Whether you’re a lifelong resident or are visiting Bloomington, Ill., for the first time, there’s always more to learn about the towns you visit.
Located two hours south of Chicago with a population of over 75,000, Bloomington was founded on a rich history that continues to impress both locals and visitors today. For example, did you know that a Bloomington High School alum won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1937? Or that a Bloomington resident ran for the presidency in 1952?
But whether you’re impressed by its rich history, need a fun place to spend the day with the kids or want to grab a bite to eat with friends, Bloomington has just the activity you’re looking for. Here are some of the top events and attractions in the Bloomington area that you and your friends and family are sure to love.
Music and Entertainment
Bloomington is home to a thriving arts culture that has provided music, art and entertainment to the region for over a century. When you want to take in a show, look no further than these live entertainment options:
1. Grossinger Motors Arena
Grossinger Motors Arena opened its doors in 2006 and has since offered various concerts, family shows, ice shows and motorsports.
The arena has previously hosted big names in music and entertainment such as Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan, G-Eazy, Jim Gaffigan and Cirque de Soleil, and it’s also home to the Central Illinois Flying Aces and Illinois State University Redbird hockey teams. If you’re interested in music, comedy, children’s shows or sporting events, there’s sure to be something you’ll enjoy in the arena’s diverse lineup.
2. Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts
Built in 1929 as a hub for Bloomington’s artistic and social life, the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts (BCPA) appeals to a wide range of age groups and interests. BCPA holds over 500 events annually including concerts, musicals and plays.
For inexpensive weekend entertainment, check out the center’s recently-introduced Sunday afternoon free concert series. For one Sunday a month over the summer, you and your family can bring a picnic and listen to local musicians perform on the summer stage outside the center. The concerts are free, with food and drink available for purchase.
3. The Castle Theatre
Another popular place to stop and enjoy a live show, the Castle Theatre features both local and national music artists. It was first opened in 1916 and recently underwent a $1.5 million renovation.
With a mixture of genres like rock, contemporary alternative, jazz and more, the theatre’s lineup appeals to various music tastes. There are two bars on the main floor, so you can relax with a refreshing drink while you enjoy your show.
Recreation and Leisure
Bloomington also has the perfect leisure opportunities for you and your friends and family. Take a walk or pick up your golf clubs for a relaxing day in town with these recreational options:
1. Pepsi Ice Center
Whether your family’s already bundled up from a chilly winter frost or you want to cool off from the hot sun, inexperienced and advanced skaters alike can spend the day ice skating at the Pepsi Ice Center. The center, attached to the Grossinger Motors Arena, offers open skates as well as lessons for young skaters and family events throughout the year.
In addition to ice skating, the center also offers youth and adult hockey classes and pickup games. The schedule for classes and events runs year-round.
Bloomington’s three golf courses will each provide you with a great round and beautiful sights:
- Highland Park Golf Course: Built on hilly terrain and surrounded by tall trees, Highland Park Golf Course offers a challenging round and scenic view.
- Prairie Vista Golf Course:Prairie Vista Golf Course features bentgrass tees, greens and fairways, with water hazards located on 16 of the 18 holes.
- The Den at Fox Creek: With sand traps, wide fairways and water hazards, the Den at Fox Creek was rated four and a half stars in Golf Digest’s “Places to Play.”
3. Constitution Trail
Constitution Trail covers over 46 miles of the Bloomington-Normal region. Dedicated in 1987 for the 200th anniversary of the U.S. Constitution, the trail combines outdoor leisure with Bloomington history.
The main branch of the trail snakes through an industrial area, taking you by the Beer Nuts snack food production plant, where you can visit the company store. It then passes under the historic Camelback Bridge.
This extensive trail system features numerous trailheads that take you through peaceful neighborhoods, shopping centers, the Illinois State campus and more. Rated one of the top three things to do in Bloomington, Constitution Trail is an adventure you won’t want to miss out on.
4. Miller Park
Enjoy your day out in Miller Park, which hosts an array of indoor and outdoor activities. The park features:
- Paddle boats: Available via Miller Beach Boating, paddle boats can be rented from the end of May to the beginning of September for a great way to stay cool during a hot summer.
- Mini-golf: Traditional golfing not your thing? You can still relax on the mini-golf course, designed for youth and adults alike to enjoy.
- Nickel Plate Road Engine 639: Miller Park is also home to a freight engine built in 1923. The engine was moved to the park in 1959 after the Boomington Steam Locomotive Commission raised $6,000 for the project.
Bloomington was founded in 1831. Since then, the town has housed future leaders who would change the world through politics or entertainment. Learn more about the history behind Bloomington and its residents with these historic attractions:
1. David Davis Mansion
The beautifully restored 19th-century David Davis Mansion was home to David Davis and his wife Sarah, who moved to the Bloomington area in 1839. Davis worked his way up from a circuit-riding lawyer to a U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice, where he began a long-time friendship with Abraham Lincoln. Davis provided Lincoln with crucial legal and political advice, helping him become the immensely successful president that he was.
You can feel history come to life as you view letters written by the Davis family on your tour of the mansion. The decorative art and garden reflect the wealthy Victorian style of the 1800s to take you back in time into the Davis’ life.
Tours of the mansion are rated the number one attraction in Bloomington, so you won’t want to miss out on this exclusive opportunity to catch a glimpse into the life of an American legend.
2. Evergreen Memorial Cemetery
You can find quite a few famous graves on the Evergreen Memorial Cemetery‘s walking tour.
First, view the grave of the young girl whose namesake became a classic entertainment icon. Few people know Dorothy from “The Wizard of Oz” was named after a real person. Dorothy Gage died at only five months old, but her legacy lived forever when her uncle Frank used her name as the main character of his book. Gage was buried in the local Bloomington cemetery.
Another famous part of history lies in the cemetery at the grave of Adlai Stevenson II. Stevenson ran against Dwight D. Eisenhower for the presidency in 1956 and held a seat as a U.S. ambassador to the United Nations from 1961 until his death in 1965.
At the southeast corner of the cemetery, you can find the grave of Richard L. Jones. Although Jones was not famous during his lifetime, his tombstone sets the record as the longest epitaph in granite according to Ripley’s Believe It or Not.
Finally, an unmarked wooden memorial remembers the life of the passenger killed in a fatal 1948 Memorial Day plane crash. The crash occurred as a plane skimmed the treetops over a Memorial Day celebration and rammed into a large tree, killing the only passenger while leaving the pilot with serious injuries. The cemetery’s intricate plane sculpture was carved out of the tree involved in the crash.
3. McLean County Museum of History
The McLean County Museum of History brings historical Bloomington to life with its array of exhibits.
Feel what it was like to live, work and farm in Bloomington in times long ago, and learn how McLean County played a key role in Abraham Lincoln’s decision to run for the presidency. Examine Lincoln’s work as a McLean County attorney, and recreate log cabin living with a hands-on discovery room. If you love history, you’ll love what you find in the museum’s vast collection.
4. Prairie Aviation Museum
The Prairie Aviation Museum has provided aviation and space displays that have been enjoyed by aircraft enthusiasts for over 30 years. Planes of the past come to life through static aircraft displays, education programs, air shows and other aviation events that remember both military and civilian historical aviation.
Hear stories of the planes’ development, expansion and exploration as volunteers proudly tell visitors about the history of space and aviation. The family-friendly museum allows children to touch the displays and visit with actual pilots. Open Cockpit days present a unique, hands-on look at a variety of airplanes, helicopters and cars.
Children and Family
Bloomington hosts a bustle of activity that even families with small children can enjoy. Here are some of the top activities for families with children to explore:
1. Children’s Discovery Museum
Located just outside Bloomington in the Bloomington-Normal region, the Children’s Discovery Museum makes learning fun for any age group.
Children can experience science and technology in a hands-on environment with three stories of exhibits. In these displays, children can enjoy a play cafe, climbing wall, painting mural, interactive toy farming equipment, crafts and more.
The museum features an art studio with programs designed to stimulate children’s creativity. Day camps and summer camps are also available to keep your child entertained all day long.
2. Miller Park Zoo
Animal lovers of all ages will adore a day at the Miller Park Zoo. The zoo offers animal exhibits and interactive opportunities to encourage learning. Wander through indoor and outdoor exhibits to view animals of all types including reindeer, flamingos, seals, river otters, snow leopards and more.
For extra fun, you and your family can ride the carousel, watch the zookeepers feed the animals and enjoy special events such as the popular trick-or-treating Spooktacular. Get away with your friends or spouse on a Parent’s Night Out, or celebrate the holidays with Breakfast with Santa. The zoo’s list of events has something to captivate your whole family.
3. Fairview Family Aquatic Center
Located in the Bloomington-Normal region, the 45-acre Fairview Family Aquatic Center provides all the outdoor fun you and your family could want on a summer afternoon.
Zoom down one of the pool’s five slides, wade with young ones in the zero-depth activity pool or make a splash in the spray toy area. You can do it all at this park and pool center, open from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
4. Pheasant Lanes Family Fun Center
No matter what you’re looking for in a family activity, Pheasant Lanes has it all.
The 32-lane bowling center is available daily for recreational bowling but also hosts both youth and adult leagues and tournaments. Rent a glow-in-the-dark, light-up disco bowling ball for extra family fun.
If you’d rather be outdoors in the spring, summer or fall, an 18-hole mini golf course, two sand volleyball courts and a beer garden provide an array of outdoor activities.
Take a break after a long day of fun at Kegler’s Pub, also located at Pheasant Lanes. The pub offers food options, adult beverages and big-screen TVs. It also features trivia nights and karaoke for your next evening getaway.
Enjoy a Meal at Giordano’s
Of course, no day in the Bloomington area is complete without relaxing with a delicious pizza at Giordano’s.
Giordano’s brings Chicago stuffed deep-dish pizza to Bloomington. Our unique recipe consists of gourmet toppings and cheese served inside a top and bottom layer of fresh, flaky crust, topped with our pizza sauce. These stuffed pizzas provide a mouth-watering experience different than any traditional deep dish pizza you’ve had before.
Relax with a sit-in meal before you see your favorite artist at the Grossinger Motor Arena, or bring the kids after a fun day at the Children’s Discovery Museum. Don’t want to go out tonight? No problem. We also deliver so that you can enjoy our unique deep-dish style in the comfort of your home for a quiet night in.
The Giordano family has spent over 200 years perfecting our stuffed pizza recipe, so you know you’re getting exceptional quality with every bite. In fact, we’ve been acclaimed “Chicago’s Best Pizza” by NBC, CBS Chicago, New York Times and other industry professionals, as well as by our loyal customers.
Our menu offers an array of stuffed pizza options, as well as starters, salads, traditional Italian cuisine and more. You and your family are sure to fall in love with one of our delicious menu choices.
Visit us today at our Bloomington location at 1505 N. Veteran’s Parkway, or order online for delivery or carry-out options. We hope you enjoy your time in the Bloomington area, and we look forward to serving you.