Why Evanston, Illinois Is One of the Coolest Suburbs in America
Evanston was chosen as one of Apartment Therapy’s Coolest Suburbs in America 2019. We showcased the burbs nationwide that offer the most when it comes to cultural activities, a sense of community, and simply a good quality of life. For more on how we define “cool” and what exactly counts as a suburb, check out our methodology here. To view Apartment Therapy’s other Coolest Suburbs in America 2019, head here.
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It might be hard to believe for a college city, but the suburb of Evanston—with its Methodist roots—was once the birthplace of the temperance movement. These days though, the idyllic first suburb just 13 miles north of Downtown Chicago is brimming with excitement, culture, outdoor recreation, and bars and breweries to spare. Evanston’s impressive lakefront is home to five Lake Michigan beaches. Inland, it houses 77 parks. 98 percent of households in Evanston are within half a mile of green space.
Evanston is its own city, with a diverse population and a rich history of activism. Northwestern University attracts students and academics from all over the world, and new businesses open constantly. From museums and parks to restaurants and breweries, Evanston’s cool factor makes it an endlessly exciting place to live, study, and visit.
Median rent price:
$1,519, according to Zillow.
Median house price:
$305,400, according to Zillow.
Price per square foot (compared to city):
$273 in Evanston vs. $259 in Chicago, according to Zillow.
75, according to Walk Score.
Median household income:
$74,901, according to Census data.
75,282, according to the Census data.
What the suburb is known for:
Evanston is home to the temperance movement, and the town strongly supported Prohibition, starting in 1855 when an amendment passed outlawing the sale of alcohol within four miles of Northwestern University’s campus. Although Evanston was a dry community until 1972, today there are bars, breweries, and distilleries within the city limits. Many of which —like Temperance Beer Co. and FEW Spirits—pay homage to Evanston’s dry past. (Note the initials: Francis E. Willard headed up the Women’s Christian Temperance Union.)
Merrick Rose Garden. This park, hidden just outside of downtown Evanston, has hundreds of rose bushes. It’s also a local favorite for wedding pictures.
Place that makes you happy to live there:
Almost 60 Midwest vendors come together every spring and summer for the Downtown Evanston Farmers Market. There’s also live music and activities for families.
Favorite activity for families:
Starlight Movies in the Park. The city hosts free movies over the summer in parks all around Evanston, which start at dusk. Admission is free and there are activities for families before the movies start.
Favorite hangout for young professionals:
Union Pizzeria and Evanston SPACE. This restaurant-meets-bar-meets-intimate-music-venue is always packed. Come for the live music and stay for the sausage and sweet pepper pizza.
Favorite outdoor lounge spot:
Peckish Pig. This brewpub’s patio, right on the Chicago border, is the perfect spot to enjoy an Evanston summer afternoon.
Favorite date spot:
Five & Dime is one of the best rooftops in Evanston. Get the burrata and marinated olives to share.
Average commute/traffic report:
The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) has seven stops in Evanston, on the purple line. At peak commute times, the purple line runs express to downtown Chicago and generally comes down to standing-room only. Metra, the suburban commuter rail system for the Chicagoland area, also has three stops in Evanston. The Metra is more expensive than the CTA, and will cost you about $5.50 to get into Chicago, but it’s much faster.
Favorite local bookstore:
Bookends & Beginnings. This independent bookstore is hidden in an alley behind Sherman Avenue, in the heart of downtown Evanston, and is known for more than just books—they frequently host events for the local literary community, too.
Favorite place to get coffee:
Curt’s Café. Curt’s is known for its great coffee and cozy atmosphere, and is also home to a work-training program for at-risk youth.
Favorite bar for when you want to be around people:
Temperance Beer Co. Check out the tap room for local brews. Temperance doesn’t serve food, but you can order in from a handful of Evanston restaurants.
Favorite alone spot:
Arrington Lagoon. A quiet spot on the lake in Dawes Park, for when you need to get away from everyone.
Favorite free cultural activity to take part in:
Thursday Night Live. The 10-concert series has been coming to Evanston for about 20 summers, and each concert at the newly-renovated Fountain Square plaza spotlights a different music genre.
Hecky’s Barbecue. Order the tender rib tips and pulled pork, then make sure to get an extra bottle of barbecue sauce to take home.
Stumble & Relish. This boutique is run by a mother-daughter team and is perfect for Evanston- or Chicago-themed gifts and stationary.
Most walkable area:
Downtown Evanston is home to one of the city’s biggest shopping districts.
Favorite bike trails/parks/outdoor activities:
The Lakefill on Northwestern’s campus. It’s no surprise that Northwestern students and Evanston residents alike flock to the Lakefill on the first spring day when temperatures top 50 degrees. The views of Lake Michigan and the Chicago skyline are stunning.
Favorite spot for an Instagram:
Lee Street Beach. Who doesn’t love a good beach Insta?
The Lucky Platter. Make sure to get the apricot cheese flaky at this kitschy restaurant.
Favorite free activity:
The Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University. This free museum is open to the Evanston community and hosts exhibitions, lectures, and workshops.
Favorite grocery store:
Foodstuffs. This North Shore chain is known for high quality, gourmet foods. Their customizable chopped salads are definitely a highlight.
Favorite place for a workout:
TITLE Boxing Club. Take one of their kickboxing classes.
Favorite place to take an out-of-towner:
To impress visitors, go to Hoosier Mama Pie Company for savory and sweet pies. Get the chocolate-cream pie and about five more slices to take home for later.
Worst place to find parking and easiest place to find parking:
Central Street can be a nightmare on a weekend morning. There’s a parking lot on Maple Avenue that’s free for the first hour and affords you access to downtown.
What the neighbors say:
“I think the best part about living in Evanston is the sense of community. Everyone is genuinely invested in the well-being of the people and institutions around them and there is a sense of pride that comes from growing up in a place like this.” —Olivia Everheart, resident for 21 years.
“The community’s commitment to supporting local businesses.” —Allyson Mauch, resident for 3 years.
“Being in a college town,” —Meghan Ward, resident for 3 years.
“Being in a vibrant, involved community that has a lot of history itself, but is also close to Chicago so it’s easy to have both.” —Kristina Karisch, residents for 3 years.
“I love it especially for the lakefront and the farmers market. It’s also very walkable and bike-able, and it is so close to Chicago.” —Ella Rubenstein, resident for 21 years.
Favorite annual event:
Custer Fair. This street fair was inducted into the Illinois Festival Hall of Fame in 1992.
What I miss about the city living in a suburb:
Businesses being open late.
What I never miss about the city:
Favorite local diner:
Sarkis Cafe is an Evanston legend. Order the bacon Loretta or M&M’s pancakes.
Favorite house/garden walk:
Hinman Avenue, for beautiful trees and an eclectic collection of houses.
Favorite resale and antique store:
Modern Vibe specializes in mid-century modern home furnishings.
Why do you think your suburb is cool?
Evanston is the anti-suburb suburb. It has its own vibrant history, food scene, culture, and identity that separates it from other Chicago suburbs. You can get the quiet you want by living outside of a big city, but you’ll never be bored.