Naperville is located only 35 miles from the hustle and bustle of Chicago. This city is the fifth largest in the state, and it has been frequently named to the best places to live in the state of Illinois. This tiny prairie settlement has grown from a frontier outpost to a thriving suburban community. If you are looking for an escape from the same old weekends, plan your next trip to Naperville.
If you are looking for a peek into the past, you will want to check out Naper Settlement. In 1969, a group of residents wanted to save the Civil War-era St. John’s Episcopal Church from demolition. The Naperville Heritage Foundation raised enough funds to have the church moved to the location near the Martin Mitchell Mansion. With that move, the Naper Settlement was born. Today, you can explore over 12 acres of family-friendly exhibits that show how the original settlers of the area lived during the pioneer days. Visitors can see the transformation of Naperville from prairie town to sprawling suburb. On many weekends, there are living history villagers and exhibits for the whole family to enjoy. Every May, the settlement hosts their “Civil War Days.” During this festival, you can enjoy some music, shop traditional crafts, and even hear Abraham Lincoln deliver the Gettysburg Address.
Technically located in Lisle, this public garden and outdoor museum is only a few minutes from Naperville. There are over 1,700 acres of gardens, trees, plants, and restored prairie grass. The Morton Arboretum opened in 1922 by Joy Morton, the founder of the Morton Salt Company. Today, the gardens are the home for the Center for Tree Science, which specializes in protecting trees from evasive diseases and insects. Their living collection of plants includes over 4,100 different species, along with 200,000 cataloged plants in the area.
The Arboretum is not only a space to enjoy the beauty of nature, but you can also get in a little exercise too. Many locals use the space for recreation since the Arboretum has paved and unpaved trails for bicycling, hiking and driving. Children will love the interactive garden that includes a one-acre maze. There are plenty of nature-based programs for children held throughout the year. For the adults, the Woodland Stewardship Program is available for those that want to learn about some of the ecological restoration techniques of the Arboretum. Back in 1962, the Arboretum started the Schulenberg Prairie project. This project’s focus was to restore the vanishing native prairies in the Midwest. Today, the Schulenberg Prairie is the most extensive restored prairies in the area.
The Riverwalk has been considered the “crown jewel” of the city by both the residents and visitors. Built in 1981, the Riverwalk was designed to celebrate the 150th birthday of the town. Since that time, the Naperville Riverwalk is a gathering place for the whole community, and it is often called one of the most beautiful spots in the state.
With over two miles of brick paths, covered bridges, and decorative fountains, you can see why this spot has won numerous state and national awards for design and architecture. The shepherd’s hook light poles are reminiscent of the town’s prairie days as the Naper Settlement is only blocks away from the Riverwalk. Visitors can enjoy a quiet morning or an evening strolling along the paths. On your travels, you can also visit the Century Walk which features art pieces from local artists or grab lunch at one of the many cafes in the downtown area. The Century Walk has over 40 pieces of art including mosaics, sculptures, and murals throughout the downtown area. These public art displays represent all the communities that call Naperville their hometown. Make sure to stop and check out the many sculptures that line the downtown area as they celebrate the founders and prominent residents of the city.
If you are looking to cool off during the hot summer, you don’t have to travel far. Naperville is the home of the Centennial Beach. This spot has become the local “swimming hole” for many generations of residents. While it’s not technically a beach, the aquatic park has over six acres of open-sourced water from Lake Michigan that provides enough fun for the whole family. This former limestone quarry has a depth of over 15 feet and several zero-depth entry points for visitors to wade into the water. You can enjoy some sunshine on the manmade beach located next to the shallower end of the water. If you would rather not swim, the Centennial Beach complex has a skatepark, ballpark, and a restaurant as well.
Millennium Carillon and Moser Tower
Another iconic spot in Naperville is the Millennium Carillon. The musical tower began construction in 1997 to commemorate the new Millennium. This tower is open to visitors on the weekends. For those brave enough, you can climb all 253 steps to the top of the structure. At the observation deck, you can see some of the most spectacular views of the city. On clear days, you may even get a glimpse of the Chicago skyline as well. You may think that the tower does not look tall, but this structure is taller than the Statue of Liberty. If you cannot climb the stairs, there are elevators available so everyone can get a great view. The carillon is located inside the tower. Throughout the summer, there are special events and concerts performed at the Carillion. Naperville’s carillon is the fourth largest in North America, and it includes 72 bells that have over six octaves. For that reason, it has the designation as a “Grand Carillon.” The largest bell weighs in at 5.8 tons and is nicknamed the “Captain Joseph Naper Bell” after the town’s founder. This bell strikes throughout the day on the hour. The bell system can be controlled by manually (by a carillonneur) or by computer. During the day, the bells ring at 12 pm, 4 pm, and 7 pm.