This fast-growing suburban community in the Fox River Valley has more than tripled in population since 1990.
The history of South Elgin goes back much further, and from the late 19th century was hooked up to an interurban railway.
That line is the origin of the excellent Fox River Trolley Museum, which runs antique trolleys along a preserved stretch of this old track.
South Elgin has a profusion of beautiful green space, both along the river banks, and further east where former farmland is returning to prairie.
Two long-distance trails meet in South Elgin, with the Fox River running along the banks for 40 miles, and the Illinois Prairie Path heading east all the way to the edge of Chicago at Forest Park.
1. Fox River Trolley Museum
At the turn of the 20th century the small community of South Elgin was served by an interurban railway on the Elgin, Aurora and Southern Traction Company line, running about 40 miles along the Fox River.
This contained urban streetcar sections in Elgin and Aurora, and was popular until made obsolete by the increase in automobile travel in the 1920s and 30s.
A stretch of the line in South Elgin was preserved for freight, and this eventually opened as a museum, after having been re-electrified by a dedicated group of volunteers.
The Fox River Trolley Museum has a collection of 30 antique trolleys, dating between 1887 and 1959, two of which are original to this very line.
On Sundays you can come to ride a historic trolley, four miles along the picturesque valley to the Jon J. Duerr Forest Preserve.
2. Fox River Trail
Something that defines the riverside in South Elgin is this 40-mile multi-use path that links the village with a dozen communities to the north and south.
The Fox River Trail is partly on the right of way of interurban railways going back to the 19th century, and partly on newly built paths.
The valley is consistently scenic, and the trail will bring you through countless parks and a series of lovable downtown areas, many of which have witnessed a lot of investment in recent years.
In South Elgin the trail is parallel to the museum’s trolley tracks through much of the village, which adds even more to the scenery on Sundays.
3. SEBA Park
Right beside the trolley museum and threaded by the Fox River Trail is one of a series of charming riverside parks in South Elgin.
SEBA stands for South Elgin Business Association, and this park is a great choice for a picnic after your visit to the museum.
For kids, the playground here is the best in the entire village, designed for all abilities and set on a soft, rubberized surface.
Away from the playground is a nature walk, with two bridges crossing a cute little creek, as well as a picnic shelter and a fenced dog area.
4. Panton Mill Park
Overlooking the South Elgin Dam, this waterfront park has a fine setting in the heart of South Elgin.
Known as the Village Center, the park is part of a campus that includes the Village Hall and Police Department.
It’s an appropriate venue for a program of free, festival-style fun in the summer, with cruise nights, kids’ shows, moonlight movies and seven weeks of concerts in the park.
The Fox River Trail crosses the river right here at the State St Bridge, while the dam is a fishing hotspot, served by a bait shop just a short walk away at the corner of N La Fox St and Quarry St.
5. Jon J. Duerr Forest Preserve
Tucked into the bend just downriver from South Elgin is a tranquil forest preserve at the end of the trolley line.
Come on a weekend in summer and you may see one of those vintage trolleys passing through.
The Fox River Trail Crosses the river here, and also links with the River Bend Bike Trail, which hugs the shoreline. On the water are picnic tables and a public launch, while the bike trail takes you past a stunning eight-foot natural waterfall, which drops into a clear creek.
Away from the riverfront is a long looping track that connects with the parking lot and leads you into the preserve’s mature woodland.
6. Wee-Dee’s Restaurant
If you’re hankering for Chicago-style comfort food, this family-run eatery has been a South Elgin institution for years.
When we wrote this list, Wee-Dee’s had recently moved into a spacious former Pizza Hut parlor from its humble former digs.
On almost every surface are pieces of sports memorabilia from Chicago franchises like the Bulls and the Bears.
Come for gyros, Italian beef, Italian sausage, hot dogs and rib eye on a French roll. If you wake up with an appetite, the breakfast menu has omelettes, skillets, classic breakfast choices like pancakes and French toast, or a range of combos if you want a bit of everything.
7. Highlands of Elgin Golf Course
This public golf course immediately north of South Elgin is one of the most scenic around. While the original (front) nine are on gently undulating hills, the back nine was recently laid out in a reclaimed former stone quarry.
This makes for a lot of elevation changes and some wonderful views. There’s also a 12-acre quarry lake at the heart of the course, and four of the holes trace the bluff, up to 40 feet above the water.
Highlands of Elgin has an elegant, Prairie-style clubhouse with a tavern, as well as a comprehensive practice facility featuring 20 hitting stations with bent grass tees, a large putting green and a short game area.
8. Illinois Prairie Path
The Elgin Branch of this 61-mile bike trail travels up the east side of South Elgin before meeting the Fox River Trail in the very north of the village.
Mostly on former railroad rights of way, the Illinois Prairie Path was a trailblazing project, first mooted in 1963 by the Illinois naturalist May Theilgaard Watts (1893-1975).
Following the old Chicago, Aurora and Elgin Electric (CA&E) line, the trail was completed in phases over the next 20 years, and is maintained to this day by public and private partnerships.
The path’s various spurs and branches begin at towns along the Fox River, including Aurora, Batavia, Geneva and Elgin. These all converge at Wheaton, and the trail continues east through the western suburbs to Forest Park.
9. South Elgin Commons
Randall Road, running through the west side of South Elgin, is an important commercial corridor from the Northwest to the Southwest suburbs, from Lake in the Hills in the north to Aurora in the south.
In South Elgin, this artery is lined with big box stores and chain restaurants at the South Elgin Commons shopping Center.
A few of the stores lining the road here are Kohl’s, The Home Depot, Target, Angel Caputo’s Fresh Markets, GameStop, Staples, Best Buy and Jewel-Osco.
These are combined with a host of fast food and casual dining restaurants, including the Village Squire, a pub-style casual dining chain specific to the Fox Valley.
South Elgin Commons can be reached without a car if you take the River Bend Bike Trail, which connects with the Fox River Trail at Jon J. Duerr Forest Preserve.
10. Panic Escape Room
One of the two locations for this acclaimed escape room experience can be found in South Elgin.
Panic Escape Room specializes in story-driven, cinematic adventures, designed from scratch, in-house by dedicated artists.
These rooms are open to ages 8-80, with fun, tricky and occasionally amusing puzzles and challenges to complete in a 60-minute time limit.
When we wrote this article the five rooms were Night at the Museum, Alice in Wonderland, Split (in an asylum), We Are Anonymous 2.0 (cyberthriller) and Forever Purge.
Teamwork is as important as brain power here, and every room is customized according to team size, as long as you have at least two and no fewer than ten players.
11. Vasa Park
On the riverside next to the Jon J. Duerr Forest Preserve is a beautiful 25-acre park specifically intended for festivals celebrating Scandinavian traditions.
Vasa Park goes back to the 1950s and was purchased by a group of Swedish culture enthusiasts.
In 2003 the scope was widened to all five Scandinavian nations, and the big annual celebration is Scandinavian Day, held every September for more than 40 years now.
There’s a host of other gatherings throughout the season, like a fish boil and potluck picnic, all open to the public.
Traced by the River Bend Bike Trail, Vasa Park is also extremely pretty, with historic oaks and new features like a gazebo and a state-of-the-art playground.
12. Kenyon Farm Forest Preserve
South Elgin has no lack of places where you can get outdoors and go for a scenic stroll. Belonging to the Forest Preserve District of Kane County, Kenyon Farm is 75 acres of wooded hillsides on the shores of a 25-acre pond fringed by wetland vegetation.
You can enjoy the woods and pond along unmarked paths. The preserve is in a fast developing part of town, surrounded by farmland and growing residential neighborhoods. The Illinois Prairie Path passes by a couple of hundred yards to the east.
13. James “Pate” Philip State Park
Southeast of South Elgin is a huge expanse of protected former farmland, made up of a mosaic of forest preserves like this state park, just on the east side of IL 25.
In terms of ecology, the importance of these blocks of open space can’t be overstated. With native prairie and wetland plant species returning, the area is vital for seed dispersal, and also provides a breeding ground for birds like herons and cranes, and a corridor for easy wild animal movement.
The closest of these spaces is the 501-acre James “Pate” Philip State Park, which has a network of trails, and lots of opportunities to spot wildfowl, white-tailed deer, beavers and snapping turtles.
14. Epic Air Trampoline Park
If you’re in need of day out ideas for kids, this indoor trampoline park offers a small world of energy-intensive fun.
The main space at Epic Air is an open jump area court with trampolines on pretty much every surface, but you’ll also find a trampoline-assisted basketball court, tumble track, five-lane foam pit, dodgeball court and separate space for under-7s.
Children aged 12 and under can take on the three-story Ball Blaster Arena, with a central volcano firing thousands of soft foam balls all over the place.
In addition there’s a classic ball pit and a toddler zone, full of fun and interactivity for the smallest visitors.
15. Pumpkin Patch Festival
This anticipated one-day event takes place at SEBA Park at the start of October to celebrate fall.
Organized by volunteers and raising money for the Parks and Rec Departments South Elgin Foundation, the Pumpkin Patch Festival is oriented towards families and children.
There’s a host of fun activities throughout the morning and afternoon, including a petting zoo, hay pyramid and a costume pet parade.
The pumpkins at the patch are locally grown and donated by a farm on Barry Road. You can buy full-size and mini-pumpkins, and there’s also a station for carving and painting.