City Guide / Chicago

8 Hidden Gems of the Chicago Suburbs

By Kailey Hansen | Dec 8, 2021
The fountain at the Naperville (Illinois) Riverwalk

While suburban living often gets a bad rap among millennials, the Chicago suburbs are a great option for young professionals seeking good food, thriving nightlife, a relaxed pace of living, and quick access to one of the largest cities in the nation. Like Chicago’s own neighborhoods, each suburb offers a unique vibe, ranging from the rolling plains of Oswego to the urban streets of Oak Park. 

Landing has expanded from city neighborhoods to some of Chicago’s most popular burbs—with furnished apartments available near downtown districts and Metra Railway stations. Explore beyond city limits to experience some of the best outdoor attractions, nature walks, dining, and shopping.

Here is a list of some of the best hidden (or not-so-hidden to locals) gems of the suburbs, just a short car ride or train ride away from your next Landing apartment.

1. The Morton Arboretum (Lisle, IL)

For locals, this attraction isn’t exactly hidden. From 2018 to 2021, anyone cruising down I-88 in the suburb of Lisle encountered a giant troll overlooking the highway as part of the Morton Arboretum’s rotating outdoor art display. While the “Troll Hunt” exhibit has closed, current visitors can wander arboretum grounds to encounter a new larger-than-life sculpture series: Human+Nature, curated by international artist Daniel Popper.

This popular destination is first and foremost a sanctuary of nature trails, filled with plants and greenery from all across the globe. Walk through a maze garden, explore paths lined with shrubs and flowers from Asia, or attend one of the Arb’s seasonal events, like the Glass Pumpkin Patch or the glittering winter festival, Illumination: Tree Lights

2. Ravinia Festival (Highland Park, IL)

While the city boasts plenty of indoor concert arenas, one of the best outdoor venues is nestled in the quiet north shore suburb of Highland Park. Ravinia Festival is a renowned concert space that has become a major summertime attraction for city dwellers and suburbanites alike.

Bring your lawn chairs, charcuterie boards, and picnic blankets to enjoy live music from the acclaimed Chicago Symphony Orchestra, which plays a series of concerts at Ravinia annually. This unique venue is located on a vast, lush property with multiple stages, from an indoor recital hall to a large open-air arena. In addition to catching a CSO concert, guests can enjoy casual bluegrass and jazz on the lawn, watch a Broadway legend belt show tunes, or snag a ticket for a major, globally renowned artist like John Legend. Ravinia’s lineup is always one of the most diverse in Chicagoland and has something for everyone.

3. Naperville Riverwalk (Naperville, IL)

The charming suburb of Naperville, located west of Chicago in DuPage County, boasts a vibrant little downtown district that draws in visitors beyond just locals. Its claim to fame is the Naperville Riverwalk, a quaint, tree-lined path that weaves past boutique shopping and an array of dining. The Riverwalk is the perfect daytime destination if you are in the mood for a relaxed stroll, a glass of wine on the river, or a sweet stop at one of the neighborhood’s many dessert shops.

Enjoy riverside views with a glass of merlot at SixtyFour Wine Bar, or indulge in some sushi at the neighboring Blue Sushi Grill. While there’s plenty of places to eat, drink, and shop, you will also want to peruse the river’s trail to take in Naperville’s Moser Tower, a futuristic bell tower that stands at a height of 160 feet tall. The Riverwalk also has paddle boat rentals, a fishing pier, and a man-made shoreline (with volleyball and swimming) called Centennial Beach, one of the best beaches in the Chicago area.

4. Hideaway Brew Garden (Hoffman Estates, IL)

Concealed amid an unsuspecting business district, the northwest burb of Hoffman Estates boasts a bustling hotspot that offers the perfect weekend plans for those seeking fresh air. Once you find parking, follow the sounds of live music until you come across a hidden world filled with string lights, cabanas, beer and cocktail tents, taco stands, and stage performances.

This seasonal lakeside beer garden offers a chill, entirely outdoor space that is buzzing during the summer months. Certain weekends at Hideaway Brew Garden also feature axe-throwing, DJs, and dueling pianos.

5. The Marriott Theatre (Lincolnshire, IL)

Downtown Chicago might be home to the city’s theatre district, but a thriving arts and culture scene doesn’t end there. The suburbs are home to several renowned regional theatres, including the Paramount Theatre in Aurora, Drury Lane Theatre in Oak Brook, and The Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire.

Experience Broadway musicals like “The Sound of Music” and “West Side Story,” or plays like “The Bridges of Madison County,” in an intimate arena theatre with seating on all sides of the stage.

6. Woodfield Mall (Schaumburg, IL)

Designated as the largest shopping center in the greater Chicago area, Woodfield Mall takes retail therapy to the next level. The massive shopping empire holds approximately 300 stores and has consistently garnered awards for being one of the best malls in the nation. Woodfield Mall is also home to plenty of dining options, from a Garrett Popcorn stand (a local Chicago favorite) to a host of sit-down restaurants.

You can also experience a slew of entertainment and comedy options, including the Improv Comedy Club and a giant bowling alley and arcade venue called Enterrium. You won’t want to miss the chance to visit during the holidays, as this mall does it up big with festive lights, displays, and decorations. On the other side of the Woodfield Mall property, you can visit the “Streets of Woodfield,” home to a ton of restaurants and a movie theatre.

7. The Forge: Lemont Quarries (Lemont, IL)

Thrill-seekers can venture 30 minutes outside of the city to one of the largest adventure parks in the country. The Forge: Lemont Quarries in Lemont, IL offers rock wall climbing, ziplining and rappelling, mountain biking, ice skating, and more. (And you thought Illinois was just a bunch of cornfields, didn’t you?) 

Whether you prefer a leisurely outdoor activity or a serious challenge, The Forge offers a range of adventures that suit any level of experience. You can book individual activities or a day pass if you want to get your adrenaline flowing; or simply enjoy a seasonal event, such as ice sculpting demonstrations and holiday caroling.

8. Frank Lloyd Wright Architecture Tours (Oak Park, IL)

Just minutes outside the city (and accessible by both Metra and “L” trains), Oak Park is a cozy urban neighborhood that barely feels like a suburb. Its most notable distinction is that it features more buildings designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright than any other town in the world. Here you can embark on a walking tour of the architect’s home and studio or do a guided biking route to view 21 Wright-designed works. 

There are plenty of different options available, so it can help to do some research and book the tour type that most interests you. Once your journey has finished, explore the lively streets of Downtown Oak Park for a bite to eat, or zip to Downtown Chicago less than 10 miles away.

Additional things to do in the Chicago suburbs

There is plenty more to explore across Chicago’s best suburbs! Honorary mentions include: 

Land a great apartment in Chicago, Illinois

If you like the idea of moving to Chicago, Illinois (or residing in the Chicago suburbs), Landing offers fully furnished apartments with flexible lease terms, concierge services, seamless transfers, and all the amenities you need. Browse our available apartments in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs, or contact us to learn more about how Landing works.

Kailey Hansen

Kailey Hansen is a freelance writer and communications professional based in the land of deep-dish pizza. She has lived in both the city and the suburbs of Chicago and enjoys writing about the amazing things the Windy City has to offer. When she's not dishing about the best places to grab a slice of deep-dish, you can find her writing (and obsessing) about binge-worthy TV shows for BuzzFeed and why cats are the best (and absolutely outlandish creatures) for Rover's blog, The Dog People.