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These Are The 10 Best Places To Live In Illinois

Looking to make a move to the Land of Lincoln? These are the Illinois municipalities that rank highest in several important factors.

Natalie Grigson

Staff Writer

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Here at Movoto Real Estate, we’ve been ranking cities all over the country—and many times, even discussing places as far away as London or the Mushroom Kingdom. So we thought, why not bring it a little closer to home and really focus in the best cities in one state in particular?

We started out with Michigan, delighting Midlanders and today, we’re moving on to the Land of Lincoln—the great state of Illinois.

So if you’re thinking about moving to Illinois, look no further than these 10 cities, the cream of the crop when it comes to places to live.

  1. Village of Northbrook
  2. City of Highland Park
  3. Village of Glenview
  4. City of Park Ridge
  5. City of Elmhurst
  6. City of Wheaton
  7. Village of Arlington Heights
  8. Village of Downers Grove
  9. Village of Palatine
  10. Village of Mount Prospect

I know what you’re thinking—where is Chicago? I know! But when it comes to actually living in a city, not just hopping by for a weekend, the Windy City might just blow over some of the necessities.

What Makes A Great Illinois City?

In order to come up with this list of Illinois besties, we narrowed our search down to six criteria.

  • Amenities (shopping, dining, entertainment, etc.)
  • Cost of living (percent above or below state average)
  • Crime (percent above or below state average)
  • Education (high school graduation rate compared to state average)
  • Employment (income and unemployment compared to state average)
  • Home value (percent above or below state average)

We started out with the 50 largest cities and townships in Illinois and ranked each of them with a score of 1 to 50 with the criteria above (1 being the best.) Then, each city was averaged and given an overall Big Deal Score. The lower the number, the higher it ranked, and ultimately, the better for residents and potential residents alike.

So what exactly makes each city so special? Keep reading to find out why each of these cities made our list, starting with the Best City in Illinois, Northbrook.

1. Village of Northbrook

The 10 Best Cities in Illinois
To paint a picture of just how idyllic and quaint Northbrook is, we should start by saying that it is, in fact, called the Village of Northbrook, and the town is dotted with old buildings like the Village Hall and parks like the Village Green. It just sounds cute.

You know what else sounds good about Northbrook? Their education system. Northbrook came in first here, 15 percent higher than the rest of Illinois when it comes to high school graduation rates. But that shouldn’t be a surprise, really, with the quintessential Glenbrook North High School—one of the main places used to film the teen classic, “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”. In fact, director John Hughes even attended Gleenbrook North himself.

It really is no wonder Northbrook came in first on the list—the real wonder is, why hadn’t we heard about this place sooner?

2. City of Highland Park

The 10 Best Cities in Illinois
Just outside of Chicago, Highland Park has all of the benefits of the big city, but none of the hassles. And if you don’t want to venture into Chicago to get your kicks, Highland Park has more than enough to offer. The downtown district is abuzz with restaurant goers and shoppers, and once a year the Ravinia Festival takes over, turning the city into a mecca for music lovers, including the Chicago Symphony Orchestra who have been playing in Highland Park since the 1930s.

And while you’re downtown, you won’t need to worry about watching your back—Highland Park came in first in safety, with a crime rate 56 percent below the Illinois average. And perhaps not surprisingly, with famous houses like the Willits House by Frank Lloyd Wright dotting the streets, Highland Park came in first when it comes to home values in Chicago—their home values are 221 percent higher than the Illinois average. Way to go, Highland Park.

3. Village of Glenview

The 10 Best Cities in Illinois
Glenview, that’s G-L-E-N-V-I-E-W, as I’m sure any one of their well-educated first-graders would be happy to tell you. That’s because Glenview scored well, firstly because of its stellar education system, with a high school graduation rate 13 percent higher than the rest of Illinois, but it did not stop impressing us there. Glenview has an average household income of over $107,000—85 percent higher than the rest of the state—a low crime rate, and high home values.

This is one of the best towns for families and children. There is the Park Center, one of the largest community centers in Illinois, there are trails for biking and walking in The Grove, and a wonderful children’s museum for all your little geniuses in training.

4. City of Park Ridge

The 10 Best Cities in Illinois
Park Ridge was originally called Pennyville to honor George Penny, a businessman who owned a local brickyard. But over the years, the town took a more logical leap and named it Park Ridge, because… it lies on a ridge.

Actually, logical may not be a bad way to sum up a Park Ridge resident—after all, this town was the birthplace of Hillary Rodham Clinton. Was it due to the city’s stellar educational system that Hillary has come so far? Perhaps their crime rate—47 percent lower than the rest of Illinois?

Maybe. But we think it is more that Park Ridge is just an all-around nice town. It is home to the nationally known Pickwick Theater—an old art deco building that is now home to movies, plays, and events. And at Maine East High School, football, cheerleading, and a refreshingly wholesome school spirit still reign.

5. City of Elmhurst

The 10 Best Cities in Illinois
Aside from being the birthplace of one of God’s gifts to men, Keebler cookies, Elmhurst is also a sort of cultural mini-mecca. Residents in Elmhurst have the luxury of stopping by the Theatre Historical Society of America and the highly rated Elmhurst Art Museum.

Just like the art at the museum, Elmhurst looks pretty good on paper too. It has a low crime rate, a great education system, and an average household income of $85,000—48 percent higher than the rest of Illinois.

6. City of Wheaton

The 10 Best Cities in Illinois
It is a good indication of a town’s standing when it is featured in a magazine simply called Money. And that is just where Wheaton was named in a recent listing of 25 highest earning towns in the United States—and with an average annual income of over $86,000, it’s no wonder.

Perhaps it is because Wheaton residents grow up with such stellar educations that they make such top dollar salaries as adults? Their high school graduation rates, after all, are 13 percent higher than the rest of the state. The town is also home to three college campuses, including Wheaton College, a public library that ranks among the best in the nation. And if studying isn’t your cup of tea, not to worry—Wheaton has plenty to offer in terms of outdoor activities, from parks and golf courses galore, to the Dupage Fairgrounds, to the Town Square Shopping Center.

7. Village of Arlington Heights

The 10 Best Cities in Illinois
Arlington Heights is a wonderful place to call home. It is an even better place to own a home. That’s because the home values in this town are 102 percent higher than the rest of Illinois, and only getting higher. So—great news if you live in Arlington Heights and you own a home. For those looking to buy a home in Arlington Heights? Well, residents here make about 30 percent more than residents elsewhere in the state, so you’ll probably be able to afford it.

Arlington Heights is booming right now—especially downtown with its expansion of condos, businesses, and delicious restaurants—Asian food in particular. Sun Shui for sushi, anyone?

8. Village of Downers Grove

The 10 Best Cities in Illinois
Talk about a misnomer—Downers Grove is anything but a downer, as recently ranked No. 8 in Forbes’ list of America’s Friendliest Towns. In fact, unless you’re talking about their incredibly low crime rate compared to the rest of the state, Downers Grove ranks pretty high in most things.

It is among the top in Illinois education, with a 12 percent higher high school graduation rate than the rest of the state and an annual household income of over $78,000—35 percent higher than average in these parts.

It has also been named one of CNN’s best places to retire, for its abundance of parks, nature, and, of course, stellar hospitals.

9. Village of Palatine

The 10 Best Cities in Illinois
Palatine’s motto is “A real hometown,” and I think this about sums it up. Underneath its almost nonexistent crime rate (51 percent lower than the rest of the state!), its high household income, and even higher house value (over 70 percent higher than the rest of IL), Palatine really is just a nice, wholesome hometown kind of place.

It is situated in a wooded parkland, traversed with streams, and began its rustic roots in the 1800s with George Ela and a hand-built log cabin in the area now called Deer Grove.

Today Palatine maintains that old world charm with its nature, but also has a bustling, if quaint, downtown area that fills up for Street Fest and the Fourth of July Celebration each year.

10. Village of Mount Prospect

10
Mount Prospect is most known for the Randhurst Village, the public library, and for being the home of actress Jennifer Morrison—but maybe that’s just because people don’t know about how very safe it is (49 percent safer than the rest of the state), or how very happy the residents seem to be (after all, they do make 17 percent more than the rest of their state.)

Yes, prospects are good in this town—especially when it comes to really enjoying your time outside. Festivals like the Irish Festival, Fridays on the Green, the annual Memorial Day Parade, Farmers’ Markets, and Family Bike rides make Mount Prospect not only a good place to have a house, but a good place to call home.

Land of More than Just Lincoln

Perhaps Illinoisans, it’s time you updated your state slogan from “Land of Lincoln” to “Land of Excellent Education Systems,” “Land of Awesome Salaries,” or “Land of Northbrook.”

Oh, and Chicago is pretty great too.

The 10 Best Cities in Illinois

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posted on: October 22, 2013
283,563 views, 38 comments

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38 Comments

  1. Fact Finder

    This is a great list, and Park Ridge is a great city, except this article has made a critical mistake, altogether misrepresenting the town. MAINE SOUTH is the high school with strong academics, deep school spirit, a successful football team (5 state championships) and nationally regarded Hawkette dancers and cheerleaders. Maine East (listed and pictured), although also located in Park Ridge, pulls its student body from the neighboring town of Niles (it is located at a far end of Park Ridge, on the border between the two cities), and Park Ridge students living within the Maine East district reserve the option to attend the more academically successful Maine South.

  2. Kevin lello

    Interesting

  3. Jeff Payne

    Lets see, you left out Hinsdale ,La Grange, Western Springs, Clarendon Hills, and Burr Ridge just to name a few.Do me a favor and stay out of the rating business!!!

  4. Victor Tousignant

    I would just like to see Diversity as a value in the list. My guess would be that many, many of these towns would not do so well once you consider there is very little diversity. It is important, critically important, for children to see people from other walks of life.

    • Chris Kolmar in response to Victor Tousignant

      Great idea Victor. We have used this in the past for certain lists and will be a staple going forward.

    • Fred Savage in response to Victor Tousignant

      Diversity was a huge factor in the list and why none of the more diverse (ie: crime) towns made the list.

  5. Glen Ellyn

    Glen Ellyn?

  6. SoIL

    I think they should rename this post to be The 10 Best Cities in NORTHERN Illinois.

  7. Michael J. Clark

    great web site. I like your article on the 10 towns………please keep me in the loop.

    Thank you………..MJC

  8. Ravana

    So, according to your chart your top ten are great places to live if you are wealthy. Look at where they rank for cost of living. If you are a normal human being who has to actually work for a living it looks like you are going to have to live in a college town (Bloomington, Normal, Champaign), but hey, colleges need janitors and groundskeepers and other menials right? Just once I’d like to see someone do a city ranking for folks who don’t make six figure salaries.

    • Anonymous in response to Ravana

      That isn’t necessarily true. I definitely don’t agree with this list, especially considering I grew up in Northbrook and hated it. The only thing is, my parents were far from rich and did not make six figure salaries. Most people in Northbrook are, I won’t argue that, but it isn’t everyone. There are some cheaper townhouses, ranch houses, and apartments in Northbrook, so you can still live there without making six figures.

  9. Heavy D

    Naperville 44 in amenities????? Thats a crime. Ever heard of the beach/chipot in dt??

  10. John

    Funny how they’re all in the Chicago area. You know that the portion west of I-39 and south of I-80 is still Illinois, right?

    • Tom in response to John

      Oops! Rockford and Joliet seem to be missing. Probably find more if I did some research.

  11. steve shay

    Deerfield, Lake Forest, Lake Zurich, tons of places more livable and appealing on every level than East St. Louis and North Chicago.

    • Michaela Davellis in response to steve shay

      So happy someone else noticed that! Libertyville and Lincolnshire are great towns too!

  12. Fake Name

    Wow! What a waste of time. What about Barrington, Lake Forest, etc?!

  13. Wally O

    Median income and housing value rank are two of the criteria?

    Certainly can tell that the list was put together by a real estate company.

    Cost of living in Highland Park and Northbrook?

    There’s ten minutes down the tubes.

  14. OJ

    For those whining about their town not making the Top 50, it appears they chose cities over a certain population. Yes, Barrington, Glen Ellyn, Lake Forest, and Lake Zurich are awesome places to live & raise kids. Why they didn’t stop at 50 is beyond me, other than to slam East St. Louis as the worst city in Illinois. Hey… where’s Rockford?

  15. Smart Guy

    Wilmette, Winnetka, Northfield, Hinsdale, Barrington, Lake Forest, Deerfield….If I wanna be a winner I’ll probably try to end up in one of these places. Not trying to venture to Palatine anytime soon.

  16. Liz

    The site states, “We started out with the 50 largest cities and townships in Illinois and ranked each of them with a score of 1 to 50 with the criteria above (1 being the best.)”
    But where is the third largest city on the list? I don’t see Rockford.

  17. steve shay

    Maybe by “rank” the author means “rank-smelling.”

  18. Howard Keenan

    This is a nice site to begin house hunting and I presume selling homes is its principal role.
    Don’t worry about the list folks, lists never please anyone and this one features bad science and mysterious subjectivity. 24 municipalities cannot all score first in amenities.

  19. Rob Homa

    I, too, was surprised that Barrington didn’t make the top 50.

  20. Kristen Gula

    I don’t trust this list one bit. The fact East St. Louis is on it makes this completely ridiculous.

  21. Jason Kep

    Just 2 years ago Tinley park was voted the number 1 place in the country to raise a family, and now not in the top 50? Oh wait, but Harvey is in there, are you kidding me! No south suburbs, what about frankfort, mokena, new Lennox, etc?

  22. Bob

    Naperville #13? I’m surprised it’s ranked that high. Crime is escalating, city officials bully residents, traffic is horrendous, the city manager is outmatched by the responsibility of his job, the city council is composed of ‘good old boys’. Lots of plastic money compared to real money. #13 is a long fall from #1 in the country previously, and #2 recently. However being ranked higher than East St. Louis is reassuring. I understand the ranking used cities high in population, however Naperville would fall very low on the list if compared to Lake Forest, Hinsdale, Winnetka, Barrington, Lincolnshire, Geneva and numerous other well managed cities. If you’re looking for traffic gridlock, go to Naperville in the daytime. If you’re looking for crime, go there at night time. If you’re looking for anything else, go elsewhere.

  23. DaveChgo

    This list includes cities with population smaller than Wilmette, yet Wilmette isn’t in the Top 50 but Harvey is? Huh???

  24. Phil F

    I’ll take my little city of Quincy over any of the cities surrounding the sewer known as Chicago. If I could move my house to the Chicago area and/or Northbrook I could increase my home value automatically to an bloated price. Home values are grossly inflated in Chicagoland. You can have the whole area.

    • Ray in response to Phil F

      I think there are many more factors than just the house itself that add to the cost of living in a community.

  25. resident

    Where’s Franklin Park? Mayor Barrett Pedersen needs to go

  26. illstate4life

    I’m from Chicago,lived there until high school(on the westside). There is crime everywhere you go cant live your life in fear. My experiences in Chicago prepared me for ANYTHING AND EVERYTHING and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. After leaving Chicago we moved to Bloomington because it was supposed to be “better” (schooling,safety,etc.)But guess what it was worse,not the violence persay but it’s definetly not safe in Bloomington. And oh yeah NORMAL is the college town NOT BLOOMINGTON!!

  27. ecarter

    According to the 2010 census neither Northbrook nor Highland Park ranked in the top 50 most populated cities in Illinois. Yet they were “ranked” 1 and 2 of best places to live out of top 50 cities. That’s just one of many errors made.

  28. Elizabeth

    This article is so innaccurate. First, the author stated they used the 50 most populated cities in Illinois. Northbrook or Highland Park are neither one in the top 50 most populated. So, for them to be listed first and second is a mistake. After going through the list (they actually used 51 cities) there are 16 cities listed that don’t make the top 50 most populated cities according to the 2010 census. Northbrook, Highland Park, Niles, Addison, Pekin, Lansing, Galesburg, Calumet City, Kankakee, Granite City, Chicago Heights, North Chicago, Alton, Danville, Harvey, and East St Louis are all cities that are not in the top 50 most populated. After realizing this, I decided to use the same method the author said she used to determine what cities in Illinois would be the best to live in (eventhough I still believe this is still pretty inaccurate. There were a lot of cities that received the same score according to my calculations, but there were four cities that scored significantly better using this person’s method. I came up with DesPlaines, Crystal Lake, Bolingbrook, and Carol Stream. Unfortunately, the city I live in (Decatur) ranked second to last only out ranking Chicago. Like I said, I used the same method the author said and came up with a completely different ranking for a large number of these cities and I still think it isn’t completely accurate, but maybe a little closer to be legitimate.

  29. P. Fields

    Bolingbrook ranked, but Plainfield not even ranked? Pure blasphemy, shame on you!

  30. Zoe Cappa

    I can’t take this list seriously with it including places like Cicero, Alton, Waukegan, Harvey, East St. Louis, Calumet City. There is clearly no accounting for quality of life. Probably should throw in number of foreclosures on the market to get a better picture. Clearly you are reading all of your data wrong to make such a ridiculous list.

  31. AC

    Really? Bolingbrook has that beautiful golf course. Have you tried to go golfing in Plainfield (remember Wedgewood is in Joliet)? Bolingbrook has the Promenade. Where do we go in Plainfield to go shopping or for a nice restaurant? Bolingbrook has miles of light industrial and warehouses. Where in the world do people work in Plainfield? In Bolingbrook, projects get done quickly. How many years did it take Plainfield to fix the downtown and the underpass on 59? Bolingbrook has really nice movie theaters. Where’s a movie theater in Plainfield? Bolingbrook has expressways. Do I even need to mention Plainfield’s horrible traffic?

  32. People. Read the criteria.

    Some great areas didn’t make the list because the criteria was ranking the 50 largest municipalities. So no..Barrington, Lake Forest will NOT be on the list. And Chicago area has a huge saturation of population so west of 39, south of I80 won’t be on here either. Doesn’t anyone READ?

 

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