Culturally diverse, Carpentersville is a village on the Fox River in Chicago’s northwest suburbs.
The village was founded by one Julius Angelo Carpenter (1827-1880), and the main park and gathering space in Carpentersville dates back all the way to his time.
The banks of the Fox River here are lined with parks and Kane County forest preserves, so it’s always easy to escape to nature for an hour or two.
Nowadays, Carpentersville is a bike friendly kind of place, thanks to the Fox River Trail, the Keith Andres Bike Park and miles of mtb trails laid out by Chicago Area Mountain Bikers (CAMBr).
1. Raceway Woods Forest Preserve
In hilly terrain on the west bank of the Fox River, this 122-acre Kane County Forest Preserve has an intriguing tale to tell.
From 1958 to 1969 this was the site of Meadowdale International Raceway, a high-profile race track hosting SCAA events, as well as USAC auto racing, AMA motorcycle races and kart races.
The track was famous for being dangerously unforgiving and struggled to turn a profit. Finally in the 1990s the disused site was converted into a forest preserve, composed of beautiful savanna and mesic woodland streaked with seeps and a lovely brook.
There are still a few clues of what came before, including bridges, signs and the and the basic outline of the track which is preserved as a hiking trail. The preserve is beloved by mountain bikers for its network of trails designed by CAMBr.
2. Santa’s Village Azoosment & Water Park
This multifaceted amusement park in nearby East Dundee dates back to 1959 and is still going strong.
The park, originally conceived as a kind of trip to Santa’s Village in the North Pole, changed management in the 2000s and today combines animal attractions with classic theme park rides and a water park.
As for those animals there are parakeets, alpacas, donkeys, wallabies, tortoises and muntjac deer, many of which can be fed by hand.
Santa’s Village also has a lineup of carnival-style rides, including two roller coasters and various spinners and drop rides.
There are plenty of kiddie rides for the littlest visitors, while Lighthouse Harbor is a water park with a vast zero-depth entry wading pool, nine slides and two giant tipping buckets.
3. Randall Oaks Zoo
Randall Oaks Park, just west of Carpentersville, is a fine choice for family days out thanks to its fabulous child-friendly zoo.
This is open daily from the end of March to the end of November, as well as on weekends in December.
You’ll find outdoor paddocks and a large barn, keeping a mix of domestic animals and exotic species.
The zoo’s residents include deer, alpacas, emus, rabbits, cows, goats, peacocks, pigs, chickens, mini-horses, wallabies, sheep, red-tailed hawks and great horned owls.
You can buy feed from small machines for $1 to feed the park’s ducks, while pony rides are offered for children.
4. Fox River Trail
The banks of the Fox River in Carpentersville have mostly been returned to nature, and the same applies to much of this watercourse as it passes through the northwestern and western suburbs.
On the east bank you can get onto the Fox River Trail, a 40-mile multi-use path that runs from Algonquin down to Oswego.
At several places the trail also intersects with other long-distance Illinois routes, like the Illinois Prairie Path, the Great Western Trail and the Prairie Trail.
From Carpentersville you could walk or ride north to Algonquin, which has a cute old downtown area with independent restaurants and stores, or make your way downriver to Elgin, also blessed with historic architecture, as well as museums and splendid parks.
5. Brunner Family Forest Preserve
If you can’t get enough of the scenery along the river in Carpentersville you can continue north to this Kane County forest preserve on the river’s west bank.
Encompassing more than 720 acres there’s woodland, wetland, fen and restored prairie. This all sits alongside the working All Grass Farms, raising cows, goats, sheep, chickens and turkeys, and featuring a farm stand selling fresh eggs and more.
The Brunner Family Forest Preserve can be reached along the Brunner Trail, which begins by the old Carpenter Dam in Lincolnwood Park.
The preserve is noted for its passerine bird species, among them sedge wrens, American bitterns and willow flycatchers.
6. Carpenter Park
After this centrally-located park was updated in the 2010s it became a focal point for Carpentersville’s celebrations, ceremonies and festivals, particularly in the summer.
Covering more than 20 acres, Carpenter Park has appeared on maps since as long ago as 1850 when it was the first public park for the newly incorporated village.
As for amenities there’s an interpretive museum walk, a playground, a veterans’ garden, picnic areas/shelters, a bike trail, a basketball court, a baseball/softball diamond and of course a stage for events.
7. Underground Retrocade
If you’re feeling nostalgia for the classic arcade era in the 80s and 90s, or if you’re sad you never got to experience those days firsthand, Underground Retrocade is the place for you.
Complete with 80s-style decor, this spot is brimming with retro consoles, pinball machines and arcade cabinets from a big spectrum of genres and eras.
For a quick summary, you’ve got Dragon’s Lair, Space Invaders, Donkey Kong, Mortal Kombat, Tekken 3, Asteroids, Golden Axe, Mario Bros, Rampage and many more than we could possibly list.
And as well as a separate room for pinball, there’s an air hockey table and movies playing in the background.
8. Bonnie Dundee Golf Club
Part of the Dundee Township Park District, this 18-hole championship course was laid out in 1924 by architect C. D. Wegstaff who designed several courses in the Chicago suburbs.
Bonnie Dundee Golf Club is a classic golfing experience, with strategically positioned grass bunkers and small, elevated bentgrass greens that pose a real test for all abilities.
If you need to rediscover your touch there’s a practice putting green, and you can unwind after your round at the clubhouse’s full service bar.
9. Classic Cinemas – Cinema 12
Affordable family entertainment is not a problem in Carpentersville thanks to this 12-screen movie theater.
Classic Cinemas has awesome discounts for matinee shows, as well as all-day reductions on Tuesdays and absurdly cheap entry on Wednesday mornings in summer.
The auditoriums are also up-to-date, featuring luxury recliners, 4K projectors and 7.1 surround sound.
There’s also an XQ auditorium installed with a laser projection system and DTS:X sound and the cinema offers free refills on popcorn, sodas and Icees (shaved ice).
10. Dolphin Cove Family Aquatic Center
The Dundee Township Park District manages this outdoor pool complex in Carpentersville. Open in the summer, Dolphin Cove is a superb facility beloved by local families, and feels like something you might find on vacation.
Set around a giant wading pool are four slides and masses of interactive play equipment at Discovery Fountain.
This includes flow gates, a paddlewheel, the flushing tunnel and various bubblers. There’s also a special sand play area, with sand brought in from the Lake Michigan Dunes.
And if you just need some peace and relaxation you’ve got a sun hill, and a wide choice of loungers, lawn chairs, picnic tables and parasols.
11. Fox River Shores Forest Preserve
For more than 40 years the Kane County Forest Preserve District has been buying up property on the floodplain along the east bank of the Fox River in Algonquin and Carpentersville.
This has created sublime natural spaces like this stretch of riverfront, traced by hillsides that have springs and seeps giving rise to hanging fens.
These unusual wet habitats boast rare plants such as turtle head, twayblade orchids and vanilla grass.
During the blooming season in May the hillsides are bright with white plums and pink flowering crabapples.
Set on the Fox River Trail, this preserve is well-trafficked in summer as a spot for canoeing and fishing, as well as a very picturesque place to take picnics by the river.
12. Keith Andres Bike Park
Now in the care of Chicago Area Mountain Bikers (CAMBr), this park in Carpentersville had suffered decades of neglect, becoming an unauthorized dump associated with some sketchy activity.
CAMBr stepped in to create a 25-acre mountain biking facility complete with skills areas, a downhill trail, pump tracks, a terrain park and a playground for kids.
Every inch of the property is put to good use, and with its numerous jumps Keith Andres Bike Park is heaven for more accomplished mtb enthusiasts.
If you’re in need of accessories, the acclaimed Main Street Bicycles is right by the Fox River Trail and Carpenter Park in downtown Carpentersville.
13. NOW Arena
Just past Carpentersville’s southeast corner is a modern indoor arena with a capacity of 10,500.
The NOW Arena opened as the Sears Centre in 2006, and has hosted several professional hockey, basketball and indoor football league franchises since that time.
When we wrote this article the main tenant was the Windy City Bulls, the Chicago Bulls’ NBA G League affiliate.
This is also a regular venue for AEW wrestling events, concerts by famous recording artists, Davis Cup tennis matches and the U.S. Classic elite gymnastics meet.
14. Spring Hill Mall
Carpentersville has a cluster of big box stores at the Meadowdale Shopping Center, while there’s also a mall on the southwest side of the village on the boundary with West Dundee.
At Spring Hill Mall you’ll find a host of well-known retailers, like Kohl’s, Foot Locker, Victoria’s Secret, Kay Jewelers, Home Depot, Hot Topic and Claire’s.
There’s also a small but varied assortment of chain restaurants, including Red Lobster, Wendy’s, Sbarro, Denny’s, Taco Bell, Cinnabon and Auntie Annie’s.
And for entertainment you’ve got a Cinemark multiplex theater, with comfy recliners for all its screens.
15. Mexican Cuisine
Over the last 30 years Carpentersville’s Hispanic or Latino community, mostly composed of people with Mexican heritage, has grown significantly, and now makes up more than half the population.
This transformation is particularly visible in the village’s food scene, which is now dominated by markets stocked with Latin American specialty items, as well as Mexican bakeries, cantinas, taquerias, ice cream parlors and more.
Without question Carpentersville is a hotbed of great Mexica food, whether you want authentic tacos, enchiladas, tamales, burritos, fajitas, mole, quesadillas, chiles rellenos…the list goes on.
A few picks are Tamazula Tacos (S Kennedy Dr), El Molino (2112 Elgin Rd), North of the Border (322 W Main St), Taqueria El Tio Ramos (522 S 8th St), Faros (411 E Main St) and No Manches (140 N Western Ave).