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What to Do on Your Chicago Layover: Discover Willowbrook

Located off historic Route 66 right outside Chicago, Willowbrook is a charming village in DuPage County located right by Chicago's Midway Airport. When flights are delayed by a day or more, travelers often struggle to find fun things to do nearby—until they discover Willowbrook.

During spring and summer, Willowbrook has a number of things to do, from shopping to outdoor dining to exploring local parks. Plus, the Midway Airport Park, Sleep and Fly program allows you to choose a Willowbrook Hotel, park your car and take a free shuttle service to the airport whenever you need to travel, with free parking for up to 14 days with an overnight stay—a great option for a long summer vacation.

Whether you're serendipitously stuck in Willowbrook due to an airline delay or you're looking for a family-friendly spot to spend a few nights just outside the city of Chicago, you can find plenty of things to keep you occupied for a day or more. Here are some of the top places to go, things to see and things to do in Willowbrook near Midway Airport in the Chicago area.

Willowbrook Hotels

Willowbrook is home to a string of hotels with comfy and family-friendly accommodations like the Econo Lodge, La Quinta Inn and Red Roof Plus+. But for a more pampering experience, stay overnight at the Champagne Lodge and Luxury Suites in Willowbrook, where you'll feel like royalty in a sleek, contemporary setting. During warmer weather, you can kick back and relax by the pool at the lodge or take advantage of its spa services—a much-needed therapy before or after a long flight. For visitors planning to stay overnight, look into the Park and Fly packages that many local hotels offer.

Classic Eats

While the options to eat in Willowbrook are numerous, one of the area's most coveted spots is the one and only Dell Rhea's Chicken Basket, which has been made famous on the show "Diners, Drive-ins and Dives" with Guy Fieri. Watch the segment here. When driving down Route 66, you'll see a sign that looks straight out of the 1940s advertising its chicken basket and cocktail lounge—and that's your spot.

Once inside, you'll find tables blanketed in red gingham tablecloths that hold baskets of warm buns once you sit down. During colder days, tables next to the fireplace are where to be. Items on the menu range from fried chicken (the hands-down specialty), mac and cheese, burgers, chicken pot pie, chicken liver baskets, catfish po-boys and lots more. The restaurant takes pride in preserving its 1940s and 1950s nostalgic vibe and maintaining its decades-old recipes. During spring and summer, Dell Rhea hosts live entertainment every Friday and Saturday evenings in its own Blue Rooster Lounge. Diners can watch the live performance on one of its several LCD screens around the bar, making every seat in the house a good one. Check out the video below for an insider look at Dell Rhea’s Chicken Basket.

Willowbrook is a great dining destination near Chicago's Midway Airport, with close to 3 dozen different dining options to choose from. Restaurants in the area range from popular chains like Chipotle to independent spots like Cafe La Fortuna. Check out all the area restaurants here.

Argonne National Laboratory

Book a tour in advance at the Argonne National Laboratory—a unique attraction in the Willowbrook area—and take a tour to see the original nuclear reactors used in the crucial Manhattan Project. As long as everybody in your group is over 16, you are invited to explore the laboratory and learn about the hard research and discoveries on renewable energy, energy storage, security and more. The tour itself will last two and half hours and will be led by a knowledgeable guide who will answer every question regarding the scientific studies conducted and the machines used to make the breakthroughs. During a tour, you and your friends will learn about various subjects such as global climate change and the development of sensors, detectors and other technology used for security.

When it warms up outside, visit Waterfall Glen at Argonne National Laboratory. The 2,492-acre wide forest preserve is one of the best places in the area for a nature escape. The preserve is widely noticed for its large variety of plants (740 native plants) and a range of scenery from prairies, to savannas, to woodlands. Bring sturdy shoes; there is an 11-mile hiking trail to explore the wilderness (biking optional). You also can try a horseback riding tour by booking a reservation at Danada Equestrian Center in Wheaton.

Brookfield Zoo Packages

Many Willowbrook hotels take advantage of their location near the Brookfield Zoo to offer packages for visiting families. Brookfield Zoo is one of DuPage County's best area attractions, with an impressive collection of gorillas, pandas, elephants, rhinos and many other animals. In addition to the wonderful animals, the zoo is known for hosting events and special shows like Summer Nights at the Zoo, when the zoo stays open late on Friday and Saturday nights and live bands play. Other special shows include the Festival of Flight, which features exotic birds performing fascinating tricks.

Spring is a fun time to visit for a few special events like Breakfast with the Bunny (April), where families are invited to an all-you-can-eat buffet with volunteers in bunny costumes, as well as Party for the Planet (April), a special event for Earth Day. Do you or your kids have dreams of becoming a zookeeper? Then you'll definitely want to join the Backstage Adventures program. There, you and your kids can work side-by-side with professional zookeepers as they take care of exotic animals such as penguins and kangaroos. The best part of this program? You can choose which animal you want to work closely with.

Outdoor Recreation

Willowbrook is home to 10 wonderfully protected parks, which means an unexpected overnight stay doesn't mean you have to be stuck inside an airport or hotel. Instead, you can get outside and explore the area parks, which have multi-use trails for hiking, biking and skating. Picnic shelters are available at most parks, as are volleyball courts, playgrounds, basketball courts, baseball fields, tennis courts and fishing piers. Research in advance for the activities you're interested to find the perfect park for you.

The top parks worth checking out in the spring and summer include Waterfall Glen at Argonne, Prairie Trail Park, Rogers Glen Park and more. For hikers and bikers, check out Tony and Florence Borse Memorial Community Park, which has hiking and biking trails, along with volleyball and basketball courts. Guests can also play soccer or softball on its designated fields, and a playground can keep kids busy. Download the DuPage County Trail System map to learn all the top areas to explore.

Shopping

Don't leave the Willowbrook area without checking things off your shopping wish list. Looking for high quality finds at low prices? Consider some of the outlets in the area including Chicago Premium Outlets in Aurora. Stock up on designer brands at bargain prices (many stores offering up to 70% discounts) such as Gap Factory, Banana Republic Factory, Brooks Brothers Factory Store and many more.

Bolingbrook Promenade in Bolingbrook is a fantastic place to catch up on your shopping while getting some fresh air during nicer seasons. The outdoor mall is home to popular shops like Barnes & Noble, Victoria's Secret and Ulta. Come hungry; there's plenty of award-winning eateries to dine at in-between shopping breaks including Ted's Montana Grill and Mago Grill & Cantina.

Willowbrook also has a variety of local health markets like Pete's Market (coming soon) and Whole Foods. Or go for something unusual and shop for imported goods at Lassak Market & Deli for European plates of beef stroganoff, Sicilian-style dumplings and borscht.

Finally, if you head north from Willowbrook, you'll find one of the best shopping centers in the Chicagoland area at Oakbrook Center in Oak Brook—filled with high-end stores, salons, department stores, home specialty shops, restaurants and more.

For more ideas on things to do in Willowbrook, check out the DuPage County CVB's blog, which covers news and happenings in Willowbrook.

Park. Sleep. Fly.

Park. Sleep. Fly.

Choose a Willowbrook Hotel, park your car and take a free shuttle service to Midway Airport.
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Route 66

Route 66

Start your Rt 66 experience in Willowbrook; the beginning of “the shining ribbon of blacktop we call The Mother Road.”
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