There are over 100 villages and towns spanning 10,286 square miles in Chicagoland. While many of them offer an environment one would expect of a typical Midwestern suburb, there are plenty of communities around Chicago with much more urban amenities. No longer are highly-rated restaurants, chic boutiques, transit options, and a vibrant local culture confined to the city limits. These five suburbs prove it.
The southernmost suburb on Chicago’s North Shore, Evanston is a lively city on Lake Michigan, offering six different beaches. If you want to take a break from dining and shopping, the Lakefront Trail is perfect for taking a stroll or bike ride, while the Starlight Concert & Movie Series provides free entertainment all summer long.
In the months to follow, you’ll notice a lot of purple sweatshirts on Central Street as fans make their way to historic Ryan Field, home to the Northwestern University Wildcats. The stadium was erected in 1926 and continues to serve as a hotbed for activity on Saturdays during football season because the Cats are fondly referred to as Chicago’s Big Ten Team. Ten Mile House is a casual eatery located steps from the stadium, but residents enjoy the comfort food and drinks offered by this common gathering place all year long. And that’s only a small part of what this North Shore community has to offer. Downtown Evanston alone is comprised of over 300 restaurants, retail stores, entertainment venues, and hotels.
Lastly, Evanston is designed on a city street grid system, and commuters will enjoy the convenience of the CTA Purple Line and Metra.
2. Oak Park
Bordering Chicago’s West Side, Oak Park draws interest from foodies and shoppers alike. Downtown Oak Park has a variety of acclaimed restaurants, like the French-American-inspired Hemmingway’s Bistro, known for signature menu items like the salmon quiche with Brie. Just a half mile southwest of Hemmingway’s, CarefulPeach Boutique sells a selection of handmade jewelry, accessories, tabletop pieces, stationery, gourmet foods, and home decor.
Additionally, the Oak Park Arts District is a community hub that features art galleries, performance spaces, and specialty shops. You can even take a walking tour of the area’s murals and public art once a month during the Third Friday Gallery Walk. When it comes to public transit, the CTA Green Line makes three stops along South Boulevard, and the Blue Line runs along the Eisenhower Expressway, with the Oak Park Avenue stop offering easy access to residents in the southern part of the village.
Similar to Evanston, Oak Park follows a traditional grid system, so you will find sidewalks and alleyways throughout the village, which are uncommon in most other suburbs.
Located about 30 miles west of Chicago, Naperville is a picturesque suburb with a mix of historic charm and modern amenities. It has gained a reputation for being one of the safest areas to live in Chicagoland, especially after taking the top spot in a 2021 study from MoneyGeek.
The downtown area has a variety of restaurants and shops, as well as several cultural institutions, like the Naperville Settlement. One of Naperville’s biggest draws is its ample fine dining choices, including outposts of several downtown Chicago restaurants, including Catch 35, Hugo’s Frog Bar & Fish House, Gyu-Kaku, and Rosebud.
The pedestrian-friendly downtown is highlighted by the famed Naperville Riverwalk, which has bridges, fountains, landscaping, and distinctive shepherd’s-crook light poles that pay homage to the city’s past as the oldest settlement in DuPage County. However, foot travel is not only confined to the Riverwalk; downtown Naperville earns a “Very Walkable” rating from Walk Score.
4. Arlington Heights
Bears fans are excited about the team’s plan to build a brand-new stadium and entertainment complex at the former site of the Arlington International Racecourse. The new facility would be a significant economic engine for the city, but this northwest suburb already has a thriving downtown area with an impressive selection of shops, restaurants, and businesses.
The Latin-inspired Mago Grill, located in the Metropolis Performing Arts Building, has two full dining rooms and sidewalk seating when the weather is favorable. The cantina, along with other nearby amenities like Hey Nonny Live Music + Local Kitchen, is within walking distance from the downtown district’s mix of single-family homes, townhomes, and mid-rise condominiums, many of which have been built within the past 20 years.
Frontier Days is an annual summer festival with live music, food vendors, carnival rides, and a beer garden. Affectionately referred to as The Festival by locals, this early-July event is comparable to one of Chicago’s street fests. Finally, the Metra station is located in the heart of Arlington Heights, with the UP-NW line providing access to The Loop.
5. Park Ridge
Bordering the northwest side of Chicago and less than 10 minutes away from O’Hare, Park Ridge boasts a population of around 39,000, and has more in common with a city neighborhood than a far-flung suburb. Uptown Park Ridge is the central hub for the town, featuring a variety of restaurants and boutiques along with the iconic Pickwick Theater, an Art Deco-style cineplex that has been around since 1928.
When it comes to dining, the options are virtually endless. If you’re in the mood for Asian-inspired cuisine, Shakou was labeled one of the area’s best new restaurants by Chicago magazine. Offering an eclectic menu with a focus on fresh ingredients, the restaurant is a staple among locals. As far as nightlife is concerned, Harp and Fiddle is a contemporary tavern known for craft beer and live music. If you prefer something other than ales, Patina Wine Bar is an upscale spot known for its cocktails and extensive wine list.
Despite the absence of CTA trains, Park Ridge is still commuter-friendly with two different Metra stops along Busse Highway and Northwest Highway. Alternatively, the CTA bus 68 and Pace routes 290 and 241, serve the area.
Ultimately, if you’re looking for a suburban lifestyle that offers urban amenities, consider the five Chicagoland communities of Evanston, Oak Park, Naperville, Arlington Heights, and Park Ridge. While each of these suburbs offers a different vibe, they have no shortage of dining, shopping, transit, and entertainment options that can rival almost any big city neighborhood.
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