An inner western suburb of Chicago, Villa Park is just under 20 miles west of the Chicago Loop.
This village grew up at the start of the 20th century as a residential area serving the Ovaltine chocolate factory, which operated until 1988.
The location was picked for its convenience, at the intersection of various railways including the Chicago, Elgin and Aurora Railroad and the Chicago Great Western Railway.
Long abandoned, these old railway corridors are now linear parks threaded respectively by the Illinois Prairie Path and Great Western Trail. These inviting strips of greenery also have preserved old station buildings, repurposed as a museum and a park district building.
Villa Park features a handful of mid-century family eateries that have stood the test of time and continue to pack in customers for breakfast and lunch.
1. Villa Park Historical Society & Visitors Center
On the National Register of Historic Places since 1986, the elegant former Villa Avenue station has found a new purpose as a museum and visitors center.
Built in 1929 for the interurban Chicago, Aurora and Elgin Railroad, the station is in a small commercial district in Villa Park, with a cluster of shops, bars, cafes and restaurants around the intersection of Kenilworth Ave and Villa Ave.
The Villa Park Historical Society Museum is open April 1 to mid-December, and has captivating displays detailing the history of Villa Park and the former railroad that has since become the Illinois Prairie Path.
You’ll see elements from local Sears Catalog Homes, as well as the Ovaltine Factory that gave birth to this community.
2. Illinois Prairie Path
This pioneering trail system, extending for more than 60 miles through the western suburbs, was the brainchild of naturalist May Theilgaard Watts (1893-1975).
In 1963 she proposed turning abandoned railroad rights-of-way into trails, a concept that evolved into the rails-to-trails program.
Along the former Chicago, Elgin and Aurora Railroad, the Illinois Prairie Path was developed in the 70s and 80s and is maintained by a private and public partnership.
Villa Park is on the main stem, which runs between Forest Park and Wheatley, before breaking into three spurs, each serving a town on the Fox River.
In Villa Park the trail feels like a stately esplanade, flanked by lawns, shrubs and trees, and with benches, a playground and a gazebo.
There are lovely old pieces of railway infrastructure to look out for, like the Villa Park Historical Society Building, and another preserved station at Ardmore Avenue (housing the Chamber of Commerce).
3. Hi-View Restaurant
In a small shopping center backing onto the Great Western Trail is an enduring family diner, in business since 1962.
Praised for its excellent service with a personal touch, Hi-View Restaurant has a massive menu loaded with sandwiches, salads and breakfast, dinner and dessert options to suit all tastes.
Given that the restaurant has been around for 60 years, the menu has a traditional slant, with skillets, omelettes, burgers, steak and eggs and the like.
One menu item that remains as popular as ever is the cream of chicken rice soup, while a few other Hi-View favorites include Athenian-style chicken, Athenian skirt steak and blackened chicken breast.
4. Dominick’s Pizza and Pasta
This local micro pizza chain has just three locations, one of which can be found right here in Villa Park. Dominick’s has been baking handmade pizza since 1963, and every element, from the dough to the sauce, contains only the freshest ingredients.
When it comes to crust you can order the popular regular (thin crust), pan pizza with a raised crust or the pie-like stuffed pizza with soft dough and ample cheese and sauce.
There are also panzerotti, which are like small calzones, as well as a vast choice of pasta dishes (with fine imported pasta), Italian classics like veal parmigiana, sandwiches, wraps, soups & salads and sides.
A couple of signatures are the baked clams and the calamari (grilled or fried). Come by at lunch on weekdays and you can get pizza by the slice.
5. Great Western Trail
A new grand archway close to the Villa Park Historical Society & Visitors Center marks the eastern trailhead for another rail trail through the western suburbs.
This path is named for the Chicago Great Western Railway (CGW), which operated from 1885 to 1968, and at Villa Park you can set off along the eastern section, which will take you as far as West Chicago.
There’s a north-south connector path linking the Illinois Prairie Path with the beginning of the Great Western Trail, and you’ll find plaques at the trailhead recounting the history of the railway and the development of the rail trail.
A few steps along, you’ll pass a restored former CHW depot building, dating back to 1926 and used as an anchor for park district events in Cortesi Park.
6. Windy City Curling
Founded in 2012, the Windy City Curling Club bounced around a couple of ice arenas in the western suburbs before opening its own, purpose-built facility in 2019.
If you’ve always been fascinated by this Olympic sport that dates back to the 16th century you can visit to learn the ropes. Windy City Curling is open, offering “Learn 2 Curl” sessions, introducing you to the sport’s basics, the equipment, scoring, tactics and etiquette.
The club also welcomes private events like birthday parties and team-building days, and if you want to take your game to the next level you can join the Rookies League.
7. Simon’s Restaurant
In business for decades, another veteran Villa Park eatery is Simon’s Restaurant, touted by some as the best place to get breakfast in the suburbs.
Simon’s is a classic American-style spot, with a menu loaded with skillets (with toast or pancakes), omelettes, scramblers, eggs benedict, breakfast wraps and steak and eggs (choice Black Angus beef).
Later in the day, a few of Simon’s signature entrees are homemade meatloaf, Greek chicken kabob, breaded veal cutlet, veal parmesan pasta and broiled orange roughy.
There’s also a raft of salads and sandwiches, from French dip to Monte Cristo, while the baked French onion soup is a real specialty.
8. More Brewing Company
This popular craft brewery has two locations, with a brewhouse and restaurant in Huntley, and an inviting brewpub in Villa Park at the corner of Kenilworth Ave and Villa Ave.
More Brewing Company specializes in hoppy New England-style Ales, stouts and sours. There’s a constantly rotating choice of more than 20 beers on draft here.
When we put this list together there was a big lineup of IPAs (NE, Imperial and Double New England), as well as a range of fruited sours, but also a a couple of Wheat Beers, Hard Seltzers, a Lager, a Kölsch and a Stout with coconut flavors.
You’ve also got some great beer-friendly bites, like a ribeye sandwich, burgers, Nashville hot chicken and shareable sides, from samosas to cheese curds.
9. Safari Land
At the Villa DuPage Shopping Center in Villa Park is a giant indoor family entertainment center, now open for more than two decades.
Safari Land is over 62,000 square feet, with a bowling alley, more than 100 arcade machines and eight attractions that kids and younger teenagers will love.
You’ll find bumper cars, kids’ go karts, a merry-go-round, a tilt-a-whirl, a huge soft play area, a dual-seat Maxflight simulator and the largest indoor yearpround roller coaster in the state. Check the website for specials and meal deals at the center’s restaurant.
10. Sugar Creek Golf Course
The Elmhurst Park District and Villa Park Parks & Recreation manage this nine-hole golf course in the southeast of Villa Park. On a relatively small parcel of land, Sugar Creek plays quite short, so will suit newcomers to the game.
The course is well maintained, with rippling, bent grass greens and a three-acre pond that poses a challenge on four of the holes.
Many people in the area visit the facility exclusively for the driving range, with 25 hitting stations, and an array of target greens and flags marking distances. The clubhouse has a bar and grill, an extended deck and a pro shop.
11. Jefferson Park
A couple of blocks west of the Villa Park Metra station is a fine public park in a tranquil residential area. Jefferson Park has a baseball/softball diamond, a multi-use play area, picnic areas, a modern playground and a soccer field.
But come summer it’s the public pool that makes the park an essential day out. The complex features a large, mixed-use pool with lanes and a leisure area, as well as a diving board, water slide and a separate, zero-depth kiddie pool.
Out of the water, the pool is surrounded by sun loungers and deck chairs, and has a concession stand with picnic tables, all edged by Jefferson Park’s tall old trees.
12. Salt Creek Greenway Trail
Linking with the Illinois Prairie Path just east of Villa Park, the Salt Creek Greenway Trail, passes through the northeast corner of the village on its 27-mile course from Busse Woods in Elk Grove Village to Brookfield Zoo.
This trail is varied, with plenty of paved sections but also portions with crushed limestone and a few stretches on roads.
You’ll never be more than a couple of hundred feet from Salt Creek, and the trail takes you through numerous parks and forest preserves (especially in the last few miles before Brookfield Zoo) where it’s easy to forget that you’re still in the suburbs.
13. Cricket Creek County Forest Preserve
Almost 2.5 miles of the Salt Creek Greenway trail weaves through this 208-acre forest preserve in the northwest corner of Villa Park.
A mix of wetlands and woodlands, the Cricket Creek County Forest Preserve is on former farmland purchased by the DuPage County Forest Preserve District in chunks from 1974 through 2016.
The county’s first wetland mitigation bank is located at this preserve, providing a habitat for wetland animals like wildfowl, great blue herons and a wide array of amphibians.
There’s a sequence of lakes through the preserve, open for fishing, with one serving as the only model-boating lake in the county.
14. Odeum Expo Center
Villa Park boasts the largest sports and expo center in DuPage County, with almost 60,000 square feet of exhibit space.
Opened in 1981, the Odeum Expo Center was initially conceived as an arena for the Chicago Warriors hockey team, but became an indoor soccer facility and expo center following the recession in the 1970s.
This venue continues to host sporting events, as well as concerts, festivals, major Chicagoland trade shows, craft shows and corporate events. More than 1.2 million visitors pass through the Odeum Expo Center’s doors each year.
15. Summer Concerts
Villa Park has had a summer concert series for more than forty years now, and you can bring a blanket and lawn chair for free entertainment throughout July and August.
For the first month the concerts take place at Rugaard Gazebo on the Illinois Prairie Path, before switching to Cortesi Veterans Memorial Park (318 E Kenilworth Ave).
The lineups are designed to suit a whole spectrum of tastes and include classic rock, hip hop, pop, gospel, country, blues and classical music.
There’s a concession stand at both locations for brats, hot dogs, popcorn, soft drinks and more.