Spare the gas, not the fun: check out 25 fun things to do close to Joliet

With gas prices soaring, here are some free or low-cost options that won’t cause pain at the pump.

People like to get up and go in summer – but those $5.50-a-gallon gasoline blues make almost everyone ponder repeating staycations of 2020.

Canceling that extensive road trip, however, doesn’t mean spending summer days on the front porch wistfully watching the world go by. Or hiding in the basement.

Cheap is fun. And here are 25 fun but cheap ways to celebrate summer in Will County, all close to home in Joliet.

1) Children’s Garden Project in Elwood: The garden has opportunities for nature play and exploration for everyone and plenty of activities this summer in conjunction with its 25th anniversary. Visit villageofelwood.com.

2) The Book Market, 2365 Plainfield Road, Crest Hill: A treasure trove of new, used and rare books, perfect for rainy day exploring. Visit bookmarketjoliet.com.

3) Have a coffee (and breakfast, brunch, lunch or dinner) with a friend at an independent cafe: Perhaps Jitters, 178 N. Chicago St. in Joliet; Krema Coffee House, 24038 W, Lockport St. Plainfield; and Book and Bean Cafe (inside the Black Road branch of the Joliet Public Library), 3395 Black Road, Joliet. Check out their menus of coffee, tea and food at jittersjoliet.com/menu, kremacoffeehouse.com/menu and bookandbeanjoliet.com.

4) Your local public library: Besides the obvious (free books), libraries also offer lots of free events for all ages. This Saturday, teens can build a cardboard fort at the Crest Hill branch of the White Oak Library District. On June 18, take the kids to visit a petting zoo at the Black Road Branch of the Joliet Public Library.

5) Get some vinyl. Enjoy the old hits from your youth. Or – if you’re young – listen to recorded music the old-fashioned way. If you’re really young, ask your parents what a record player is. Options: Black Vinyl Cafe (also serves coffee and craft beer), 16108 S. Route 59, Plainfield; and Audiophil’s Records (sell and buy vinyl records), 17 E. Van Buren St. Joliet. Visit blackdogvinylcafe.com and audiophilsrecords.com.

6) Arroyo Trails, A Discovery Woodlands, a 78-acre nature park development in Channahon. They have fitness stations, pollinator garden, winding creek and playground. Visit peopleforchannahonparks.org.

7) Explore any one of 15 trails in the Forest Preserve District of Will County. Go see them; after all, you own them. Read about each trail at reconnectwithnature.org/preserves-trails/trails, pick one and spend time in the great outdoors.

8) And speaking of wild life, you can watch wildlife – From birds to butterflies to small mammals, the Forest Preserve District of Will County has observation decks at several locations. Find them at reconnectwithnature.org/activities/wildlife-viewing.

9) Plainfield Story Walk: Take a stroll with the kids and read a story together, pages are placed in holders along the path. Visit papl.info/storywalk.

10) Jody’s Hot Dogs: A 1950s diner atmosphere at 326 Republic Ave. in Joliet and an extensive menu at jodyshotdogs.com. Need more restaurant choices? Visit the Joliet Area Bar & Restaurant Guide on Facebook.

11) Give space a chance. Step inside a Lunar Lander Simulator at the Joliet Area Historical Museum, 204 N. Ottawa St. Joliet, and then check out the museum’s other exhibits, too. Visit jolietmuseum.org.

12) See the Old Joliet Prison firsthand with your choice of five different tours. Visit jolietmuseum.org/schedule-tour.

13) Enjoy art from local and Illinois artists at the Illinois State Museum, Lockport Gallery (illinoisstatemuseum.org/content/lockport-exhibitions), Gallery Seven in Lockport (galleryseven.net) and The Strange and Unusual Gallery in Joliet (strangeandunusual.hopestreetwoodworks.com).

14) Cheryl’s Candy N’ Popcorn in the The Promenade in Bolingbrook: A wonderful vintage-y spot where cotton candy and gourmet popcorn are made daily. The taste is great and the atmosphere is charming. Visit candystorebolingbrookil.com.

15) The Promenade in Bolingbrook: Discover this outdoor retail space with its “60 shops and 12 restaurants with indoor and outdoor seating,” according to its website. Visit shoppingpromenade.com.

16) Spot the bison (yes, real bison) at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie in Wilmington, see the restoration projects or grow your own prairie garden with directions on the Midewin website. Visit fs.usda.gov/midewin.

17) Pilcher Park Nature Center: Visit the animals, check out the exhibits. 2501 Highland Park Drive, Joliet. Call 815-741-7277 or visit jolietpark.org/pilcher-park-nature-center.

18) Get off track for an hour at the Will County Model Railroad Association. 2175 Oneida St. in Joliet. The module layouts are fascinating and mesmerizing. Visit wcmrra.clubexpress.com for open-to-the-public hours.

19) Visit the Gemini Giant at the Launching Pad in Wilmington. You’ve never heard of the Gemini Giant? You’re missing out! Visit geminigiant.com.

20) Check out the Illinois and Michigan Canal Gateway Gardens in Lockport, which run along the canal in downtown Lockport.

21) Walk over a Joliet drawbridge. Pre-COVID-19, we’d do this on July 3 (Cass Street Bridge) for the fireworks show from the Billie Limacher Bicentennial Park and Theatre in Joliet.

22) Delwood Park at Route 171 and Woods Drive in Lockport: This 150-acre park in Lockport is filled with hills, playgrounds and more. This was our kids’ favorite park when they were young. Visit lockportpark.org/location/dellwood-park.

23) Splurge on ice cream. We especially love Walt’s Ice Cream at 1314 W Jefferson St. Joliet (visit Walts Ice Cream on Facebook), but prepare for a long line.

Other good venues include the Minooka Creamery, 111 McEvily Road in Minooka (minookacreamery.com). Frosty Tips at 700 W. Jefferson St. in Shorewood (visit Frosty Tips on Facebook) and Dari Delite at 718 Theodore St. in Joliet (dari-delite-il.hub.biz)

24) Find the poetry. Are the results of the “poetry project” from 2018 still beneath the underpass between the Gaylord and Norton buildings in Lockport? Go see for yourself.

25) Take a penny walk. Make a stroll through your neighborhood an adventure with a flip of the coin. Heads: turn right. Tails: turn left. Coin on its side: straight ahead.