13 Suburbs Near Chicago You Should Absolutely Visit
From Oak Park to Elmhurst, Chicagoland’s action-packed suburbs are anything but boring.
Chicago is the best city in the world for a lot of reasons—its world-class food, its proximity to Lake Michigan, its parks, its beautiful tree-lined streets—but one of its most-overlooked qualities is the fact that it’s also so close to dozens of wonderful suburbs, municipalities, and townships. So pack a backpack and fill up a water bottle, we’re gonna plan a day trip for you. Or more accurately, we’re gonna plan 13 for you. The best part? All of these ‘burbs are easily accessible via public transit.
How to get there: Metra UP-NW line from Ogilvie Station; 45 minutes
Why you should visit: Arlington Heights is one of the closest places to Chicago where you can take a day trip and feel like you’ve traveled far, far away from the city’s bustle. Take the 45-minute train ride (or half-hour-ish car trip) northwest past the convention centers of Rosemont and you’ll find a municipality that really can offer day trippers anything they could want. First, indulge in some shopping over at Mitsuwa Marketplace, the largest Japanese marketplace in the midwest. Grab yourself some pastries and sweets at a selection of fine pastry shops, bakeries, and chocolatiers, and then hop over to Books Kinokuniya to pick up some manga, collectibles, or a squishy-comfy Pikachu pillow. Then, watch the sunset over Lake Arlington and take in a show at the Metropolis Performing Arts Center before your twilight trip back home.
While you’re here: For nature lovers, the nearby 3,500+ acre Busse Woods forest preserve is one of the area’s best, boasting an elk pasture, ancient upland forests, almost 13 miles of trails, and Cook County’s largest fishing and boating waters.
How to get there: Metra UP-W line from Ogilvie Station; 35 minutes
Why you should visit: Young families moving out of the city often build their first nest in this sprawling suburb, home to an array of eateries from the trendy 151 Kitchen to the old-school classic Roberto’s. Snap some pics at Wilder Mansion, do some biking on the Prairie Path, and catch movies al fresco all summer long at Wilder Park. Summer also brings live music at the gazebo in Wild Meadows Trace Park, with nearby dive bar Spring Inn acting as the perfect post-concert destination.
While you’re here: Fans of golf and shopping will definitely want to stop by Oak Brook beforehand, where the massive Oak Brook Center and Oak Brook Golf Club beckon visitors from near and far.
How to get there: Metra BNSF Line from Union Station; ~20 minutes
Why you should visit: Another popular settling down spot for first-time homeowners, La Grange boasts a small but lively main drag just off the Metra stop along La Grange Road where bars and restaurants like Palmer Place and Milk Money Brewing add loads of character. The vibe is endlessly quaint and cute, with the town also known for fun summer programming including a pet parade and arts fest.
While you’re here: Nearby Hinsdale is another pretty little town just off the Metra line. Hop off here for a breezy stroll down the tree-lined sidewalks while drooling over upscale homes.
How to get there: Metra UP-NW Line from Ogilvie Station; ~30 minutes
Why you should visit: The hometown of Harrison Ford and Hillary Clinton sits just beyond the border of family-friendly northwest side hoods like Edison Park and Norwood Park, making for a stress-free diversion on the way to nearby O’Hare. Catching a movie at the historic Pickwick Theatre is an absolute must for any first-timer, while nature fans should make a beeline to the Des Plaines River Trail before stopping off for a well-deserved cold one at craft hotspot Beer on the Wall.
While you’re here: Nearby Des Plaines is home to both Rivers Casino and legendary tropical bar Tiki Terrace. You do the math.
How to get there: Metra UP-W line from Ogilvie Station; ~1 hour
Why you should visit: With close proximity to Chicago mixed with its own charming small-town aesthetic that feels a world away, Geneva has a little bit of everything—from a ridiculously cute Downtown dotted with tree-lined bars and restaurants to a wealth of nature at nearby parks and the Fox River, which runs through town. A leisurely stroll down Third Street's intimate bar and restaurant scene is a near-perfect way to spend an afternoon, as is taking in a minor league baseball game at the Kane County Cougars stadium (aka Northwestern Medicine Field) here in the summer.
While you’re here: A side trip to the equally cool but slightly larger adjacent riverside town of St. Charles is a must, where you can sip drinks at bars along the river or take in a show at the historic Arcada Theatre.
How to get there: Metra UP-NW line; ~1.5 hours
Why you should visit: As the town where much of the Bill Murray classic Groundhog Day was filmed, Woodstock is instantly recognized thanks to iconic film locations like the Woodstock Opera House. (The town even goes as far to host a Groundhog Days festival every February with film screenings, beer tastings, and something called “groundhog bowling.”) But scratch beneath the surface and you’ll find a cool little hamlet with a surprisingly decent music scene, yours to enjoy at popular local watering holes like Liquid Blues.
While you’re here: Be sure to make a detour over to Boone Creek Conservation Area and take advantage of miles of hiking and horseback riding trails. The area is also home to a variety of endangered, protected species of birds, turtles, and other creatures.
How to get there: CTA Blue and Green lines, Metra, CTA Bus, and Pace Bus; timing varies
Why you should visit: Arguably Chicago’s coolest and most famous suburb, Oak Park made a name for itself as the hometown of Ernest Hemingway as well as the town where architect Frank Lloyd Wright spent much of his early career. In addition to the Hemingway Museum and a compelling assortment of architecture tours detailing the world’s largest collection of Wright-designed buildings, Oak Park is an artsy bike-friendly town as well as a culinary hub with more than 150 eateries including the standout Sen Sushi Bar. Even if you don’t have a full day to spend here, simply driving through and taking in the architecture for a half hour or so is more than worth the trip out.
While you’re here: Freddy’s Pizza in nearby Cicero is a veritable local institution. Do yourself a favor. Go there. Like right now.
How to get there: CTA Purple line, Metra, CTA Bus, and Pace Bus; timing varies
Why you should visit: Evanston may be suburban, but it doesn’t always feel like it, with a wealth of city-quality bars and restaurants including Ward Eight, as well as Edzo’s Burger Shop, arguably the best place in the entire Chicagoland area to grab a burger and shake. Meanwhile, the town’s lakeside location offers plenty of enviable views at local parks and beaches while Big 10 college life swings into action at Northwestern University’s Ryan Field each Saturday in the fall. You can also catch a concert at the excellent but underrated music venue SPACE while diving into some of the finest classic Chicago-style grub in the region at casual joints like the hungover-Northwestern-student haven Chicken Shack.
While you’re here: Venture just across Evanston’s northern border to the neighboring town of Wilmette to check out the stunning Baha’i Temple, one of only eight such temples in the world and the only one in the US (not to mention one of the most beautiful places in Illinois).
How to get there: Metra BNSF line from Union Station; ~20 minutes
Why you should visit: With the bulk of it designated a National Historic Landmark, greenery is king in this town designed by famed landscape architect and Central Park mastermind Frederick Law Olmsted in 1869, making it one of the oldest planned communities in America. The town is devoid of traffic lights, with gas lamps illuminating the routes along winding streets that follow the Des Plaines River beside ample green space that creates a park-like vibe everywhere you look. Traditionally, there hasn’t been a ton to do here outside of high school house parties, but that’s all starting to change with the opening of a few new bars and restaurants in recent years including the standout La Barra.
While you’re here: A trip to the world-famous Brookfield Zoo in the neighboring town of Brookfield is a must, followed by a night of inebriation at the infamous local watering hole, Irish Times.
How to get there: Metra ME line from Millennium Station; 45 minutes
Why you should visit: Is it wrong to make a trip to the suburbs strictly to visit a brewery? Not when the suburb is Flossmoor and the brewery is the legendary Flossmoor Station, built into a historic former train station and now serving award-winning brews in one of the loveliest settings in all of Chicago (they’ve even got a caboose out back, so you know it’s legit). Surrounded by verdant landscaping, the town is also a haven for golfers and is just a short ride from Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre (where you totally saw your first Mötley Crüe concert with your parents... or at least wanted to).
While you’re here: Hit the Holy Trinity of South Suburban brews with side trips from Flossmoor Station to Blue Island’s Rock Island Public House and Tinley Park’s Soundgrowler, both within a 20-minute drive of Flossmoor (or, better yet, Uber ride).
How to get there: Metra UP-N line from Ogilvie Station; ~50 minutes
Why you should visit: With former resident Michael Jordan and current resident Billy Corgan (who operates a tea shop and art studio in town called Madame ZuZu’s), Highland Park is packed with beautiful lakeside homes and iconic filming locations that have made their way into many classic ‘80s films, from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off to Sixteen Candles to Risky Business. These days, the town offers a lively downtown scene, plus two beaches, a handful of golf courses, and plenty of bars in nearby Highwood. But one of the best things to do here is take a leisurely drive down scenic Sheridan Road (which winds through several posh North Shore suburbs) before stopping off for an outdoor summer concert at the always-ravishing Ravinia.
While you’re here: Just across the border from Highland Park is the town of Glencoe, home to the utterly beautiful and incredibly date-worthy Chicago Botanic Garden.
How to get there: CTA Green line or Metra UP-W line to Forest Park; timing varies
Why you should visit: While it may not be super pretty from the outside, Elmwood Park is a Chicago food lover’s dream, laying claim to the original old-school locations of Johnnie’s Beef, Old World Pizza, and Armand’s, not to mention Russell’s Barbecue and Alpine Subs. A trip to the Bourdain-approved Johnnie’s is reason enough for a visit, but stick around and explore this ethnic Italian enclave to discover your new favorite Chicagoland staple. Either way, you aren’t going home hungry.
While you’re here: A drive past the beautiful homes in neighboring River Forest leads you to the notorious row of Irish bars along Madison Street in Forest Park, where you can cap off a night of heavy boozing with even heavier delights by way of Chicago hot dog icons Portillo’s and Parky’s.
How to get there: Amtrak Illinois Zephyr from Union Station; 35 minutes
Why you should visit: Here us out, recovering emo kids—there’s a difference between living somewhere and visiting a place, and there are certainly worse places to visit than Illinois’ fifth-largest city. The highlight would have to be exploring the bars and restaurants along the brick paths and covered bridges of the Naperville Riverwalk. A close second? Sipping your way through the respectable area craft beer scene led by Solemn Oath Brewery alongside Two Brothers Tap House in nearby Warrenville and Hopvine in neighboring Aurora.
While you’re here: With 16 miles of hiking trails and 4,000+ species of trees, nearby Morton Arboretum is Chicago’s closest thing to a national park. And Naperville Ribfest is quite probably the best summer shindig in the ‘burbs.
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Sam Greszes is a contributor for Thrillist.