The prosperous western suburb of Lisle is the home of the Morton Arboretum, one of the top attractions in the Chicago Area, containing a massive expanse of restored prairie.
Settled in 1832, Lisle was known mainly as a railroad station, and the local history museum is an intriguing glimpse from that time, preserving the old depot, a caboose and a pair of houses from the village’s early days.
In recent years Lisle’s downtown area has been given a significant facelift, with outdoor spaces and public art, all inspired by Lisle’s proximity to the Morton Arboretum.
The private Roman Catholic Benedictine University has been based in the village for more than 120 years, and for visitors has a superb natural history museum and a world-class sports complex.
1. The Morton Arboretum
Lisle is home to one of the great Chicagoland days out, as much a center for important scientific research as a rich and diverse family attraction.
Created in 1922 by the entrepreneur Joy Morton, the arboretum is a 1,700-acre patchwork of prairies, woodlands, meadows, wetlands and lakes.
There’s much more than you could explore in one visit, with informative outdoor exhibits, numerous themed gardens and astounding collections of anything from conifers to ornamental flowering trees, maples, ginkgos, beeches, willows and many more.
A must for families is the extraordinary award-winning Children’s Garden, a nature-oriented wonderland for children aged 2-10.
As for programs, the Morton Arboretum hosts an endless array of classes, walks and events, while the gorgeous lakeside Visitor Center houses yet more exhibits, a shop and the Ginkgo Restaurant.
2. Downtown Lisle
In little more than ten years downtown Lisle is practically unrecognizable from what came before.
Borrowing inspiration from Frank Lloyd Wright, as well as Lisle’s status as the “Arboretum Village”, the central commercial district has had a stunning Prairie-style makeover.
The sidewalks on Main Street are now shaded by mature trees and have cute little beds growing native grasses, all speckled with wildflowers in summer.
A little alley draws you away to PrairieWalk Pond, which we’ll cover in more detail. And if you want to support local businesses there’s a slew of independent restaurants, shops and services on hand, as well as the French Market on Saturdays in spring and summer, through October.
3. Museums at Lisle Station Park
Behind the Village Hall, Museums at Lisle Station Park is a cluster of historic buildings, each shedding light on a different aspect of Lisle’s past.
The linchpin is the Lisle Depot Museum, rebuilt in 1874 after a fire and serving as the village’s main passenger and shipping facility for over a century. Inside you can view the baggage room, stationmaster’s living quarters and a wealth of exhibits recounting Lisle’s past.
Also here is the Beaubien Tavern (1830s), which operated as a tollhouse in the 1850s, and the Netzley-Yender House (c. 1860), a Greek Revival residence, home to just two different families from the time of its construction until the mid-1980s.
Look out for the impressive CB&Q Waycar #14584 (1881) and a 19th-century barn with workshops for blacksmithing and woodturning, hosting regular demonstrations.
4. Jurica-Suchy Nature Museum
There are a few reasons to pay a visit to Benedictine University, which was founded in 1887 and moved to then rural Lisle in 1901.
On the second floor of the Michael and Kay Birck Hall of Science is the excellent Jurica-Suchy Nature Museum, which has more than 10,000 items in its collection.
Many of these were collected in the first half of the 20th century by the botanist Fr. Hilary Jurica and his younger brother Fr. Edmund Jurica, a zoologist.
Among the zoological specimens is a whale skeleton, a pair of African lions, a black bear and numerous birds and invertebrates.
There’s also an in-depth exhibit dedicated to coal, one of Illinois’ most important natural resources for much of the last 200 years.
5. PrairieWalk Pond
Parallel to Main Street in downtown Lisle is an adorable park on the banks of a pond, skirted by an amazing diversity of native plant life (100 different species).
PrairieWalk Pond was developed in the late 2000s, and opened to the public in 2011. The pond itself is decorated with fountains that are illuminated with changing colors at night.
A trail encircles the pond here, leading to a gazebo on the west bank. In the park’s northern section is Dragonfly Landing, a nature-themed play area with climbing equipment, a splash pad (open in summer) and a picnic shelter, all wrapped in neat landscaping, sprinkled with native trees, shrubs and grasses.
6. French Market
The east bank of the PrairieWalk Pond along Garfield Avenue is the idyllic setting for a well-attended farmers’ market every Saturday morning, May through mid-October. On a summer’s day you couldn’t pick a prettier location for some shopping.
Although the list of vendors changes weekly you can expect to find seasonal fruit and vegetables, cheeses, baked goods, meats, plants and olive oil, as well as handmade crafts, jewelry, pet products and services like knife sharpening.
The market wraps up at 1 pm, just in time to grab a bite at one of the eateries a few steps away on Main Street.
7. Lisle Community Park
The Lisle Park District’s showpiece is in a rambling landscape on both banks of the East Branch DuPage River.
This is the location for the park district headquarters and rec center, as well as the Sea Lion Aquatic Park, which we’ll talk about below.
If there’s a major event taking place in Lisle, like the Independence Day celebration and fireworks, chances are that it will take place at Lisle Community Park.
Criss-crossed by trails, the park is full of amenities, including a skate park, tennis courts, a fantastic discovery playground, ballfields, as well as a chain of scenic ponds on the north side.
8. Sea Lion Aquatic Park
Lisle’s summer outdoor pool complex has earned national acclaim, and is a tier above what you might expect from a public amenity.
The three main, interconnected features at Sea Lion Aquatic Park are a 25-yard, 6-lane lap pool, a tranquil zero-depth pool with play features and a vortex pool.
The latter is a kind of lazy river, with a current that is therapeutic for joints and muscles and also offers light resistance for water aerobics classes.
Also at the park are an all-age leisure pool, a baby pool & sand play area, an interactive splash playground, two fast drop slides, two body flume slides and the Snake Pool, which has a floating obstacle challenge with a suspended rope net.
9. ClaySpace Ceramic Arts Center
Next to the public library a few steps from Lisle’s Metra station is an arts studio, run by a non-profit organization and set up to serve the growing clay arts community.
With a capacity of up to eight students, ClaySpace hosts a wide range of classes and workshops for every level of ceramics knowledge, all conducted by experienced professionals.
At the gallery you can admire stunning work by the center’s established artists, as well as interns and students, with something new to see with every visit.
You can also purchase unique pieces by resident artists, and drop by for seasonal events like a Holiday market in late November.
10. The Garden Walk
As you make your way along Main Street your attention may be caught by an impressive interactive fountain at 4744, embellished with bronze sculptures of waterbirds and frogs.
Inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright’s Falling Waters development, this little monument heralds the start of the Garden Walk, an escape in the heart of downtown Lisle, underpinning the village’s ties to the Morton Arboretum.
The meandering path takes you along a manicured corridor of mature trees, flower beds and lawns on the way to the PrairieWalk Pond, where you can pick up the trail on Garfield Avenue.
11. Seven Bridges Golf Club
Regularly touted as one of Chicagoland’s very best public courses, Seven Bridges Golf Club is just a stone’s throw from downtown Lisle on the banks of the East Branch DuPage River.
Framed by century-old oaks and ponds with lily pads, this perfectly manicured track feels more like a private club than a public facility.
The course was designed by Dick Nugent and opened in 1991, with water coming into play on 14 of the 18 holes.
The front nine is a light test to ease you into your rhythm, while the water-rich back nine is very tricky, and includes Maelstrom (16th), believed to be one of the toughest par 4s in the Chicago area.
12. Benedictine Sports Complex
Dedicated in 2005, this multi-million-dollar facility at Benedictine University campus is a unique collaboration between the university and the Village of Lisle.
On one site, Benedictine Sports Complex is home to the university’s track and field, baseball, softball, soccer and football programs.
So if you want to catch some competitive sports action you won’t have to travel far. The linchpin here is the 3,000-seater stadium, used for football, soccer and lacrosse, and also boasting a nine-lane competition track and an electronic scoreboard.
13. West Suburban Sports Complex
The official youth training facility of the Chicago Bulls and the Chicago White Sox can be found in the south of Lisle.
This indoor complex is equipped with the same technology and coaching techniques employed by the full White Sox and Bulls teams.
There are three maple courts here, including the center court, which is an exact replica of the Bulls’ court at the United Center.
Multiple youth basketball, baseball and fastpitch softball programs take place at this 57,000-square-foot facility. You can also rent the complex for birthday parties, or if you just want a unique place to play a game with friends.
14. Four Lakes Ski Area
At the time of writing this snowsports facility, just south of Lisle Community Park, was entering its seventh decade of operation.
The Four Lakes Ski Area brings downhill skiing and snowboarding to the Chicago area, and has been part of many a childhood in DuPage County.
On a scenic, lighted hillside are five trails—two for beginners, one for intermediates and one for advanced skiers. Tucked between the intermediate and advanced trails is The Alley, Four Lakes’ terrain park for freestyle skiers and snowboarders of all abilities.
There’s also a lodge here, with restaurant, bar and cafeteria, and an events calendar featuring SnoFest, with competitions, entertainment and fireworks.
15. Sensory Garden Playground
When we wrote this article, this remarkable sensory-integrated playground for children aged 5-12 was taking shape on a 37-acre site in Lisle.
It is estimated that more than 2,500 families in DuPage County have a child with autism, and outdoor play can have a host of benefits for these children, from developing social skills to improving motor skills and offering opportunities for experiential learning.
The Sensory Garden Playground is designed to be accessible to all, with equipment that stimulates children’s senses in the right way, combined with peaceful spaces needed by children with autism.
A long-term project, ensconced in landscaped greenery, the playground adds new phases as funding becomes available. A new addition at the time of writing was an accessible treehouse, with a zig-zagging elevated boardwalk and slides.