On the Illinois river, Pekin is a city of 35,000 in Central Illinois. The name was chosen in the late 1820s when it was thought that this spot was at the exact opposite point on the globe to Peking, in China.
A real point of pride in Pekin is Mineral Springs Park, which was landscaped in the 1880s and has a gorgeous boating lake.
Every September, this park is the setting for the Pekin Marigold Festival , which has been going for half a century and harks back to a local senator’s campaign to make the marigold the country’s national flower.
1. Mineral Springs Park
Named for an artesian well that was dug in 1882, this delightful park could well be Pekin’s finest asset.
Loveliest of all is the boating lake, encircled by a half-mile trail and fronted by a handsome pavilion, completed in 1905.
You can rent a pedal boat for the pavilion throughout the summer, while there’s skating in winter when the water freezes.
You’ll find a ton of other facilities in the remainder of the park’s 200 acres, including a water park, mini golf, a skate park, a dog park, the Kiddie Korral playground, tennis courts, basketball courts and baseball/softball diamonds.
2. Magic Dragon Golf & Games
On the site of the old Mineral Springs Pool is a wonderful 18-hole miniature golf course.
The holes at Magic Dragon reward skill and accuracy as opposed to pure luck, but what really makes the course special is the landscaping, which is full of little nods to the history of Pekin.
There’s a stream weaving throughout, and interesting things to catch the eye like a water tower straddling one of the holes and a caboose that you play through on the 4th.
Six of the holes are fully accessible for people with disabilities and there’s a concession stand open throughout the summer.
3. DragonLand Water Park
Pekin’s award-winning public water park is close by and is set in more than three acres of lush parkland.
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A few of the features in store at DragonLand Water Park are a giant pool with zero-depth entry and a lap area, a sand play area with water equipment and the “Dude” the dragon slide.
This facility is open throughout the summer, and the main pool is heated and lighted, so you can swim until as late as 9:30 pm.
There are special rates for large groups if you’re planning a party, and the concession stand sells treats like hot dogs, pretzels, ice cream, popcorn and cold soft drinks.
4. Pekin Farmers’ Market
Every Thursday afternoon, May through September there’s a charming little farmers’ market in a lovely spot just next to the Mineral Springs Park Lagoon.
Taking place in the Miller Center parking lot, the Pekin Farmers’ Market means delicious and locally grown fresh produce as it comes into season, but also tasty baked goods and all kinds of homemade jams, sauces and other specialty foods.
There’s always a choice of food carts and top-notch entertainment for kids and grownups.
5. McNaughton Park
On Pekin’s northeastern margins is 700 acres of scenic meadows and woodland, supporting a wide array of plant species and rich birdlife.
McNaughton Park is a riot of wildflowers, including rare snowy orchids, during the spring months and you can navigate the park via the seven-mile Potawatomi Trail, marked with red signs and shared by hikers, mountain bikers and horseback riders.
On the trail you’ll come across some interesting features like a historic cemetery, a little waterfall and the Swimming Hole, named for senator Everett Dirksen (1896-1969), who swam here as a youth.
Also in the park are several teepee shelters, two lakes and an 18-hole pro frisbee golf course.
6. Rockin’ P Ranch Public Riding Ranch
Maybe the best way to experience McNaughton Park is on horseback, and there’s a public riding ranch on Route 98 to help you do just this.
The experienced guides at Rockin’ P Ranch will find a horse suited just for you, and will take you through those spectacular woods, over creeks and across the park’s wide open spaces.
The ranch also offers horse riding lessons and boarding, and can organize horse-drawn hay rack rides and pony-on-a-lead fun for little ones.
7. Pekin Riverfront Park
You can walk from downtown Pekin to this scenic little park at the end of Court Street. As you can gather from the name, Pekin Riverfront Park is by the Illinois River, but it’s important to say that the park is on slightly high ground, withdrawn from the water’s edge.
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This gives it a lovely view of the Pekin Bridge, the wooded bank opposite and far along the river in both directions.
No surprise that this is a gathering place, and there’s a gazebo, plaza and meadow for events. You can also just come to wander along the viewing pier and take in the scenery, while there’s an interactive water play area for kids and the Spirit of Columbia Steamboat playground.
8. Avanti’s Dome
Pekin is home to one of Central Illinois’ premier event and sports venues, equipped to withstand the harsh winters.
The main structure at this 33-acre complex is an imposing, 76,000 sq. ft. inflatable and climate controlled dome, standing out for miles and looking like a giant, distorted golf ball.
This is an all-weather venue for a host of sports events, from soccer to softball to rodeos, and also hosts concerts, dog competitions, festivals, trade shows, car shows, private events, corporate conventions and much more.
9. Parkview Golf Course
The Pekin Park District’s main public golf course is an 18-hole par 70 dating back to 1930. This is a beautiful place to play a round, with well groomed fairways and greens, tall mature trees and rolling terrain.
Although the course is only 6,000 yards from the tips, there’s a high slope rating and several tricky elevated tees to take on.
Even experienced players will be tested, with plenty of blind shots, shielded by hills or those towering old trees. To go with the course there’s a decent practice area and a pro shop.
10. Pekin Sundial
The showpiece of the Sunken Gardens, just off the southwest side of Mineral Springs Park is a remarkable sculpture installed in the early 1990s.
This has been dubbed the “world’s greatest sundial”, able to display much more than just the hours of the day when the sun is at its highest point.
The Pekin Sundial can also chart dates, showing how close we are to an equinox or the summer and winter solstices.
The sculpture is accompanied by lots of interesting information about the sun, planets, earth and longitude and latitude. Naturally, the best time to come is close to noon on a clear day.
11. Sunset Lanes
Close to Avanti’s Dome off Court Street is a classic, 36-lane bowling alley that has entertained Pekin residents for generations.
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Sunset Lanes has a host of specials throughout the week, like two games for the price of one or four games for $8.
There’s also a pro shop, and an arcade with air hockey, ballgames and a handful of cabinets. Inside Sunset Lanes is JK’s Pizza and Grill, which does great thin crust, pan or stuffed pizza to eat-in or carry out.
12. Pekin Memorial Ice Arena
On the east side of Mineral Springs Park is Pekin’s public ice facility, open for the ice skating season from late September through early March.
Inside this 34,800-square foot center is a regulation sized rink, complemented by a skate room/rental shop, concessions stand, gym and dance studios.
The Pekin Memorial Ice Arena hosts a variety of programs for hockey and ice skating, including for children as young as three years old.
You can rent the rink out for parties, and there are several slots each week for public skating.
13. Powerton Fish and Wildlife Area
This 1,426-acre, partially protected lake was built in the early 1970s as a cooling reservoir for the power station beside it. Powerton Fish and Wildlife Area is right by the Illinois River, just downstream from Pekin.
Around two thirds of the reservoir is used for duck and goose hunting in season, while the remainder is preserved as a waterfowl refuge.
But this spot is best known as a fishing destination, with channel catfish that reach incredible sizes.
In recent years the lake’s docks, ramp and break have been updated to make fishing a little more convenient.
14. Pekin Marigold Festival
The origins of this event go back to an effort by Everett Dirksen to make the marigold the floral emblem of the United States.
This was ultimately unsuccessful, but resulted in the creation of the Marigold Festival in 1973 to honor Dirksen shortly after he passed away.
Held the first weekend after Labor Day, the Marigold Festival is a four-day event packing a slew of activities and entertainment including live music, carnival rides, an art and crafts fair, wine tasting, a parade downtown, the crowning of Miss Marigold, a medallion hunt, Art in the Park, a 5k run and a lot more.
More than 1,000 volunteers make the festival possible each year, while the food concessions are run by non-profit organizations.