In the last decades of the 19th century this suburban city on the Fox River was a center for windmill manufacturing, a fact remembered by the windmill on Batavia’s logo.
A fascinating thing about Batavia is that many of those old factories, built from the pale local limestone, are still standing.
This old architecture brings a little more grandeur to downtown Batavia, which is on the Fox River bike trail and bursts with unique shops, service businesses and restaurants.
On or near the Fox River are elegant parks, an opulent former country estate, riveting museums and attractions from a family entertainment center to a one-of-a-kind public pool complex at a limestone quarry.
Batavia is also home to Fermilab, which had the world’s largest particle accelerator before the Large Hadron Collider at CERN.
1. Downtown Batavia
Both historic and forward-thinking, Batavia’s vibrant central business area is the product of a lot of love and investment over the last 20+ years.
Downtown Batavia is on both banks of the Fox River and is strewn with fine old buildings made with locally quarried limestone.
The waterfront is accessible along the Fox River Trail and Batavia’s wonderful Riverwalk encompasses a small peninsula jutting into the river.
There’s an exciting variety of businesses awaiting you in downtown Batavia, among them two bike shops, a wealth of boutiques, a second-hand bookshop, a musical instrument shop, home design stores and restaurants for all palates.
America’s premier particle physics facility is right here in Batavia. Moments east of downtown, Fermilab was established in 1967 and it was here that the top quark particle was discovered in 1995.
The facility has an annual budget of more than half a billion dollars and operates the Main Injector particle accelerator, which is two miles in circumference.
Anyone with a passing interest in the confusing world of particle physics should consider a visit, and Fermilab offers self-guided experiences in two buildings, as well as a free guided tour every Monday at 1 pm.
The grounds are vast, at more than 6,800 acres, composed of ponds, lakes, marshland and large expanses of restored prairie. You can come to navigate the many miles of paths and trails, see a bison herd, walk the interpretive trail and fish in the ponds and lakes.
3. Batavia Riverwalk
A collaboration by a group of community members, the local park district and the City of Batavia, the Riverwalk is a wonderful way to enjoy the Fox River in Batavia.
Developed over six years, much of the work on the Batavia Riverwalk was done with volunteer labor.
The promenade curls around the Depot Pond, and then up the little peninsular to the east where you can stand at the pavilion and soak up the full beauty of the river and the dam on the east side.
As you go you’ll see examples of the American-style windmills once constructed in the limestone buildings along the riverbanks.
In winter you can go ice skating on Depot Pond when it freezes, while in summer there’s a bikeshare program along the trail, and you can also rent kayaks, as we’ll see later.
4. Fox River Trail
In Kane County the communities on the Fox River are linked by a long-distance multi-use path, traveling from Algonquin in the north to Oswego in the south.
In Batavia the Fox River Trail runs along both riverbanks, and is an easy, traffic-free way to access downtown bars and restaurants, picturesque waterfront parks, the Red Oak Nature Center and much more besides.
On the east bank, just north of the Red Oak Nature Center, the trail connects with the Batavia Spur of the Illinois Prairie Path, a 61-mile rail-to-trail network through much of DuPage County, as far east as Wheaton.
5. Batavia Depot Museum
Batavia’s story is brought to life at this museum in a special location at a waterfront railroad depot built in 1854.
The first structure of its kind, the depot served the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad and was eventually converted into a museum in the 1970s.
Take a look at the impressive caboose outside, dating to 1907 and head inside for exhibits tackling many different aspects of Batavia’s history.
You’ll find out about the early days of European settlement here, the importance of the Fox River and railroads for transport and Batavia’s windmill-making industry.
Exhibits also tell lesser known stories like the time Mary Todd Lincoln (1818-1882) spent at a private asylum in Batavia after being committed in 1875.
6. Harold Hall Quarry Beach
Where many suburb park districts have a summer waterpark, Batavia is proud to feature a converted limestone quarry.
On the west bank of the Fox River the quarry was worked from the mid-19th century onwards, until water seepage from underground springs forced it to close.
Then in 1920 the land was purchased by a local businessman and donated to the Township Park Board to become a beach park and pool.
With swimming lanes and a zero-depth beach area for wading, Harold Hall Quarry Beach has been part of summer life in Batavia for more than a century now.
Among the amenities are a drop slide, kids’ flume, concession stand, sand volleyball courts, a spacious picnic area and inflatables.
7. Fabyan Villa Museum & Japanese Garden
In 1906 the millionaire businessman, Colonel George Fabyan (1867-1936) and his wife Nelle (1866-1939) chose a stretch of riverbank just north of Batavia for their country retreat.
A year later they hired the great Frank Lloyd Wright to remodel the preexisting farmhouse in his Prairie School style, and added a slew of other luxuries like a genuine windmill, zoo, formal gardens, a working lighthouse, tennis courts, a Roman-style swimming pool and much more.
The estate is now within the Fabyan Forest Preserve, and on Wednesday and Sunday afternoons, May through September you can take a look around their sumptuous home on a guided tour.
The Fabyans also commissioned an authentic Japanese garden, set in one acre and designed by landscape architect Taro Otsuka.
8. Fabyan Windmill
Standing on the opposite bank is one of the prettiest sights along this stretch of the Fox River. George Fabyan purchased this windmill in 1914 and relocated it from Lombard.
Rising 68 feet and five stories high, the Fabyan Windmill was built in the 1850s by one Louis Blackhaus, a German craftsman.
After several decades standing idle, the mill had fallen into disrepair, and the Forest Preserve District of Kane County hired the Dutch windmill maker Lucas Verbij for its restoration.
He declared the Fabyan Windmill to be the best example of a Dutch-style windmill in the United States.
The mill is unique in that it is driven solely by wind energy. You can visit for a guided tour and a glimpse of the complicated mechanism on Sunday afternoons.
9. Water Street Studios
A fantastic hub for local artists, Water Street Studios is a comprehensive community art center, run by a non-profit organization.
In a striking industrial building dating back to 1886, the center covers 16,000 square feet and houses 26 artist studios, three classrooms, extensive galleries and live performance space.
You can come to Water Street Studios to see an exhibit, take art classes, shop for high-quality local artwork, catch a live performance and also attend the many events.
These include an artist market every 4th Thursday of the month and gallery openings on the 2nd Friday.
10. Red Oak Nature Center
Right on the Fox River Trail, this riverside nature center is the ideal place to learn about the ecology of the fox river.
At the Red Oak Nature Center you can check out detailed and interactive exhibits as well as staff presentations, and view animals like salamanders, snakes and turtles in terrariums.
The surrounding preserve is laced with five different hiking trails, each paved with wood-chip and offering a slightly different experience.
Lippold Park, directly north, has a variety of assets like an elevated skywalk, a child-friendly treehouse and a boardwalk over a pond habitat.
As well as a bikeshare system the Batavia Riverwalk also offers kayak and paddleboat rentals in the summer.
Provided by the Batavia Park District, these are available Memorial Day weekend through September, seven days a week, and then only on weekends from late August.
A great activity for families but also on date nights, you can rent kayaks and paddle boats for 30-minute sessions for a safe and leisurely paddle on the slow-flowing river.
Tandem kayaks are also available and life jackets are provided. Participants have to be 16+, or 12+ in the company of an adult.
This riverside family entertainment center in Batavia is packed with fun activities and attractions both indoors and out.
Inside you’ve got a bowling alley and grill, an arcade, laser tag arena, bumper cars, a black light mini golf course and a roller skating rink with a skate shop.
In the summer months there’s even more going on at Funway, with backyard mini golf, go karts, batting cages, bumper boats and jump shot basketball.
The shaded Backyard Café and Patio is also open at this time of year and has a menu with hot dogs, pizza, ice cream, slushies and more.
13. Laurelwood Park
Another spot where you can recharge by the Fox River is this small park on the east bank. Laurelwood Park has an interesting past as a fragment of a larger private amusement park operated by the Chicago Northwestern Railroad in the early 20th century.
This is a fine place to pause on a ride along the Fox River Trail, with a picnic area, several fishing spots and a boat launch.
The Lodge at Laurelwood is used for events, parties and park district programs, and has a new little patio overlooking the river.
14. Dick Young Forest Preserve
One of the region’s most important wetland sites is a short way southwest of downtown Batavia.
The Nelson Lake Marsh here is in a natural depression created by the weight of glacial ice some 10,000 years ago.
Farming and peat cutting damaged the wetlands over time, but in the 1970s the late conservationist Dick Young inspired a purchase and restoration project.
More than 200 bird species have been observed at the Dick Young Forest Preserve and especially visible are waterfowl and waterbirds like great white egrets, greater white-fronted geese and pied-billed grebes.
15. West Main Community Park
The largest property belonging to the Batavia Park District is out in open countryside a few minutes west of downtown.
West Main Community Park is a place for active recreation, complete with a baseball field, softball field, full-size basketball courts, soccer fields and a roller hockey court. One big draw here is the 18-hole disc golf course, unveiled in 2013.
The course is suitable for beginners, but has tree-lined holes to challenge more experienced players.
Also here is a fenced, three-acre dog park, with a pavilion and agility equipment. The bark park is open to all and doesn’t require a permit.