Oak Park
Source: Flickr / DARSHAN SIMHA | CC BY 2.0

On the northwest side of Peoria, Charter Oak Park offers visitors a pleasant escape from the city. With the 6.4 acre Charter Oak North Lake on site, the park allows fishing from the shoreline and three small fishing piers. Anglers can find largemouth bass, bluegill, red ear sunfish, and channel catfish in the lake.

The park also includes a short system of paved and gravel hiking trails. Basketball, pickleball, and tennis courts are also available, along with soccer fields. Pets are allowed at the park, too, as long as they are kept on leash.

20. Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Immaculate Conception

Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Immaculate Conception
Source: Wikimedia / Nheyob | CC BY-SA 4.0

Modeled after St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, Peoria’s Saint Mary’s was constructed from 1885 to 1889.  The cathedral serves as the mother church of the Diocese of Peoria.  Its limestone exterior graces Peoria’s North Side Historic District.  The stately church has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1983. 

Guided tours may be arranged through the Museums of the Diocese of Peoria.  Just next to the cathedral visitors will find the Archbishop Fulton Sheen Museum, with exhibits on the famous Catholic theologian and Peoria native, John Fulton Sheen.

21. Spirit of Peoria

Spirit of Peoria
Source: Flickr / H. Michael Miley | CC BY-SA 2.0

Driven by twin Caterpillar diesel engines, the Spirit of Peoria paddle wheeler serves as an iconic local attraction.  Built in 1988 to honor the area’s river heritage, the boat enjoys a shallow 4-foot draft, enabling it to visit towns all along the Illinois and Mississippi rivers. 

As one of the only overnight paddle wheelers in the United States, the boat offers themed cruises and overnight lodging in style.  Travelers can book passage on the Spirit of Peoria for cruises of one to five days in length.  Live entertainment is often offered on board, with talented musicians and storytellers livening up the trip.

22. Northmoor Observatory at Donovan Park

Northmoor Observatory and Donovan Park
Source: Unsplash / Jame Lee

Situated in peaceful Donovan Park, the Northmoor Observatory invites guests to enjoy amazing views of the stars.  Northmoor was the first Illinois observatory to be opened to the public.  Its 9-inch refractor telescope was originally constructed in 1913 but has since been updated and reassembled.  A rotating dome was added to the observatory in 2009.  It is now managed by the Peoria Astronomical Society. 

Public viewings are offered for free every Saturday evening, provided the sky is clear.  Volunteers assist visitors in their exploration of the night skies.  The Donovan Park grounds make for a pleasant destination, too, with picnic tables, walking trails, and a public shelter.

23. Pekin Lake and Park District

Pekin Lak Park District
Source: Pexels / Jack Winbow

The Pekin community is located just south of Peoria across the Illinois River.  Its lake is a state reserve that attracts a plentiful array of wildlife.  Pekin’s multifaceted Park District is full of recreational activities.  Thirteen different parks form a network encompassing over 2,500 acres.  Mineral Springs Park is central to the district.  It contains an attractive pavilion located on a pleasant lagoon

The park district also features DragonLand Water Park, a three-acre complex of pools, waterslides, and play areas.  Additional facilities in the district include the Happy Trail Dog Park, Memorial Stadium and Ice Arena, a senior center, and a racquet club.

24. Farmdale Reservoir

Farmdale Reservoir
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Constructed by the Army Corps of Engineers in 1951 to protect Peoria from periodic flooding, Farmdale Reservoir is located three miles east of the city.  After heavy rains, the area is closed to the public.  However, the reservoir is usually dry, allowing visitors to access the 15-mail trail system for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding. 

The Army Corps of Engineers has overseen the deliberate return of native tall grass prairie.  Hunting is prohibited on the site.  As a result, plenty of local wildlife may be seen on the reservoir’s 837 acres.

25. Lakeview Park

Lakeview Park Peoria
Source: Unsplash / Steven Abraham

Peoria’s Lakeview Park and Recreation Center provides community members and guests with multiple options for indoor and outdoor fun. The recreation center includes sports facilities for basketball, pickleball, and volleyball. There is a dance studio on site for community use. Four classrooms are available for community education, workshops, and events.

There is also an indoor ice skating rink at Lakeview, along with the Peoria Players Theater and a branch of the public library. The Peoria Park District keeps its administrative offices at Lakeview, and the Girl Scouts of Central Illinois are also headquartered here.