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River with city and lights behind it

Things to do near Peoria

Situated in the bluffs of Central Illinois along the banks of the Illinois River, “Will it play in Peoria?” is the phrase that put this discerning Midwest locale on the map.

Long a test market for everything from new musical productions to the McRib sandwich, Peoria’s no stranger to fresh experiences. And as a four-time All-American City award winner and haven for one of the largest large equipment manufacturers in the world, it’s certainly not a bad place to spend a weekend.

Historic Experiences

The Caterpillar Visitor Center

Farming vechicals

Striking up a conversation with locals, you’d be hard-pressed to find an individual who isn’t at least indirectly impacted – if not directly employed by – the engineering behemoth that is Caterpillar. As the original headquarters of Caterpillar (now located in north suburban Deerfield) and current home of the company’s largest manufacturing facilities and 90% of its workforce, Caterpillar and Peoria are one in the same. For this reason, it only makes sense that Peoria would have a museum devoted to its legacy.

At the Caterpillar Visitor Center, you’ll be immersed in all things CAT. Climb in real Caterpillar equipment, view vintage CAT machinery and learn the history of this industrial giant. With an exhibit devoted to Caterpillar employees, you’ll even get a sneak peek at the individuals who keep things running. 

The Peoria Riverfront Museum

Situated in the RiverFront District, the Peoria Riverfront Museum is an easy afternoon outing. From permanent collections like the sculpture garden and Peoria Holocaust Memorial to a variety of rotating exhibits, galleries and events, there’s always something happening at the Riverfront Museum. Thinking dinner and a movie? Grab tickets to a wide release movie in their giant screen theater. You’ll also glean plenty of interesting insights about the Peoria Area to enhance your understanding of the Central Illinois locale.

If you’re making the trip, don’t miss the museum’s Dome Planetarium. With its real-time Uniview technology, the planetarium employs real-time satellite feeds and the latest astronomical data to provide viewers with the most timely and accurate real-color view of our universe. And with their real-sky Zeiss Powerdome’s patented fiber-optic projection, their night-sky projections are more accurate than any other planetarium instrument available today. It’s so cool, you might even say it’s “out of this world.” 

Outdoor Fun

Grandview Drive

When a Theodore of any political status makes a definitive statement, it’s worth taking note, and Grandview Drive is no exception. Christened by President Theodore Roosevelt “the world’s most beautiful drive,” Grandview Drive is a 2.52-mile pleasure trail that offers breathtaking panoramic views of the Illinois River Valley. If that’s not enough, you’ll also be overwhelmed by intense feelings of personal failure as you ogle at the myriad of jaw-dropping homes (castles) lining the picture-perfect river bluffs.  

While President Roosevelt was right in asserting the preferred means of conveyance is the car, hiking, biking and walking trails will give you plenty of reason to get out and stretch your legs. This drive is a must any time of year, but it’s unmissable in Autumn as the changing colors paint an ever-more dramatic landscape for visitors.

Wildlife Prairie Park

Buffalo's graze at sunset in Wildlife Prairie Park

Ever wonder what it would be like to experience an untamed Illinois? Ya’know, the good old days when a friendly bison could wander up to your cattle car and adorable otters were busy with their otter hijinks. Well you’re in luck. Delivering a zoological experience unique to Illinois, the Wildlife Prairie Park utilizes native natural resources and animals to present a picture of Illinois during the time of the pioneers.

Step into the wild Midwest at Wildlife Prairie Park where you can explore more than 2,000 acres of natural Illinois habitat in a one-of-a-kind zoological park. Take the train or hike winding trails that overlook prairie and wetlands dotted with 150 animals native to Illinois, from elk and otters to wolves. You can even fish in the park’s restored water systems.

Looking for truly unique lodgings in Peoria? Skip the hotel and book a night in one of the park’s converted train cabooses!

Peoria Zoo

The entrance to Peoria Zoo in Peoria

100 species of animals including several endangered species (like the white rhino), easy to navigate pathways and engaging exhibits make the Peoria Zoo a delight. But the real gem is the Australia Walk-About.

Imagine taking a nice leisurely stroll. It’s nice, right? Now imagine that same leisurely stroll with wallabies bouncing around your feet. That’s exactly what you get with the Australia Walk-About. It’s worth a trip alone. 

Peoria Chiefs Baseball

Peoria Chiefs players congregate on the mound

A day out at the ballgame is always a fan favorite, and the Peoria Chiefs deliver the goods. With a history of local professional baseball dating back to the late 19th century, the Peoria Chiefs are right at home in this All-American City.

Making their home at Dozer Park (yes, that’s a Caterpillar reference), affordable ticket prices, amazing food deals and activities for the whole family make this an easy night out. Stick around for the closing fireworks show – you won’t regret it.

Local Flavors

Dine & Drinks in the RiverFront District

As any good river-town should, Peoria has a lively riverfront district. Along with weekly farmers markets and lots of live entertainment, if you’re looking for a good place to grab a drink, a bite or both, the Peoria Riverfront District should be your first stop. Here are a few recommendations.

Cocktails on the bar at Martinis on Water Street, Peoria

  • Martini’s on Water Street: Whether you’re a grown person looking for sophisticated drink spot or a local college student hoping to class-up your Friday night, Martini’s is the spot. Built inside an old train station and replete with mood lighting, stained glass and expensive mahogany molding, the décor is almost as impressive as their more than 100 variations of the eponymous drink.

Plates of food from the Blue Duck Tavern in Peoria

  • Blue Duck BBQ Tavern: Just grabbed your first “Bomb Pop” at Martini’s and you’re jonesing for a snack? How convenient for you. Adjoined to Martini’s on Water Street are the mouth-watering barbecue flavors of the Blue Duck Tavern. In addition to favorites like the Brisket Sandwich and St. Louis Cut Ribs, their taps are overflowing with delicious craft beers from every corner of the Midwest. Whatever you do, don’t leave without ordering the Smoked Meat Poutine.
  • Rhythm Kitchen Music Café: Adjacent to the Contemporary Art Center is the RiverFront’s NOLA-inspired music lounge the Rhythm Kitchen. Serving up fresh Creole eats and an abundant drink menu, you’ll definitely leave satisfied. And of course, stop in any weekend for an intimate performance from one of their regularly scheduled jazz or blues ensembles. Live music, great drinks and no cover charge. What’s not to love?
  • Rhodell Brewery: What kind of guide would I be if I didn’t tell you where to get a couple freshly brewed beers? Rhodell’s offers 13 beers brewed onsite, as well as one traditional English hand pump. They even offer a brew-on-premise where guests can come and brew their own small batches on Rhodell’s equipment.

Burger Barge

A selection of burgers, sides, and drinks from Burger Barge in Peoria

When we talk about Peoria institutions, one place rises above the pack. Consistently voted best burger in Central Illinois, the Burger Barge is a right of passage for Peoria visitors. With burgers that strike equal parts joy and fear in the hearts of its guests, curiosity alone is enough to bring you to its shores.

Burgers from Burger Barge in Peoria

Menu highlights include the classic Captain’s Burger, the experimental Mashed Potatoes & Gravy Burger, or my personal favorite, the Kraken – complete with onion rings and cheese sauce sandwiched between two bacon grilled-cheese sandwiches. Nestled into the banks of the Illinois River with a laid back beachside vibe and eclecticdécor choices, the setting makes for fun night out.

Emo’s Dairy Mart

The sign above the entrance of Emo's Dairy Mart in Peoria

Peoria has its share of local ice cream stands, but none’s more essential than Emo’s Dairy Mart. Rarely is a place truly “iconic”, but in the example of Emo’s Dairy Mart, that’s absolutely the case.

Adorned with a giant clown nearly visible from space, Emo’s is somewhat of a local landmark. This classic snack shack keeps nostalgia in mind, and their food is no joke. Soft-serve ice cream with lots of mix-ins and their secret Coney Dog recipe keep the locals coming back each season. Other menu staples include burgers, fries and sundry deep-fried delicacies. If you find yourself in Peoria with a sweet tooth, Emo’s is the only sensible solution.

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