Things to Do in Peoria, IL, With Your Children

By Susan Sherwood
With a population exceeding 115,000, Peoria has lots of family-friendly locations.
With a population exceeding 115,000, Peoria has lots of family-friendly locations.

Peoria, Illinois, became a chartered city in 1844, and it has been growing ever since. Located on the Illinois River, Peoria is one of the largest cities in Illinois and offers much for families to experience. Whether you are visitors, recent arrivals or long-term residents, your family can choose from a large number of entertaining and educational activities.

Peoria Zoo

The Peoria Zoo at Glen Oak Park ( presents a wide range of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, invertebrates and fish. The "Africa!" exhibit allows visitors to experience animal and plant species of the grasslands. Large mammals, such as a lion, white rhinoceros and giraffe, roam the area, but smaller creatures can also be viewed, including giant Zambian mole-rats, hissing cockroaches and Madagascar tree boas. "Asia!" and "Australia!" exhibits present animals native to those continents.

Peoria Riverfront Museum

The Peoria Riverfront Museum ( has a variety of collections to interest all members of the family. There are hands-on exhibits for kids that combine learning with play. The Illinois River Encounter contains a 400-gallon aquarium filled with native fish and covers more than 14,000 years of river history, including hunting, trapping and disasters. Collections include fine art, folk art and natural science. There is also a movie theater with a screen five stories high and seven stories wide, as well as a planetarium.

Wheels O'Time

A few miles from Peoria in Dunlap is the Wheels O'Time museum (, which offers numerous displays of historical transportation and related artifacts. Many of the exhibits are interactive. Three buildings host presentations that include antique cars and fire trucks, bicycles, tractors and Caterpillar machines. Kids can activate a barbershop quartet, a radio station, Lionel trains and a miniature circus. Outdoors, you can see a Rock Island steam locomotive, a TP&W Caboose and a windmill in action.

Wildlife Prairie State Park

A short drive from Peoria, the Wildlife Prairie State Park ( houses over 50 species of animals native to Illinois, including bison, black bears, cougars and wolves. In addition, there are facilities for hiking, mountain biking, fishing and lodging. On an Adventure Trek you can take a bus ride through the prairie for close-up animal encounters. The Prairie Zephyr offers a scenic train tour of the park area. Restaurants and gift shops are also on site.

Spirit of Peoria

The Spirit of Peoria ( offers single and multiple day tours on a Mississippi River boat. Traveling along the Illinois or Mississippi river, you can see the sites, listen to music and storytelling, partake of buffets and learn history. In addition, there are themed cruises, such as Mother's and Father's Day trips, a sundae tour with ice cream and ragtime piano and clever murder mystery excursions.

Winter Events

The Peoria Santa Claus Parade is the nation's longest-running holiday parade. Running through downtown Peoria, it is traditionally held the day after Thanksgiving. East Peoria offers a Festival of Lights ( that includes a parade with illuminated floats and a Winter Wonderland drive-through display.

About the Author

Living in upstate New York, Susan Sherwood is a researcher who has been writing within educational settings for more than 10 years. She has co-authored papers for Horizons Research, Inc. and the Capital Region Science Education Partnership. Sherwood has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction from the University at Albany.