Rockford, Illinois may not be well known as a tourist destination in the United States, but that doesn’t mean travelers don’t have a ton of things to do and see. Rockford has many beautiful outdoor areas, and if nature is your thing, you won’t get bored with botanical gardens, a nature center, and an abundance of hiking trails.
In addition to outdoor activities, enjoy some time indoors by visiting the city’s many museums, which will take you through American history and gain insight into this part of the country. In addition to museums and parks, you’ll find interesting attractions here, such as Orchards, where you can pick your own Illinois produce, or take a leisurely cruise to admire the beautiful Rock River, the city’s main waterway.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Rockford:
1. Rockford Museum of Art
To learn about Rockford’s culture, why not visit the Rockford Museum of Art, which has been around since 1913. There are more than 1,900 objects in the collection, ranging from ancient to modern art, including paintings, sculptures and photography.
The museum has works from various artists, and although the focus here is on local Illinois works, if you travel here, you can expect three different galleries with static and rotating exhibits throughout the year.
There is also a museum shop selling works by local artists, which is the perfect place to buy souvenirs in Rockford.
2. Kegel Harley-Davidson
If you’re a motorcycle fan and want to visit the oldest family-owned Harley-Davidson dealership in the world, come to Kegel Harley-Davidson.
The dealership here has won awards for its display of iconic motorcycles, and also houses a riding academy and shop where you can buy Harley-Davidson-related memorabilia, memorabilia and apparel.
3. Clem Botanic Gardens and Botanic Gardens
Best described as a living museum, the Klehm Botanic Gardens and Botanic Gardens span 155 acres covered in gorgeous gardens and an abundance of lush flora, including rare trees and plants.
There are iconic areas within the facility, such as the classic butterfly garden and children’s garden.
The stunning landscape is dotted with trails, and you can even ski here or snowshoe in winter.
You can choose to explore the botanical gardens on your own, or take a guided tour if you book in advance.
4. Burpee Museum of Natural History
If you want to learn more about the geology of the Illinois area, then you must visit the Burpee Museum of Natural History.
Here, you can enjoy a range of fascinating exhibits, such as the Dinosaur Diaries exhibit, which takes you on a journey through the life of Jane, a Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton discovered in Montana.
You can also see Homer, a Triceratops skeleton found locally, and in addition to the dinosaur skeleton, you can also enjoy four different areas of the museum with different themes.
These include a rooftop garden, as well as an exhibit dedicated to the flora and fauna of the Rocky River Valley.
One of the most interesting aspects of Burpee is that it’s a working museum, and you can even see staff and researchers working on specimens like newly discovered dinosaur bones.
5. Stockholm Hostel
Anyone who likes to try different foods needs to stop by the Stockholm Hotel while in Rockford to experience some of the Swedish hospitality on offer here.
As you’d expect from the name, Stockholm Lodge serves up a range of Swedish classics such as fluffy pancakes and delicious mashed meatballs.
This inn has been in business since the 1940s, so know that when you dine here, you’re witnessing a piece of Rockford history, as well as enjoying some famous Scandinavian cuisine.
6. Anderson Japanese Gardens
The Anderson Japanese Gardens are said to be one of the most beautiful Japanese gardens in the entire United States, so if you love stunning landscaping, then make sure you don’t miss the chance to visit while you’re in town.
With 12 acres of gardens, you can look forward to gorgeous features such as a pond filled with graceful koi as well as babbling creeks, waterfalls and manicured gravel gardens.
There are also architectural styles such as the gazebo modelled on the traditional 16th century style, a great place to find peace and tranquility in the midst of a bustling city.
You can even dine at the on-site restaurant, which features seasonal and organic produce from the region.
7. Discovery Center Museum
For anyone traveling with kids, the Discovery Center Museum is not to be missed when visiting Rockford.
Here you’ll find over 250 different exhibits designed to teach young visitors about art and science, and this is an engaging museum that will be fun for the whole family.
In addition to the exhibits themselves (most of which are designed to be interactive to facilitate learning), there is a planetarium, a TV studio, and even a special Tot Spot for young children.
8. Main Street Antique Mall
If you’re looking for the perfect souvenir in Rockford, consider heading to the Main Street Antique Mall, where you’ll find over 15 different antique stores filled with amazing historical memorabilia.
Whatever you’re looking for, you’ll find it here, and the mall has shops selling furniture, jewelry, vintage clothing and home decor.
There’s even a store dedicated to quirky items like Nancy’s Old Fashioned Candy.
9. Atwood Centre
The Atwood Center is actually located within the wider historic Seth B. Atwood Park, itself 334 acres bisected by the mighty Kishwaukee River.
The Atwood Center, located within the park, is primarily a visitor center where you can learn how to do self-guided walks in the park, as well as participate in feeding the park’s raptors.
If you want to visit for a long time and enjoy the scenery in a few days, you can also stop at the center, if you do, you will enjoy walnut, hickory and oak forests, as well as quarries, grasslands, and a dry riverbed .
10. National Culture Museum
Amazingly, the Ethnographic Heritage Museum dates back to 1850 and is located in what was once an ancient hydroelectric area in the city.
The museum is divided into different sections, each containing the history of a different race that has impacted the city of Rockford.
These include African-Americans, Italians, Irish, Poles, Hispanics, and Lithuanians, and offer fascinating views of the city’s melting pot and the way it has developed due to the diverse communities represented here.
11. Curran Orchard
For anyone looking to try local Rockford produce, a trip to Curran Orchard is an itinerary not to be missed.
At this family-owned business, you can pick your own apples, such as Yellow Delicious and Red Delicious, or you can enjoy some of the home-baked goodies sold here, such as delicious apple pies or signature apple doughnuts.
If you like a drink, you can try some of the ciders sold here, known in the region for winning several awards, as well as other delicacies such as maple syrup, applesauce and fresh squash.
If you come here on the weekends, you can enjoy fun activities such as hay carts, apple slingshots and pet enclosures.
12. Forest City Queen Riverboat
As Rockford is located on the banks of the majestic Rock River, it would be a shame to come here without enjoying the stunning views of the city from the water.
One of the best ways to do this is to take a trip on the mighty Forest City Queen Riverboat, which has been operating since 1979 and can carry up to 49 passengers on trips along this iconic waterway.
As you sail, you’ll hear all about Rockford’s history and plans for future growth, and you can visit all the famous sights on the banks of the Rock River.
13. Indian Hill Estate and Farm Historic District
The Indian Hill Manor and Farm Historic District is known in Rockford for being listed on the National Register of Historic Places and overlooks the delicate Kishwaukee and Rock Rivers.
Dating back to the 1900s, you can visit the historic estate, the well-preserved carriage house and the adjacent dairy farm.
The estate is also part of the wider Indian Hills Forest Reserve and is a fantastic place to get a glimpse into how people lived in Rockford in the past.
14. LZ Peace Memorial Hall
For a moving visit in Rockford, consider visiting the LZ Peace Memorial, a memorial to those who served America.
The monument consists of a wall of honor commemorating those killed in the Vietnam War, and a Huey helicopter that actually served in Vietnam also forms part of the monument.
15. Rockford City Market
If you want to meet local farmers and vendors who sell lots of local produce, the Rockford City Market is the place for you.
The region’s goods include delicacies such as fruit, vegetables, eggs, cheese, flowers and baked goods.
Home-cooked meals are also available, and you can even enjoy local wines to accompany the dishes.
The market continues into the evening with live music in the covered pavilion so you can enjoy the festivities rain or shine.
Where to Stay: Best Hotels in Rockford (IL), IL
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