A village on the North Shore, Skokie sits just 16 miles northwest of downtown Chicago and has a distinctive character.
This is a highly diverse part of Chicagoland that was settled by a large Jewish population, including many Holocaust survivors, in the wake of World War II.
Skokie continues to have a large Jewish community, making up about a third of the population, and is home to several Orthodox schools and has an active Chabad.
For visitors this is a welcoming place that takes pride in its cultural makeup, with a high-profile Holocaust museum, a passion for the arts, an upscale Westfield mall and first-class public amenities.
1. Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center
This institution had been almost 30 years in the pipeline when it opened in 2009. The origins of the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center go back to an attempt by a Neo Nazis group to march in the village in the early 80s.
In a building designed by Stanley Tigerman, the museum exhibitions approach the Holocaust and topics like prejudice and hatred, using state-of-the-art museography.
The detailed Karkomi Holocaust Exhibition is a moving but educational timeline, taking your from pre-war Europe through ghettoization, concentration camps and then resettlement.
Another permanent display is the Take a Stand Center, using technology to emphasise contemporary social justice and relate Holocaust survivor accounts.
Finally, Make a Difference is an interactive attraction for children up to the age of 12, encouraging self-esteem, empathy, leadership skills and positive decision making.
2. Skokie Northshore Sculpture Park
The Skokie bank of the North Shore Channel drainage canal beside McCormick Boulevard had been an eyesore for decades until it was transformed into this sensational linear park.
This project, a collaboration between the Village of Skokie and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, began in the late 1980s and has resulted in dozens of engaging sculptures and installations beside the channel.
Arranged across four sections, these are surrounded by beautiful landscaping, with lawns and slowly maturing trees, and are easily accessed via the North Shore Channel Trail.
What makes the park compelling is the variety of styles and materials, and among the works by leading international sculptors are pieces by the students of local high schools.
3. Emily Oaks Nature Center
You can get reacquainted with the natural world at this tranquil parcel of wilderness in Skokie.
Over 13 acres, the Emily Oaks Nature Center is composed of oak woodland, grassland speckled with wildflowers in early summer and two ponds, all ready to be discovered on a trail.
These habitats harbor rich wildlife, with coyotes, red foxes, Cooper’s hawks, flying squirrels and great blue herons all frequently spotted.
The center has an educational vocation, hosting interactive displays and organizing activities as varied as birding, identifying wildflowers, storytelling campfires and seasonal celebrations like Earth Day.
4. Westfield Old Orchard
This plush outdoor mall has been part of the Skokie shopping scene since 1956 and was purchased by the Westfield brand in 2002.
When we wrote this article the four anchor stores were Bloomingdale’s Nordstrom, Macy’s and Barnes & Noble.
On elegant alleys with flowers, trees, hedges, streetlamps and a fountain are favorites like Zara, Sephora, Gap, Foot Locker, Apple and Banana Republic, as well as plenty of premium brands including Rolex, Michael Kors and Tiffany & Co.
When it comes to dining, there’s a mix of food court mainstays and fast casual chains from Shake Shack to Cheesecake Factory, Buffalo Wild Wings and Nando’s. And you can include a movie in your outing at the CMX Westfield Old Orchard.
5. North Branch Bike Trail
Roughly tracing the course of the North Branch Chicago River, this Class I bicycle trail winds through northeastern Cook County for 22 miles.
The southern trailhead is not far from Skokie at Gompers Park, and from there it arcs round, passing through a piece of Skokie at Harms Woods just west of Westfield Old Orchard and one of a long chain of forest preserves along the route.
The trail is especially pretty north of Skokie proper, along the Skokie Lagoons, recording more than 200 bird species, before reaching the Chicago Botanic Garden at Glencoe.
From there you can get onto the Green Bay Trail, on the old trackbed of the Chicago North Shore and Milwaukee Railroad.
6. North Shore Center for the Performing Arts
Right in Skokie is a modern destination for theatre, comedy, dance and music. The North Shore Center for the Performing Arts opened in 1996, and offers superb cultural, literary and educational programs for the residents of Skokie and neighboring communities.
The center consists of an 867-seat main stage theater, along with a flexible 318-capacity auditorium for performances and community events.
In recent years the center has also put on an exciting series of outdoor concerts in the Out Back Parking Lot.
Keep an eye on the schedule for a rich lineup, offering music of all styles, famous comedians, dance, broadway shows and magic.
7. Skokie Heritage Museum
Within a few steps of the Village Hall is a pair of fascinating old buildings that together serve as the Skokie Heritage Museum.
The first of these is the Historic Engine House, constructed in 1887 as a response to the Chicago Fire of 1871.
This fine brick building was decommissioned in 1969 and today houses permanent historical displays on the first floor, as well as traveling and temporary exhibits on the second floor.
Just behind it is a wonderful piece of Skokie history in the form of an original log cabin, raised in 1847 by the early Niles Township settlers Nicholas and Elizabeth Meyer.
8. Skokie Theatre
Catching the eye for its glossy Art Moderne style and checkerboard motif, the Skokie Theatre has been around in some form since 1915.
The current design dates to an expansion and remodeling in the 1940s. For most of its history the venue was a single-screen movie theater, before finally closing in 2004 and becoming a live performance venue.
Today the Skokie Theatre is run by MadKap Productions, programming musicals, concerts, talent shows, plays, stand-up and sketch comedy, seasonal celebrations, cabaret, kids’ shows, Oscar night screenings and much more.
9. The Exploritorium
A fantastic option for rainy days, the Exploritorium is an interactive indoor playground run by the Skokie Park District and recently acclaimed by the Chicago Tribune.
This attraction is creatively designed to help children learn through open-ended play.
There are two and a half stories of tubes and tunnels to explore, along with a climbing wall, a water play area with a water vortex, a costumed dress-up area with a stage, the Engineering Megastation and the train-oriented Transportation Station.
10. Skokie Water Playground
The Skokie Park District maintains two excellent outdoor aquatic facilities. The larger of these is a water park that can be found just north of the Emily Oaks Nature Center.
This boasts an expansive, 14,000-square-foot main pool with beach entry, as well as three water slides.
The fully-accessible splash pad, with its many jets and sprinklers, is always a hit with kids, and one thrilling feature is a 300-gallon tip bucket that fills and then drenches everyone below.
There’s a concession stand for a snack, cool drink or frozen treat, and there’s room enough for all families to spread out and relax.
11. Devonshire Aquatic Center
Another much anticipated summer institution for families in Skokie is the Devonshire Aquatic Center.
This facility hosts a wealth of programs, from swim lessons, to gender-specific swim sessions, parent/tot swims and even “Dive-in Movies”.
The center consists of a large main pool, with beach entry and swim lanes. This is complemented by a separate dive tank with a three-meter drop slide, as well as a fully accessible splash pad.
There’s a concession stand here, open all summer, and a sun hill for some post-swim rest.
12. Skokie Valley Trail
Starting by the Dempster-Skokie L station and running south is a popular bike trail extending through Skokie.
Following the ComEd right of way, the trail is a wonderful shortcut through the village for cyclists and passes through the west side of the Emily Oaks Nature Center.
At the time of writing this article the Skokie Valley Trail was in the process of being connected to the Valley Line Trail, allowing rides through a succession of Chicago’s northern suburbs, including Wilmette, Glenview and Northfield, as well as Lincolnwood in the south.
13. Skokie Festival of Cultures
It’s fitting that a place as diverse as Skokie should host a wildly successful celebration of world cultures.
This event takes place across two days in May in Oakton Park, and has grown dramatically since its inception in 1990.
Now some 40 cultures are represented, with arts and crafts, folk music and dance, children’s games, cultural booths and a truly international array of food.
The event’s showpiece is a display of the flags for every nation represented in the festival, and a mini train ride meanders through the park during the celebration.
14. Skokie Farmers’ Market
A hallmark of the summer and fall in Skokie, the village’s farmers’ market takes place on Sunday mornings from the start of June to the beginning of November.
The location is the Village Hall parking lot, where you’ll encounter a large array of vendors for local fruit and vegetables, cheese, herbs, flowers, preserves, honey, sauces, pastries and more besides.
The farmers all come from Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin, and much of the produce you see was picked only hours before. There’s also usually some inviting food to go, with a popular stand that makes great tacos and tamales.
15. Georgia Nut Company
A major employer in Skokie is this nut and confectionery company, founded by one Rose Musso in 1945 and now in the fourth generation of the same family.
One of the largest privately held snack manufacturers in North America, the Georgia Nut Company has a massive manufacturing facility in Skokie and you can drop by the retail store here for great deals on their range.
This could be honey roasted peanuts, yogurt pretzels, chocolate almonds, milk chocolate malt balls, roasted cashews, dried fruits, sugar-shelled chocolate and all sorts of beautifully packaged seasonal treats.