Need recos about Western suburbs of Chicago
June 24, 2011 5:57 AM   Subscribe

What parts of Chicago's western suburbs are NOT cookie-cutter?

There is a possibility my wife and I will be relocating to Chicago's western suburbs. Having grown up in the north suburbs near Gurnee and Libertyville, the idea of living in a cookie-cutter suburb fills me with dread. Most of the norh suburbs is cookie-cutter and one shopping mall after another (with some exceptions, of course).

Can anyone recommend a neighborhood that is NOT so cookie-cutter?

I should explain what I mean by cookie-cutter:
  • Subdivisions filled with row after row of houses that look identical.
  • No soul.
  • No intimacy or "neighborhood" feel like you get in downtown Chicago.
  • No mini-downtown that functions as a community hub where you can walk around, get an ice cream, and enjoy a nice summer night out and about.
  • No small shops or independents. Every restaurant or business is a big box retailer or national chain.
  • No proximity to a Metra or CTA station.
We lived in Evanston for a few years and LOVED it. It was the exact opposite of all that (and then some). But if everything goes through, my office would be in Oakbrook Terrace and I don't think I'd be able to survive the traffic from that commute everyday without wanting to strangle someone (or myself). I have a 25-minute commute by bus right now, and it's heavenly. Ideally, I'd like to not have to drive, but that's looking increasingly unlikely.

Any ideas?
posted by zooropa to Travel & Transportation around Chicago, IL (22 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Check out Oak Park, it's pretty nice and city like with a cool downtown.
posted by katypickle at 6:01 AM on June 24, 2011 [7 favorites]

Brookfield maybe!
posted by little_c at 6:19 AM on June 24, 2011

I'm writing from my dad's lovely house in Elmhurst right now. It's a great town - tons of interesting restaurants and family-owned businesses, interesting neighborhoods, Metra right downtown and about a 30 minute ride into Ogilvie. Oh, and you'd have about a 4 minute commute to Oakbrook Terrace.

Though I'm an Ohioan myself now, I grew up here and my family owns one of those charming little businesses, I went to Elmhurst schools, know the good eats, etc. Feel free to MeMail me for more.
posted by Rallon at 6:21 AM on June 24, 2011

The area near the Main St. Metra Station of Downers Grove might fit. There are neat, older (very pricey) houses that all look different if you drive west on Prairie Ave from Main St - you might be able to see this via Google Street view. I think there are more affordable, smaller homes east of Main. There is a mini-downtown with independent toy, game, and gift stores. You mention ice cream and I remember this family-owned ice cream shop also on Main St. They were active supporters of the local HS when I lived there.

Just down the street there is a neat old(ish) cemetery and a decent Irish pub.

It is conservative, like the rest of Dupage County. It is more expensive than the northern suburbs but it does fit your criteria.

I have a lot more details. MeMail me if you are interested.
posted by Jorus at 6:41 AM on June 24, 2011

Downer's Grove seems like the closest town that fits your requirements. It has a nice downtown, tons of turn-of-the-century houses and a lot of charm. The Tivoli theater is one beacon of quaintness. There is a pond that kids skate and play hockey on in the winter. Downers recognized this and built their own Zamboni to maintain it.
posted by Terminal Verbosity at 6:43 AM on June 24, 2011

Seconding Oak Park. Bonus: tons of Frank Lloyd Wright houses.
posted by exogenous at 6:43 AM on June 24, 2011 [3 favorites]

La Grange, where I grew up, and Western Springs are full of beautiful old houses and tree-lined streets, have real walkable downtowns, are close to Oak Brook, and are on Metra. They're also close to Oak Brook. I had a terrible experience living in Hinsdale for a couple years in grade school, but it also has these qualities (along with a huge dose of social snobbery.) Also, seconding Brookfield and its neighbor Riverside (which, in Kunstler's The Geography of Nowhere, is ironically described as one of America's first cookie-cutter suburbs with its curvy streets and single-family houses, but it's definitely not cookie-cutter in the way you describe.)
posted by Ralston McTodd at 6:47 AM on June 24, 2011

I live in Naperville, which many think of as the definition of cookie-cutter suburban hell. But, I live within walking distance to downtown, where I can get an ice cream or coffee, or do some interesting people watching. There is Metra right there, too. Naperville near downtown might be an option for you.

But if you're going to be working in Oakbrook Terrace, I would suggest you look at Downer's Grove (as mentioned above) and also Glen Ellyn. Glen Ellyn has a nice downtown and Metra right there. Both DG and GE are located conveniently for access to OT, as well.
posted by achmorrison at 7:28 AM on June 24, 2011

Seconding Elmhurst and the various older suburbs all along the Metra. Most of those have actual downtowns and were originally designed to be walkable. Take some time to explore the older parts of town near the train stations - even Elmhurst has some ugly new subdivisions (and indeed, a rather ugly old fifties/sixties part with blah houses and winding streets that don't go anywhere).
posted by Frowner at 7:46 AM on June 24, 2011

nthing Brookfield/La Grange/Riverside.
posted by goethean at 7:57 AM on June 24, 2011

Lombard is kind of nice. I don't think it has quite as much personality as some of the other suburbs, but there are some well-kept older neighborhoods with more distinctive houses. Maple Ave. and the north end of Finley Rd. are nice, and close to downtown Lombard. The library and Lilacia park are right around the corner, and downtown and the Metra are within walking distance.

There are not as many shops in downtown Lombard as there are in, say, Glen Ellyn or Wheaton, but there are a few. One nice thing if you're into it is that they have Cruise Night every Saturday in the summer where people show off their classic cars and there is live music.

One nice thing about Lombard is that it is pretty centrally located in regard to most of the suburbs mentioned above. We're about 15 minutes from Oakbrook Terrace, Wheaton, Downers Grove, Lisle & Glen Ellyn. (The 15 minutes to OT might be a bit longer during the morning rush, depending on whether you have to take Butterfield and how far.)

Feel free to memail me with any questions about the area. I don't have a ton of info on places to eat but might be able to answer some general questions.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 8:49 AM on June 24, 2011

The perfect spot is north of Ogden Ave and west of La Grange road in La Grange/La Grange Park. The area is bordered to the west and north with forest preserve and is close to bike trails if you want to bike to work. Also close to downtown La Grange and the Metra when you need your big city fix (20 minutes).
posted by repoman at 8:55 AM on June 24, 2011

3rding Oak Park.
posted by desjardins at 9:21 AM on June 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm in Lombard as well, and while I like the location, I think for your criteria another of the burbs might be better. Lombard's downtown area is really dying--lots of empty storefronts, and the shops that are there seem sparsely visited. The parks are nice and I LOVE the library (the librarians are fantastic).

I really enjoy Glen Ellyn and Downer's Grove. Both have walkable/historic downtown areas, both have Metra stations located within those downtown areas, and they're also really conveniently located for driving as well. Both have an independent bookstore, independent coffee shops, yarn stores, and boutiques, and when I've gone, both areas have been packed with people. There are lots of older neighborhoods (as well as new stuff, but I do think that's unavoidable in this area), and in general I've had great experiences visiting.

I haven't visited Elmhurst as much, but it also has a small downtown area filled with local shops, as well as older neighborhoods. It would probably be a good fit for you as well.

Feel free to memail me with any questions about the area. My partner and I moved from the city about 8 months ago, and we really enjoy living out here. We like supporting local and independent shops, and find that we can do so easily out here.
posted by catwoman429 at 9:29 AM on June 24, 2011

Another vote for Oak Park or Downers Grove (whose quaint virtues were once extolled by Emo Philips).
posted by scody at 10:41 AM on June 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

I grew up in Fox Lake, near you. I have to say that while Fox Lake isn't perfect ... it does have everything you're looking for. Homes with history, easy Metra access and lots of places to go for your daily needs. I grew up on a farm on Monaville Road and I could bike to the train in 10 minutes.

Just something to consider!
posted by damiano99 at 10:46 AM on June 24, 2011

You might want to look at Clarendon Hills. I haven't been back in years, but there is a train stop, a small downtown and at least 20 years ago didn't all like identical.
posted by kbuxton at 11:24 AM on June 24, 2011

Glen Ellyn definitely fits all your criteria. The downtown neighborhoods are lovely and walkable, it's right on Metra, and it has lots of character.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 12:09 PM on June 24, 2011

I grew up in Glen Ellyn. To borrow a line from Morrissey, it's a great place to be, if you're a bedridden deaf mute.
posted by interrupt at 3:47 PM on June 24, 2011

Response by poster: Wow! I just wanted to say thank you to everyone who posted! Your opinions and thoughts are all very welcome. Both my wife and I thank you!
posted by zooropa at 6:15 PM on June 24, 2011

Nthing Downers Grove. My boyfriend and I live near the Belmont train station and we like it. Lots of older homes in our neighborhood - there are some newer larger homes but in my opinion they fit the character of the neighborhood. Where we live is pretty quiet, but the people here are very friendly and neighborly, and we're close to downtown as well.

Bonus: Lots of Sears Homes in town.
posted by SisterHavana at 12:13 AM on June 26, 2011

Response by poster: Hi folks! It's Zooropa again. I wanted to give an update on what Mrs. Zooropa and I ended up deciding.

We moved in September 2012. Before moving, though, we visited many of the places recommended here. In the end, it was a no-brainer: Downers Grove! We are very happy we did, and have fallen in love with the community.

Thank you for all the amazing suggestions! It's the Green FTW!
posted by zooropa at 8:44 AM on January 21, 2012

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