Resting in the scenic Fox River Valley, Algonquin is a wealthy village of just over 30,000 people.
The river is a defining feature of the townscape, with wooded banks sloping gently down to riverside parks and little piers for boats.
Algonquin is packed with shopping and dining, which can be intimate and independent in the cute Old Town District or convenient along Randall Road, where there’s a line of big box stores and famous chain restaurants.
The Fox River Trail follows the river southwards from Algonquin, leading you into nature preserves and a series of other charming riverside communities.
1. Old Town District
Entirely along Main Street, Algonquin has a lovely main drag with locally-owned restaurants and shops.
As with the rest of the village, this was going through a $30 million investment when we wrote this article, sprucing up the streetscape, adding new multistory buildings and improving the infrastructure.
Shoppers will find stores for furniture, antiques, pottery, musical instruments, jewelry, homewares and fashion, and there’s a strong contingent of restaurants for breakfast food (Short Stack), Italian (Cucina Bella), BBQ (The Texan Barbecue) and steaks (Bold American Fare).
Many of the buildings here date back to the turn of the century, like the original Village Hall (2 S Main Street), raised in 1907 and serving its original purpose until 1996.
2. Riverfront Park
Upstream from Algonquin’s dam, the Fox River resembles a lake, with a broad stretch of slow-moving water.
In a series of formal gardens, sports facilities and memorials is Riverfront Park, where you can sit, watch the boats and admire the view of the wooded valley side on the east bank.
Riverfront Park is a fitting place for outdoor concerts in summer, usually on Thursday evenings, and during summer days you’ll pass anglers fishing from the banks.
There’s a series of basketball hoops here, as well as a beam salvaged from the World Trade Center, and placed here as a 9/11 memorial.
3. Cornish Park
The Crystal Lake Outlet flows into the Fox River at this delightful park on the edge of the Old Town District.
At Cornish Park you’re just a few steps from Main Street’s shops and eateries, and you can take a break here to watch the river spilling over the Dexter Doggold Memorial Dam.
An Algonquin signature can be found at Cornish Park, in the form of the clock tower, and there are interpretive boards along the park’s main trail recounting the history of the village. Among the other features are a gazebo, a playground, picnic area and riverside benches.
4. Randall Oaks Zoo
Ten minutes from Algonquin, this little zoo in West Dundee is on a hilltop surrounded by scenic parkland.
A few of the inhabitants at Randall Oaks Zoo include alpacas, goats, emus, mini-horses, deer, cows, pigs, foxes and birds of prey like red-tailed hawks and great-horned owls.
Many of the domestic species can be petted and fed, and pony rides are available for a small fee. The remainder of Randall Oaks Park deserves your attention too, with picnic areas, three playgrounds and a ten-hole disc golf course.
5. Scorched Earth Brewing Company
Established by a husband and wife team in 2014, Scorched Earth Brewing Company is a thriving craft brewery less than a mile from the Fox River.
The spacious and friendly taproom here is cleverly integrated with the brewery floor, so there’s impressive stainless steel equipment all around.
Some 24 beers are on tap here, with something for all palates, from German-style lagers to hoppy IPAs, Belgian beers, dark and strong Porters, Sours and out-there creations like peach and apricot sparkling ale.
There’s no kitchen at Scorched Earth, but you can bring food from one of the nearby eateries, or grab something from one of the food trucks normally parked outside.
6. Fox River Trail
Algonquin is at the north end of a multi-use path that tracks the Fox River for 40 miles as far south as Oswego.
Hiking or biking through the Fox River Valley you’ll be treated to some of the prettiest natural scenery in northeastern Illinois.
Several of the towns on the river have their downtown areas and cute urban parks right by the banks, so you’ll never be far from a unique shopping area or restaurant.
Away from the built-up areas are Kane County Forest Preserves where the suburbs give way to nature-rich prairie, woodland, metlands and surprisingly steep bluffs.
7. Towne Park
You can combine a stroll around the Old Town District with this attractive 12-acre park.
There’s flowing water here thanks to the Crystal Lake Outlet, fed by a series of lakes and reservoirs to the north, and feeding the Fox River, and you have to cross a footbridge over this watercourse when you enter.
Towne Park has amenities for basketball, soccer and baseball, but a real highlight is the children’s playground, made almost entirely from wood and fashioned to resemble a castle.
Being so close to downtown, you can bring lunch here for a picnic, while the park is also on the Prairie Trail, which continues for 26 miles to the boundary with Wisconsin.
8. Fox Valley Pottery
This ceramic studio in Algonquin welcomes visitors, letting you pick a piece of pottery to customize with your own design and color scheme.
Fox Valley Pottery has a large range of idea books for inspiration, as well as all kinds of stencils and stamps.
Once your creation is complete you’ll leave it to be glazed and fired before taking it home in a few days.
The studio also caters to private parties and organizes a variety of special events. The finished piece will be food-safe but will need to be washed by hand and not in a dishwasher.
9. Brunner Family Forest Preserve
South of Algonquin the Fox River flows past this 732-acre forest preserve with 3.5 miles of riverfront.
This beautiful parcel of land was acquired by Kane County as recently as 2008, and much of the land continues to be used as pasture by the organic All Grass Farms, producing chickens, beef, milk, turkeys, pork, eggs and organic fresh fruit and vegetables.
There’s a farm shop on site for grass-fed meat, free range eggs, cheeses, yoghurt and honey. There are more than five miles of trails rambling through the preserve, taking you through some key ecological areas, restoring fens, wetlands and prairie.
The preserve is noted for its passerine bird species, among them sedge wrens, American bitterns and willow flycatchers.
10. Randall Road
All the way through Algonquin, the north-to-south Randall Road corridor is an important shopping, dining and entertainment hub, attracting people from across the region.
The way is flanked by a series of shopping centers, starting with Centre at Lake in the Hills, then River Pointe, Algonquin Galleria and Algonquin Commons.
On the way is an AMC 12-screen cinema and Bowlero, as well as locations for Kohl’s, JCPenney, Target, Home Depot, Meijer, T.J. Maxx, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Walmart, Trader Joe’s, Old Navy and Hobby Lobby.
Placed throughout are branches of chain restaurants like Biaggi’s, Dunkin’, Wendy’s, Chipotle, Panera, Bonefish Grill, Sonic and White Castle.
11. Exner Marsh Nature Preserve
Abounding with wildlife, the Exner Marsh Nature Preserve is 220 acres of marshland and ponds on a glacial lake bed.
This all a big draw for wetland bird species, both to nest and as a stop on their spring and fall migrations.
A few of the species commonly sighted at Exner Marsh are pied-billed grebes, least bitterns, Virginia rails and blue-winged teals.
Managed by the McHenry County Conservation District, the preserve is open during daylight hours and has 1.3 miles of trail.
The bowling alley on Randall Road is part of the Bowlero chain, combining state-of-the-art lanes with a range of other attractions.
Consult the website for weekly specials, which include late-night sessions on Fridays and Saturdays, as well as unlimited bowling on Mondays and Wednesdays.
The Randall Road location comes with an arcade, full of new machines, as well as a laser tag arena, billiards table and sports bar with HD flat-screen TVs.
You can also order from a menu of craft beers, cocktails, burgers, wings and more, delivered right to the lane while you play.
13. Fox River Shores Preserve
The Fox River trail passes through this Kane County forest preserve on the river’s east bank, a few minutes south of the Old Town District.
There’s a mile of picturesque riverfront here that was first made accessible to the public in 1988.
The Fox River Shores Preserve is ecologically important for the hills that frame the floodplain on the east side.
These are woven with little streams and seeps that form a hanging fen habitat, encouraging rare plants like turtle head, twayblade orchid and vanilla grass. In spring the drier areas have stunning wildflowers like white plums and pink flowering crabapples.
14. Santa’s Village Azoosment and Water Park
This theme park close by in East Dundee was originally part of a chain from the 1950s but is now the last of its kind. Santa’s Village did close in 2006 but relaunched in 2011 and hasn’t looked back.
The park is brimming with amusement rides for all ages, from roller coasters to charming kiddie rides that once belonged to Melrose Park’s Kiddieland and have been restored and made safe for new visitors.
As you might guess from the pun in the name, animals are a big part of the attraction, with farmyard animals, wallabies, parakeets, tortoises and muntjac deer.
The new water park Santa Springs has a 10,000-square-foot, beach-entry wading pool with a pair of 300-foot water slides, as well as a two-story interactive play structure and private cabanas for families.
15. Underground Retrocade
Video arcades are increasingly thin on the ground, but one spot keeping the experience alive, complete with 80s-style decor, is Underground Retrocade in West Dundee.
Here you pay a charge on the door and will then have free access to more than 150 game cabinets and pinball machines.
Many of the machines come from the golden age of arcades in the 1980s and 90s, with the likes of After Burner, Donkey Kong, Dragon’s Lair, Jr. Pac-Man, Mortal Kombat, Primal Rage, Rampage and Street Fighter II. Head to the website for details of tournaments and special events.