A northwestern suburb of Chicago, Des Plaines sits directly north of O’Hare International Airport and west of the namesake river.
Being close to the airport puts Des Plaines near the convergence of Interstates 90 and 294, and within touching distance of a raft of major sports, shopping and entertainment venues.
Things are a little more peaceful in Des Plaines proper, where there are some gorgeous public parks brimming with facilities like a boating lake, executive golf course and a wonderful summer water park.
The Des Plaines River meanders down the east side of the city and you can stroll along the wooded bank via a trail that runs all the way to the Illinois-Wisconsin state line.
1. Lake Park
On the shores of Lake Opeka, the 60-acre Lake Park is a fabulous place to spend a summer’s day.
First, the lake is a haven for sailing and boating, and you can bring your own vessel to use the launch or hire a paddle boat from the clubhouse.
Fishing is a big activity at Lake Park, for the big stocks of crappie, bluegill, largemouth bass, catfish and pike.
You could also wander along the trail that curls around the lake’s eastern shore, with west-facing benches for the best sunset views in the city.
And finally, on the west shore is the Lake Park Golf Course, an 18-hole par 3, perfect for newcomers to the sport or experienced players out to improve their approach shots and short game.
2. Mystic Waters Family Aquatic Center
This wonderful public facility is one of the largest and most spectacular outdoor water parks in Northern Illinois, open from June.
All with creative theming, the Mystic Waters Family Aquatic Center features a host of fun spaces and attractions.
There’s Dolphin Bay, a zero-depth pool with sprays and fountains, Crocodile Cove, a 550-foot lazy river, and Beluga Beach, a spray park for the littlest members of the family.
Older Kids will adore Otter’s Run, with two of the highest slides in the area, and Sea Lion Falls, a cliff diving area. There are lounge chairs all around the center, and you can grab lunch at the Island Cafe
3. Des Plaines History Center
This complex near Des Plaines station combines a historic home with a modern visitor center.
The Kinder House (1907) was built by a local hardware store owner and is in the late Queen Anne style, with original floor plans, woodwork, brickwork, cabinets and windows.
Eye-catching for its three-story corner tower, the Kinder House was relocated to this spot from 777 Lee Street in 1978, and is open for tours.
The visitor center puts on wonderful temporary exhibits drawn from a collection of more than 31,000 items.
These shed light on different aspects of Des Plaines life down the years, from aviation to fashion, domestic life, architecture and a great deal more.
The History Center also has a diversity of programs, from seasonal celebrations like Día de los Muertos to lectures, guided walks and book discussions.
4. Kennicott’s Grove Nature Preserve
Just across the Des Plaines River in Glenview is a National Historic Site containing the home of the influential horticulturalist Dr. John Kennicott (1802-1863), as well as 123 acres of surrounding prairie.
Kennicott moved to this land from New Orleans in 1836 when the area was mostly undeveloped.
Working as the only physician for miles, he planted the first commercial nursery in the area and went on to found the Illinois State Agricultural Society.
John’s second son Robert became one of the leading naturalists of his day, founding the Chicago academy of Sciences in 1857.
The property has two historic homes, the John Kennicott House (1856), and the Redfield Estate (1929), built by one of his descendants.
There’s much more to see on the grounds, including an interpretive center, animal exhibits, a Native American village, a log cabin and compelling interpretive trails through oak-hickory savanna and past wetland pools.
5. Koehnline Museum of Art
Belonging to Oakton Community College, this teaching museum has an emphasis on modern and contemporary art.
There are several important permanent collections, encompassing African American movie posters, Social Realism and Abstract Expressionism.
The inventory includes painting, graphic art, woodcuts, photography, watercolors, lithographs and much more.
The sculpture collection is noteworthy, and you can check out 45 works here at the Oakton Sculpture Park regularly augmented with new pieces.
The museum hosts regular showcases of student art, as well as fascinating exhibitions for recent acquisitions and important traveling exhibits..
6. Square Deal Shoe Store
Now in its third and fourth generation this family-run shoe store has been a Des Plaines fixture since 1921.
Square Deal Shoe Store sits opposite Des Plaines station on Miner Street and continues to thrive, stocking brands like Rieker, Birkenstock, New Balance, Dansko, Aetrex and Merrell. The store is also remarkable for the little shoe museum inside.
This displays shoes going back well over a century, and the standout exhibit here is a pair worn by the world’s tallest man and Illinois native, Robert Wadlow (1918-1940) in his youth.
Wadlow, who never stopped growing and reached a height of 8 ft 11.1 in, eventually wore a size 37AA wide. The pair on display is a 28.
7. Mountain View Adventure Center
Found at Prairie Lakes Park, this family activity center is run by the Des Plaines Park District and offers plenty of fun for kids and adults.
The main attraction is an 18-hole mini golf course, perfectly maintained and with creative hole design, a fun, old-time mining theme and lots of water all around.
There’s also an excellent skate and bike park at the center, as well as a set of batting cages for baseball and softball, provided you bring your own helmet and bat.
8. Prairie Lakes Park
The surrounding park also has a lot going for it, with a set of three retention ponds that have rich vegetation on their banks. There’s free fishing at the east and north ponds every day.
Prairie Lakes also has a variety of other amenities, like a playground for kids, a sand volleyball court, basketball court, a large open field for all kinds of other recreation, a walking path, picnic tables, benches and a shelter.
The park is also part of the Prairie Lakes Complex, incorporating a community center, aquatic center, fitness center and theater.
9. Des Plaines River Trail
The Des Plaines River flows along the east flank of its namesake city, with banks protected by a chain of forest preserves.
So if you’re ready to escape to nature you could go on a long walk in blissful oak-hickory forest, with the meandering river for company.
The Des Plaines River Trail runs through much of Cook County and neighboring Lake County, and there’s a long unbroken stretch that you can join opposite the St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Cemetery on W Higgins Road.
Head north on this trail and it will take you as far as Mystic Waters in Rand Park. The trail can be picked up again just north of this point for 32 unbroken miles as far as the Illinois-Wisconsin state line.
10. River Trail Nature Center
A worthwhile stop on your trip along the Des Plaines River Trail, is this attraction ensconced in peaceful woodland by the riverbank in nearby Northbrook.
The River Trail Nature Center has a series of rooms shining a light on the ecology and natural history of Northern Illinois, with animal terrariums and wonderfully presented exhibits, many of which are interactive.
There are also nature-oriented play areas here, both inside and outside, as well as a system of trails, adding up to 1.7 miles, for guided or self-guided walks, with lots of opportunities for birding.
The center also organizes a wealth of events and activities, where you can meet an owl or find out how to make maple syrup.
11. Parkway Bank Park Entertainment District
Right next to O’Hare Airport there’s a series of major entertainment, shopping and sports destinations, all moments from Des Plaines.
A real standout is this entertainment and dining complex with 15 venues for live music, film, comedy, bowling and international dining.
This dynamic neon-lit destination features eateries for BBQ, pizza, Irish pub fare, fajitas, Brazilian-style steaks, gastropub cuisine and more.
This sits alongside a comedy club, an interactive exhibit for the famous Big Ten conference, a dine-in AMC theater and more.
The district’s common area is used for exciting seasonal events, and has an NHL-sized skating rink in the winter.
12. Rosemont Theatre
Right next door is this celebrated concert hall that first opened its doors in 1995 and has a capacity for 4,400 spectators.
This is a venue on a mind-boggling scale, with a world-class sound system and extra-wide aisles, allowing it to show everything from Broadway musicals, to ballet, high-profile comedians, top recording artists, tribute acts and children’s shows.
A few of the big names to perform here in the last couple of decades are Jerry Seinfeld, Elton John, Niall Horan, George Carlin and Judas Priest.
13. Impact Field
There’s also a professional baseball team based close by in Rosemont. The Chicago Dogs, literally named after the Windy City’s famous hot dogs, played their inaugural season at the newly built Impact Field in 2018.
The Dogs play in the North Division of the American Association of Professional Baseball, an MLB partner league.
The stadium is a fine ballpark, seating 6,300 with perfect views all round. Something special is a double-sided digital scoreboard, visible on the Interstate 294.
There are all kinds of promotional events here, like the regular Wiener Wednesday, with free all-you-can-eat hot dogs, and lots of crazy between-inning entertainment to keep younger family members on board.
14. Allstate Arena
Just around the corner from Lake Park is another sizable venue, completed in 1980 and home court for numerous professional and collegiate sports teams since then.
At the time of writing Allstate Arena was the home ice for the AHL’s Chicago Wolves, who had been here since 1994.
The arena has a capacity of 16,692 for hockey games, and this expands to 18,500 for rallies and concerts.
An incredible roll-call of talent has played the Allstate Arena down the years, from Madonna to Prince, Pink Floyd, Bruce Springsteen, David Bowie, Tina Turner and Beyoncé.
15. Rivers Casino Des Plaines
Opened in 2011, this casino offers 24-hour gaming a few minutes from O’Hare Airport.
Something curious about the complex is that in order to comply with the previous state law that gambling must take place on riverboats, the building sits in a shallow pit in a few inches of water.
The Rivers Casino has more than 1,000 slot machines, ranging in denomination from 1¢ to $100.
These are complemented by 65 table games (blackjack, craps, baccarat, roulette and various poker tables) with some of the highest limits in the Chicago Area, as well as the BetRivers Sportsbook for sports betting.
There are seven options for food and drink, like the sleek cocktail Lotus, for craft beer and hand-crafted cocktails.