The diverse village of South Holland is in Southland Chicago, roughly contained to the south by Interstate 80 and the east by Illinois Route 1.
Running east to west through South Holland is 162nd S (U.S. Route 6), where there’s an unending line of eateries, many of which are family-run spots that have been around for years.
We’ll cover some of the best around the village in this list, while there’s plenty to uncover in the immediate area, at wide open forest preserves, specialized museums, public summer water parks and craft breweries.
1. Wampum Lake
The south end of South Holland traces this 380-acre forest preserve containing a lake formed by quarrying for the I-80 in the 1950s.
A fishing hotspot, Wampum Lake has a scenic shoreline, with woods sprinkled with wildflowers in summer, and relaxing open spaces for picnics.
Wampum Lake is also at the northern tip of a giant sequence of Cook County forest preserves, continuing for miles, mostly along the course of Thorn Creek, as well as its tributary, North Creek.
Not far south of Wampum Lake you can get onto the Thorn Creek Trail System, a network of paved and unpaved paths, twisting through woods and restored prairie for almost 30 miles.
2. Andy’s Grille
Previously in Thornton, this celebrated family-owned fast food joint relocated to 16973 Vincennes Ave in South Holland in 2000.
As a business Andy’s Grille has been going since 1974 and continues to thrive, not just for its delicious Chicago-style bites, but also for its warm service.
A few menu picks include the Maxwell Street Polish (mustard and a ton of grilled onions), the Chicago Polish and the gyros.
But the menu is long and features burgers, chicken dinners, salads, soups and sandwiches including Italian beef and beef-sausage combo (your choice of fixings at no extra cost). Come early in the day and the Breakfast Burrito and Italian Hodge Podge are the stars.
3. Blueberry Field Pancake House
At 558 E 162nd St is a beloved, family-run breakfast and lunch spot that has been going for well over 20 years.
Founded by couple Patte and Peter Haras, Blueberry Field Pancake House is now operated by a mom and daughter team and specializes in comforting breakfast favorites.
The menu is vast and comprises pancakes, French toast, waffles, crepes, a choice of eggs Benedict, scramblers and big combo plates.
Perhaps the most popular breakfast items of all are the skillets and omelettes. If you’re here for lunch you’ve got a wide range of stacked sandwiches, burgers, wraps, savory croissants and generous salads.
4. Veterans Memorial Park
Within walking distance of the stores and restaurants along E 162 St, South Holland’s flagship park has a pretty location by the Little Calumet River.
If you arrive on the west side along South Park Avenue you’ll be met by the war memorial, with its imposing WWII-era M4 Sherman Tank.
Many of South Holland’s big annual events go down at Veterans Memorial Park, and at other times it’s a nice place for a gentle walk with a looping trail, pond with fountain, formal gardens and a gazebo.
For active recreation there’s a baseball/softball field, soccer field and sand volleyball court, along with a playground for little ones.
5. Midwest Carvers’ Museum
There’s a regional museum dedicated to the arts of wood carving and wood turning, right here in South Holland.
At a charming campus near the corner of Vincennes Ave and W 162nd Street, the Midwest Carvers’ Museum was founded in 1988 by the South Suburban Chiselers organization.
You can stop by for exhibits and to purchase some of the spectacular work by members of the South Suburban Chiselers/Illiana Woodturners.
Check their facebook page for details of upcoming demonstrations, where you can watch skilled woodworkers at the lathe, as well as lessons in chiseling and woodcarving.
6. Gouwens Park
A few blocks north of E 162nd St (U.S. Route 6) you can walk for some distance along the picturesque south bank of the Little Calumet River.
Starting in the west at Cottage Grove Ave, the South Holland Trail winds along an attractive strip of riverside, in the shade of tall mature trees.
Eventually the trail brings you to Gouwens Park, where it loops past amenities like a playground, baseball/softball field, tennis courts and a gazebo.
If you have time to spare in summer, check out one of the softball games, as the standard of competition is unusually high.
7. Aurelio’s Pizza of South Holland
Mainly in the Chicago area, but with locations in four other states, the Aurelio’s Pizza chain was born just next door in Homewood IL.
The original Aurelio was opened by workaholic Joe Aurelio in 1959. Joe was always present and always had time for customers, which is where the slogan “Tell ‘em Joe sent me” came from.
In 1974 Aurelio’s became the first Chicago area chain to franchise its concept, expanding through the 1990s.
South Holland has an Aurelio’s close to where the brand started out, famous for its thin crust and signature sauce, sold with the same numbering system introduced by Joe in 1959.
Also on the menu are salads, pastas, Italian beef, homemade Italian sausage, subs and apps from wings to cheese sticks.
8. The Submarine Port
Part of that endless line of restaurants along E 162nd St (U.S. Route 6), The Submarine Port is a time-honored sandwich spot serving subs on fresh oven-baked bread.
These come in three sizes: Regular (6”), King (10”) and Super (12”), and are loaded with lettuce, onions, tomatoes, Swiss American cheese, homemade dressings and seasonings.
Roast beef and corned beef top the menu, and meal specials can come with soups, which are a customer favorite, made from scratch twice a day to family recipes. Also popular are the garlic fries, touted as the best in the south suburbs.
9. Sand Ridge Nature Center
There’s another Forest Preserve District of Cook County Property directly east of South Holland and containing a wonderful educational facility.
A fantastic way to get acquainted with the wildlife across the Calumet Region, the Sand Ridge Nature Center has a number of live animal displays featuring native turtles, snakes, fish and birds of prey.
You can browse enlightening museum exhibits, and attend talks to get to know the animals and their diet/behavior.
The center is surrounded by demonstration gardens and embedded in a landscape of prairie, wetlands and woodlands, ready to be enjoyed on four miles of trails.
10. Kirk’s BBQ
BBQ enthusiast Kirk Edwards is a reluctant pro, having been urged by friends to bring his barbecue to the South Holland Farmers’ Market.
This was such a success that he was soon nudged into opening a brick and mortar location.
Now seen by many as the best barbecue restaurant in the south suburbs, Kirk’s BBQ opened at 16102 South Park Ave in 2016 and appeared on ABC-7’s Windy City Live even before the first customers arrived.
On the menu are ½ and full slabs, tips, turkey tips (featured on Chicago’s Best), hotlinks, wings and all manner of combos.
11. One Trick Pony Brewery
One of two craft beverage businesses in the area, this brewery sits in a light industrial park east of Wampum Lake.
When we wrote this article, One Trick Pony Brewery was planning to open a storefront in downtown Lansing, but you can still head for the taproom to sample the range.
There are eight on tap at any one time, all in a homey setting with vintage growlers on the walls, oak barrels, a pair of resident cats and home baked pizza on the menu.
12. Thornton Distilling Co.
Even closer is an artisan distillery, at the point where Thorn Creek flows into the Wampum Lake Forest Preserve.
The first thing to tell you about the Thornton Distilling Co. is its location, in the oldest extant brewing building in Illinois.
Constructed over an artesian well in the 1850s for John S. Bielefeldt Brewing, the brewery was later the origin for bootleg liquor during Prohibition.
This captivating history is recounted on a guided tour, while there’s a restaurant and cocktail bar, stocked with spirits that have been produced here since 2015.
Dead Drop Spirits, harking back to the Prohibition days, produces rye and pecan whiskeys, as well as an old fashioned, a rum, vodka and gin.
13. Green Lake Family Aquatic Center
At Green Lake Woods, the Forest Preserve District of Cook County runs this seasonal aquatic park, ideal for families with children under the age of 12.
The main pool here has zero-depth entry, and is accompanied by a lazy river, a tube slide and a small children’s slide.
Among the center’s play features are a water cannon and giant tipping bucket as well as an array of climbing structures and sprays.
The pool is open for the summer season, and has extended hours (until 8 pm) on days when the temperature stays above 76°F into the evening.
14. River Oaks Golf Course
Off U.S. Route 6, east of South Holland there’s a public, 18-hole course on the banks of the Little Calumet River.
Not only is the river woven into this course, there’s also a series of ponds to make for an even more testing round.
You’ll have to deal with water on 14 of the 18 holes, but also try to avoid some 60 strategically positioned sand traps.
As with the other Forest Preserve Golf courses, River Oaks Golf Course is certified as a Cooperative Sanctuary by Audubon International.
15. Park Place Plaza
Illinois Route 1 is roughly on South Holland’s western boundary, and if you head south you’ll soon come to this large shopping center, serving several communities in the area.
A few of the big box stores at Park Place Plaza are Kohl’s, Target, T. J. Maxx, Best Buy, The Home Depot, GameStop, a Walmart Supercenter and a branch of the Jewel-Osco supermarket chain.
Lining the highway is a large assortment of chain restaurants, counting Chicago-specific eatery Portillo’s, along with McDonald’s, Dunkin’, Subway, Boston Market, Panda Express, KFC and a whole lot more.