With a population that has declined sharply since its peak in the late 1970s, this city in the Chicago Southland is known for its financial difficulties and well-documented social issues.
In the early 20th century Harvey was part of the early automobile highway network, the Dixie Highway, which retains its name on its way through Harvey, with interpretive signs informing you of its distant past.
For outdoor recreation there’s no shortage of Cook County forest preserves within a small radius of Harvey, where you can hike in prairie, go fishing, canoe in the Little Calumet River, go horse riding, play golf and observe wildlife.
Good food is ever-present in the Chicago area, and close to Harvey are family-run restaurants that have been making the likes of gyros and Italian beef for as long as 50 years.
1. Thornton Distilling Company
Dating back to 1857, nearby Thornton is home to Illinois’ oldest standing brewery complex. Back then Thornton was a small village set beside a quarry that would eventually become one of the largest aggregate quarries on the planet.
On the west bank of Thorn Creek, the brewery building was taken over by the Thornton Distilling Company in 2014.
This craft distillery uses water from the artesian well that was sunk for an earlier log cabin saloon and brewery established in the 1830s.
You can come to try the company’s range of Dead Drop spirits (a prohibition term) at the Well, an award-winning cocktail bar. If you’re curious about distilling, or the rich history of these limestone buildings, you can also book a guided tour.
2. Kickapoo Meadows
The closest piece of protected nature is right on Harvey’s north side along the Little Calumet River. Kickapoo Woods is made up of wet prairie, savanna and woodlands and has a mile-long paved loop that can be accessed from the parking lot.
There are plenty of picnic tables here, and a large, mown grassy area. The Little Calumet River bends through a couple of Cook County forest preserves before merging with the Cal-Sag Canal not far to the north.
At Kickapoo Meadows the river is safe and slow-flowing and you can launch a canoe or kayak at the preserve.
3. Forest View Farms
Close by in Tinley Park, this long-established stable, in business since the 1950s, has a massive sequence of nature reserves in its backyard.
Many of these are linked by the wide-ranging Tinley Creek Trail System, which passes by a few steps from Forest View Farms.
You couldn’t pick a better place for a peaceful trail ride, either private or in a group. Pony Rides are available on Forest View Farms’ grounds, and the stable offers lessons, rentals, sleigh rides and boarding.
You can also bring children to visit the petting farm, with friendly goats, pigs, chicken, llamas, a mini horse and a mini burro, while the Fall Festival every October brings haunted hayrides.
4. Sand Ridge Nature Center
This educational nature attraction is run by Forest Preserves of Cook County, sitting on a 585-acre campus, primed for recreation but also learning about the area’s natural and cultural history.
Inside, the Sand Ridge Nature Center informs you about the Calumet Region’s ecology, and you can get an up close look at native, fish, birds, turtles and snakes in tanks, aviaries and terrariums.
On the grounds is a nature play area for kids, a series of demonstration gardens and replica log cabins, and you can set off along four miles of nature trails, through wetlands, prairies and woodlands.
5. Midwest Carvers Museum
Founded in 1988, this museum in nearby South Holland is the base for two visual art organizations, the South Suburban Chiselers and the Illiana Woodturners.
At their quaint campus you can check out some 1,000 marvellous works of woodcarving produced locally and by international artists.
There’s a workshop on site, and both organizations give hands-on demonstrations and lessons throughout the year. You can also browse the gift shop for a unique, handmade gift.
6. Markham Roller Rink
Private for most of its existence, this popular roller skating rink in nearby Markham was recently bought by the city to become a public amenity.
Many people who have grown up in Chicago Southland have fond memories of the Markham Roller Rink. Sessions take place by age group here, and there’s a party atmosphere on Saturday nights when the rink stays open a little later.
The surface is kept clean and polished to a sheen, and if you don’t have your own pair of skates you can rent them.
7. Gensburg-Markham Prairie Nature Preserve
You’re never far from some restorative nature in Harvey, and this large parcel of high-quality tallgrass prairie is a short hop to the west.
This is part of 2,500 acres of prairie within the boundaries of Markham and in the care of Northeastern Illinois University and the Nature Conservancy.
Due to its damp, sandy soils the land at Gensburg-Markham Prairie Nature Preserve was deemed unfarmable, leaving the tallgrass prairie alone.
The unusual soils also give rise to many rare native plant species, like grass pink orchid, narrow-leaved sundew and sundrop.
After acquiring the land in the early 70s, the university set about a restoration, removing invasive exotic plants, and now wildlife native to tallgrass prairie, like Henslow’s sparrow, has been recorded here.
8. Alpha Gyros
At 14815 Dixie Hwy, this independent fast food stand has been serving the Harvey area for more than 30 years.
Alpha Gyros is your local go-to for Chicago bites, from gyros, of course, to hot dogs, walleye sandwiches, Italian beef, polish sausage and combos.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg because there’s also a range of subs, tacos, burgers, steak sandwiches, wings and salads.
Whatever you order, be sure to get a side of garlic fries, as they will be some of the best you’ve ever tried.
9. Andy’s Grille & Frozen Custard
Family owned and operated, Andy’s Grille & Frozen Custard has been in business for some 50 years.
Originally based in Thornton, the restaurant relocated to nearby South Holland in 2000, and you can dine in or use the drive through.
What you get here is a big helping of Chicago-style comfort food, be it gyros, hot dogs, Maxwell Street-style Polish, Italian sausage, combo beef and sausage and more besides.
Also on the menu are chicken dinners, juicy burgers, fish & chips and patty melts.
The frozen custard is a star, and if you come for breakfast you have to get the Italian hodge podge or the Mexican breakfast burrito.
10. Wampum Lake
To the southeast there’s a Cook County forest preserve on the banks of Thorn Creek and a manmade lake that was excavated in the 1950s during the construction of the nearby I-80.
For several centuries from the 1000s CE, this land was a home for Native Americans, and there’s evidence of a 14th-century village with a population of 2,000+.
For visitors, the lake is an obvious fishing attraction, with large numbers of bluegill, along with largemouth bass, bullhead and crappie.
South of this preserve is a big expanse of protected nature, with trails winding through oak-hickory woodlands on the banks of Thorn Creek and its tributary, North Creek.
11. Marcus Country Club Hills
The closest movie theater is a ten-minute drive away at Country Club Plaza in Country Club Hills.
All of the screens at Marcus Country Club Hills have DreamLoungers, comfy reclining seats with seven feet of legroom between rows.
For a spectacular movie-going experience, try to catch a film at the SuperScreen DLX, with Dolby Atmos sound and an oversized screen.
The theater is open seven days, and has specials during the week, like $5 Tuesdays, $6 movies for students on Thursdays and $6 matinees for seniors.
12. Three Sisters Antique Mall
A couple of miles north of Harvey, historic Blue Island has an interesting downtown area, with lots of reminders of when the city was an industrial giant in the 19th and 20th century.
There’s a clutch of mom and pop stores, as well as restaurants and recreation amenities like Eagle’s Bowling Lanes.
One of the locally-owned small businesses that deserves your attention is the Three Sisters Antique Mall, housing a number of dealers and touted as the best antiques store in the Chicago Southland.
Entering is a trip back in time as you’re confronted by an amazing wealth of knick knacks from yesteryear.
Think jewelry, records, toys, books, china, collectibles, paintings and all kinds of decorative arts. There are three floors to explore, bursting with potential treasures and childhood memories.
13. One Trick Pony Brewery
A Lansing industrial park, just east of Wampum Lake, is the scene for a small batch brewery founded in 2012.
The taproom here is cosy and decorated with vintage barrels and growlers, and there’s a small, sheltered outdoor area.
You can pet the friendly cats, order a home-baked pizza and catch some live music on weekends.
One Trick Pony has an ever-changing lineup, but when we wrote this list, there was a German-style Hefeweizen, a Helles Lager, an IPA, a Vienna Lager and an English ale, to name a few.
At the time of writing the brewery also had plans to open a space in downtown Lansing.
14. Park Place Plaza, Homewood
There’s a large retail hub for the area, a mile or two south on Illinois Route 1 at Homewood.
On both sides of the road there’s a line of big box stores and supermarkets for brands like Best Buy, Target, Home Depot, Kohl’s, T.J. Maxx, Petco, Walmart Supercenter, Jewel-Osco, Menards and Famous Footwear.
There’s also a branch of the much-loved Fannie May chocolate brand, famously specific to the Tri-state area.
All along the road you’ve got a sequence of chain restaurants, including Chicago-area favorite, Portillo’s, as well as a Starbucks, Freddy’s, Panda Express, Krispy Kreme, Boston Market and Chili’s.
15. River Oaks Golf Course
Right on the Little Calumet River, this public course in nearby River Oaks will test all comers. Thanks to the river and a smattering of little lakes, water comes into play on no fewer than 14 of the 18 holes.
Avoiding the water is only part of the challenge as the course is furnished with 58 carefully positioned sand traps.
The course is in the care of Forest Preserves of Cook County, and is Audubon International Certified for its relationship with the surrounding nature.
You can download the forest preserve golf app, which is super convenient for booking tee times, keeping score and finding out about specials.