This city in the western suburbs was established in the mid-19th century at the very first railroad junction west of Chicago.
The name West Chicago came later, in 1896 when area businessmen hoped to attract industry to the village, and figured “West Chicago” sounded more cosmopolitan.
There’s some lovely architecture from around this time along Main Street in downtown West Chicago, which is a great place to wander and looks set to thrive in years to come.
Families will find a lot to get up to close by, at the city’s Turtle Splash Water Park, the grand Cantigny Park, pumpkin patches, forest preserves, living history museums and also a high-tech particle physics laboratory.
1. Kline Creek Farm
At the Timber Ridge Forest Preserve in West Chicago you can step back in time and see what life was like on a working farm here in the late 19th century.
Kline Creek Farm is a great example of a living history museum thanks to the sheer variety of artifacts, activities and demonstrations by skilled and costumed interpreters.
Many of these activities are centered on the charming restored farmstead where tours will shed light on things like quilting, canning, baking, seasonal celebrations and more.
Kline Creek Farm changes with the seasons, so depending on when you come the staff and volunteers may be planting, beekeeping, pruning the orchard, fixing wagons, curing sausages or harvesting.
Kids will love the farm’s many resident animals, like Percheron work horses, shorthorn cattle, southdown sheep and chickens.
2. Cantigny Park
The 500-acre estate of Chicago Tribune publishers Joseph Medill (1823-1899) and grandson Colonel Robert R. McCormick (1880-1955), was bequeathed to the public in 1955.
Cantigny Park, named after the WWI battle in which McCormick fought, is a wide-ranging attraction that appeals to all comers.
There’s beautiful mature parkland, 30 acres of ornamental landscapes and formal gardens, a 27-hole golf course, a visitor center, an army museum and much more.
The sumptuous 35-room mansion built by Medill is open for tours as the Robert R. McCormick Museum, and there are exhibits at the visitor center explaining the estate’s past and present.
3. First Division Museum at Cantigny Park
Robert R. McCormick served with the United States Army’s First Division in World War I and later left an endowment for a museum dedicated to the division.
This attraction is fronted by the Tank Park, with a striking array of tanks and artillery pieces including an M1 Abrams, M60 Patton, M24 Chaffee, M41A3 Walker Bulldog, an M5 Stuart Tank to name a handful.
Inside, the museum presents the chronology of the First Division across two highly immersive exhibits, First in War and Duty First. Loaded with multimedia, artifacts and firsthand accounts, First in War takes you from World War I to Vietnam.
Then Duty First brings you up to the present day, with thematic sections based on the modern U.S. Army’s five basic missions: Battle, Counterinsurgency, Military Assistance, Peacekeeping and Deterrence
4. Downtown West Chicago
Small, but well worth a stroll, downtown West Chicago is on a couple of blocks on Main Street, not far from the local Metra station and served by the Illinois Prairie Path.
Along with the brick facades of its 19th-century architecture and a view to the West Chicago water tower, the streetscape gets a lot of character from its lamps, signage, flowerbeds and elements like a clock and little fountain with a pleasing view to the west.
The city has a lot of freedom to add these details, as, unlike in many suburbs, Main Street isn’t on an Illinois or U.S. highway.
5. Turtle Splash Water Park
Summers are just a little more fun in West Chicago thanks to this awesome water park. Turtle Splash Water Park is a local park district facility but wouldn’t look out of place at a resort or theme park.
In five enclosed acres you’ve got a large zero-depth entry pool, three fun slides, a 12-foot waterfall, a tot slide and the gigantic Blue Thunder tipping bucket.
Also on hand for kids is the Swing and Zip Playground, Climbing Web and Sheldon’s Sand Box sand play area, while for snacks and cold treats you’ve got the Hard Shell Café.
6. West Chicago City Museum
Catching the eye at 132 Main Street is an Italianate building, clad with cream-colored bricks and with a square tower that protrudes from the rest of the facade.
This is in fact the former town hall, dating back to the 1880s when West Chicago was still called Turner, after the president of the Galena and Chicago Union Railroad.
Since 1976 the building has housed the West Chicago City Museum, which reflects 175 years of local history and is particularly rich in railroad artifacts.
Exhibits in recent years have shed light on West Chicago manufacturing heritage, agriculture, leisure and entertainment amenities, healthcare and prominent 19th-century families.
7. Sonny Acres Farm
This family-run farm in West Chicago has a history stretching all the way back to 1883. Nowadays Sonny Acres is a family destination, opening its doors in the summer and fall for all kinds of fun.
Among the many attractions are a petting zoo, carnival rides, pony rides and a bounce house, to go with a garden nursery, farm shop and kitchen making bratwurst, Italian beef, hot dogs and other comfort food.
Throughout this time there’s a packed lineup of concerts in the evenings. Things kick into gear in October with a pumpkin patch, delicious autumn treats like apple cider donuts and spooky Halloween attractions.
8. Blackwell Forest Preserve
One of the most popular spaces belonging to the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County is just a couple of miles south of downtown West Chicago.
In almost 1,400 acres of gently rolling terrain, Black Well Forest Preserve has oak-hickory woodlands, prairies, wetlands and open water at ponds and a lake.
There are more than six miles of trails through these landscapes, available for hiking, bicycling, horseback riding and also cross-country skiing in winter.
The McKee Marsh is a birding hotspot, with two observation decks and interpretive boards explaining its history and wildlife.
In spring and summer, canoes, kayaks and paddle boats can be rented at Silver Lake, which, along with Sand Pond and White Pine Pond, is a magnet for anglers.
Until the construction of the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland, the most powerful particle accelerator in the world was Tevatron, found at Fermilab next to West Chicago in Batavia.
Affiliated with the Department of Energy and University of Chicago, Fermilab was established in 1967 as the National Accelerator Laboratory.
Measuring 3.9 miles in circumference, Tevatron, was used for landmark discoveries like the Top Quark particle in 1995, before being shut down in 2011.
When we wrote this article Fermilab’s accelerator was the Main Injector (3.3 miles in circumference) and construction was underway on the new PIP-II linear accelerator.
If you’re fascinated by high-energy physics you can register for a guided tour at Fermilab, while there are also self-guided experiences available at Wilson Hall and the Leon Lederman Science Education Center here.
Above ground the landscape resembles a nature preserve, and visitors are welcome to explore the paths and even fish at the ponds.
10. Illinois Prairie Path (Geneva Spur)
The Geneva Spur of this 61-mile trail system passes through West Chicago from east to west.
The Illinois Prairie Path runs in a straight line between Maywood and Wheaton before breaking off into four different spurs, all of which culminate at the east bank of the Fox River.
The Geneva Spur follows the right of way of the long defunct Chicago Aurora and Elgin Railroad, completed in 1902 and abandoned by the early 1960s.
The trail runs right through downtown West Chicago, and you can use it to walk or cycle to open spaces in the city like Reed-Keppler Park and the West Chicago Prairie Forest Preserve.
11. Kruse House Museum
This period house museum is in the care of the West Chicago Historical Society, and gives an insight into domestic life in the city a century ago.
The four-square Kruse House was built in 1917 and its first occupant was one Fred Kruse, who worked as a collector on the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad.
The interior is decorated with historic items like toys, china, cut glass, jewelry and also memorabilia relating to the railroad.
Every year the society presents a new display with a specific theme, while the gardens have also been restored to a period style in the last few years. You can pay a visit to the Kruse House Museum on Saturdays, May through September.
12. Prairie Landing Golf Club
The first of two super golf courses in West Chicago, Prairie Landing is at the south end of DuPage Airport and is integrated with a wetland site.
The widely praised 18-hole course was designed by Trent Jones Jr., on an undulating landscape peppered with mounds, bunkers and numerous water hazards.
With wide open par 5s and technical par 3s you’ll use every club in the bag, and need accuracy as much as power.
Before your round you can tune up at the driving range and two practice greens, and there’s a pub and grill for a post-round bite. .
13. Reed-Keppler Park
The location for Turtle Splash Water Park is a 100-acre community park on a former landfill site.
Reed-Keppler Park was the subject of a multimillion-dollar cleanup operation some 20 years ago, and you would never know the park’s history to look at it today.
As well as that water park, there’s a 25-acre nature sanctuary, six baseball-softball fields, a basketball court, two playgrounds, a skate park, a concession stand and a stretch of the Illinois Prairie Path.
West Chicago Park District’s ARC Fitness facility is right at the center of the park, and there’s not one but two dog parks here, at SouthPaw and Wiggly Field.
14. West Chicago Prairie Forest Preserve
One of the most significant natural sites in Northwestern Illinois can be found at this 350-acre preserve.
The diversity of habitats at the West Chicago Prairie Forest Preserve is amazing, with a spectrum of prairies and grasslands, as well as marshland, wet-mesic savanna and bottomland and upland forest.
Overall, these habitats support more than 600 different plant species, several of which are rare or endangered.
Unlike other forest preserves in the area, the botanical splendor is the main attraction. Walking and nature spotting are the only activities permitted on the preserve’s network of nine interlinking footpaths, and these connect with the Illinois Prairie Trail.
15. St Andrews Golf and Country Club
Another public course, the St Andrews Golf and Country Club is coming up for its centennial and features two 18-hole courses. St. Andrews Course #1 was landscaped in 1926 on flat terrain.
The signature hole here is the par 4 18th, hugging the shore of a large water hazard, while even the best players are tested by the 2nd hole, a long par 4 at 448 yards.
The Joe Jemsek Course arrived three years later, and is an 18-hole championship course, posing a different kind of challenge.
The terrain is hillier and you’ll be challenged by the long par 3s, tree-lined fairways and menacing bunkers that guard the holes.
St Andrews has a 32-acre lighted Practice Center with ten sheltered and heated hitting bays, 80 grass tees, two chipping greens and a putting green.