Things to Do in Pontiac Illinois

Uncover the Hidden Gems: 10 Exciting Things to Do in Pontiac Illinois

Things to Do in Pontiac Illinois

Looking for an off-the-beaten-path adventure in the heart of Illinois? Pontiac is your answer. This charming town packs a punch when it comes to things to do, see, and experience.

Nestled in Livingston County, Pontiac is a treasure trove of Route 66 nostalgia, vibrant murals, and unexpected attractions. Whether you’re a history buff, art enthusiast, or just looking for a unique getaway, Pontiac’s got something up its sleeve for you.

Ready to dive into the top things to do in Pontiac Illinois? Let’s hit the road and uncover what makes this town a must-visit destination.

Basic Information:

  • Population: Approximately 11,000
  • Elevation: 663 feet (202 meters)
  • Zip Code: 61764
  • Geographical Location: Pontiac is located in central Illinois, situated along the Vermilion River in Livingston County.

Proximity Details:

Closest Cities:

  • Bloomington-Normal: 35 miles southwest (45-minute drive)
  • Peoria: 65 miles west (1-hour drive)
  • Chicago: 100 miles northeast (2-hour drive)

Closest Airport:

Central Illinois Regional Airport (BMI) in Bloomington: 40 miles southwest (45-minute drive)

Nearby Small Towns:

  • Fairbury: 15 miles southeast
  • Dwight: 20 miles northeast
  • Chenoa: 20 miles southwest
  • Odell: 10 miles north

Pontiac Illinois History:

Pontiac’s story begins in 1837 when Henry Weed, a land speculator, founded the town. He named it after the famous Ottawa chief, Pontiac, known for his resistance against British expansion in the Great Lakes region.

The town’s growth got a real boost in 1870 when it became home to the Illinois State Reformatory, now known as the Pontiac Correctional Center. This facility put Pontiac on the map and remains a significant employer in the area.

But Pontiac’s claim to fame? That’d be its connection to the iconic Route 66. When the “Mother Road” was established in 1926, it ran right through town, bringing a steady stream of travelers and commerce.

Fast forward to the late 20th century, and Pontiac reinvented itself as a haven for Route 66 enthusiasts and mural art lovers. The town’s revitalization efforts have turned it into a living museum of Americana, with vibrant street art and museums dedicated to preserving the spirit of Route 66.

Today, Pontiac stands as a testament to small-town resilience, blending its rich history with a forward-thinking approach to tourism and community development.

Things to Do in Pontiac Illinois – Main Attractions:

Things to Do in Pontiac Illinois - Main Attractions

Route 66 Hall of Fame & Museum

Step back in time at this gem dedicated to the Mother Road. Packed with memorabilia, vintage cars, and interactive exhibits, it’s a must-visit for any Route 66 enthusiast.

Pontiac-Oakland Automobile Museum

Car buffs, rejoice! This museum showcases a stunning collection of Pontiac cars, from vintage models to muscle cars. Don’t miss the rare prototypes and concept cars.

Livingston County War Museum

Honor local veterans and explore military history. The museum features artifacts, uniforms, and personal stories from various conflicts.

Pontiac Murals

Take a self-guided tour of the town’s 23+ larger-than-life murals. Each tells a story of Pontiac’s history, culture, and connection to Route 66.

Walldog Mural and Sign Art Museum

Curious about the art of sign painting? This unique museum celebrates the craft behind those eye-catching murals and vintage signs.

Pontiac Swinging Bridges

Cross one of the three historic swinging bridges spanning the Vermilion River. They’re not just picturesque – they’re a fun way to get around town.

International Walldog Mural & Sign Art Museum

Dive deeper into the world of mural art. This museum showcases the history and techniques behind large-scale outdoor artwork.

Old Log Cabin

Grab a bite at this historic eatery that’s been serving travelers since 1926. It’s a slice of authentic Route 66 nostalgia.

Chautauqua Park

Enjoy some outdoor time in this beautiful park. It’s perfect for picnics, walks, or just relaxing by the river.

Pontiac Public Library

Book lovers shouldn’t miss this architectural beauty. The Carnegie Library building is a stunning example of early 20th-century design.

Things to Do in Pontiac Illinois – Outdoor Activities:

Things to Do in Pontiac Illinois - Outdoor Activities

Vermillion River Hiking Trail

Lace up your boots and hit this scenic trail along the Vermillion River. It’s perfect for a leisurely stroll or a more vigorous hike, offering beautiful views of the river and surrounding nature.

Humiston Woods Nature Center

Just outside town, this 400-acre preserve is a haven for nature lovers. Explore hiking trails, observe local wildlife, and enjoy the serenity of the woods.

Play Disc Golf at Chautauqua Park

Challenge yourself to a round of disc golf at the 18-hole course in Chautauqua Park. It’s a fun way to enjoy the outdoors and test your frisbee skills.

Pontiac Recreation Center

Get active at this community hub. With tennis courts, a swimming pool, and various sports facilities, it’s great for travelers looking to stay fit on the road.

Fishing on the Vermillion River

Anglers, bring your gear! The Vermillion River offers good fishing spots for catfish, bass, and other local species.

Bike the Historic Route 66 Trail

Rent a bike and pedal along sections of the old Route 66. It’s a great way to take in the scenery and imagine the road’s heyday.

Golf at Pontiac Elks Golf Club

Tee off at this 9-hole course. It’s open to the public and offers a relaxing round of golf in a pleasant setting.

Pontiac Farmers’ Market

While not strictly an outdoor activity, the seasonal farmers’ market is a great way to enjoy fresh air while sampling local produce and crafts.

Kayaking on the Vermillion River

When water levels permit, kayaking on the Vermillion can be a thrilling way to see Pontiac from a different perspective.

Bird Watching at Humiston Woods

Grab your binoculars and head to Humiston Woods for some excellent bird watching opportunities, especially during migration seasons.

Things to Do in Pontiac Illinois – Cultural Experiences:

Things to Do in Pontiac Illinois - Cultural Experiences

Pontiac Summer Music Series

Rock out to live tunes at the town square during summer evenings. Local and regional bands keep the vibe lively and the community spirit high.

Threshermen’s Reunion

Experience a slice of rural Americana at this annual event. Held over Labor Day weekend, it showcases antique farm equipment and celebrates agricultural heritage.

Pontiac Cruise Night

If you’re into classic cars, time your visit for this monthly event (May through October). The streets fill with vintage vehicles, creating a nostalgic atmosphere.

Livingston County Courthouse

Take a guided tour of this stunning 1875 building. Its clock tower and intricate architecture make it a standout in downtown Pontiac.

Route 66 Mural Tours

Join a guided walk to learn the stories behind Pontiac’s famous murals. It’s art and history rolled into one engaging experience.

Eagle Theater

Catch a show at this historic venue. From live performances to classic movie screenings, it’s a cultural hotspot in town.

Pontiac Community Art Center

Browse local artwork and maybe pick up a unique souvenir. The center often hosts workshops and exhibits featuring regional artists.

Pontiac Township High School Museum

Unique among high schools, this student-run museum offers insights into local history and education.

First Friday Celebrations

If you’re in town on the first Friday of the month, join the community festivities. Local businesses stay open late, often featuring special events or deals.

Pontiac Public Library Events

Check out the library’s calendar for book clubs, author talks, and community events. It’s a great way to mingle with locals and soak up some culture.

Things to Do in Pontiac Illinois – Food and Drink:

Things to Do in Pontiac Illinois - Food and Drink

Old Log Cabin Restaurant

A Route 66 icon, this historic eatery serves up classic American fare. Don’t miss their hearty breakfasts and homemade pies.

Edinger’s Filling Station

Fuel up at this gas station-turned-restaurant. Known for their burgers and shakes, it’s a quirky spot that captures the essence of Route 66.

Bernardis II

Craving Italian? This family-owned restaurant offers generous portions of pasta, pizza, and other Italian favorites in a cozy atmosphere.

Cup and Scone

Start your day right at this charming café. They serve great coffee, freshly baked scones, and light lunch options.

DeLongs’ Casual Dining & Spirits

For a nice dinner out, head to DeLongs’. They offer a diverse menu ranging from steaks to seafood in a relaxed setting.

Baby Bulls Fine Dining

Enjoy upscale dining in a historic setting. Known for their steaks and cocktails, it’s perfect for a special night out.

Joe’s Station House Pizza Pub

Pizza lovers, this one’s for you. Joe’s offers a variety of creative pies in a fun, casual atmosphere.

Route 66 Nutrition

For something on the healthier side, grab a smoothie or protein shake at this modern health bar.

Pontiac Family Kitchen

A local favorite for home-style cooking. Their extensive menu covers breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Pub 13

Unwind with a cold beer and pub grub at this local watering hole. It’s a great place to meet locals and catch a game.

The Railside Tap

Craft beer enthusiasts should check out this taproom. They feature a rotating selection of regional brews.

Things to Do in Pontiac Illinois – Shopping:

Route 66 Hall of Fame & Museum Gift Shop

Pick up unique Route 66 souvenirs, books, and memorabilia. It’s a treasure trove for road trip enthusiasts.

Pontiac Farmers’ Market

Seasonal market offering fresh local produce, baked goods, and handcrafted items. Great for foodies and souvenir hunters alike.

The 3 Sisters Boutique

Browse trendy women’s clothing, accessories, and gifts in this charming downtown shop.

Charmed Cottage

A delightful store filled with home decor, antiques, and unique gifts. Perfect for finding that special something to remember your trip.

Dragonfly Boutique

Another great spot for women’s fashion, featuring a mix of contemporary and vintage-inspired pieces.

Kristy’s On Main

Shop for stylish clothing, jewelry, and accessories in this welcoming boutique.

Antique Treasures

Hunt for vintage finds and collectibles in this well-stocked antique store.

Emancipation Proclamation Statue Gift Shop

Located near the statue, this shop offers Civil War-related books and souvenirs.

Sartoris Super Store

A local favorite for candies, nuts, and other sweet treats. Great for road trip snacks or edible souvenirs.

The Farmer’s Daughter

This cute shop offers a mix of home decor, gifts, and gourmet food items.

Pontiac Custom Frame Shop & Art Gallery

Browse local artwork or get a special piece framed as a memento of your visit.

Things to Do in Pontiac Illinois – Family-Friendly Activities:

Pontiac Mini Golf

Challenge the family to a round of mini-golf at this fun, Route 66-themed course. It’s perfect for all ages and a great way to spend a sunny afternoon.

Chautauqua Park Playground

Let the kids burn off some energy at this well-equipped playground. The park also offers picnic areas for a family lunch outdoors.

Vermillion River Splashpad

During summer months, cool off at this free water play area. It’s a hit with younger kids and a great way to beat the heat.

Pontiac Public Library Children’s Section

On a rainy day, head to the library’s children’s area. They often host story times and other kid-friendly activities.

Pontiac-Oakland Automobile Museum Scavenger Hunt

Many kids love cars, and this museum makes it extra fun with a scavenger hunt designed for young visitors.

Livingston County War Museum Junior Historian Program

For kids interested in history, this program offers a more interactive way to explore the museum’s exhibits.

Route 66 Mural Selfie Challenge

Turn sightseeing into a game by challenging kids to find specific murals and take creative selfies with them.

Pontiac Swinging Bridges

Kids will love crossing these historic pedestrian bridges. It’s like a mini-adventure right in town.

Humiston Woods Nature Center Trails

Take a family hike and turn it into a nature scavenger hunt. Look for different types of leaves, birds, or animal tracks.

Ice Cream at DairyQueen

End your day with a treat at this classic ice cream spot. It’s been a Pontiac staple for generations.

Pontiac Family Aquatic Center

During summer, spend a day splashing and sliding at this public pool complex. It features water slides and play areas for various ages.

Things to Do in Pontiac Illinois – Hidden Gems:

Bob Waldmire’s Road Yacht

Parked outside the Route 66 Hall of Fame, this converted school bus was the mobile home of famous Route 66 artist Bob Waldmire. It’s a quirky time capsule of road trip culture.

Memory Lane

Take a stroll down this 1.3-mile stretch of original Route 66 pavement. It’s closed to cars, making it perfect for a peaceful walk through history.

Pontiac-Oakland Automobile Museum’s Secret Room

Ask a docent about the “secret room” in this museum. It houses rare prototypes and concept cars not usually on public display.

Pontiac Stone Arch Bridge

This historic bridge, built in 1903, is often overlooked but offers a picturesque spot for photos and a glimpse into early 20th-century engineering.

Wally’s Service Station

This restored 1940s gas station now serves as a visitor center. It’s a great spot for photos and to get local tips.

Pontiac’s Walldogs Mural Website

Before your visit, check out the interactive mural map on the city’s website. It offers fascinating backstories for each mural that you won’t get just by looking at them.

Gardner Two-Cell Jail

Just outside Pontiac in nearby Gardner, this tiny historic jail is a unique photo op and glimpse into small-town law enforcement of the past.

Yoda Guy’s Museum of Pop Culture

Hidden away in an unassuming building, this private collection of movie memorabilia and pop culture artifacts is a treat for film buffs.

The Gypsy Mural

Look for this hidden mural in an alleyway off Mill Street. It’s not part of the official mural tour but is a beautiful piece of street art.

Old City Hall Shoppes

This repurposed historic building now houses unique boutiques and shops, often overlooked by visitors focused on Route 66 attractions.

Things to Do in Pontiac Illinois – Annual Events and Festivals:

Pontiac Ice Sculpture Festival (January)

Watch artists create intricate ice sculptures in downtown Pontiac during this chilly winter event.

Route 66 Red Carpet Corridor Festival (First Saturday in May)

This festival celebrates all things Route 66, with events spanning several towns along the historic route.

Pontiac Cruise Night (Monthly, May-October)

On the fourth Saturday of each month, classic car enthusiasts gather downtown to show off their rides and swap stories.

Illinois Route 66 Motor Tour (June)

This multi-day event brings classic car enthusiasts from around the country to cruise the historic route.

Vermillion Players Summer Theater (June-August)

Enjoy outdoor theater performances at Chautauqua Park throughout the summer months.

Rockin’ at the River (July)

A free summer concert series held at Humiston-Riverside Park, featuring different musical acts each week.

Hang Loose at the Bruce (August)

A summer music festival featuring local and regional bands, held at Chautauqua Park.

Pontiac Balloon Fest (August)

Watch colorful hot air balloons take to the skies in this relatively new addition to Pontiac’s event calendar.

Threshermen’s Reunion (Labor Day Weekend)

This 5-day event celebrates agricultural heritage with antique tractor displays, steam engine demonstrations, and live music.

Pontiac Holiday Light Up Parade (Late November)

Kick off the holiday season with this evening parade featuring illuminated floats and a visit from Santa.

Livingston County Barn Quilt Tour (Year-round)

While not a single-day event, this self-guided tour of painted quilt squares on local barns is especially popular in fall.

Things to Do in Pontiac Illinois – Where to Stay:

Things to Do in Pontiac Illinois - Where to Stay. Route 66 Hotel Room

Best Western Pontiac Inn

A reliable choice with comfortable rooms, free breakfast, and an indoor pool. It’s conveniently located near Route 66 attractions.

Quality Inn Pontiac

Another good option for budget-conscious travelers. Offers clean rooms, complimentary breakfast, and is pet-friendly.

Route 66 Hotel

For those seeking a more themed experience, this hotel embraces the Route 66 vibe with retro decor and memorabilia.

Fiesta Motel

A classic roadside motel that’s been updated for modern comfort while retaining its vintage charm.

Hampton Inn Pontiac

If you prefer a familiar chain, the Hampton Inn offers comfortable rooms and amenities like a fitness center and indoor pool.

Rent a VRBO

For a home-away-from-home experience, check out local VRBO offerings. Options range from cozy apartments to entire houses.

Timber Creek Bed & Breakfast

Located just outside town, this B&B offers a more rural, peaceful setting while still being close to Pontiac’s attractions.

Remember to book in advance, especially during peak seasons or major events like the Threshermen’s Reunion.

Things to Do in Pontiac Illinois – Travel Tips:

Best Time to Visit

Spring and fall offer mild weather and fewer crowds. Summer is peak tourist season, especially during events. Winter can be charming but cold.


Having a car is ideal for exploring Pontiac and nearby Route 66 attractions. There’s limited public transportation, so plan accordingly.

Walking Tours

Take advantage of the self-guided walking tours available at the Route 66 Hall of Fame & Museum. They’re a great way to explore the town.

Mural Hunt

Download the Pontiac Mural Map app for a self-guided tour of the town’s famous murals.

Plan for Museums

Many museums are closed on Mondays. Check opening hours in advance to avoid disappointment.

Route 66 Shield

Don’t miss the chance to snap a photo with the giant Route 66 shield painted on the road near the Route 66 Museum.

Dining Hours

Some local restaurants close early, especially on weekdays. Plan dinner before 8 PM to ensure you have plenty of options.

Seasonal Events

Check the town’s event calendar before your visit. Timing your trip with a festival can enhance your experience.

Accommodation Booking

Book accommodations in advance, especially during summer and for big events like the Threshermen’s Reunion.

Weather Preparedness

Illinois weather can be unpredictable. Pack layers and be prepared for sudden changes, especially in spring and fall.

Local Insider Tips

Chat with locals at cafes or shops. They often have great recommendations for hidden gems or current happenings.


Downtown parking is generally free and plentiful, but pay attention to time limits in some areas.

Camera Ready

With all the murals and Route 66 memorabilia, you’ll want to have your camera or phone ready for plenty of photo ops.

Souvenir Shopping

Save some room in your luggage for unique Route 66 souvenirs available in local shops.

Things to Do in Pontiac Illinois – Famous People and Organizations:

Edward Bech

A Danish-American businessman who played a crucial role in Pontiac’s early development. He established several industries in the town during the mid-19th century.

William B. Fyfe

An architect who designed many of Pontiac’s notable buildings, including the Livingston County Courthouse.

Moira Harris

An actress known for her roles in various films and TV shows, including “Parenthood” and “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.” She was born in Pontiac.

Donald Attig

A world-renowned sculptor who created several public art pieces in Pontiac, including the “Pontiac Chief” statue.

Pontiac Correctional Center

While not a person, this maximum-security state prison has been a significant part of Pontiac’s history and economy since 1871.

Caterpillar Inc.

Though headquartered in nearby Peoria, Caterpillar has had a significant presence in Pontiac, providing employment for many residents.

Bob Waldmire

A famous Route 66 artist whose converted school bus is now on display at the Route 66 Hall of Fame & Museum in Pontiac.

Jack Klasey

A local historian who has written extensively about Pontiac’s history and played a key role in preserving the town’s heritage.

Livingston County War Museum

While not a person, this organization has been crucial in preserving and sharing the stories of local veterans.

Pontiac Tourism

This organization has been instrumental in transforming Pontiac into a vibrant tourist destination, especially through the development of the town’s mural program.

Things to Do in Pontiac Illinois Conclusion:

Pontiac, Illinois, is more than just a dot on the map – it’s a vibrant slice of Americana that punches well above its weight. From the nostalgic charm of Route 66 to the artistic flair of its murals, this small town offers a surprisingly rich tapestry of experiences.

Whether you’re cruising down Memory Lane, literally and figuratively, or uncovering hidden gems like Bob Waldmire’s Road Yacht, Pontiac has a way of surprising and delighting visitors. It’s a place where history comes alive, where art spills onto the streets, and where the spirit of the open road is still very much alive.

But what truly sets Pontiac apart is its ability to blend the past with the present. While honoring its Route 66 heritage, the town doesn’t shy away from modern attractions and events that keep it relevant and exciting for today’s travelers.

So, whether you’re a history buff, an art enthusiast, a foodie, or just someone looking for a unique getaway, Pontiac deserves a spot on your travel list. It’s a testament to the enduring appeal of small-town America and a reminder that sometimes, the best adventures are found off the beaten path.

Pack your bags, hit the road, and discover the charm of Pontiac for yourself. Who knows? You might just find yourself planning your return trip before you’ve even left town.

 Things to Do in Pontiac Illinois FAQs:

Q: How long should I plan to stay in Pontiac, Illinois?
A: A full day is enough to hit the main attractions, but to truly experience all Pontiac has to offer, consider staying for 2-3 days.

Q: Is Pontiac, Illinois, suitable for family trips?
A: Absolutely! With its museums, parks, and family-friendly events, Pontiac offers plenty of activities for all ages.

Q: What’s the best way to get around Pontiac?
A: While having a car is ideal, especially for exploring Route 66, the downtown area is very walkable. Bike rentals are also available for a fun alternative.

Q: Are there any famous movies or TV shows filmed in Pontiac?
A: While not a major filming location, parts of the 2006 film “Cars” were inspired by Pontiac and other Route 66 towns.

Q: What’s the weather like in Pontiac?
A: Pontiac experiences all four seasons. Summers are warm (avg. 85°F/29°C), winters are cold (avg. 32°F/0°C), with mild springs and falls.

Q: Is Pontiac expensive to visit?
A: Pontiac is generally an affordable destination. Many attractions, like mural tours, are free, and accommodation and dining options cater to various budgets.

Q: Are there any annual events I shouldn’t miss?
A: The Threshermen’s Reunion over Labor Day weekend is a big draw. The Route 66 Red Carpet Corridor Festival in May is another popular event.

Q: Is Pontiac wheelchair accessible?
A: Many attractions, including the Route 66 Hall of Fame & Museum, are wheelchair accessible. However, some historic buildings may have limited accessibility.

Q: Can I see everything in Pontiac without a car?
A: While you can see many downtown attractions on foot, having a car will allow you to explore more easily, especially Route 66-related sites outside the town center.

Q: What’s the best souvenir to buy in Pontiac?
A: Route 66 memorabilia is popular. Consider picking up a print of one of Pontiac’s famous murals or a piece of local artisan craft.

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