Sometimes the most incredible experiences come not from visiting the largest, well-known tourist spots, but from some of the off-the-beaten path locales or smaller, more obscure venues. Such places aren’t as obvious and might be a little out of the way, but the extra effort is so often worth it.
If you’re fascinated with history, seek out some of the spots in the Chicago Southland that are seeping with nostalgia. One is the 1950s Park Forest Museum, which interprets an original home as it may have looked in 1948-1953. Park Forest is a unique community that was the first fully-planned, post-World War II suburb, laid out with schools, churches, shopping and homes incorporated into the original plan. It was the largest such project and one of the very first to use natural gas and was also home to one of the first two shopping centers. The Blue Island Historical Society has local photos, artifacts and more on display in the historic Albee House. Learn about the neighborhoods on their annual house walk or attend one of their vintage base ball games to see the Brewmaster team play the game by the rules of the mid-1800s.
Speaking of baseball, the Chicago Southland is home to Homewood Bat Co., a production facility and retail store where they make bats for some of the best hitters in the Major Leagues. Chicago Cub David Bote’s 2018 ultimate walk-off, grand slam was hit with a Homewood Bat! Other major leaguers who have been using Homewood Bats’ equipment include Yolmer Sanchez of the White Sox, Willson Contreras and Victor Caratini of the Cubs and Mike Tauchman of the Colorado Rockies. Visit to test out the product in the batting cage or order your own custom bat!
Another maker not to be missed would be Lotton Art Glass Gallery & Studios in Crete, where you can watch pieces of one-of-a-kind hand-blown glass art being made and shop for that perfect piece. The Lotton family has been making unique art glass since the 1970s. At Union Street Gallery & Art Studios in Chicago Heights, 10 art exhibitions can be viewed for free each year. Check out some art outdoors at the Art Garden of Palos Heights, Flossmoor Sculpture Gardens or in Homewood, where you’ll find the world’s largest collection of Richard Haas Murals.
There’s more to explore at other outdoor gems. The Cal-Sag Trail is a bird-watcher’s paradise, running for 13 miles along the Cal-Sag Channel and connecting to another 60+ miles of non-motorized trails. Old Plank Road Trail offers more than 20 miles of paved trails lush with wildlife and native prairie plants. The Center in Palos Park connects people with animals and nature at its Children’s Farm. Pay your respects at one of the Chicago Southland’s veteran memorials, including the Palos Hills Veterans Memorial, Palos Heights 9/11 and Veterans Memorial and Worth Veterans Memorial Park.
Just across the border in St. John, Indiana is the Shrine of Christ’s Passion. Visitors can make their way through the one-mile path following the last days of the life of Jesus Christ through 18 realistic scenes, with audio narratives that give the look and feel of being in the Holy Land. The 30-acre site contains 40 life-sized bronze sculptures, a visitor center and gift shop.
There are also more than a dozen Chicago Southland sites that are on the National Historic Register, among them the George R. Thorne House in Midlothian, the Peotone Mill in Peotone and the Pacesetter Gardens Historic District in Riverdale.