Illinois is as diverse a state as its cities and people. Located in the heartland of America, the Land of Lincoln may have cultivated a reputation as one of the worst run states, but it still remains a great choice for anyone looking to put down roots. And we’ll tell you why.
Illinois was once regarded as an economic juggernaut, but poor governance has seen its stock fall significantly. Regardless, the Midwest state still boasts a strong economy and is indeed the fifth-largest state economy by GDP.
Unemployment rate is one of the major causes of the high migration rates out of the state in recent years, but Illinois continues to prove its economic resilience.
When you throw in rising home values, one of the best school systems in the country, and a long list of prestigious employers who include 34 of the 500 Fortune 500 companies, this blend results in a generally gratifying quality of life.
Illinois is also home to dozens of cities with revitalized downtowns, excellent entertainment venues and endless outdoor recreation opportunities.
The state’s universities, including Northwestern University and the University of Illinois-Champaign Urbana, are considered some of the best when it comes to R&D, ranking favourably on the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education.
With many options on ideal places to live, it can be difficult to decide where to pitch camp in the Prairie State.
Worry not, though, for we have done the hard work for you and compiled a list of the 15 best places to live in Illinois, taking into account the aforementioned factors, in addition to crime rate, cost of living and weather. And here is what we came up with:
To many, Springfield is the capital of Illinois. To others, it is where Abraham Lincoln spent the better part of two decades.
But the city of 117,000 people also happens to be a great place to live for anyone looking for affordable cost of living in the state. Homes here go for $120,400 on average, with rent averaging $732, both of which are considerably below the national average.
Public schools may not be the best in the state, but they are good, with the city also playing host to three universities. The fact that this is the state’s capital means you will find great diversity, with 17,000 residents working in state government jobs.
When you a include a thriving nightlife and plenty to do, whether historic (Lincoln’s presidential museum, home and tomb are located here) or cultural (this is where you’ll find the famous Hoogland Center for the Arts and Springfield Theatre Centre), Springfield makes a good case as a great spot to live in the state.
Children are also well catered for, especially with the Knight’s Action Park and Caribbean Adventure, one of the largest amusement parks in central Illinois, around.
With a population of 145,058, Naperville is considered one of the wealthiest cities not just in Illinois, but the entire Midwest. At $379,000 on average, homes are steep, but so is the median home value which stands at $109,468, slightly double the national average.
Suffice to say Naperville is best suited for those who fancy more upscale quality of life, with a paycheck to match.
If you can swing it, the high cost of living is well worth it. This is one of the safest cities in America, with 130 parks and sports complexes located here – not to mention multiple shopping districts.
The residents are mostly college educated (72% of adults), but with eight college campuses serving such a small population, that is to be expected. As well, a whopping 92% residents own their own homes.
The area itself is located along the Illinois Technology and Research Corridor where multiple high-tech companies are based: AT&T Bell Laboratories, Calamos, Ineos, BP, Western Electric, Nicor Gas and more.
3. Buffalo Grove
When it comes to the best places to live in Illinois, it doesn’t get any better than Buffalo Grove.
You will find the small suburb of 41,600 residents in Lake County, and the area has consistently featured on the Best Places to Live in the entire United States, with everyone from CNN, to US News & World Report, to Niche.com waxing lyrical about it.
Crime rate is extremely low and the public education system is one of the best in the country, with a high school graduation rate of 95% and a solid ranking of 9/10 on GreatSchools.
In a state that has been accused of having a fairly high unemployment rate, Buffalo Grove, small as it is, is one of the places that help keep the state average high.
But you will have to fork out for it. Rents average $1,354, with median home value just $5,500 short of hitting the $300,000 mark.
When searching for the best places to live in Illinois, there is a 4/5 chance you will come across the name Wheaton.
And that is because the suburb of 53,585 has everything going for it.
Some of the best-ranked public schools in America with an enviable ranking of 9/10; one of the state’s lowest unemployment rates (5.40 per cent); sixth highest number of parks per capita in the state.
You will find an incredible 52 parks in Wheaton sprawled across 829 acres of space.
The only category it ranks low in is the cost of living. Your average home will fetch at $334,300, with rent averaging $1,250. But whom are we kidding, with most of the locals raking upwards of $85,705 a year, that’s pretty much…small potatoes.
Glenview is another area which often gets the plaudits for best places to live in Illinois.
The community of 46,000 residents aces it when it comes to matters education, with its high school graduation rate tying in third in the state, with a solid ranking of 9/10 on GreatSchools.org.
The unemployment rate in this Cook County suburb is also one of the lowest in Illinois (4.60 per cent).
Families moving here can revel in the knowledge that Glenview also happens to have some of the most parks per capita. The unique Park Center is also located here, and there is also a multi-purpose community center which boasts everything from a pool, to a preschool, arts programs, fitness centre and more.
Expectedly, the cost of living is on the higher end of the spectrum. Median home value stands at $473,600 and the rent for a single-family home is $1,713 on average.
That makes it one of the most expensive places in Illinois, but it’s a bill many families, whose fat annual paycheck stands at $93,240, are happy to foot.
6. Park Ridge
Some ardent fans of Harrison Ford will probably recognise Park Ridge as the birthplace of Han Solo (well, the real person). The name will also ring bells for anyone privy to the childhood of one Hillary Clinton.
It is said the place you call home can say a lot about you, and if that statement were true, it is easy to deduce a little about Park Ridge.
The Rodhams, for instance, moved here when Hillary was three, and the motivation for that was the search for a neighbourhood that promised good security, great schools and general desirability for a growing family.
That is exactly what you get in this Cook County suburb which boasts a population of 37,600.
But it is an affluent neighborhourhood where rent prices swing at the $1,200 mark, and the average single-family property is way more than double the national average, sitting at $392,600.
7. Oak Park
Oak Park is undoubtedly one of the most desirable places to live in Illinois.
This is another entry from Cook County, and it keeps up with the theme of good security, excellent schools, ample amenities and high cost of living characteristic of the county.
If you work in the third largest city in America or love playing there but prefer taking up residence just outside of it, few neighbourhoods make better sense than Oak Park.
The suburb of 52,080 residents ranks third overall when it comes to low crime rate, and juxtaposing this against Chicago makes this place practically a safe haven.
With 5.20 per cent, its unemployment rate is again third in the state, also ranking favourably in terms of parks and childcare options per capita.
As far as education goes, Oak Park is rated A+ on Niche.com, another area that shows its obsession with rank #3 where it scores third in the list of high schools with the highest graduation rate, trying with Buffalo Grove with 95%, and a near-perfect score on GreatSchools.
Whether by design or coincidence, most places whose names have a “creek”, “ville” or “grove” tend to be generally great neighbourhoods, mostly for the well-to-do. It is the same case with “hurst”, and Illinois’ suburb of Elmhurst only serves to reinforce this notion.
Elmhurst is a community in DuPage County whose 45,469 residents bring home an average $96,486 per annum per household.
When you dig through GreatSchools.org, a school ranking resource of no mean repute, you will rarely come across places that score a 10 out of 10. For the few you come across, though, you can bet Elmhurst will be one of them.
Perhaps some of the kids emerging from these schools contribute to the high employment rate (only 5.30 per cent are unemployed) – perhaps not – but it remains high for a reason.
Elmhurst also boasts the highest number of parks per capita in Illinois, ranking No. 1, thus ensuring it’s not all work without play for the young Jacks of Elmhurst.
The township of Schaumburg makes an entry on our list of best places to live in Illinois for obvious reasons.
The public education system is nothing short of excellent, scoring a solid A+ on ranking website Niche.com, with GreatSchools also giving it a generous 9/10.
Unemployment rate is one of the lowest in the Midwestern state, and crime is almost unheard of, with only a single case of burglary reported in a suburb of 132,369 residents.
Schaumburg has the fifth most childcare listings and eighth most parks per capita, and when you consider cost of living is lower compared to other places in this list (home value stands at $228,700 and rent is $1,190), it is not hard to figure out why this area warrants a mention.
10. Downers Grove
Downers Grove is a community of about 50,000 residents located in DuPage County, and the only downer you get from living here perhaps has to do with the high cost of living (112 vs. a national average of 100).
Homes, one of the biggest indicators of cost of living, average $330,000.
Otherwise, it’s a great place for anyone looking to settle in Illinois, whether as a single or a family. The area is known for its friendliness – it was named one of the friendliest towns in America by Forbes– and the sense of community is almost palpable.
It offers opportunity aplenty, be it academic, extracurricular or social, with a low unemployment rate averaging 5.40 per cent.
New parents will be happy to hear Downers Grove has some of the most babysitters and daycares per capita.
Speaking of families, if you are searching for a place in Illinois that is ideal for families, Plainfield is one of the options you should consider.
Reason is because over half of the households (56.12%) in this suburb of 41,000 residents have children.
Cost of living is lower compared to other towns on this list (single-family homes go for $283,000 on average), yet the residents earn significantly higher, with median household income averaging $111,521. Talk about getting bang for buck.
The high school graduation rate in the area is 96%, and Plainfield also has the second highest number of childcare listings per capita, meaning you won’t have trouble finding a good sitter at all.
Despite its family-oriented nature, the culturally-divergent Plainfield also shines in the nightlife category. So, whenever you need to take a breather from your parental duties, you can always bank on the town to deliver.
12. Clarendon Hills
This is another name you will frequently find in many best places lists revolving around Illinois, and that’s just because Clarendon Hills has it all.
The public school system is one of the best in the nation, the area ranks exceptionally well when it comes to crime & safety (eighth safest in Illinois) and generally, the suburb of 8,600 residents is as ideal for families as you are likely to find.
It mostly comprises upper middle class folk whose household income averages $105,720.
Such a small population means you are likely to get acquainted with quite a number, but if a town where everyone knows everyone doesn’t sound like your kind of spot, Clarendon Hills might not work you because this is an area with a strong sense of community.
The one obvious downside about it is affordability, with cost of living considerably higher compared to the rest of the country.
An average home sells for half a million dollars, and it is not uncommon to find some properties going for $1.5 million, although these are mostly 4-5-bedroomed homes.
Northbrook is a quaint village on the North Shore of Chicago famed for its idyllic natural scenery, and the town itself is speckled with beautiful old buildings.
It has one of the highest rated public schools in the state with a graduation rate that is 15% higher compared to the rest of Illinois.
In fact, it is here you will find one of the main shooting spots for the teen classic, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. That is at the prestigious Glenbrook North High School where director John Hughes himself attended.
Unemployment rate in Northbrook stands at 5.0 per cent, one of the lowest in the Land of Lincoln. Homes are valued at an average $521,800 and the going price for rent is just a few coins short of $2,000 ($1,978).
The high cost of living is offset by a high income averaging $118,480 per household.
14. Arlington Heights
Arlington Heights is a great place to call home.
The town of 76,000 residents may put off many homebuyers with its $320,600 median home value, but those who seek to put down roots here are not your ordinary homebuyer.
With a median household income of $81,059, these residents earn 30% more than others in the state, so chances are they can afford it.
As with all other locations on this list, Arlington Heights boasts a solid public school system that ranks quite favourably.
Crime rate is a little high compared to other areas on this list (as opposed to the state), but residents appreciate the general livability of the area – kids can ride bikes on the streets, there are plenty of recreation options available (magnificent parks, sports teams, dance studios, a lake to walk around and more), plus plenty of jobs for teens and other perks.
15. Mount Prospect
Rounding off our list of best places to live in Illinois is Mount Prospect, a Chicago suburb of 54,700 residents.
The area is famous for its public library, the Randhurst Village, as well as being the home of Jennifer Morrison (the actress?).
What may be lost to many, however, is that Mount Prospect is one of the safest places in Illinois (49% safer actually) and the residents seem to be quite a happy lot. Then again, who wouldn’t if they were making 17% more than the rest of the state, right?
Public schools are outstanding, the area has great diversity reflective of the larger Chicago area, and the nightlife is buzzing.
As well, there are plenty of other ways to enjoy oneself, including a number of festivals (Fridays on the Green, the Irish Festival and the annual Memorial Day Parade, for example); family bike rides; farmers markets and more.
All these things combine to make Mount Prospect an appealing proposition for anyone with a home-buying budget averaging $290,900.