Although this green suburban village in the southwest of the Chicago area was developed in the 1970s, it has a history going back much further to the 1830s.
What is now Darien first appeared at the intersection of Cass Avenue and 75th Street, and these two arteries are still home to much of the village’s commerce.
Darien has plenty of points of interest, like the largest museum for Saint Therese outside of France, excellent public amenities, restful sweeps of forest, a craft brewery and lots of family attractions.
Cutting through the village is the Southern DuPage County Regional Trail, which is an easy way to get to stores, parks, forest preserves and visitor attractions, without using a car.
1. Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve
Considered one of the most ecologically rich natural spaces in Northern Illinois, this immense forest preserve borders Darien at the southern end of Cass Avenue.
Waterfall Glen encompasses the Argonne National Laboratory, which we’ll talk about below, and can be encountered on 11 miles of mapped trails, with many more unmarked side trails beckoning you into the forest.
Within these 2,500 acres are some fabulous sights, like the scenic Sawmill Bluff overlook and Rocky Glen waterfall.
The preserve mostly comprises savanna, prairie and oak-maple woodland, supporting 740 plant species, three quarters of the total known to exist in DuPage County.
There are also 600 animal species in the preserve, either year-round or during annual migrations.
2. Cass Avenue
In the absence of a definite downtown, this north-south thoroughfare is lined with many businesses in Darien, and continues north for miles through Westmont.
The name Cass was used for the area in the 19th century, and was given by an early settler, Thomas Andrus, in the 1830s.
In those early days, the triangle of Cass Avenue, 75th Street and Plainfield Road was the core of the settlement.
At the northwest corner of Cass Avenue and 75th Street is the Darien Historical Society, open on the first and third Sunday of the month.
The venue is the Old Lace Schoolhouse, raised in 1925 and still standing at its original location.
Towards Westmont, Cass Avenue is the location for a great lineup of independent restaurants, celebrated every July with the Taste of Westmont festival, across three blocks of the avenue.
3. Argonne National Laboratory
With an annual budget of $1.2 billion, Argonne National Laboratory is the largest national laboratory in the Midwest. Dating back to 1946, this facility originally focused on non-weapon related nuclear physics.
That mission came to an end in the 90s, and today the lab has a broad portfolio, ranging from supercomputing to renewable energy, as well as being home to the ATLAS, the world’s first superconducting particle accelerator for heavy ions.
You can learn firsthand how Argonne approaches the United States’ greatest challenges on a free three-hour laboratory tour (reservation only).
You’ll get to see ATLAS, and the Advanced Photon Source X-ray research facility, and view an exhibit hall telling the story of Argonne and its past and present research.
4. National Shrine & Museum of St. Therese
The Carmelite Order maintains a 50-acre estate in Darien, and this is home to a shrine and museum for the much venerated French Saint, Therese.
Originally in Chicago, the shrine was dedicated at this new site in 1987 and then expanded in the early 2000s.
The Carmelite Province of the Most Pure Heart of Mary supported Therese’s canonization in the early 20th century.
After this was confirmed in 1925 the Carmelite Nuns of Lisieux sent a treasury of personal effects and relics in thanks, and these are on display at the museum.
This is the largest collection in the world, outside of Lisieux. The shrine chapel holds Mass on weekdays at 11:30 am, and you can take a guided or self-guided tour through the museum, which also includes an exact replica of Therese’s convent cell in Lisieux.
5. Miskatonic Brewing Company
You’re never far from a craft brewery in the Chicago area, and indeed there’s one right here in Darien, with an exciting rotating selection of ales and lagers poured at the taproom.
Miskatonic takes pride in replicating established beer styles, but also riffs on tradition, reinterpreting established styles.
The taproom is a cozy, dog-friendly kind of place, with board games, darts, game nights with food trucks and live music on weekends.
When we put this list together the 11 beers on tap included two autumnal Festbiers, four IPAs, two Stouts, a Pilsner, a Saison Ale and a Strong Bitter.
6. Southern DuPage County Regional Trail
Adding up to almost 50 miles, the Southern DuPage County Regional Trail is a useful way to get around Darien and the communities to the north and west without a car.
Designed for bicycles, the trail is generally on side paths next to county and township roads, linking charming residential neighborhoods, commercial areas and forest preserves.
The project was mostly completed in the 2000s and now links 11 communities across the county’s southern third, as far west as Aurora.
In Darien you can use the network to explore Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve, but also access the stores and restaurants along 75th Street (33).
7. Darien Community Park
One of the largest parks in the care of the Darien Park District, Darien Community Park is on nearly 20 acres by Plainfield Road, and is another spot served by the Southern DuPage County Regional Trail.
For families, the first thing to note is the two large playgrounds, one of which is an ADA facility, offering a host of play experiences to children of varying abilities.
A paved path rambles through Darien Community Park’s grassy spaces, fringed by trees, and there’s also a raft of recreation amenities for basketball, baseball/softball, tennis and volleyball.
8. Oldfield Oaks County Forest Preserve
Within Darien’s boundaries is a 109-acre patch of mature oak woodlands, restored prairie and wetlands maintained by the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County.
Oldfield Oaks was acquired in phases between 1998 and 2014, and is a particularly pretty place for a walk in spring.
At this time of year wildflowers like trillium, spring beauties, mayapples, jack-in-the-pulpits and trout lilies put on a marvellous display.
The ample hardwood forest at the preserve also makes for beautiful colors in fall. There are two walking loops, 0.6 miles and 1.1 miles in length, as well as a dog park, which we’ll cover later in this list.
9. Lost Mountain Adventure Golf
Like something from a movie set, this highly creative adventure golf course is billed as the best in the Chicago area.
Lost Mountain is laid out around a three-tiered waterfall, and you’ll traverse the steep terrain on wooden bridges, cutting through rocky outcrops on your way to the summit.
Indiana Jones springs to mind, and as well as lots of water, the course is enhanced by a quicksand pit and archeological artifacts.
The shade and plentiful water keeps things cool on hot summer days, and each hole poses a slightly different challenge to keep things interesting for seasoned players.
10. The Farm in Westmont
This family-owned business grows an abundance of fruit and vegetables at its farms in Kendall County, IL, to be sold at several stands around Chicagoland.
One of these is just off Cass Ave on the way to Westmond. The Farm is open spring through fall, and has a changing selection of super-fresh fruits and vegetables, grown sustainably and picked six days a week when they’re at the height of their flavor.
The season starts with bedding flowers in spring and moves on to a huge range of summer favorites including tomatoes, sweet corn and cantaloupe, and then squash and pumpkins in the fall.
11. The Forge: Lemont Quarries Adventure Park & Ziplines
A private-public collaboration, this outdoor adventure park is just south of Waterfall Glen, by the Des Plaines River/I&M Canal.
The Forge is on the site of now flooded limestone quarries that were first worked as long ago as the mid-19th century.
Couched in mature woodland it’s now the perfect setting to take on the largest high ropes courses in the country, where you’ll clamber across dozens of fun transitions and fly along two miles of ziplines.
There’s a kids’ adventure zone for younger climbers up to the age of 13, as well as tactical laser tag, augmented reality escape rooms.
The Adventure Park also has trails and a pump track for mountain biking and BMX, and you can rent a canoe or kayak for a paddling trip on those flooded quarries.
12. Darien Towne Centre
Heading east along 75th Street (33), this shopping center marks the beginning of a succession of big box stores, supermarkets and entertainment amenities.
Traced by the Southern DuPage County Regional Trail, Darien Towne Centre has a Walmart Supercenter and branches of Home Depot and PetSmart, as well as restaurants like Subway and TGI Fridays.
Continuing east, subsequent centers feature Kohl’s, Old Navy, T.J. Maxx, Best Buy and many more dining choices, from White Castle to Wendy’s.
As well as Lost Mountain Adventure Golf, covered above, you’ll also find the Par 3 Zigfield Troy Golf Course, along with a Hollywood Blvd Cinema, a movie theater/full-service restaurant showing first-run movies as well as classics.
13. Cypress Grove Family Aquatic Park
A short hop away in Woodridge is a bayou-themed public water park, open in summer and attracting visitors from neighboring communities.
A multimillion-dollar attraction, Cypress Cove opened in 1997 and thanks to its popularity was expanded ten years later, receiving numerous awards around this time.
The main pool has a capacity for 1,500 people, combining a bay-like zero-depth entry area for leisure, with a lap pool and diving area.
Next to this is a 600-foot-long lazy river, as well as three body slides, a tube slide, a drop slide and a state-of-the-art spray playground with a giant tipping bucket.
All of these attractions have a bayou-style aesthetic, and names like “Mud Bug Beach” and “Cajun Creek”.
14. The Promenade Bolingbrook
Just past Darien’s southwestern limits is a major open-air shopping center that’s been in business since 2007.
The Promenade Bolingbrook is on a town-like grid of streets and alleys, all embellished with trees, street furniture, shrubs, flower beds and lamps.
The anchors here are Barnes & Noble, Macy’s, DSW, iPic Theaters, Bass Pro Shops and Binny’s Beverage Depot, and around the center are more than 100 other stores and services.
To name a few, there’s American Eagle, Bath & Body Works, H&M, Loft and Victoria’s Secret, complemented by food and drink options from bd’s Mongolian Grill to Starbucks.
The Promenade Bolingbrook is part of a larger commercial corridor flanking Interstate 355, home to Ikea, Costco and a slew of chain restaurants.
15. Oldfield Oaks Dog Park
At the southern end of the forest preserve is a spacious off-leash dog park that was established in 2018.
Served by its own parking lot, Oldfield Oaks Dog Park is almost seven acres, with separate areas for larger and smaller breeds.
There are also paved and unpaved trails, one of which connects with the forest preserve’s loop trail. To use this facility you’ll need a Forest Preserves of DuPage County off-leash dog permit, inexpensive if you live in the county, but a little pricier for non-residents.