This northwest suburb of Chicago has the distinction of being the largest community in the United States to be incorporated as a village.
Some 75,000 people live in this mostly affluent municipality, featuring a dynamic downtown area with cultural amenities, shops and restaurants and cafes with sidewalk seating.
Arlington Heights is perhaps most famous for its racetrack, Arlington Park, founded in 1927 and staging three Grade I races in August.
The historical museum, with a collection of historic buildings, takes a look at the village’s late 19th-century origins, including the story of the German-born soda pioneer F. W. Müller.
There’s also ample public green space in Arlington Heights, whether you’re catching a summer concert at North School Park or trekking in the mature forest of Busse Woods.
1. Metropolis Performing Arts Centre
Found amongst the independent shops and restaurants in downtown Arlington Heights is a thriving theater presenting and producing hundreds of performances annually.
The in-house company stages several major productions each year, a few recent picks being Rent, the 39 Steps, Spamalot, Moon Over Buffalo and the anticipated holiday institution, A Christmas Carol.
The theater, with seating for 329 spectators, also welcomes musicians, comedians and cabaret performances throughout the year.
As well as a theater company, Metropolis is a performing arts school, offering classes, lessons, workshops and camps for all ages.
2. Mitsuwa Marketplace
Arlington Heights has a Japanese connection, as the home of the Chicago Futabakai Japanese School and an array of Japanese businesses dotted around.
One of these is the largest Japanese supermarket in the Midwest. Part of a chain with 11 locations nationwide, Mitsuwa Marketplace is not just a place to shop for hard-to-find specialty ingredients and kitchenware.
Of course, you can get hold of everything you need to make your own okonomiyaki or katsu curry, but this is like a hub for Japanese culture.
You’ll find music, toys, books, movies and an enormous selection of manga comics. The food court is a destination in its own right, with an almost overwhelming choice, ranging from sushi to ramen, tempura, takoyaki, bubble tea and Japanese baked foods.
3. Lake Arlington
This picturesque sheet of water encompassing 50 acres is a stormwater detention basin, excavated in the 1980s to ease flooding and then turned into a park by 1995.
Lake Arlington is like a blissful oasis, traced by lawns, tall grass, wetland and wooded areas, as well as a two-mile asphalt path for walks, jogging, biking and more.
Among the park’s resident waterbirds are great blue herons, Canada geese and mallards, and new interpretive signage will help you identify this wildlife.
Other new facilities include a playground, outdoor exercise area, fishing pier and sensory garden, while in summer you can rent a paddle boat or sailboat.
4. Downtown Arlington Heights
Arlington Heights has a walkable downtown with a directory of independent shops and restaurants to go with the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre.
Exploring this area you’ll come across Thai (Bangkok Cafe), Vietnamese (Pho an Heights), Italian (Fausto’s, Carlos & Carlos), Korean Ttowa Bistro), Spanish (La Tasca Tapas), Mexican (Javier’s, Mago Grill) restaurants, as well as a welcoming Irish pub (Peggy Kinnane’s).
Most of the sidewalks are shaded with trees and awnings, and there’s ample outdoor dining, as well as a sweet little plaza at the corner of South Vail Avenue and West Campbell Street.
Here and there are cute stores for home design, confectionery, jewelry, cosmetics, pet care and more.
5. North School Park
This lovable neighborhood park is just south of the administration building for the Arlington Heights Park District.
Geared towards passive recreation, North School Park has an ornamental character, with lush lawns skirted by flower beds and shrubs, and no shortage of deciduous trees for shade.
Ringed by a flower display, there’s a fountain on the south side, close to a small playground for kids.
The park is a must during the winter holidays when you can come in the evening to marvel at the whimsical light displays. And then on summer evenings, North School Park hosts free outdoor concerts, and all you’ll need to bring is a blanket or lawn chair.
6. Arlington Heights Historical Museum
A couple of blocks north of Arlington Heights train station is the village’s historical museum, in a complex of original and replica buildings.
On the site is a coach house from the 1880s with a carpentry shop from 1874, as well as a replica 1830s log cabin and the Banta House from 1908.
The linchpin here is the Müller House, from the 1890s and named for its owner, the soda entrepreneur F. W. Müller, who founded what is now known as Arlington Club Beverages.
You can learn the story of pop beverages in Arlington Heights at the Heritage Gallery, as well as touring those historic outbuildings and the restored Müller House and Banta House, which holds important collections of antique dolls and dollhouses.
Next door to the museum is the nationally recognized Arlington Heights Memorial Library, one of just 21 public libraries in the United States to earn a 5-star rating in Library Journal for each of the last seven years.
7. Ned Brown Forest Preserve (Busse Woods)
At Arlington Heights’ southern boundary is a vast natural preserve, encompassing 3,700 acres of suburban Chicago.
At the core of this is Busse Woods, the most cherished section, composed of a big parcel of mature Great Lakes hardwood forest, growing black ash, red maple and swamp white oak.
There are more than ten miles of bicycle trails in the preserve, a portion of which take you past a special protected pasture for elk.
Much of the southern part of Busse Woods is taken up by the lake of the same name, which is a flood catchment reservoir and one the largest bodies of water for boating and fishing in Cook County.
Kayak and rowboat rentals are available here in summer and you’ll have a fun time simply floating in this peaceful place and spotting wildlife.
This iconic chain was born in Villa Park in 1963, and despite its vast fanbase in the Chicago area has only recently started to expand into other states.
When we wrote this article there were more than 60 Portillo’s locations, and two could be found by Arlington Heights, at 806 W Dundee Rd and 1900 Golf Rd.
If you don’t want to hunt far and wide for the perfect Chicago hotdog, Portillo’s does one of the best, piled with the usual Chicago dog fixins like diced onion, pickle, tomato and sport peppers.
The chain also specialized in other Chicago favorites like Italian beef sandwiches bursting with ingredients and pasta dishes like penne ala vodka and mostaccioli.
9. Heritage Park
In the south of Arlington Heights is this pretty suburban park, equipped with a slew of amenities.
Of the park district’s five community centers can be found in Heritage Park, along with a gym, pool, basketball courts, lighted tennis courts, beach volleyball court, a ballfield and age-specific children’s playgrounds.
In winter there’s plenty going here, thanks to the sledding hill and outdoor ice rink, set up with boards and lights.
If you’re just in Heritage Park for a stroll, there’s a mixed-use path curling past the hardwood trees, and you continue your walk at the verdant Kingsbridge Arboretum, just off the park’s southwest corner.
10. Thrown Elements Pottery
In a gentle and nurturing environment, Thrown Elements Pottery is a studio inviting the public for classes, workshops and lessons.
These experiences are offered to all ages, from kids to teens to adults, and in skills like handbuilding, wheel throwing and pottery painting.
There are also Paint Your Own Pottery sessions, in which you can decorate a ready-made piece of pottery in the studio and then return in a few days to pick it up after it has been fired and glazed.
This can be done in a “paint and sip” session, with a bottle of wine and some friends. The studio also sells pottery supplies and expertly crafted ceramics.
11. Walker Bros. Original Pancake House
Another Second City mainstay is this series of pancake houses scattered across the Chicago area.
The Walker Bros. in Arlington Heights opened in 1987 while the chain has been around since 1960, and the concept was actually imported from the Original Pancake House that opened in Portland, Oregon in 1953.
There’s a touch of class to the Arlington Heights location, with an interior ornamented with stained glass, carved oak and brass fittings.
And if you’re hankering for comforting breakfast food you’ve come to the right place, with stacks of pancakes in a host of different preparations, as well as omelettes, eggs cooked to order, French toast, Belgian waffles and big choice of platters and sandwiches.
12. Laugh Out Loud Theater
Chicago has a rich comedy tradition, having given a start to some of America’s most beloved comedians, from John Belushi to Amy Poehler, Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert and Tina Fey.
Close by in Schaumburg you can sample the next generation of talent at Laugh Out Loud Theater.
This club deals mainly in improvisational comedy, and puts on shows for both adults, as well as family-friendly performances for younger audiences.
You can also sign up for improv classes. These are open to all, whether you’re learning the foundations or exploring the different kinds of short form improv.
13. Arlington Lakes Golf Club
In the south of Arlington Heights, close to Busse Woods is an award-winning parks district course open to the wider public.
The location has an interesting past, as the course is laid out on what was a Nike Missile Base in the wake of WWII.
The course took shape in the late 1970s and in 1916 was given a thorough renovation led by renowned architect Mike Benkusky.
This is an 18-hole, par 68 that maximizes a 90-acre plot next to an army base. There’s an open layout, water is involved on 13 of the holes, and the greens are lightning fast, but can be hit from almost anywhere.
14. Topgolf Schaumburg
Chicago’s climate makes golf purely a seasonal activity, with the exception of this attraction in Schaumburg.
There are Topgolf locations across the country now, and the concept is essentially a cross between a driving range and a bowling alley, injected with a party atmosphere.
The hitting bays, rented by the hour, are heated, and the range uses ball tracking technology and HDTV displays so you can compete against your friends at all kinds of challenges.
At the time of writing there was even an Angry Birds game that you control with your drive. Food and drink are at the heart of the experience, with a fully licensed bar and a menu akin to a fast-casual restaurant.
15. Arlington Park
With its own train station and a history going back to 1927, one of the most fabled tracks in American horseracing can be found in Arlington Heights.
The reason this course is at the bottom of this list is that when we wrote this article its future was in severe doubt.
The track has a massive, six-story grandstand, with seating for 35,000 people and a clubhouse that holds 12,000.
These are packed out in early August for the International Festival of Racing, during which there are three Grade I races on turf.
These are the Arlington Million, the Beverly D. Stakes and Secretariat Stakes, with purses of $1,000,000, $600,000 and $500,000 respectively. At the time of writing the course was up for sale for potential redevelopment.