Head west, young families, and discover the fun town of Aurora. It’s easy to get to downtown Aurora there by Metra train or by car right off I-88. The city was first established in 1830’s by the McCarty brothers, settlers from New York who thought the banks of the Fox River were perfectly suited for a community. People are agreeing with them nearly two centuries later.
Aurora earned the distinction “City of Lights” when it became the first city in the country to use electric lights for publicly lighting the whole city. Aurora’s many opportunities for family fun are helping shine a spotlight on the town today.
This family-friendly brewpub is located right next to the Metra stop and with plentiful parking. Not only does it offer tasty food and drink options for all ages, it’s also on the National Register of Historic Places. There’s a restaurant with a huge fireplace in the middle to make it feel extra cozy as well as a café that offers sandwiches, sweet treats that you can enjoy while playing borrowed board games.
This recently-opened ice cream shop will please all palates and its location in the old Aurora Silverplate Manufacturing Co. building is a nod to the city’s rich history. They serve both classic flavors like butter pecan and cookies n cream and more unusual ones, like tangerine or goat cheese and fig.
If you love good pizza, this Aurora institution that has been in business for 40 years will not disappoint. The fresh crust comes highly recommended.
Two Brothers Roundhouse
Popcorn is good. Forty different flavors of popcorn is even better. This shop, which features popcorn flavors including birthday cake, pizza and chocolate peanut butter, opened in August.
Downtown Aurora hosts First Fridays featuring local businesses and artists. Even those with early bedtimes can join in the fun with free events that begin as early as 5 p.m., with other start times staggering throughout the evening. First Friday take place every month except January and July.
Future firefighters will be fascinated by this museum in Aurora’s old Central Fire Station. Interactive exhibits are designed to both entertain and educate families.
Brains and imaginations of kids and adults will be engaged by the 200+ STEAM exhibits here. Each one is its own interactive mini-experiment.
SciTech Hands On Museum
This restored theater is a gem and the heart of a thriving arts scene in Aurora. Disney’s Newsies runs through October 20th and is great for theater-goers age 8 and up. The Paramount School for the Arts recently opened on site and offers classes for budding musicians, actors, dancers and artists.
Old-fashioned fun is front and center at this living history museum which features a one-room schoolhouse and blacksmith shop. Activities range from pony rides to paddle boats. Little Farmer’s Junction is geared to guests 6 and younger. It is particularly pretty in the fall.
Say hello to animals like a blue-throated macaw, a mountain lion and a peacock at this free zoo. Mastodons may be extinct, but you can discover lots of fun on the newly-renovated Mastodon Island, which features a new playground and new paths.
Seasonal fun on this not-for-profit farm includes finding your way through a corn maze during Pumpkin Daze and cutting down your own Christmas tree. Whenever you go, do not miss the donuts.
Chicago Premium Outlets
Whatever is on your list, chances are you can find it at one of the 170 stores at this sprawling outlet mall located right off I-88.
This coffee shop has six locations – five in Uganda and one in Aurora. In addition to great coffee and milkshakes and smoothies that kids love, they feature a full food menu, including breakfast served all day. The creme bru-latte is as lovely as it sounds and will help you power through ‘til bedtime. Up for something out of the ordinary? Try a rolex – a popular Ugandan street food item – or check out the Aurora Cheesesteak. it’s also a restaurant (try the rolex) and a shop featuring coffee and items from Uganda, as well as locally-sourced sauces and honeys they use.
Follow Chicago Parent on Instagram.
This article originally appeared in the October 2019 issue of Chicago Parent. Read the rest of the issue.