An affluent western suburb of Chicago, Glen Ellyn has steadily grown in population following a flurry of construction in the 1950s and 60s.
The village hosts the main campus for the College of DuPage, the second-largest place of higher education in all of Illinois.
The college is an asset for Glen Ellyn’s cultural scene, with a superb art museum and a modern performing arts center home to professional ensembles and welcoming major artists.
Leafy Downtown Glen Ellyn is a delight, sprinkled with independent restaurants, from Thai to Italian trattorias, while the village’s park district has wonderful options for affordable activities in summer.
1. Downtown Glen Ellyn
One look at the streetscape and you can see that a lot of effort and investment has gone into downtown Glen Ellyn in recent years.
Along Main Street and its intersecting boulevards and avenues, this district is served by the Metra Union Pacific West line and is on the 60-mile Illinois Prairie Path network, which follows the railroad corridor.
Green thinking is central to this transformation, with dozens of newly planted trees on the sidewalks, no more than 14% of which are from any one species.
And there’s no better place in the city if you want to support local businesses, with an eclectic lineup of restaurants, cafes, boutiques and specialty food shops.
Downtown is the setting for Sounds on the Street!, a music festival closing out the summer on the Friday before Labor Day.
2. Morton Arboretum
A mere four miles from downtown, Glen Ellyn is within touching distance of one of the region’s big attractions.
Established in 1922, by the salt magnate Joy Morton, The Morton Arboretum has over 220,000 cataloged trees and plants in 1,700 acres.
The collection is presented across a tapestry of gardens, habitats and special collections, from conifers to ginkgos, ornamental flowering trees, maples, walnuts, beeches, willows and more.
All year round you can visit all kinds of exhibits, both outside and at the visitor center and Sterling Morton Library.
As well as a rich variety of programs for all ages, the arboretum has a calendar packed with events, from cultural festivals to 5ks, markets and food and drink festivals.
3. McAninch Arts Center
The main campus for the second largest provider of undergraduate education in the whole state can be found in Glen Ellyn.
One of the standout facilities here is the McAninch Arts Center, built in 2013 and given a $35 million renovation in 2013.
As well as providing a stage for the college’s arts programs, the center has welcomed a host of Grammy-winning artists, and is the seat for the New Philharmonic Orchestra and the Buffalo Theatre Ensemble, both of which are professional.
Among the performance venues are the Belushi Performance Hall (780 seats), the Playhouse Theatre (184 seats), the Studio Theatre (70 seats) and the Lakeside Pavilion, with a capacity for up to 1,200.
4. Cleve Carney Museum of Art
In an extension at the McAninch Arts Center is a respected contemporary art museum named for a local philanthropist who also donated his collection.
The Cleve Carney Museum of Art was given various upgrades in 2019 and has a strong collection with pieces by the likes of Kehinde Wiley, Rodney Carswell and Raymond Pettibon.
There are up to seven temporary shows each year, including an annual juried student exhibit. Some major recent shows have covered Mexican lithographer José Guadalupe Posada (1852-1913) and Frida Kahlo, which attracted visitors from across the country in 2021.
5. Stacy’s Tavern Museum
There’s an exciting piece of heritage in front of Stacy Park at the east end of Geneva Road. Built in the Greek Revival style 1846, Stacy’s Tavern is a wayside stagecoach inn that was run by one Moses Stacy and his family, providing boarding for passing travelers.
The tavern is the only one from this period in Illinois still in its original location. Plenty is known about the day-to-day at the tavern, including the price of a stay, and you can find out everything you need to know on a tour.
These are given by the Glen Ellyn Historical Society, which restored the property in the 1960s and 70s.
6. Maryknoll Park
An essential summer outing for families, Maryknoll Park is operated by the local park district and features an array of attractions. There are 27 holes at Holes and Knolls Mini Golf, which we’ll cover in more detail below.
But on top of that you’ve got a sizable splash park, with 12 different interactive spray pieces, as well as adventure and youth playgrounds.
The former has a free 75-foot zipline, as well as a 25-foot climbing structure and a two-person swing. Among the other amenities at Maryknoll Park are a disc golf course, cornhole, bocce ball, nature ponds, a public shelter and a large open play area.
7. Holes and Knolls Mini Golf
At Maryknoll Park you’ve got not one but two miniature golf courses, open April through October. Being a local park district facility, the fees are low, and the price for 36 holes is the same as 18.
The courses are kept in immaculate condition and have lots of interesting details like boulders, waterfalls, streams and ponds.
If you happen to lose your ball in one of these hazards you’ll find scoopers nearby to retrieve it. The clubhouse is available for rent and also has a concession stand.
8. Lake Ellyn Park
This gorgeous park encloses an artificial lake built for the Hotel Glen Ellyn, which opened in 1889 and burned down in 1906 after a lightning strike.
The lake became the centerpiece of this park in the 1920s, and the boathouse on the west shore was a Works Progress Administration project, completed in 1937.
There’s a paved trail looping around the water, about 0.65 miles long, taking you past a tract of restored oak savanna in the park’s northwest corner.
Other amenities include an open play area, demonstration garden, playground, picnic area and two stationary grills.
In late August Lake Ellyn is a fitting backdrop for the vibrant Glen Ellyn Festival of the Arts, running for more than half a century.
9. Lilacia Park
Effortlessly close in Lombard is a marvellous public garden that was planted by one Colonel William Plum and his wife, Helen.
They traveled to the renowned French flower breeder Victor Lemoine (1923-1911), returning with cuttings that would form the basis of a celebrated lilac collection.
Following the Colonel’s death in 1927 the garden was bequeathed to the city, and today boasts more than 200 varieties of lilacs and 50 varieties of tulips.
These usually bloom in the first two weeks of May when Lombard is taken over by Lilac Time, coinciding with tours, concerts, tastings and other events.
10. Churchill Woods
The East Branch DuPage River flows through this 255-acre forest preserve in Glen Ellyn, named for a prominent farming family that settled on the western portion of this land in the 1830s.
Despite being one of the smaller DuPage County forest preserves, Churchill Woods has a remarkable diversity of habitats, with a rare patch of native prairie at the Churchill Prairie Nature Preserve, as well as a peaceful savanna of black maple and white and burr oak at Babcock Grove
The latter also features a fantastic array of native plants, like hairy hot peanut, yellow touch-me-not, wild strawberry, bellwort and Dutchman’s breeches.
11. Hidden Lake Forest Preserve
South of Glen Ellyn, the 390-acre Hidden Lake Forest Preserve encompasses old growth woodland and open water at the 10-acre Eagle Lake and 15-acre Round Meadow Lake.
The land has an interesting past, as it once belonged to the estate of the wealthy commodities trader Arthur W. Cutten (1870-1936), whose mansion here was torn down in the 1980s.
Of great ecological importance is King Grove, a remnant woodland composed of burr, red and white oaks.
Fishing is a big activity at Hidden Lake, and bluegill, bass, carp and channel catfish are a few of the species regularly caught here.
12. Willowbrook Wildlife Center
Next to the College of DuPage campus, this wildlife rescue center is run by the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County.
The Willowbrook Wildlife Center does great work rescuing and rehabilitating sick and injured native birds and mammals.
This makes it a fantastic place to see the wildlife native to northeast Illinois up close, and to find out more about what it takes to care for vulnerable animals.
There’s a visitor center here with windows looking into the nursery for baby animals and the kitchen where staff prepare specialized meals for the center’s animal residents.
There are aviaries and other enclosures to see outside, and you can head off on nature trails in the surrounding wooded parkland.
13. Ackerman Park
In the last few years this large park next to Churchill Woods has been given plenty of improvements.
The first thing to note is the park district’s Ackerman Sports & Fitness Center, a modern facility with a high-tech fitness center, indoor rock wall, group fitness studio, personal trainers, an indoor synthetic field, an elevated track and three full-sized basketball courts.
Outside there’s a variety of fitness equipment, as well as amenities for soccer, softball and sand volleyball.
These are all combined with the Ackerman Woods Natural Area, as well as a 1.4-mile limestone path, a playground for kids aged 3 and up and a connection to the Great Western Trail.
14. Enchanted Castle Restaurant & Entertainment Complex
This family entertainment center is a few minutes east in Lombard and has a wealth of attractions under one roof.
On offer here are laser tag, indoor go karts, a blacklight miniature golf course, VR experiences, bumper cars, mini bowling lanes, karaoke, an animatronic show and an arcade with some 200 video game cabinets and redemption games.
The Dragon’s Den Restaurant serves crowd-pleasing comfort food, like handmade pizzas topped with 100% mozzarella cheese.
Enchanted Castle caters to birthday parties, group outings and company events, and has a choice of packages for discounts.
15. CluedIn Escape Rooms
If you’re new to the world of interactive live action games you will find an excellent introduction near the corner of Roosevelt Road and Sunset Avenue.
Steeped in compelling backstories, CluedIn has clearly been designed with a lot of love, and its three rooms require plenty of problem-solving skills, teamwork and lateral thinking to escape before an hour elapses.
Each puzzle, riddle or game sets up the next challenge At the time of writing the three rooms were the mystery-driven Game Master (2-8 players), the exciting but challenging Double Agent (2-8) and the spooky Asylum (2-6).