12 Top-Rated Things to Do in Peoria, Illinois

Written by Brad Lane
Sep 14, 2020
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In central Illinois and abutting the Illinois River, Peoria is a bustling city of more than 100,000 residents. This sprawling riverfront city boasts a dense collection of cultural attractions in conjunction with its rich history on display. French explorers first came upon the area in the late 17th century, and much of what drew so much interest to Peoria since then still attracts tourists and residents today.

A key cultural feature of the city is the Smithsonian-affiliated Peoria Riverfront Museum. This award-winning museum features nationally touring exhibits and sprawling grounds, including a sculpture garden. Extending from the outdoor exhibits of this massive educational space, the riverfront corridor is also home to the Caterpillar Visitor Center and many local shops and restaurants.

Peoria has an academic feel thanks to the Bradley University campus west of downtown. Peoria also keeps its connection to nature with lovely city parks and open spaces. For other cultural interest, the Peoria Civic Center provides a great place to catch a show.

Peoria has many rewarding places to visit. Plan your sightseeing with our list of the top things to do in Peoria.

1. Peoria Riverfront Museum

Dome Planetarium at Peoria Riverfront Museum
Dome Planetarium at Peoria Riverfront Museum | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

This massive Smithsonian museum overlooks the Illinois River in downtown Peoria. The rotating galleries at Riverfront Museum include internationally touring exhibits from the Smithsonian catalogue. These highly detailed exhibits change every year and provide new reasons to visit. Exhibitions are highly varied and range from Da Vinci installations to lessons on bioluminescence.

Permanent exhibits at the museum contain many branches of art and science. The museum features a dense collection of folk and fine art, as well as unique objects like an 1898 Duryea Motor Trap - one of the first gasoline-powered cars on the market.

Outside on the grounds, alongside a towering statue of Abraham Lincoln, the public can also find an eye-catching Sculpture Garden to admire.

The Peoria Holocaust Memorial is also on the grounds. This reflective space offers a quiet atmosphere, where past events can be respected and remembered.

Other attractions at the museum include a Giant Screen Theater, which provides quite the backdrop for summer blockbusters, 3D documentaries, and annual film festivals. Patrons can also experience an in-depth look at the night sky with the impressive Dome Planetarium at the museum, as well as 30 different celestial shows to choose from.

As a main cultural source of entertainment in Peoria, the Riverfront Museum also hosts a variety of classes, programs, and adult events every week and throughout the year.

Address: 222 Southwest Washington Street, Peoria, Illinois

Official site: http://www.peoriariverfrontmuseum.org/

2. Caterpillar Visitors Center & Museum

Caterpillar Visitor Center
Caterpillar Visitor Center | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Adjacent to the downtown Riverfront Museum, this 50,000-square-foot visitor center is dedicated to the Peoria-based, world-leading manufacturer of construction and mining equipment: Caterpillar Inc. Open since 2012, the visitor center and museum feature eight galleries, including exhibits on the past, present, and future of the company.

Hard to miss on the exhibit floor, the museum also displays massive Caterpillar machinery from throughout the ages, including a few that visitors can climb aboard.

Other fun features of the museum include a driving simulator and a 3D design technology application. An on-site merchandise center at the Visitor Center features scale-model machines and branded apparel.

The Caterpillar Visitors Center is open Monday through Saturday during the day. Kids under 12 years old receive free admission.

Address: 110 Southwest Washington Street, Peoria, Illinois

Official site: https://www.caterpillar.com/en/company/visitors-center.html

3. Peoria Zoo

Peoria Zoo
Peoria Zoo | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The Peoria Zoo is adjacent to Luthy Botanical Garden in Glen Oak Park. The zoo is operated by the Peoria Park District and has been accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums since 1981. Families and visitors have six unique exhibits to walk through at the zoo, including an Asian Trail, a Tropics Building, and a Conservation Center.

Some of the resident animals at the zoo include rhinos, tigers, and wallabies, as well as tortoises, emus, and boa constrictors. Daily presentations at the zoo facilitate interactions between animals and guests.

The zoo also hosts a variety of camps, classes, and summer programs for children and adults.

Address: 2320 North Prospect Road, Peoria, Illinois

Official site: http://www.peoriazoo.org/

4. Peoria Civic Center

Sculpture garden outside the Civic Center
Sculpture garden outside the Civic Center | k4dordy / photo modified

This 11,000-plus-seat arena packs its calendar with a variety of live music, sports, and community events. Home to the biggest shows and performances in Peoria, the Civic Center features entertainment for every member of the family.

Nationally touring musicians often frequent the Peoria Civic Center, as well as some of the biggest acts of Broadway currently on tour. The Bradley University Braves basketball program fills out the seats during the season. The Peoria Rivermen Southern Professional Hockey League team also plays to a packed house. Between November and January, the Civic Center hosts the PNC Winterfest, which features an outdoor ice rink and a 100-foot-long ice slide.

Address: 201 Southwest Jefferson Avenue, Peoria, Illinois

Official site: http://www.peoriaciviccenter.com/home

5. Wildlife Prairie Park

Bison at Wildlife Prairie Park
Bison at Wildlife Prairie Park | Katherine Johnson / photo modified

Under 15 miles west of the city center, this 2,000-acre zoological park is home to more than 50 different native species of Illinois. Many of the animals at the park have been rescued and would not survive back in the wild. Animals commonly spotted at Wildlife Prairie Park include bison, bobcats, and black bears, as well as foxes, owls, and snakes.

Other attractions offered in this natural space include mountain bike trails, a disc golf course, and an interactive butterfly habitat. Adults and children can also hop aboard the Wildlife Prairie Park Railroad. This engaging wildlife park is open year-round and welcomes visitors Tuesday through Sunday.

Address: 3826 N. Taylor Road, Hanna City, Illinois

Official site: http://www.wildlifeprairiepark.org/

6. Luthy Botanical Garden

Fountain at Luthy Botanical Garden
Fountain at Luthy Botanical Garden

The George L. Luthy Memorial Botanical Garden is a beautifully landscaped space located near the Peoria Zoo within Glen Oak Park. Established in 1951, this botanical center now incorporates more than 15 themed gardens and a tropical conservatory spread out over five acres.

A few of the floral venues include a Rose Garden, Children's Garden, and Herb Garden. Inside the tropical conservatory at the park, visitors can find tropical plants like cacti and exotic lilies on display. Luthy Botanical Garden also hosts several floral shows to highlight special varieties, including an annual orchid show.

The botanical garden is a popular venue to rent out for special occasions, and the garden space hosts many educational events and programs throughout the year. Admission is free to this public garden, though donations are greatly appreciated.

Address: 2520 North Prospect Road, Peoria, Illinois

Official site: https://peoriaparks.org/

7. Forest Park Nature Center

Forest Park Nature Center
Forest Park Nature Center | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

North of downtown and near the Illinois River, Forest Park is a 540-acre forest preserve with a nature center. The seven miles of trails in the park meander across bluffs, through prairies, and into open woodlands. Wildlife sightings are common at Forest Park, particularly at the Nature Center's designated bird-watching station, where more than 100 different species have been documented to visit.

The Nature Center also includes a natural history museum and a variety of educational services for children and adults, including guided hiking opportunities. The on-site Trailhead Nature Store features fair trade and environmentally friendly items for sale. The trails at Forest Park are open every day of the year, and the Nature Center operates Tuesdays through Saturdays.

Address: 5809 North Forest Park Drive, Peoria Heights, Illinois

8. Pettengill-Morron House Museum

Pettengill-Morron House Museum
Pettengill-Morron House Museum | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

One of two historic homes operated by the Peoria Historical Society, the Pettengill-Morron House was originally constructed in 1868. Now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this home museum features many original furnishings of the Pettengill and Morron families.

Tours of the historic home are available from 10am to 2pm on Thursdays and otherwise by appointment. Another historical home operated by the Peoria Historical Society, the 1837 John C. Flanagan House Museum, is on the other side of the downtown district and provides further walks through history.

Address: 1212 West Moss Avenue, Peoria, Illinois

Official site: http://www.peoriahistoricalsociety.org/House-Museums/Pettengill-Morron_House_Museum

9. Laura Bradley Park

Japanese bridge entrance at Laura Bradley Park
Japanese bridge entrance at Laura Bradley Park | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Adjacent to Bradley University, Laura Bradley Park has given Peoria an escape into nature for more than 100 years. Much of the appeal of this public place remains the same today, including a high-bluff woodland landscape and thriving riparian corridor.

Surrounding the natural features of the park, amenities like playground equipment, picnic spaces, and baseball fields appeal to the whole family. A scenic Japanese bridge can be found spanning Dry Run Creek within Laura Bradley, alongside an ornamental shelter surrounded by colorful landscaping.

The Bradley Park disc golf course is one of the more popular in the area, and the off-leash dog park is a favorite among pet owners. The park is open from dawn to dusk every day of the year.

Address: 1317 North Park Road, Peoria, Illinois

10. Northmoor Observatory

Northmoor Observatory at Donovan Park
Northmoor Observatory at Donovan Park | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

North of the downtown district in Donovan Park, the Northmoor Observatory is maintained by the Peoria Astronomical Society. Featuring a nine-inch refractor telescope and rotating dome ceiling, the observatory is open to the public every cloudless Saturday night between May and October. Volunteers at the observatory on these Saturday nights aid in discovering the cosmos.

Surrounding the Observatory, Donovan Park, formerly Leo Donovan Golf Course, is filled with wide-open green spaces and pedestrian paths. The park is home to a great cross-country course that appeals to runners outside of the winter months.

Cyd's Gourmet Kitchen is also in Donovan Park, featuring a coffee bar, bakery, and take-away café.

Address: 5805 North Knoxville Avenue, Peoria, Illinois

Official site: http://astronomical.org/observatories.php

11. Jubilee College State Park

Jubilee College State Historic Site
Jubilee College State Historic Site | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Under 20 miles west of downtown, Jubilee College State Park provides an easy natural getaway and many recreational outlets to explore. A designated State Historic Site, this state park encompasses more than 3,000 acres surrounding the former location of Jubilee College, one of the earliest educational enterprises in Illinois.

Hikers, mountain bikers, and horseback riders often take advantage of the 40-plus miles of multi-use trails that span the park. Snowmobilers and cross-country skiers use the same corridors during the winter. A seasonal campground at Jubilee College State Park accommodates recreational vehicles and tents.

Address: West Fussner Road, Brimfield, Illinois

Official site: https://www.dnr.illinois.gov/Parks/Pages/JubileeCollege.aspx

12. Grand View Drive and Park

The view of Grand View Drive
The view of Grand View Drive | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Nicknamed the "world's most beautiful drive" by Theodore Roosevelt upon his visit in 1910, Grand View Drive and the adjacent park still live up to this high reputation today. Stretching for just over 2.5 miles and now located on the National Register of Historic Places, Grand View Drive gives pedestrians and drivers a chance to see the woodlands, water, and historic homes of this Peoria neighborhood.

With an assortment of playgrounds, hiking trails, and benches with a view, Grand View Park is an easy place to spend an afternoon appreciating the surroundings. For exercise enthusiasts, the steep grade of Grand View Drive makes for a great walking, running, or cycling challenge.

Where to Stay in Peoria for Sightseeing

Many of Peoria's best hotels can be found downtown and to the north of the city center. You'll find a selection of hotels catering to professionals, families, and tourists.

  • Mid-Range Hotels: A downtown riverfront hotel with an extra sense of style, the Mark Twain Hotel is a locally owned boutique hotel featuring decadent community spaces and first-class service. As well as comfortable rooms and affordable rates, Mark Twain Hotel features an in-house restaurant, fitness center, and room service.

    North of downtown, AmericInn by Wyndham Peoria is a top-rated hotel in the city with many different rooms available, including spacious suites. The AmericInn also features an indoor pool, fitness center, and free breakfast with every stay.

    Slightly to the west and close to Interstate 74, the Wingate by Wyndham Peoria is another popular hotel, particularly for its clean facilities, free breakfast, and attentive front desk staff.
  • Budget Hotels: Many of the best budget hotels in Peoria can be found slightly northwest of the downtown district near Interstate 74. Super 8 by Wyndham Peoria is one of those budget hotels near the interstate, and as well as affordable rates, this name-brand hotel has a great reputation for clean facilities, comfortable rooms, and accommodating staff members.

    Near the Super 8, Motel 6 Peoria is another reputable budget option. Alongside recently renovated rooms with flat-screen TVs, Motel 6 receives many repeat visits thanks to its well-kept facilities and no-frills affordability.
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