15 Best Things to Do in Normal (IL)

Part of the Twin Cities in McLean County, Illinois, the town of Normal is the smaller, northern neighbor to Bloomington.

Normal is home to the main campus of Illinois State University, founded in 1857, and the oldest public university in Illinois. There are plenty of reasons to head to the campus, to check out an art exhibition, catch a Redbirds game or stargaze at the planetarium,

For pedestrians and bikers, Constitution Trail links Normal and Bloomington along a tranquil green corridor where a railway line used to be.

With its pretty streets lined with trees and flowerbeds, Normal’s compact downtown core deserves your attention and has a gorgeous Streamline Moderne theater from the 1930s and an acclaimed Children’s museum.

1. Children’s Discovery Museum

Children’s Discovery Museum, Normal

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Children’s Discovery Museum

Over three stories, this award-winning museum is crammed with experiential, hands-on activities for kids, promoting open-ended learning.

The carefully designed exhibits at the Children’s Discovery Museum feature richly-layered and innovative cognitive experiences for everyone from toddlers up to pre-teens.

In this vein, AgMazing is the country’s largest agriculture exhibit at a children’s museum, where kids can feed cows, drive a combine and harvest corn.

Healthy Kids-Healthy Future recreates everyday shopping experiences at a market and cafe, encouraging children to make healthy choices, while there’s a two-story mesh climber, an art studio, a paint wall and the Fetch Lab, hosting daily free science activities.

2. University Galleries of Illinois State University

Art Gallery

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Art Gallery

Established in 1973 and open all year, this exhibition space at ISU is one of the foremost showcases for contemporary art in the Midwest.

The permanent collection includes works by artists as diverse as Andy Warhol, Robert Mapplethorpe, Jennifer Bartlett, George Grosz, Kiki Smith, August Sander and many more.

There are exhibitions for both established and emerging artists, and the galleries presented the first large-scale surveys of works by the likes of Martin Wong, Dianna Frid, Bethany Collins, David Wojnarowicz and Jeanne Dunning.

The galleries are open daily during the academic year and then on weekends in the summer.

3. Rader Family Farms

Corn Maze

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Corn Maze

The Rader Family has owned this dairy farm in Normal since 1945 and every September and October opens it up to the public for several weeks of agritainment.

There’s a ton of activities on offer at this large and idyllic property, among them a U-Pick pumpkin patch, a giant bounce pillow, a 10-acre corn maze, face painting, apple blasters, rat rollers, a double barrel chute, tram rides and many more things to climb, swing and slide on.

For a bite there’s a choice of stands and eateries around the park, like the Barnyard Grill, serving rustic comfort food like breaded white cheese curds. Be sure to try the famous pumpkin donuts, which can be purchased across the farm.

4. Ropp Jersey Cheese Farm

Ropp Jersey Cheese

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Ropp Jersey Cheese

In a family that has seven generations of farming knowhow, the Ropp Jersey Cheese farm is a dairy focusing primarily on cheddars from registered Jersey cattle.

These come in an amazing amount of varieties, from Cajun to green olive, horseradish, smoked, dill, and ranch, and are accompanied by other cheeses like gouda, Monterey jack and Swiss.

You’ll find an incredible 45 varieties in total, all available at the retail store, along with fresh cheese curds, queso, farm-raised meat, ice cream, homemade jarred goods and a wealth of other farm-to-fork products. For an inside look at the cheesemaking process you can also visit for a tour.

5. Normal Theater

Normal Theater

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Normal Theater

Lovingly restored to its original appearance inside and out, this gorgeous Streamline Moderne movie theater opened in 1937 and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Normal Theater initially closed in 1990 but was bought by the city and reopened in 1993 after a detailed renovation.

The facade has a striking red and green neon marquee and is clad with cream stucco with bands of black vitrolite.

Sleek Art Deco motifs abound inside, with a recessed double neon ceiling hoop in the auditorium, high modern-style aisle lights and plush coral-colored seating.

The theater operates on a non-profit basis, screening classics as well as independent and world cinema.

6. Destihl Brewery & Beer Hall

Destihl Brewery & Beer Hall

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Destihl Brewery & Beer Hall

Set up in 2013, Desithl moved into this spectacular production facility and beer hall on the northeast side of town in 2017.

The beer hall has a remarkable 48 taps, pouring a wide range of small-batch IPAs and Sours, as well a host of other creative beers including a tropical Blonde Ale, a Hefeweizen, a Pilsner, a milk Stout and a peanut butter Porter.

These are available alongside hard ciders and house-brewed sodas, as well some out-there “beertails” mixed drinks.

Surrounded by green space with lots of outdoor seating, the beer hall also serves satisfying American-inspired pub fare, from burgers to pizzas and rice bowls.

And if you want to know more about brewing and see the state-of-the-art brewhouse, you can always register for a guided tour.

7. Constitution Trail

Constitution Trail

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Constitution Trail

In the mid-1980s Normal and Bloomington started buying property on the right-of-way of the abandoned Illinois Central Railway with the intention of creating a linear park.

Now 37 miles long, Constitution Trail officially opened in 1989 and is a wonderful asset for walkers, bikers, joggers and cross-country skiers, branching out to locations across the Twin City.

The various trailheads have ample parking space, and along the paths are benches, restrooms, picnic tables and water fountains, as well as fascinating pieces of old railway infrastructure.

8. Redbird Arena

Basketball

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Basketball

Home court for ISU’s men’s and women’s basketball and volleyball teams is this 10,200-seater arena on the campus, recognized by a fiberglass-clad roof that glows during games.

Redbird Arena opened in 1989 and is the second-largest university arena in the state, with plenty of interesting design details.

That 12-sided roof rises 100 feet above the floor and is supported by a reinforced concrete tension ring.

ISU’s Redbirds basketball teams play in NCAA Division I, and the men’s team have produced a few NBA stars, most notably Doug Collins who coached the Bulls in the late 1980s.

9. Anderson Park

Swimming Pool

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Swimming Pool

A short way east of downtown is a spacious 13-acre park that has belonged to the town since the 1960s. Anderson Park has a host of amenities, like a ballfield, tennis courts, basketball courts, a picnic area and children’s playground.

But what really puts the park on the map in the summer is the outdoor Anderson Aquatic Center.

This complex features three pools, two fun waterslides, a variety of spray equipment, a smaller slide for the littlest visitors and a concession stand. The pools are ensconced in landscaped green space and large parasols offer ample shade.

10. Ironwood Golf Course

Golf

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Golf

Bloomington-Normal is renowned for the quality and quantity of its golf facilities, earning praise in publications like Golf Digest. On the city’s northern margins is the public Ironwood Golf Course.

This 18-hole championship course was designed by noted architect Roger Packard, and its tree-lined fairways thread through the Ironwood residential subdivision, with four tricky water hazards to negotiate.

Among the facilities on hand are a grass-tee driving range, a 7-hole pitching course, a well-stocked pro shop and an expansive putting green.

11. Maxwell Park

Disc Golf

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Disc Golf

This land on Normal’s west side was purchased by the town in the early 1970s. The southern portion was developed into Parkside Jr High School and Elementary School and the northern half is a comprehensive neighborhood park with amenities for all.

You’ve got a disc golf course, tennis courts, ballfields, batting cages, picnic areas, a playground and grills.

There’s also a peaceful area where nature has been allowed to take over, as well as a much-loved dog park with a separate area for smaller pups.

12. Illinois State University Planetarium

Illinois State University Planetarium

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Illinois State University Planetarium

Also on the ISU Main Campus is the Felmley Hall of Science where it’s hard to miss the white dome of the university’s planetarium.

Established in 1964, this has a capacity for 110 guests under its 30-foot dome and is equipped with a Spitz A-3-P planetarium projector.

Along with the Milky Way, this can display 2,354 stars, as well as eclipses, clusters and binary stars. The planetarium opens to the public for regular shows, with details on the Department of Physics’ website. These fill up on a first-come, first-served basis.

13. McLean County Museum of History

McLean County Museum of History

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McLean County Museum of History

Bloomington’s historic downtown area is anchored by the imposing former courthouse, now housing the county’s history museum.

The building dates to 1868 but was substantially remodeled following a fire in downtown Bloomington in 1900. Within, the museum has a collection of more than 18,000 objects, going all the way back to prehistory.

The permanent exhibit, Encounter on the Prairie has four distinct galleries shining a light on the county’s cultural diversity, its industry and commerce, its farming heritage and important political figures like Abraham Lincoln, David Davis and Adlai Stevenson II.

Keep an eye out for exciting seasonal events like Christmas at the Courthouse and Evergreen Cemetery Walk.

14. David Davis Mansion

David Davis Mansion State Historic Site

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David Davis Mansion State Historic Site

Also essential in Bloomington is the residence of United States Senator and Supreme Court Justice, David Davis (1815-1886).

Davis is remembered in particular as a friend and mentor to Abraham Lincoln, serving as his campaign manager in 1860 and then administering his estate after his assassination.

A National Historic Landmark, Davis’s Italianate/Second Empire mansion was built in 1870-72 and has 36 rooms, 20 of which can be seen on the tour.

These are decorated with pieces of Renaissance Revival furniture purchased by David’s wife, Sarah Davis.

The mansion hosts an array of events all year, such as Mr Lincoln’s Birthday, a garden festival in June and is opulently decorated throughout the winter holiday season.

15. Illinois Shakespeare Festival

Illinois Shakespeare Festival

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Illinois Shakespeare Festival

Held at ISU’s Center for Performing Arts as well as the Ewing Theatre in Bloomington is a major cultural event now well into its 5th decade.

The Illinois Shakespeare Festival was launched in 1978 and each season presents two Shakespeare works, as well as contemporary plays in a period setting, in a revolving rep.

Productions from the last few seasons include Henry V, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Hamlet and Twelfth Night, together with versions of Shakespeare in Love, Elizabeth Rex and Pride and Prejudice.

The festival runs from June through mid-August and presents shows aimed at young audiences, usually Wednesday and Saturday mornings.

 

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15 Best Things to Do in Normal (IL):

  • Children’s Discovery Museum
  • University Galleries of Illinois State University
  • Rader Family Farms
  • Ropp Jersey Cheese Farm
  • Normal Theater
  • Destihl Brewery & Beer Hall
  • Constitution Trail
  • Redbird Arena
  • Anderson Park
  • Ironwood Golf Course
  • Maxwell Park
  • Illinois State University Planetarium
  • McLean County Museum of History
  • David Davis Mansion
  • Illinois Shakespeare Festival