Aurora is the second largest city in Illinois and as such you will find a huge number of things to do here, to the point where you won’t have to worry about not being entertained. Aurora is known for its beautiful surrounding areas, and even though this is a big city, you won’t have to travel far to find family-run farms and lush hiking and biking trails.
If you choose to stay in town, then you can enjoy other green spaces such as Phillips Park and the famous Phillips Park Zoo, as well as water parks and other hidden gems like picturesque fountains. For a little entertainment, you will find educational facilities such as museums and galleries, and in the evenings there is a swinging nightlife and live music scene that means that the fun doesn’t have to stop when the sun goes down.
I’m an Illinois local and have been exploring the state since I was young. I’ve visited Aurora on many occasion and have experienced personally what attractions/sights the the city has to offer. So I’m sure you’re gonna like my take on the best things to do in Aurora.
1. Abbey Farms
For a slice of rural Illinois, I suggest that you check out Abbey Farms. This working farm is centered on old fashioned family fun, and you won’t find any modern touches here.
Instead, Abbey Farms focuses on growing seasonal produce to delight guests, and each season has distinct attractions in mind.
In the fall you can pick your own pumpkins and in the winter choose your own Christmas tree, and once you have enjoyed the gorgeous landscapes at the farm you can also buy fresh farm produce to take home such as their signature baked goods like cider doughnuts.
2. SciTech Hands-On Museum
For everything science, technology, engineering, and mathematics related under one roof, look no further in Aurora than the SciTech Hands-On Museum. SciTech is specially designed with younger patrons in mind and all the exhibits are designed to be interactive.
To that end there are over 150 different activities to choose from and the museum is dedicated to educating and inspiring visitors on the joys of science and technology. If you love to experiment, then you will love the SciTech Hands-On Museum. Highly suggested for those with kids.
3. Philips Park Zoo
Avid bird spotters shouldn’t miss the chance to come to the Philips Park Zoo, where you will find over 100 different animals and 41 different species represented. One of the best things about the zoo is that it is free of charge, and it is also designed in different themed sections such as an aviary and a dedicated reptile house.
You can also expect to see species like Barred Owls, Peregrine Falcon’s, cougars, North American River Otters, and much more. For younger visitors there is also a dedicated Kids Zone.
4. Splash Country Water Park
For anyone looking to make a splash in Aurora, head on over to the Splash Country Water Park, where you will find a huge array of water related fun.
The water park is set up with dedicated areas, such as a deluxe tube slide ride and a lazy river that stretches for over 1,000 feet.
There are also zero depth pools on offer, and if you are travelling with younger guests then you will find toddler pools and dry land activities such as sand pits.
Tip: Also check out my article on the most beautiful places in Illinois.
5. Red Oak Nature Center
Red Oak Nature Center showcases the best of the Illinois countryside and skirts along the east bank of the spectacular Fox River. The center sits sprawled across 40 acres of land and is filled with local wildlife as well as lush foliage. Consider a trip here if you want to learn about the local environment at the same time as you commune with nature.
There are hiking trails as well as the might Fox River Trail which is famous in the area and you can choose to explore the area by hiking or biking. At the actual nature center itself you can take in a wealth of educational exhibits such as the ‘Sense the Seasons’ gallery which teaches you about the environment. Many of the galleries in the center are designed to be interactive so that you get a hands-on feel for the environment in Aurora.
6. Mastodon Lake and Trail
Mastodon Lake and Trail is a natural oasis nestled within the bustling suburban landscape of the Chicagoland area. The 3.5-mile trail loop around Mastodon Lake provides a peaceful escape for hikers, runners, and nature enthusiasts alike, offering stunning views of the lake, wetlands, and prairie habitats along the way. Nestled in the middle of Phillips Park lies Mastodon Island and West Recreation Area, this site is known for a few of its signature activities such as a mastodon slide and a tusk maze, as well as a picturesque gazebo that is a popular meeting spot for large group activities.
The lake itself is named after the mastodon fossils discovered in the area in the 1930s, adding a unique historical significance to the natural beauty of the park. Younger visitors to the area can also enjoy playgrounds, sandpits, and volleyball and basketball courts. I consider the Mastodon Lake and Trail a must-see destination for anyone visiting or living in Aurora.
7. Aurora Regional Fire Museum
The Aurora Regional Fire Museum is not to be missed on a trip to Aurora and offers a fascinating look at the history of the fire service in this city. The museum is dedicated to educating people about the fire service and fire safety, and is also designed to be inspiring and entertaining at the same time.
As such, many of the exhibits here are interactive and you can get hands on with activities such as passing a leather fire bucket and trying out different hose nozzles. You can also drive a simulator of a fire truck and try out sirens and fire engine horns, as well as enjoy a range of vintage fire related memorabilia. What I like about the museum is that it is housed in a period building that dates from 1894 and is a piece of living history in itself.
8. Oakhurst Forest Preserve
If you want to spend some time out of doors and take in the beauty of Aurora, then head to the Oakhurst Forest Preserve. Here you will find acres of unspoiled landscapes and you can take in gorgeous vistas across the city at the same time.
In the center of the forest you will find a lake that spans 55 acres including areas of lush marshlands, so if you love to fish then you have come to the right place. For keen hikers, there are trails all over the preserve and a wealth of flora and fauna to enjoy from the many viewing platforms dotted all over the facility. This is a great place to see some amazing sunsets.
9. Fox Valley Mall
For all your shopping needs in Aurora, head to the Fox Valley Mall where you will find over 130 different stores, as well as different dining venues, and entertainment options. There are several anchor stores in Fox Valley Mall such as popular retailers like Macy’s, JCPenney, H&M, and Sephora (one of my favorite stores), but you can also enjoy smaller boutiques and local and regional favorites. There is a food court here with a huge selection of different cuisines and younger guests can enjoy a carousel as well as the Fox Valley Train.
With its upscale atmosphere, convenient location, and diverse selection of shops and amenities, Fox Valley Mall offers a one-stop shopping experience for residents and visitors alike.
10. Phillips Park
Phillips Parks is spread across an area of 325 acres and is known as one of the premium green spaces in the city. There are a wealth of attractions to enjoy at Phillips Park, including the Mastodon Gallery and a breathtaking signature feature called the Sunken Garden.
You will also find a fishing lake here that covers 28 acres, so if you are a keen angler then this is a great place to indulge your passion. There are also walking trails across the park and a Winter Recreation Area depending on when you are visiting. Should you choose to visit in the winter months, then you can even enjoy a sledding hill here when the snow falls.
11. Banana Split
For something fun to do in Aurora, think about heading to Banana Split Inc for a hit of sweetness. Located across from Garfield Park, this is a seasonal soft serve ice cream shop that is known for being open only from February until October.
During this time locals flock here for some of the best ice cream in Aurora, and you can get a variety of flavors here to suits your tastes. I had the ‘Pineberry Boat’ which has vanilla and strawberry ice with strawberry and pineapple topping. But the signature dessert here however is, of course, the banana split, which pays homage to this old fashioned classic and comes in three different portion sizes including the infamous ‘Groaner’. Try it if you dare and make sure you bring your appetite.
12. Blackberry Farm
Blackberry Farm lies across 54 acres of land and is a great place for the whole family to come if you are interested in learning more about the local environment in Aurora as well as enjoying the chance to visit a working farm.
At Blackberry Farm you will find a petting zoo as well as playgrounds for younger children and amusement rides around the facility such as a hay wagon, a scenic train, and even pedal tractors.
As such, think of this a living history museum that will take you through the story of the farm and how it has evolved over the years. If you come in the winter months, you will even find an ice skating rink here.
13. Airtastic Play Land
Airtastic Play Land is not just an indoor trampoline facility, but rather a space designed for children to play, run, and jump to their hearts’ desire. Airtastic Play Land is located indoors, so this is the perfect place to come if you are travelling with younger children and are looking for a rainy day activity.
It has a huge range of air filled items and giant inflatables and play areas where you can practice bouncing, climbing, and jumping, and little ones will love working out their energy here.
14. Vaughan Aquatic Center and Indoor Water Park
If you want to come to a water park where it doesn’t matter what the weather is doing outside, then look no further than the Vaughan Aquatic Center and Indoor Water Park where you will find a large eight lane pool as well as a therapy pool that is heated to soothe tired muscles.
There are also zero entry pools as well as slides and water playgrounds.
15. Swimming Stones
Swimming Stones is actually not a swimming facility but rather a water sculpture feature that was designed by Christian Tobin Isaac. This sculpture captures the hydrostatic force of water in motion, as it unleashes the kinetic energy of the massive granite obelisks that tower over the pedestrian walk below.
The feature is a series of fountains that fuse both art and science and you will find four obelisks made of granite that each weight up to 4000 pounds and measure up to 12 feet high.
Further reading: 23 Amazing Hidden Gems in Illinois