In the Chicago Southland, Lansing has the ambience of a small town but is also surrounded by suburban amenities like malls and shopping centers.
Something special about this city is the downtown area, furnished with one-of-a-kind shops like Gayety’s, an old-timey ice cream parlor and chocolate shop with 100 years of history.
For fresh air and nature, there’s a sequence of Cook County forest preserves on Lansing’s west side where you can join the Thorn Creek Trail, which leads southwest for more than 30 miles.
Beer connoisseurs are also in luck here, close to the famous Three Floyds Brewing Co., one of the most successful craft breweries in the country.
1. Gayety’s Chocolates & Ice Cream
This combined ice cream parlor and candy shop attracts customers from across Chicagoland and beyond.
Still keeping a traditional air, Gayety’s was established in Chicago in 1920 by the first generation Greek immigrant James Papageorge, and has spent the last century refining its craft.
Gayety’s is loved for its high-quality, hand-dipped chocolates and delectable homemade ice cream.
It’s the toppings that really set this parlor apart, with some of the best hot fudge, caramel and whipped cream around.
2. Downtown Lansing
Lined with mom and pop stores, including Gayety’s, the main strip along Ridge Road in Lansing is a downtown from a different time.
The sidewalks in downtown Lansing have been given a little love, with newly planted trees and there’s a real selection of shops and restaurants to catch your eye.
You’ll find stores for jewelry, fashion, collectibles, sporting goods, flowers and much more, along with much-loved eateries for pizza, fried chicken, Chinese food, ribs, grinders, wings, tacos and pub fare.
Downtown Lansing is served by the Pennsy Greenway, which runs diagonally through the town crossing the boundary into Munster in the east and merging with the Burnham Greenway in the north.
3. One Trick Pony Brewery
When we wrote this article this craft brewery was planning to open a taproom in downtown Lansing, creating another draw on Ridge Road.
One Trick Pony Brewery can be found under the Lansing water tower at an Industrial Park on the way to Wampum Lake.
There’s a friendly and comfortable taproom here, adorned with growlers, and with a cute outdoor area and two resident cats.
As for beers, the lineup includes a slew of IPAs (Warlander and Horse Collar stand out), a Red Ale (Storm Cat), a Stout (Marsh Tacky), an Old Ale (Kentucky Mountain), a Scotch Ale (Major) and a Belgian-style Tripel (Prometia), to name just a handful.
4. Wampum Lake
The newest nature preserve in the area is on the west side of Lansing, where creekside habitats, savannah and floodplain forest surround a 35-acre lake.
Wampum Lake is manmade, excavated as an aggregate quarry for Interstate 80 in the 1950s.
On land, you can admire colorful wildflowers in springtime, when toothwort, phlox and wild geranium are in bloom, while in fall osprey, eagles and loons pause by the lake on their migration south.
The lake has almost a mile of shoreline, with nine bump-outs for convenient fishing all year. Crappie, bluegill, northern pike, largemouth bass and bullheads make up the majority of the lake’s fish population.
5. Three Floyds Brewing Co.
Founded in 1996, Three Floyds Brewing Co. is high in the country’s top 50 brewing companies by sales volume, and it’s no exaggeration to say that the brewery has helped put Munster on the map.
From 2005 until 2020 there was a brewpub close to the main brewery, but this was closed as part of a strategy to invest in its packaged beer and become a regional producer.
So while you can no longer enjoy a pub experience here, you can visit the brewery’s retail kiosk, open 12 til 7, seven days a week.
Three Floyds adheres to the centuries-old Bavarian Purity Law, prescribing only four ingredients: Water, hops, barley and yeast.
Among the 12 year-round beers are two Pale Ales, two American Pale Ales, two IPAs, an Imperial IPA, a Hazy IPA, a Wheat Beer and a Scottish Ale.
6. Lan-Oak Park
The pride of the Lan-Oak Park District is a 20-acre neighborhood park at 180th Street and Arcadia Avenue.
Lan-Oak Park is endowed with a lot of amenities, from baseball diamonds to tennis courts, volleyball courts, a picnic area and a playground for kids.
And, on the closest Saturday before the Fourth of July, this is the venue for the Lan-Oak Park District Fireworks, held as one of the best in the area.
The free display is arranged by the same company responsible for the Navy Pier’s summer fireworks and attracts thousands of spectators.
7. Lansing Woods
Barely a mile from downtown Lansing is an idyllic patch of nature at the head of the Thorn Creek Trail.
If you need a dose of chlorophyll, this is the most convenient place in town for a walk, bike ride or run in wooded scenery, and the trail also serves cross-country skiers in winter.
Come early in the day you stand a good chance of spotting deer on the trail. Lansing Woods also has two picnic groves, both with a capacity for 200 people.
8. Thorn Creek Trail
Walking or biking along this trail system you’ll realize just how much nature there is in the Chicago Southland.
The Thorn Creek Trail adds up to more than 30 miles, with a northern trailhead right on the town’s doorstep at Lansing Woods.
From there you can make your way southwest via smooth paved and unpaved paths as far as Sauk Trail Woods Forest Preserve in Chicago Heights.
The Thorn Creek Trail connects numerous Cook County forest preserves and neighborhood parks.
There’s a diversity of scenery on the trail, with open meadows, peaceful woodlands and several lakes and wetland areas, as well as the waters of Thorn Creek, which you’ll cross many times.
9. Thornton Distilling Co.
Just next door in Thornton, this distillery is housed in the oldest surviving brewery/distillery building in the state, dating back to the mid-19th century.
Established by the Bielfeldt Brewing Co., the brick-built complex sits on the west bank of Thorn Creek and has an artesian well that continues to flow.
This is what prompted the owners of the Thornton Distilling Co. to move in and revive the site in 2014.
Using high-quality grains and botanicals, the distillery produces a range of spirits including pecan and rye whiskey, rum, gin and vodka, and you can visit the atmospheric bar here Wednesday to Sunday for a taste.
If you want to see more of this beautiful old building and learn about making spirits you can sign up for a tour, while the distillery also hosts mixology classes for budding bartenders.
10. Historic Ford Hangar
The oldest airport in the Chicago area can be found in Lansing. This was established by Henry Ford in the early 1920s to link his factories in Southland Chicago with Detroit.
On the National Register of Historic Places is the hangar designed by Ford’s chief architect, Albert Kahn, and completed in 1927.
This groundbreaking building is the prototypical modern hangar, using a cantilevered roof to avoid the need for columns, and placing the doors on a wheeled track so they can be opened by just one person.
At the time of writing, the hangar was undergoing a long-term restoration but is clearly visible from the road on Burnham Ave and Glenwood Lansing Rd and opens for special events.
11. Sand Ridge Nature Center
This educational facility is run by the Forest Preserve District of Cook County, and explains the natural and cultural history of the Calumet Region.
The center has interactive interpretive displays, live animal exhibits and wonderful spaces outside like a nature playground and a butterfly garden.
You can explore four walking trails, leading you through a variety of habitats including marshes, prairie, oak savanna and vestigial beaches and dunes.
Also interesting is the center’s Pioneer Cabins, faithfully recreating life in the area in the early 1800s and there are regular workshops and activities at the center all year.
12. Brownell Woods
West of Lansing Woods is another Cook County forest preserve, on the banks of North Creek as it wriggles through deep wetland westwards to meet Thorn Creek.
You can follow the Thorn Creek Trail through Brownell Woods, either along the paved red route on the south bank of the creek, or on the unpaved yellow path to the north.
If you’re planning to come for a picnic then there’s an idyllic meadow with shelters by the parking lot on the preserve’s southeast corner.
13. Lan Oak Lanes
This cozy bowling alley harks back to a bygone time, when bowling itself was the center of attention without massive overhead screens or gimmicky side games.
There are 16 lanes here, using electronic scoring and bumpers for newcomers. Lan Oak Lanes has a cozy, family-friendly atmosphere and has a snack bar loved for its pizzas.
This alley appeared in the 2016 short When Jeff Tried to Save the World, starring Jon Heder (Napoleon Dynamite) and Jim O’Heir (Parks and Recreation).
14. Centennial Park
This spacious park is over in Munster, IN, just east of Lansing Municipal Airport.
A wonderful example of land reuse, Centennial Park opened its doors just a few years ago and boasts soccer fields, a three-acre dog park, a playground, a fishing lake, formal gardens, walking paths and a nine-hole golf course.
The latter is a challenging par 36 designed by Ted Nugent and complemented by an LEED clubhouse/banquet venue and a practice facility with a massive range and 40 hitting stations.
15. Thornton Quarry
On an almost incomprehensible scale, one of the largest aggregate quarries on the planet is under ten minutes from downtown Lansing.
Excavated for almost 200 years, Thornton Quarry has been worked by the Gallagher Asphalt Corporation since 1928.
This giant site is 1.5 miles long, half a mile wide and up to 450 feet deep. A spectacular dike carries Interstate 80 over the quarry in an east-west direction, and despite long-term decommissioning plans, the quarry will be active for another 75 years.
The Village of Thornton organizes guided tours, worth joining to comprehend the amazing dimensions of the quarry and to learn about its fascinating geology.