The 15 Best Things to Do in Normal (IL)

Part of the Twin Cities in McLean County, Illinois, the town of Normal is Bloomington’s smaller neighbor to the north.

Teachers College is home to the main campus of Illinois State University, which was founded in 1857 and is the oldest public university in Illinois. There are many reasons to go to campus, see an art exhibit, watch a Red Bird game or stargazing at a planetarium,

For pedestrians and cyclists, the Constitution Trail connects Normal and Bloomington along a peaceful green corridor that was once a rail line.

Normal’s compact city centre deserves your attention with its beautiful streets lined with trees and flower beds, the gorgeous 1930s Streamline Moderne theatre and the acclaimed Children’s Museum.

1. Children’s Discovery Museum

Children's Discovery Museum, General

Spread across three floors, this award-winning museum is packed with experiential, hands-on activities for kids that promote open learning.

Children’s Discovery Museum’s carefully designed exhibits provide a rich and innovative cognitive experience for everyone from toddlers to teens.

In this regard, AgMazing is the country’s largest children’s museum agricultural exhibit, where children can feed cows, drive combine harvesters and harvest corn.

Healthy Kids-Healthy Future recreates the everyday shopping experience in a market and cafe, encouraging kids to make healthy choices, while a two-story mesh climber, an art studio, a paint wall and Fetch Lab, every day Host free science events.

2. University Galleries at Illinois State University

art gallery

Established in 1973 and open year-round, this exhibition space at ISU is one of the premier venues for contemporary art in the Midwest.

The permanent collection includes works by Andy Warhol, Robert Mapplethorpe, Jennifer Bartlett, George Gross, Kiki Smith, August Sander and many more.

Showcasing both established and emerging artists, the gallery presents for the first time a large-scale survey of work by Martin Wong, Dianna Frid, Bethany Collins, David Wojnarowicz and Jeanne Dunning, among others.

The gallery is open daily during the school year and then on weekends in the summer.

3. Reid Family Farms

corn maze

The Rader family has owned the dairy farm in Normal since 1945, and the farm is open to the public for several weeks each September and October.

This idyllic grand hotel offers tons of activities, including a U-Pick pumpkin patch, giant bouncy pillows, a 10-acre corn maze, face painting, apple blasters, mouse rollers, double barrel chutes, trolley rides and more Something that can climb, swing, and slide.

There are plenty of stalls and restaurants to choose from around the park, such as the Barnyard Grill, which serves rustic comfort foods like breaded white cheese curds. Be sure to try the famous Pumpkin Donuts, which are available throughout the farm.

4. Rope Jersey Cheese Farm

Rope Jersey Cheese

In a family with seven generations of farming skills, Rope Jersey Cheese Farm is a dairy that primarily produces cheddar cheese from registered Jersey cattle.

These varieties range from cajun to green olives, horseradish, smoked, dill and ranch, and are accompanied by other cheeses such as Gouda, Monterey Jack and Swiss.

You’ll find a total of 45 incredible varieties, all of which are available at retail, as well as fresh cheese curds, cheeses, farm-raised meats, ice cream, homemade canned goods and tons of others from Farm to table products. For an in-depth look at the cheese-making process, you can also take a tour.

5. General Theater

ordinary theater

Beautifully restored from the inside out, this gorgeous Streamline Moderne movie theater opened in 1937 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Ordinary Theatre originally closed in 1990, but was acquired by the city government and reopened in 1993 after a detailed renovation.

The front has a striking red and green neon shade covered in cream stucco and black glass strips.

Filled with stylish Art Deco motifs, the auditorium features a recessed double neon ceiling hoop, contemporary high lights and plush coral seating.

The theater operates on a not-for-profit basis, showing classic films as well as independent and world films.

6. Destihl Brewery & Beer Hall

Destihl Brewery and Brewery

Founded in 2013, Desithl moved into this spectacular production facility and beer hall on the northeast side of town in 2017.

The Beer Hall has 48 taps and serves a variety of small-batch IPA and sour beers, as well as many other creative beers, including Tropical Blonde Ales, Hefeweizen, Pilsners, Milk Stout and Peanut Butter Porters.

These are served with hard cider and house seltzer and some outside “beer tail” mixes.

Surrounded by greenery and with plenty of outdoor seating, the Brasserie also serves satisfying American pub fare, from burgers to pizza and rice bowls.

If you want to learn more about brewing and visit the state-of-the-art brewery, you can always sign up for a guided tour.

7. The Constitutional Road

Constitutional Road

In the mid-1980s, Normal and Bloomington began purchasing properties on the abandoned Illinois Central Railroad right-of-way with the aim of creating a linear park.

Officially opened in 1989, the now 37-mile Constitution Trail is a great asset for walkers, cyclists, joggers and cross-country skiers, extending to various locations in the Twin Cities.

There is ample parking on each trail, benches, restrooms, picnic tables and fountains along the way, as well as charming old rail infrastructure.

8. Red Bird Arena

basketball

Home to the ISU men’s and women’s basketball and volleyball teams is this 10,200-seat arena on campus, identified by a fiberglass-covered roof that glows during games.

Opened in 1989, the Red Bird Arena is the second largest collegiate arena in the state and has many interesting design details.

The 12-sided roof is 100 feet above the floor, supported by reinforced concrete tension rings.

ISU’s Red Bird basketball team played in the NCAA Division I, and the men’s team produced several NBA stars, most notably Doug Collins, who coached the Bulls in the late 1980s.

9. Anderson Park

swimming pool

Just east of downtown is a spacious 13-acre park that has belonged to the town since the 1960s. Anderson Park has many amenities such as courts, tennis courts, basketball courts, picnic areas, and children’s playgrounds.

But what really puts the park on the map in the summer is the outdoor Anderson Aquatic Center.

The complex features three swimming pools, two fun water slides, various spray equipment, a small slide for the smallest visitors, and a concession stand. The swimming pool is set in landscaped greenery and large parasols provide ample shade.

10. Ironwood Golf Course

golf

Bloomington-Normal is known for the quality and quantity of its golf facilities, earning accolades in publications such as Golf Digest. On the northern edge of the city is the public Ironwood golf course.

Designed by renowned architect Roger Packard, this 18-hole championship course features four thorny water obstacles through its tree-lined fairways through the Ironwood estate.

Existing facilities include a grass teeing ground, a 7-hole course, a well-stocked pro shop and an expansive putting green.

11. Maxwell Park

disc golf

The land on the west side of Normal was purchased by the town in the early 1970s. The south is developed as Parkside Jr High School and Elementary School, and the north is a comprehensive community park with amenities for all.

You have a disc golf course, tennis courts, courts, batting cages, picnic areas, playgrounds and grills.

There’s also a peaceful area that allows nature to take over, and a much-loved dog park with a separate area for smaller puppies.

12. Illinois State University Planetarium

Illinois State University Planetarium

Also on ISU’s main campus is the Fermley Science Hall, where it’s hard to miss the white dome of the University’s Planetarium.

Built in 1964, it seats 110 guests under a 30-foot dome and features a Spitz A-3-P planetarium projector.

Along with the Milky Way, it can display 2,354 stars, as well as solar eclipses, star clusters and double stars. The planetarium is regularly open to the public and detailed information is available on the Department of Physics website. These fill up on a first-come, first-served basis.

13. McLean County Historical Museum

McLean County Historical Museum

Bloomington’s historic downtown is based on the grand former courthouse, which is now home to the county’s history museum.

The building dates back to 1868, but was significantly remodeled after a fire in downtown Bloomington in 1900. The museum houses more than 18,000 objects dating back to prehistoric times.

The permanent exhibition, “Encounters on the Prairie,” features four distinct galleries that showcase the county’s cultural diversity, industry and commerce, agricultural heritage, and important political figures such as Abraham Lincoln, David Davis and Adelaide Stevenson II.

Keep an eye out for exciting seasonal events like Christmas at the Courthouse and the Evergreen Cemetery Walk.

14. David Davis Building

David Davis Building State Historic Site

The residence of U.S. Senator and Supreme Court Justice David Davis (1815-1886) is also essential to Bloomington.

Davis is especially remembered as a friend and mentor to Abraham Lincoln, who served as his campaign manager in 1860 and then managed his estate after his assassination.

A National Historic Landmark, Davis’ Italianate/Second Empire mansion was built in 1870-72 and has 36 rooms, 20 of which can be seen on tour.

These are decorated with Renaissance furniture purchased by David’s wife Sarah Davis.

The mansion hosts a range of events throughout the year, such as Mr. Lincoln’s birthday, the Garden Festival in June, and is lavishly decorated throughout the winter holidays.

15. Illinois Shakespeare Festival

Illinois Shakespeare Festival

Held at ISU’s Center for the Performing Arts and the Ewing Theater in Bloomington, this is a major cultural event now in its 5th decade.

Launched in 1978, the Illinois Shakespeare Festival presents two Shakespeare plays each season, as well as contemporary plays in a period context, presented on a carousel.

Past seasons include Henry V, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Hamlet and Twelfth Night, as well as Shakespeare’s Version of Love, Elizabeth Rex and Pride and Prejudice.

The festival runs from June to mid-August and usually hosts programmes aimed at younger audiences on Wednesday and Saturday mornings.

Where to Stay: Best Hotels in Normal, Illinois (IL)
Lowest Price Guarantee