Best Towns to Live in Illinois 2016
To the north, along Lake Michigan boasts the major metropolis of the Midwest, The Windy City. However, the mid and southern region of the state of Illinois is filled with medium and small towns and villages. Rolling hills, wetlands and prairies make up most of the state, a total of 57,914 square miles. Illinois has been home to past US presidents and small town histories persist–including landmarks dating to pre- and post-European settlement. Today, almost 13 million people call the “Land of Lincoln” home. Illinois borders Indiana, Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri, and Kentucky. Illinois is a state of the arts–museums, music and culture. Sports teams include the Chicago Cubs and the Chicago White Sox (baseball), Chicago Bulls (basketball), and the Chicago Bears (football).
Our ratings were compiled by combining census, education, wealth , happiness and internal RentApplication data to create a unified rating system for all of the towns in Illinois. Ranked below are the top towns.
A nearby suburb of Chicago (12 miles), Evanston, Illinois is know as the home of Northwestern University. Although the residential population is 75,430 (2012 census), the city sees huge growth in number when the university is in session. Evanston is nicknamed the “City of Churches” and is full of local landmarks and points of interest such as the downtown shopping districts, Grosse Point Lighthouse, and the Ladd Arboretum. Evanston is a leader in sustainability and cultural and lifestyle inclusion.
A northwest village to Chicago, Schaumburg is home to many shopping centers and big box stores, including only one of two IKEAs in the state. Not only is Schaumburg in close proximity to downtown Chicago, but only ten miles from the O’Hare International Airport. Schaumburg also caters to the arts and boasts an array of natural beauty, such as at the Schaumburg Prairie Center for the Arts.
Given its name based on original marshlands in the area, for many years Skokie held the title of “The World’s Largest Village”. As of 2010, the village had a population of 64,784 in a square area 10.6 square meters. Skokie borders the cities of Evanston, Lincolnwood, Niles, Morton Grove, Glenview, and Wilmette. The village is home to a major shopping center as well as the Skokie Valley Symphony Orchestra and Illinoisn Holocaust Museum and Education Center.
#4 Arlington Heights
This town of 75,101 is a suburb of Chicago and is considered the most populous village in the United States. Arlington Heights is recognized for its Arlington Park Race Track and the Arlington Heights Memorial Library, with one of the largest catalogues of books in the country. Many entertainment venues dot the village, including the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre.
#5 Hoffman Estates
Hoffman Estates is located in Cook County, near to Chicago. The town of 51,895 (2010) has several historical buildings, including the Sunderlage Farm Smokehouse. It is also known for it robust economy, including major companies like Sears Corporation, GE Capital, and AT & T Inc. In the past, Hoffman Estates has hosted large music and dance festivals.
#6 Des Plaines
In close proximity to both O’Hare International Airport and downtown Chicago, the city is named for the Des Plaines River, which runs through the city. A total of 58,364 people live here as of the 2010 census. Des Plaines is home to Lake Opeka, the Des Plaines Forest Reserve, and the first franchised McDonald’s, along with its own museum
Located in central Illinois, Bloomington is the fifth largest city outside of the Chicago Metropolitan Area. In 2010, the city had a population of 76,610. During the early 20th century, Bloomington began rapidly expanding with the growth of the agriculture industry, construction of highways, and insurance businesses. The city is well-connected to other parts of the state via major highways and the Amtrak railway. Bloomington hosts recreational facilities as well as Miller Park Zoo and wildlife preserves.
Woodstock, on the perimeters of the Chicago metropolitan area, is best recognized for its Woodstock Opera House and Old McHenry County Courthouse. The city of 25,178 (est.2014) is an innovator in spirituality–offering several weekly guided meditations–as well as in the arts, including the Woodstock Opera House and music concerts such as Off Square Music, Jazz on the Square, Liquid Blues, and Opera Woodstock.
Hampshire of Kane County, Illinois is located due west of the city of Chicago. An estimated 5,976 (2014) people live in Hampshire, in an area of 8.95 square miles. The farming community has lead initiatives to combat waste and encourage sustainability through recycling programs. Each year the city hosts outdoor festivals, events, and parades such as the 2015 Coon Creek Day Parade.
Victorian-style homes lines the streets of Charleston, Illinois. Charleston is located in Coles County, in the east-central portion of the state. Eastern Illinois University is located in the town, accounting for a majority’s of local employment. In 1983, Jimmy John’s opened its doors for the first time to the town of 21,838 residents.
LaSalle is located in northern Illinois, at the intersections on Interstates 39 and 80. Nearby, lies Starved Rock State Park, a short five mile drive away. The town was originally built up as part of the zinc processing industry, giving the city the nickname, “Zinc City”. Together with its twin city, Peru, the two make up the base of the Illinois Valley. For nearly one hundred years, La Salle was a major delivery point along the Illinois and Michigan Canal for goods travelling north from New Orleans. Today, visitors come to see the canal steam boats revived.
Mahomet of central Illinois is home to several forest preserves including Champaign County Forest Preserve District properties, Lake of the Woods and River Bend Forest Preserve. The city os 7,258 (2010) encompasses the Mahomet School District, including five primary and secondary schools. Many natural landmarks are spread throughout Mahomet, like the Sangoman River and botanicals gardens.
At the southern point of Illinois, nearly at the border with Missouri, sits Carbondale, Jackson County. The city is also located in close proximity to Shawnee National Forest, and is the site of Southern Illinois Univeristy’s main campus. Thanks to university community involvement, Carbondale residents can attend music concerts, theatrical productions, art and history shows, as well as cultural events. An estimated 26,324 people live in Carbondale.
Urbana, Champaign of central Illinois is home to most of the campus of University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The city with an estimated population of 42,044 hosts many community events year round, including Market at the Square, the Urbana Sweetcorn Festival, and Candlestick Lane. Urbana is also home to several public parks and swimming pools.
Marengo is a small town in McHenry County, located in northern Illinois near the Illinois-Wisconsin border. The population according to the 2010 census was 7,648. Local public events include Settlers Day Parade and Friday Night Blues at the Lakeside Legacy Arts Park.
Moline of Rock County, Illinois is one of the Quad Cities, along with East Moline and Rock Island of Illinois and Davenport and Bettendorf of Iowa. Moline serves as the headquarters of Deere & Company and KONE Elevators and Escalators.. Also in the area is the Quad City International Airport, Niabi Zoo, and Black Hawk College. Over the last twenty years, the downtown business district has been revived, and today, is thriving.
In western Illinois, south of Galesburg, sits Macomb, population 21,516 (2014). Western Illinois University resides in Macomb. The city is home to window manufacturing an construction services. Entertainment in the area includes the Geology Museum, The Old Bailey House, and the Starry Night Reperatory Theatre.
Mascoutah is a small city in St.Clair County, Illinois. Though Mascoutah has a population just over 7,000, its proximity to St. Louis Missouri gives access to large city attractions and conveniences. Mascoutah is within a short distance of St. Louis and Lambert airports. Local universities and colleges within fifteen minutes driving distance include McKendree College and Southwestern Illinois College and thirty minutes from St. Louis University.
Mid-Illinois city Monticello, population 5,138 (2000) is the county seat of Piatt County. Landmarks include the Robert Allerton Park at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Monticello is home to the Monticello Family Aquatics Center and the Monticello Railway Museum.
Southwest of the cities of Chicago and Indianapolis, Champaign is best known for the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, which lies partially within city limits. Parkland College with 18,000 students can also be found here. The city is also well-known for its start up companies as well as industry-recognized companies, like Caterpillar, Deere & Company, IBM, State Farm, and Intel.
Situated in northwest Illinois, the city of Sterling has been nicknamed “The Hardware Capital of the World” for its manufacturing and steel industries. A majority of the land surrounding the city is farmlands and fields. The area is filled with wildlife preserves and parks, such as the Hoover Park, Sinnissippi Dam Walkway and Martin’s Landing.
Wilmington of Wil County has a population of 5,134 (2010) and a small town feel to match its size. The downtown area includes antique shops, as well as family restaurants and cafes. Just outside the center of the city is the Des Plaines Fish and Wildlife Area and the Illinois & Michigan Canal. Every year, the city hosts its Catfish Days Festival, complete with parades, flea markets, and catfish dinners.
Deep into southern Illinois, rests Marion, a city of 17,193. Marion is accessible to other parts of the country via Interstate 57. Williamson County Regional Airport is just northwest of the city. Major employers included Pepsi and the VA Medical Center. Marion boasts a Civic and Cultural Center as well as two dozen wineries on the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail and Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge.
Ranging from its Victorian architecture to quaint feel and top-ranked academics, Geneseo is a highly sought after town in Henry County, northwest Illinois. The city’s namesake comes from a translation meaning “shining valley” or “beautiful valley”. Geneseo High School’s football team and music program have a strong reputation. The city is complete with golf courses, parks, and an indoor and outdoor swimming pool.
Approximately 45 minutes from St. Louis, Greenville is a small town with big city access. Greenville is set in a rural area of southern Illinois that lacks significant crime, congestion, and pollution. The city is home to a vibrant downtown and green spaces scattered throughout the city. Year round events are geared towards community engagement and family fun.
Fairfield of Wayne County, southeast Illinois is the site of Fairfield Community College. The city has easy metro access, and continues to grow in size and population. Summer months bring on open air concerts in the park along with a silent light show. The downtown area relies predominantly on local businesses.
Eureka is a small, tight-knit community in central Illinois. The town is located along the Ronald Reagan Trail, connecting Eureka to other cities and towns significant in Ronald Reagan’s life. Eureka is home to Eureka College, which Ronald Reagan graduated from. The city is easily accessible via US 24 and Illinois 117.
The village of Rantoul was established in 1854 as an extension of the Illinois Central Railroad. The city is accessible via the Interstate, as well as Amtrak rail services and the Rantoul National Aviation Center. Nearby attractions include the Illinois Skydiving Center, the Octave Chanute Aerospace Museum, and the Korean War Veterans Museum.
The “Home of Popeye”, the city of Chester has erected a statue of the Sailor Man in the Elzie C. Segar Memorial Park. Each year the city holds a Popeye’s Picnic and Parade. The park is named after Popeye’s creator, which also contains other fictional character inspirations. Chester has a population of 8,586 people and is located in southwestern Illinois and shares a border with Missouri. Prime industries in the city include cole mining and a knitting mill.
#30 Coal City
Situated between Grundy and Wil counties, Coal City was once served by Santa Fe Railway. Today, commuters use Interstate 55 instead. Coal City got its name from the coal mines in the vicinity. There are five public schools within the district, including Coal City High School, softball champion.
Corner stores and cafe awnings line the streets of Princeton, Bureau County, Illinois. Residents totalling 7,415 (est.2014) work for some of the town’s major employers, like L.W. Schneider, Inc. Firearms Components Manufacturer,and Ace Hardware. Each year, the city holds its Homestead Festival, which includes a beer garden, children’s events, and craft show.
Meaning “junction of two trails”, Mendota today is the intersection of many major highways, including Interstate 39, US Route 34, and US Route 52. Amtrak train also operates daily here. Most visitors come to Mendota in August, during the Mendota Sweet Corn Festival to take parade in a carnival, parade, and sweet corn samplings, of course.
#33 Du Quoin
Du Quoin, Perry County is located in southern Illinois. Amtrak services this town of 5,908(est.2014) each day. The city is home to the DuQuoin State Fair, held each year on its expansive fairgrounds. DuQuoin also has a rich culture of local business and community pride.
Grundy, County, Illinois is home to the city of Morris, population 13,636. The city offers outdoor recreation at Goold Park, Chapin Park, and Lions Park as well as the Morris City Pool. Morris hosts public events throughout the year, including the Three French Hens Market.
Olney of Richland County has 8,631 residents and is famous for its white squirrel population. Olney offers a variety of private and public education opportunities, as well as religious organizations and more than twenty-five churches. Additionally, residents can participate in a variety of outdoor activities, utilizing sports facilities and park spaces. Annual festivals include the Olney Arts Council’s Fall Festival and the Walk & Roll.
Peru is located in LaSalle County, Illinois. Together with the city of LaSalle, Peru is at the crux of the Illinois Valley. Peru has consistently ranked high in terms of economic growth and employment opportunity. In 2010, the census listed 10,295 residents in Peru. Every year, the town holds summer events for children.
About sixty miles from Chicago, Harvard is subway-accessible via the Union/Pacific Northwest Line. Three original settlers gave the city its name as an homage to Harvard, Massachusetts. Harvard shares a border with its neighbor to the north, Wisconsin. Harvard is well known as a major dairy producer and distributor. Harvard is a small town of 9,447. Significant buildings include the historical library.
Dixon Memorial arch proudly welcomes visitors to the city located in Lee County in north Illinois. Dixon is rich with American history. People new to Dixon can visit the Ronald Reagan Boyhood Home and the Ronald Reagan Trail. Today, the city is full of summertime fun for families, like the wine festival, Blues-Brews-and BBQ, Reagan Trail Days, and the Scarecrow Festival every autumn.
Jacksonville, Illinois in the center of the state is home to Illinois College, one of the first higher education institutions in the midwest. The school grew to include the Illinois School for the Deaf and the Illinois School for the Visually Impaired. Eli Bridge Company, a Ferris Wheel and amusement park manufacturer, and J.Capps & Sons, one of the largest textile businesses in the country is located in Jacksonville. In 2010, the city’s population was 19,446 people.
Not far from the Iowan border lies Galesburg, Illinois, home to automobile company, Western. Today, Galesburg welcomes students who study at Know College, Lombard College, and Carl Sandburg College within the city’s limits. Every July, Galesburg hosts its Annual Hot Air Balloon Race; Railroad Days take place in June, and National Stearman Fly-in Days are every September.
Salem is located in south-central Illinois. It’s the birthplace of Miracle Whip, and other aspects of historical significance like the Bachmann House, the Badollet House, and the William Jennings Bryan Boyhood Home. Salem boasts the perfect family community because of its excellence in education, state-of-the-art medical facilities, and numerous recreational areas. Salem is also within a short driving distancce from St.Louis and all of the accompanying attractions there.
With a motto “Work, Play, Live”, Braidwood considers itself an ideal community-focused city that offers great entertainment and is also a safe place to live. Braidwood offers its residents opportunities to fish and hunt, ride down Route 66, enjoy the outdoors, and sample local cuisine. Shadow Lakes is a nearby resort area that includes boating, swimming, hiking and cycling. In total, about 6,185 (est.2014) people live in the city.
#43 Rock Island
Rock Island gets its name from the original Rock Island on the Mississippi, which has since been renamed, Arsenal Island. Present-day Rock Island is one of the Quad Cities, on the border of Iowa. The city has 39,018 (2010) residents, and has consistently ranked high for its nightlife, including comedy clubs and music venues. Rock Island boasts affordability while maintaining a high quality of living and economic security.
Benton Illinois is located in Franklin County of southern Illinois and is considered part of the Metro Lakeland area. Benton residents enjoy shopping venues and sports recreational facilities. Visitors will enjoy Rend Lake as well as the Franklin County Garage Museum and the Historic Jail Museum.
Located along the Vermilion River, Streator, Illinois is about eighty miles southwest of Chicago. Originally, the city was built on the coal mining industry, which persists even today. Now, in addition, the city of Streator relies on the glass making, tile, and pipe industries. Several museums and historical sites are situated in the area, including the Majestic Theatre and the Silas Williams House. Every year, the city hosts the “Pipe Dreams” music festival.
A newly-developing city, Robinson is still quaint, with a total population of 7,713 (2010). The city sits nearly on the Indiana border. Robinson prides itself on a strong educational system, comfortable and affordable housing, rest and relaxation, and medical services via the Crawford Medical Hospital.
“Gem City” is located on the Mississippi River in Adams County. Historically, Quincy was a hub for riverboats passing through on their way south and today, maintains its historical districts during that time period. It’s home to Quincy University and the Bayview Bridge. Major companies in Quincy are Niemann Foods and Gardner Denver.
Effingham is at the crossroads of two major highways: I-57 (Chicago to Missouri) and I-70 (Utah to Maryland). It’s influx of incoming and outgoing travelers has increased the number of restaurants and shopping areas. The Cross Foundation placed a 198-cross in the town, one of the tallest freestanding crosses in the western hemisphere. The city of Effingham has several public primary and secondary schools.
#49 Rock Falls
Opposite Sterling, rests the Whiteside County town of Rock Falls. Currently 9,266 (2010) reside in the area. The City of Rock Falls and Township of Coloma maintain a combined 16 parks including picnic areas and sports facilities. Visitors can take a walk down the historical Hennepin Canal. Rock Falls is proud to offer its residents a state-of-the-art library and versatile camping grounds.
Mattoon is situated in Coles County, Illinois. The town of 18,555 has always profited off of an agriculture-based economy, and continues to profit today from its corn supply. Mattoon housed a zero-emissions power plant which makes hydrogen and electricity without manipulating carbon capture. The city is also home to Lake Land College. Additionally, beautiful parks and sport fields are scattered throughout the city.