You may not know where Rockford, IL. is, but its wide range of historical attractions, areas of secluded beauty and opportunities for family fun, if Rockford wasn’t on your radar before, it should be now. Take a look at these family friendly “Must Do’s” in Rockford, IL.
1. Historic Auto Attractions
The Historic Auto Attractions Museum is nothing like you are thinking. When we entered the door of this spacious museum, I was expecting to see some antique cars and maybe a few vehicles used in Hollywood movies, what I was not expecting is a wide array of historical artifacts not just from Hollywood, but from historical figures like Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy too. In fact, I was amazing by the incredible range of knowledge that this “auto museum” offered, and I wasn’t alone.
The boys had walked in expecting to see cars, but what they found were wonderfully arranged displays that included not only automobiles from history, but artifacts as well. From Hollywood themed displays like those from Gone With the Wind and Elvis Presley to more historical items like the actual hats that Bonnie and Clyde were wearing during their deadly shootout with police and the life mask of George Washington.
There is an entire area of the museum dedicated to cars of past US presidents and world leaders. Children are amazed as they get the opportunity to touch bullet proof glass windows in a car, and see the “money car” covered entirely in change. You can even find displays of items from the White House that were used during various administrations.
Another area features cars from Hollywood movies, and the newest edition is the Abraham Lincoln display which shows information and artifacts from the life of Lincoln.
Historic Auto Attractions is well worth a visit with your family, and you should alot at least a few hours to make it through the entire museum. The museum is open Tuesday-Saturday 10am-5pm and Sunday 11am-5pm. Admission is $13 for adults and $8 for children 6-17.
2. Volcano Falls Adventure Park
This is the perfect place to unwind and enjoy some fun with the whole family at the end of the day. The Volcano Falls Adventure Park has something for everyone, from the go-kart tracks to the Hawaiian island themed mini golf, laser tag, batting cages and an awesome arcade!
There are two go-kart tracks at the Volcano Falls Adventure Park, one for adults and older children, and one for the smaller crowd. My 9 year old was thrilled with this, because he usually is never tall enough to drive a go-kart by himself. He had a great time driving around the track in his own car.
We all had a blast at mini golf. The theme of this 18-hole mini golf course is that of a Hawaiian island, complete with a volcano, rushing water falls and tiki huts. With just enough challenges to make it fun for all ages, families will have a blast hitting this course together.
Have a future baseball star in your midst? Let them get some practice in at the batting cages. With 7 tokens for just $5, you can get plenty of hits in without breaking the bank. After hitting some balls, head in side for a laser tag duel or some fun on the many different arcade style games. Round out your afternoon at this adventure park with a soft serve ice cream cone at one of the shaded tables.
Volcano Falls Adventure Park is open Monday – Thursday 10am-10pm and Friday-Sunday 10am-11pm. You can purchase wristbands for $35 on a weekday and $25 on a weekend, or combo deals start at just $16. Separate costs and tickets for various activities are also available on their own.
3. Bowling at Don Carter Lanes
A staple in Rockford, IL. since 1959, Don Carter Lanes is a great late night family destination. It is a safe family-friendly option that is open in the evening when regular museums and attractions are closed, but the kids are still ready to go, go, go.
With 42 lanes, they have plenty of room, an arcade and Shooters Bar and Grill mean that you can keep non-bowling fans busy and grab a bite to eat while you’re here as well. Open bowling rates at Don Carter Lanes are $4.00 for children and $4.25 on weekdays before 6pm, $4.50 for everyone on weekdays after 6pm, weekends and holidays. Shoe rental is $3, and you can rent a lane for $19 an hour for up to 6 people.
4. Nicholas Conservatory and Gardens
I wasn’t sure the boys were going to be big fans of the Nicholas Conservatory and Gardens when we pulled up on a dreary drizzling moring, but it turned out to be a safe haven from the rain and a wonderland of tropical plants that they all enjoyed looking at and learning more about.
With 11,000 square feet of tropical paradise, the Nicholas Conservatory is the third largest in the state of Illianois and gives those in the Midwest a taste of the tropics. Children will enjoy hunting out their favorite plants, and there seem to be new ones you didn’t notice each time you walk around the Conservatory.
Don’t forget to smell the fragrant orchids, or check out the odd looking Jackfruit, for which the original flavor for Juicy Fruit Gum came from. Take a look in the living kaleidoscope, as you turn the bowl to see a wonderful array of colors and shapes.
The Koi fish living in the various ponds throughout the conservatory are a favorite among kids, as are the odd plants like the Zombie Palm. The needles from the trunk of this prickly palm are the same ones used in traditional voodoo dolls. My favorite by far is the gorgeous Indian Clock Vine.
Right now until June 21st, the Nicholas Conservatory has a visiting LEGO exhibit. Children can enjoy making their own LEGO creations and seeing LEGO statues and designs sprinkled throughout the Conservatory. Don’t forget to look around outside either. We weren’t able to due to weather on our visit, but the Eclipse Lagoon outside features more secluded beauty along the banks of the Rock River.
The Nicholas Conservatory and Gardens is open 9am-5pm Mondays-Fridays and 10am-3pm on the weekend. Rates are $8 for adult non-residents and $6 for children non-residents ages 5-17.
5. Burpee Museum of Natural History
In operation since 1942, the Burpee Museum of Natural History is a great educational learning attraction with plenty of hands on fun mixed in to keep the kids busy and engaged. Home to the world’s most complete and preserved juvenile T. Rex, Jane the dinosaur is on display for everyone to enjoy. Her 21-foot skeleton was excavated from Montana and transported back for display to the Burpee Museum.
At the museum, you can also see Homer, a teen-ages triceratops also found in the Badlands of Montana. A wide range of other exhibits on dinosaurs and prehistoric life are also found on the main level of The Burpee Museum, including a dinosaur dig area, where children can enjoy digging up some dinosaur bones themselves.
The lower level is a great place to visit for an up close look at the Paleo Viewing Lab, where you can view a paleontologist labratory and see how they perform their work in the museum. Make a crayon rubbing of different prehistoric fossils, and view real fossils on display in this area as well.
Don’t forget to stop by the exhibits for a glimpse into the Windows of the Wilderness to see displays on local animals and plants, as well as an exhbit on the first people of the area.
Admission to the Burpee Museum of Natural History is $8 for ages 13 and up, and $7 for ages 3-12. The museum is open 10am-5pm seven days a week.
6. The Discovery Center Museum
The Discovery Center Museum is like a dream come true for children. Normal museums have signs everywhere you look saying “Please don’t touch”, but you won’t find any of those here. Instead, children are free to touch anything and everything through the two floors of hands-on exhibits.
There are different displays arranged by the type of science, including weather, agriculture, electricity and the human body. By far, the boy’s favorite area was the agriculture area where you can practice driving a harvester, pick up eggs from under chickens, take a sniff and guess some real farm smells, and even make your own corn husk doll.
Crawl through the mouse holes in the stairs, you you’ll come to the top floor where you can learn all about the wonder of electricity and even build your own circuits. Dress up in real sports gear, and put yourself in the game with the help of a green screen. There is a tot area for smaller children too, complete with water tables, a grocery store and even a mechanic’s shop.
When your done indoors, head outside to the Outdoor Science Park. Situated on the banks of the river, children can run and play to their heart’s content. With synchornized swings, a maze, water play, fossil dig and secret garden, parents can relax while kids get all of their wiggles out.
Admission into the Discovery Science Center is $8 per person, and the museum is open Monday-Sunday 10am-5pm.
7. Aviators Baseball Game
Have you ever been to a independent minor league game? During our visit to Rockford, IL. we attended an Aviators baseball game, our second minor league game ever, and it was just as fun as the first. Minor league games are a realy blast for the whole family. Yes, they are a smaller scale than a full-blown major league game, but it creates an atmosphere that is more personal. It’s like watching a game with 100’s of your friends. Everyone cheers and laughs together.
There are also plenty of opportunities for kids to catch foul balls, participate in on and off-field games and interact with the mascot. It is also an affordable family activity with single-game tickets starting at just $8 each. The boys had a fantastic time interacting with the Aviators mascot, including my 11 year old who is just getting over his fear of characters. For the Aviators schedule, visit RockfordAviators.com.
8. Anderson Japanese Gardens
A true piece of heaven on Earth, the Anderson Japanese Gardens are a true peaceful experience. You wouldn’t normally associate the word peaceful with children, but at the Anderson Japanese Gardens it just works. The boys instantly took in the beauty of the gardens like I did, and were transported to a tranquil place.
In 1978, the founder John Anderson began work on the Anderson Japanese Gardens after visiting the gardens in Portland. With the help of Hoichi Kurisu, what used to be a marshy backyard along the Spring Creek soon became a tranquil paradise. Now there are acres of gardens and hidden shady seating areas to explore and unwind in.
Don’t forget to purchase a bag or two of fish food from the front desk when visting, the Koi fish in the ponds are friendly and hungry. Feeding them is a real high point of a visit to the gardens. Events and activities for children are planned througout the year, so be sure to check out their calander and plan your visit around one of them if possible.
Where to Eat
Rockford, IL. is full of family-friendly eats, but some stand out above the rest, like a visit to Lino’s Restaurant. A long standing staple in the community for over 40 years, Lino’s was started by Italian immigrants, and their children now carry on the family tradition with incredible handmade favorites.
Well-known for their pizza, it is easy to see why. Piled high with toppings, you have got to try the sausage, it is handmade and incredible! Another item we highly recommend is the cheese lasagna. Authentically made, the use of a sweet sauce on this lasagna was pure heaven on a plate.
Want a truly unique experience, try breakfast at The Stockholm Inn. The current Stockholm Inn was established in 1968, and through a series of owners, it has provided a range of Swedish favorites to
the community since then. Now owned by The Lingonberry Group, The Stockholm Inn is a defnite must visit when you come to the Rockford area.
With whimsical decor at every turn, and authentic dishes like Swedish style pancakes, you’ll be wishing to return each day of your trip. Before we even entered the restaurant a woman stopped us to let us know that we were in for the best breakfast of our lives, and those Swedish pancakes came pretty close, not even needing any syrup, they were the perfect blend of savory and sweet.
Where to Stay
There are a wide range of accommodation options in the Rockford area, but the Residence Inn Rockford is an ideal choice for families. With spacious suites that provide plenty of room for larger families, a full kitchen to help cut down on dining costs, and multiple tv’s for less fighting between family members, these rooms were built for family-friendly travel.
Other amenities include a free hot breakfast bar each morning, and an evening reception with food and drinks Monday-Wednesday. An indoor pool means that kids can have a splashing good time no matter what the weather is like outside, and adults can get their exercise time in with the fitness room.
Situated close to all of Rockford’s main attractions, you’ll always be within easy driving distance of fun, food and shopping. Rates are affordable too, so you can enjoy your vacation without breaking the bank. What really makes the Residence Inn Rockford worth the visit is the helpful staff. No matter what you need, they are always there to help make your stay the best it can be.
Want to plan your own family friendly trip to Rockford, IL., visit GoRockford.com.