6 hidden gems for Chicago families to discover in Elgin


Our family is always on the go, traveling and exploring places near and far. We stuck close to home for our latest adventure and visited Chicago’s northwest suburb of Elgin. We already knew about the fantastic Gail Borden Library with its museum-quality exhibits and fun play area, and our new favorite play place, BumbleBee Play Café. But we were excited to discover what else Elgin offers. Not surprisingly, we found a few hidden gems Chicago families will love.


Hawthorne Hill Nature Center


The inside kids area at Hawthorne Hill offers plenty of fun including “fishing,” exploring the inside of a tree, crayon rubbings and other nature-based activities. But to truly enjoy the nature center, head outdoors where you can explore 67 acres of open space. My 3-year-old daughter participated in a nature walk and had a great time searching for colors in nature. It also gave us a chance to explore trails and ponds. The center also has an outdoor play area where you can pretend to be a bird in a large nest, walk on tree stumps and more.


Tip: Check their schedule for free nature walks and other programs, including a Solstice Summer Celebration. They are typically only open on Fridays and Saturdays.


28 Brookside Drive, Elgin, IL 60123


Fanny’s Thai Rolled Ice Cream


For a unique sweet treat, try rolled ice cream at Fanny’s Thai Rolled Ice Cream. This happens to be our new favorite hot spot for ice cream. Kids and adults will have a blast watching them make their master creations on a frozen “griddle.”


Tip: They offer free (yes, free) classes on Mondays and Tuesdays and will show you how to make your own rolled ice cream. Plus, you get to eat it afterward!


7 N State St, Elgin, IL 60123


Fox River Bike Trail


Strap on your helmets, grab your bikes, and get ready to enjoy a picturesque bike ride on the Fox River Bike Trail. Located along the Fox River, the Fox River Bike Trail offers plenty of scenic river views and fun stops along the way — many of them in Elgin. Take a break at Gail Borden Library, admire murals, take a peek at the back of a private castle, take pictures at Walton Island, make a stop at Festival Park for playground fun or cool off at the spray fountain. On Fridays during the summer, you’ll also find a farmer’s market in downtown Elgin.


Lords Park


The 120-acre municipal park offers so much fun — and mostly for free or cheap prices. You’ll want to pack a picnic and spend a few hours here. Spend some time visiting alpacas, miniature donkeys, calves, pigs, sheep and Thanksgiving, a 40-pound turkey at the small Farm Zoo. On any given day you’ll see bison and deer roaming around the pen. After scoping out the animals, kids can play at one of two playgrounds or splash at the aquatic center. Visiting the Elgin Public Museum was a welcome reprieve from the summer sun, and the kids enjoyed playing in the Discovery Room.


Tip: Want to feed bison? Visitors are invited on the last Saturday of each month. The next available date is in July. Check their calendar for other free programs.


Legit Dogs and Ice


If you’re a food truck lover, you’ve probably seen Legit Dogs and Ice around, and they now have a brick and mortar punk-themed restaurant with free arcade games and a cool vibe. While we didn’t get to try any of their epic hot dog creations like the “Sleeping with the Enemy” or “Mad Max,” we did indulge in authentic shave ice with a macadamia nut ice cream surprise on the bottom. Yum!


Tip: Love coffee? You have to try their java snow — frozen cold brewed coffee which is then shaved!


51 S. Grove Avenue, Elgin


Blue Box Cafe


Are you a Doctor Who fan? A stop at the unique Doctor Who-themed Blue Box Café is a must. Even if you aren’t a fan, you’ll appreciate the tasty sandwiches and coffee. White lavender mocha, anyone?


Tip: Want a photo with a tardis? Step outside the back of the cafe for a photo opp with the blue time machine.


176 E. Chicago Street, Elgin


So tell me, what is your favorite thing to do with your family in Elgin?


Looking for more summer fun in the Northwest suburbs? Follow along our adventures on O the Places We Go, Facebook and Pinterest as we explore the town of Elgin this upcoming week and discover more than 100 activities and events to do in the Northwest suburbs this summer.


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