What is there to do in Peoria, IL (and why is it so hard to spell)?
December 29, 2017 7:45 PM   Subscribe

Why do I always think Peoria is spelled with an extra I somewhere in the middle? And what can we do there on a Friday afternoon in early March (my husband, I, and our 3 year old son)? Also need reccs for dinner that night and breakfast the next day. Cities of comparable size in MO and IL and IN have been a big disappointment. Help us find the best of Peoria.
posted by rglass to Travel & Transportation around Peoria, IL (5 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

Probably your best bet is to head to Glen Oak Park and visit the Peoria PlayHouse Children's Museum (which, I confess, I helped found!) and/or the Peoria Zoo. Now, parts of the zoo are not open in March -- the Australia exhibit will be closed, and probably some of the Africa animals will be off display (lions will be out, giraffes will not be if it's cold, but you can see them in their barn) -- but the Asia animals are mostly cold-weather animals (Siberian tigers, Sichuan Takins) and there's a tropical building with monkeys and lemurs and reptiles and whatnot. It is an excellent toddler zoo -- just the right size to do in 90 minutes - 2 hours -- but it's awfully expensive for 2 hours, so decide accordingly! The PlayHouse may be plenty of fun for the afternoon!

Also in Glen Oak Park you'll find the Luthy Botanical Garden, the Rotary adventure grove (an outdoor-themed playground between the zoo and children's museum), and the Tricentennial playground which is a hella big castle-themed play structure area (with parent seating inside!). If the weather's nice and/or you need to kill a little time after the children's museum, any of those would suit.

Depending on your tolerance for outdoor activities, I am terribly fond of Forest Park Nature Center, which has some nice hiking on the river bluffs and you often see wildlife (probably turkeys and deer -- possibly eagles overhead if you get lucky!). Small nature center with some critters and some interactive exhibits of interest to the kiddo (touch bones and pelts and whatnot).

Wildlife Prairie Park west of Peoria is large and rather spectacular in terms of wildlife, but I'm not sure it's the best option in March, we usually go in springtime.

The flagship museum in town is the Peoria Riverfront Museum. I find the permanent exhibits to be of indifferent quality, but there is a children's play area with children's museum-style exhibits (like 1/10 of the size at the actual children's museum, tho). The traveling exhibit in March will be the Illinois bicentennial which, eh. There's also a giant-screen theater with 3D educational movies (and 3D blockbusters too, of course), and a planetarium that is great and I visited at least twice a week all year with my preschooler. But those are things you could probably do anywhere. The Caterpillar Visitor's Center shares the block with the Riverfront Museum, and if your kid is truck crazy (and the weather's bad) it's worth a visit, but I think you have to really, really like Caterpillar.

If none of that appeals, let me know what kinds of things you like to do, and I can probably suggest something. (Sadly one of my very favorite things, Wheels O' Time, it sounds hokey but it is AWESOME, doesn't open until May.)

For food, it'd help to know what you like, but I'm really fond of One World Cafe, which is right by Bradley University. The food's great and they're very kid-friendly and tolerant of tired kids and kids falling apart. Breakfast and dinner there are both good.

Another really popular local place is Rhythm Kitchen, which is down on the riverfront and on a Friday night will have live jazz starting at 7. My kids like the food and I've taken toddlers and preschoolers there many times, usually eating a little before the music starts and staying to listen for a little while before taking my tiny pumpkins home to bed. (I would probably call ahead to find out about the wait.)

Those are both locally-owned places with interesting menus and a more adult vibe that are still kid-friendly. I can also suggest fine dining and, like, diner-type places, if either of those is more what you're after. There's also really good Lebanese and German food in Peoria, and tasty regional fast-food chains, and so on. Let me know what else appeals. Where is your hotel?
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:08 PM on December 29, 2017 [12 favorites]

Best answer: The Caterpillar Visitors Center has all the big earth-moving equipment goodness a little boy could want. Highly recommend.

The Wildlife Prairie Park is also worth a visit.

There are always the Peoria experts over at Meanwhile Back in Peoria to help you find just the thing.
posted by rw at 9:18 PM on December 29, 2017

It's probably too big for the little one to try and see the whole solar system, but if you are a roadside attraction sort of person, do go to the Riverfront Museum and check out the Sun! (I have not seen it in years, since the Sun was at Lakeview Museum and ... I swear Mercury was at Beachler's at University/War Memorial? But it's still a pretty neat thing if you have a car, free time, and a sense of whimsy.)

Also, personal preference, but I never pass up a chance to drive down Creek Road between Farmington Rd in West Peoria and Adams St in Bartonville. It's just a little curvy scenic road that's fun to drive, takes maybe 10 minutes or so, but I enjoy it. Plus you can cut across Adams back through downtown Peoria, maybe stop in at the Hofbrau for food, then duck up Abington and take the back way through Glen Oak Park past the zoo (another fun curvy scenic bit of road) and back into town.

Food: if you eat at Avanti's eat a gondola for me and all those like me who demand that those visiting Peoria bring back some bread.

Oh, and you probably think there's an extra I because the pronunciation is more like Pyorya.
posted by sldownard at 3:05 AM on December 30, 2017

Check out Grandview Drive for fabulous views of the river valley. Urban Artifacts on Main Street is a fun place to peruse an eclectic mix of home furnishings.
posted by hrhcc at 5:52 PM on December 30, 2017

The main problem with Peoria in early March is that it's still winter then. If it is unseasonably warm, then there's a lot of natural outdoor stuff to enjoy, like Forest Park, Wildlife Prairie Park, views from the Peoria Heights water tower, all the stuff in Glen Oak, etc. But it will be cold, which leaves you with the Riverfront Museum or driving along Grandview. But I think the museum will have enough to entertain a toddler (like the athletic activities section), and interesting exhibits for the person not watching the toddler, to fill an afternoon.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 3:49 AM on December 31, 2017 [1 favorite]

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