On the west side of the Illinois-Indiana line, Calumet City is a suburb bordered by Chicago proper to the north.
The wider Calumet region has long been industrialized, but has a lot of green pockets where nature is taking hold once again.
These spaces, like Green Lake Woods and Powderhorn Lake, are managed by the Forest Preserve District of Cook County and are ideal for activities like hiking, birding, bicycling and fishing.
Calumet City has a range of excellent local amenities, from excellent local parks to a craft brewery, golf course, public water parks and old-school bowling alley, and also benefits from being so close to Hammond, IN, which has a dynamic arts scene.
1. Calumet Memorial Park
The Calumet Memorial Park District’s flagship park has a large array of amenities, especially if you’re into sports.
As well as a baseball field and multipurpose field, there’s a batting cage, volleyball courts, bocce court and a golf driving cage.
A wonderful facility for families is the nine-hole miniature golf course, and there’s also a playground, splash pad, sand play area, picnic pavilion with BBQ grills, as well as concessions in summer.
Memorial Park is also the stage for beloved community events, like a tree-lighting ceremony at Christmas and Calumet City’s Labor Day Parade along Wentworth Avenue.
2. Castaways Bowl
This bowling alley on Sibley Blvd in Calumet City has been in business since 1950.
Castaways Bowl has 32 lanes and uses a cutting edge scoring system, with cosmic bowling in the evenings and a party atmosphere on weekends when the alley stays open until well after midnight.
There’s a pro shop here if you need any equipment, while the Windy City Pizza Works at the alley has a great reputation for its hand-thrown dough, made fresh daily. Even the Italian beef is seasoned, slow-roasted and sliced in-house.
3. River Oaks Center
The main shopping destination in Calumet City is a sprawling mall that has a history going back to 1966.
The River Oaks Center has been expanded several times since then, and today has upwards of 140 stores anchored by branches of JCPenney and Macy’s.
For a quick rundown you’ve got rue21, Kay Jewelers, Victoria’s Secret, House of Hoops by Foot Locker, Bath & Body Works and Lids, to name a handful.
The food court is on the mall’s east side, while there are locations for Taco Bell, Panda Express, Starbuck, Sonic and White Castle in the vicinity.
4. Calumet City Historical Society and Museum
Calumet City’s Historical Society was chartered in 1975 and is based at the Calumet City Cultural Center.
This building was constructed in the mid-1950s and for its first three decades served as Calumet City’s public library.
In the museum’s permanent display you can check out preserved historic fashion going back to the 1890s, as well as a re-created post office interior, a kitchen from the 1930s and a wealth of photos documenting the city’s past.
The museum also hosts seasonal exhibits looking into an aspect of local life in more detail.
Elsewhere, be sure to seek out the Heritage Cabin (1830s and 1860s), discovered in 1979 beneath two layers of siding and now located west of Burnham Avenue just off Heritage Drive (166th Street).
5. Towle Theater
Moments away in Hammond, Indiana, is a small-scale professional theater that has served the South Shore area for nigh-on 20 years.
What you get at the Towle Theater are intimate productions to a high standard, with a diverse program that includes comedies, musicals and dramas, all made possible by talented, dedicated and welcoming people.
You can catch four shows a season, as well as two shows by the theater’s youth ensemble and a special Christmas event.
There are regular auditions for the youth theater ensemble (ages 12-18), as well as workshops for girl scouts/boy scouts working towards theater-related badges.
6. Paul Henry’s Art Gallery
At the back of the Towle Theater in Hammond is a vibrant gallery in a historic hardware store dating back to 1887.
Paul Henry’s Gallery has regular opening hours, Tuesday to Sunday, but is also open before and after performances at the Towle Theater.
There’s always a compelling variety of works to view and purchase, in a range of media from painting to pottery, together with installations showcasing local talent.
If you’re around on Thursday nights you can catch live performances, with a mix of poetry, music and storytelling.
7. Green Lake Woods
Right in the heart of Calumet City is a large expanse of nature looked after by the Forest Preserve District of Cook County.
On the south side is the namesake lake, which is unusually deep, descending to almost 50 feet. Rainbow trout have been stocked here since 2016, while there are large natural numbers of crappie, bluegill, sunfish, largemouth bass and bullhead.
Green Lake is also designated for ice fishing in winter. Away from the lake, the preserve is on the Burnham Greenway, and has four picnic groves, for a peaceful family outing in summer.
Directly east of Green Lake Woods is the Holy Cross Cemetery, resting place for Gene Krupa (1909-1973), the famous jazz drummer and band leader.
8. Green Lake Family Aquatic Center
Opposite River Oaks Mall at Green Lake Woods is a public outdoor water park, cherished by families in the summer months.
On offer at Green Lake Family Aquatic Center is a zero-depth entry pool, a water playground, a lazy river, a tube slide and a slide for smaller children.
You can rent out the center for semi-private pool parties during regular hours, as well as private parties outside regular hours.
The whole park is well looked after, with neat landscaping and parents can unwind on the many sun loungers.
9. Sand Ridge Nature Center
West of Green Lake Woods is another series of contiguous forest preserves, and along a track off Paxton Ave you’ll find the Sand Ridge Nature Center.
This has fascinating interpretive displays about the wildlife in the Calumet region, as well as live native animals, including turkeys, owls, red-tailed hawks, deer, beavers and egrets.
Also in the nature center’s grounds is an interpretive garden and a wonderful butterfly that springs to life in the summer.
Setting off from this spot you can follow walking trails into several different habitats, including prairie, wetland, oak savanna and woodland growing on ancient dunes and beaches.
The Sand Ridge Nature Center has a vibrant activity calendar, from bird ID walk to story times for kids.
10. One Trick Pony Brewery
The Chicago area has the highest concentration of craft breweries in the country, and there’s one within minutes of Calumet City.
One Trick Pony Brewery is on a quiet industrial park in Lansing, pouring up to 12 beers at its cosy tap room, which has hundreds of growlers from all over the country on its walls.
The lineup of these small-batch beers changes regularly, but in the rotation are one or two IPAs, a coffee porter, a Mexican-style lager, a Helles, a Hefeweizen and a Bavarian-style Märzen.
The tap room also has lots of live entertainment, and when we wrote this article plans were afoot to move from the industrial park to historic downtown Lansing.
11. Beaubien Woods
Across the Little Calumet River and on Chicago’s south side is a wonderful parcel of nature cared for by the Forest Preserve District of Cook County.
Many of the mature trees at Beaubien Woods date back to the 19th century, pondering large swaths of remnant prairie growing big and little bluestem and prairie dock.
The 22-acre Flatfoot Lake is at the heart of the preserve, on the site of a former strip mine. This is a stocked lake, with crappie, bullhead, sunfish, bluegill and largemouth bass, and there’s a fishing pier close to a picnic shelter. Flatfoot Lake is a designated ice fishing lake in winter.
12. River Oaks Golf Course
Also managed by the Forest Preserve District of Cook County is this 18-hole golf course, tucked into a bend on the Little Calumet River.
Water is a prevailing theme at the aptly named River Oaks Golf Course, and features on no fewer than 14 of the 18 holes.
The course poses a varied challenge, requiring every club in the bag as you contend with no fewer than 58 sand traps carefully plotted around the course.
Also worth noting is that River Oaks is environmentally oriented, as a certified “Cooperative Sanctuary” by Audubon International.
13. Finneran Park
This neighborhood park comes alive in summer thanks to its outdoor pool, open from the beginning of July to Labor Day weekend.
This facility features a diving area, splash pad, a sand play area for tots and sand volleyball. One of the highlights is a 127-foot water slide, while there’s a spacious grassy area for sunbathing and relaxation, as well as a concession stand.
Away from the pool, Finneran Park has a playground, picnic shelter and plenty of open green space.
14. Powderhorn Lake
Just north of Calumet City, this lake is the southernmost of a chain of marshes, wetlands and open water bodies straddling the Illinois-Indiana line all the way to Lake Michigan.
Powderhorn Lake is managed by the Forest Preserve District of Cook County and covers almost 50 acres.
The lake is in a rare landscape of sand savanna, wetlands and prairie and has a remarkable biodiversity, with around 250 plant species and up to 100 different types of birds.
There’s a trailered boat launch on the shore, and you can visit to fish for northern pike, bluegill, crappie, sunfish, largemouth bass, grass pickerel, bullhead and yellow perch.
15. Burnham Greenway Trail
Green Lake Woods is one of the access points for an 11.5-mile mixed-use trail, which runs north to south through Calumet City.
The Burnham Greenway Trail is on an old railroad right-of-way and for this reason has an easy gradient and long, straight stretches.
You can use it to connect with the Pennsy Greenway in the south, while the northern trailhead is at the Calumet City Prairie and Marsh Nature Preserve, parallel with the tracks on E State Street.
The trail travels through a mix of undeveloped land and down the east side of Green Lake Woods before crossing the Little Calumet River close to the River Oaks Center.