Chicago

9 Suburbs Near Chicago You Should Absolutely Visit

You could use a little space.

Courtesy of Chicago Architecture Center
Courtesy of Chicago Architecture Center
Courtesy of Chicago Architecture Center

Nothing like a pandemic to make you appreciate a little open space. If you’re feeling a bit claustrophobic in the city and are looking to get out to stretch your legs a bit, Chicago’s surrounding suburbs can make an excellent day trip alternative to the standard road trip destinations of Lake Geneva and Galena. So the next time you’re looking to escape Chicago without boarding a plane or taking a long road trip, consider pointing the GPS towards these suburbs and spending the day exploring a new town. The best part? You get to come back to the city when you’re done.

Flickr/Michael Kappel
Flickr/Michael Kappel
Flickr/Michael Kappel

Geneva

Kane County
How to get there: Metra UP-W line from Ogilvie Station, 1 hour 7 minutes
Why you should visit: With close proximity to Chicago mixed with its own charming small-town aesthetic that feels a world away, Geneva has a little bit of everything-from a ridiculously cute Downtown dotted with tree-lined bars and restaurants to a wealth of nature at nearby parks and the Fox River, which runs through town. A leisurely stroll down Third Street’s intimate bar and restaurant scene is a near-perfect way to spend an afternoon, as is taking in a minor league baseball game at the Kane County Cougars stadium (aka Northwestern Medicine Field) here in the summer.
While you’re here: A side trip to the equally cool but slightly larger adjacent riverside town of St. Charles is a must, where you can sip drinks at bars along the river or take in a show (when it reopens) at the historic Arcada Theatre.

Flickr/Jimmy Emerson, DVM
Flickr/Jimmy Emerson, DVM
Flickr/Jimmy Emerson, DVM

Woodstock

McHenry County
How to get there: Metra UP-NW line, 1 hour, 31 minutes
Why you should visit: As the town where much of the Bill Murray classic Groundhog Day was filmed, Woodstock is instantly recognized by iconic film locations such as the Woodstock Opera House. (The town even goes as far to host a “Groundhog Days” festival every February with film screenings, beer tastings, and something called “groundhog bowling.”) But scratch beneath the surface and you’ll find a cool little town with a surprisingly decent music scene, yours to enjoy at popular local watering holes like Liquid Blues.
While you’re here: Ten minutes down the road (and also accessible via Metra), the pretty little town of Crystal Lake makes a worthy diversion with a historic downtown and 40+ parks, not to mention its picturesque namesake lake.

Flickr/Bob Simpson
Flickr/Bob Simpson
Flickr/Bob Simpson

Oak Park

Cook County
How to get there: Just 7 miles west of Downtown and bordering the city’s West Side, Oak Park is accessible via multiple public transit options including the CTA Blue and Green lines, Metra, CTA bus, and Pace bus.
Why you should visit: Arguably Chicago’s coolest suburb, Oak Park is famous as the hometown of Ernest Hemingway as well as the town where Frank Lloyd Wright spent much of his early career. In addition to a Hemingway museum and architecture tours visiting the world’s largest collection of Wright-designed buildings, Oak Park is an artsy bike-friendly town as well as a culinary hub with 150+ eateries including a Michelin Bib Gourmand restaurant (Sen Sushi Bar).
While you’re here: Freddy’s Pizza in nearby Cicero is a local institution. Do yourself a favor. Go there. Now.

Flickr/Esteban Monclova
Flickr/Esteban Monclova
Flickr/Esteban Monclova

Evanston

Cook County
How to get there: 12 miles north of and bordering Chicago, Evanston is accessible by the CTA Purple line, Metra, CTA bus, and Pace bus.
Why you should visit: Evanston may be suburban, but it doesn’t always feel like it, with a wealth of city-quality bars and restaurants including Found Kitchen and Ward Eight. Meanwhile the town’s lakeside location offers plenty of enviable views at local parks and beaches while brimming with Big 10 college life at Northwestern University’s Ryan Field on a crisp fall Saturday. You can also catch a concert at the excellent but underrated music venue SPACE (which also hosts outdoor concerts around town during covid) while diving into some of the finest classic Chicago food in all of Chicagoland at casual eatery joints like Edzo’s and Chicken Shack.
While you’re here: Go just across Evanston’s northern border to the neighbouring town of Wilmette to check out the stunning Taj Mahal-style Baha’i Temple, one of only eight such temples in the world and the only one in the US.

Flickr/Eric Allix Rogers
Flickr/Eric Allix Rogers
Flickr/Eric Allix Rogers

Riverside

Cook County
How to get there: Metra BNSF line from Union Station, 19 minutes
Why you should visit: With the majority of this sleepy village designated a National Historic Landmark, greenery is king in this town designed by famed architect/Central Park designer Frederick Law Olmsted in 1869 as one of the oldest planned communities in America. The town is free of traffic lights, with gas lamps lighting the routes along winding streets that follow the Des Plaines River beside ample green space that creates a park-like vibe. There hasn’t historically been a ton to do here outside of high school house parties, but that is starting to change with the opening of a few new bars and restaurants in recent years including La Barra and Mollie’s Public House.
While you’re here: A trip to the world-famous Brookfield Zoo in the neighbouring town of Brookfield is a must, followed by a night of inebriation at infamous local watering hole Irish Times.

Flickr/Erick Allix Rogers
Flickr/Erick Allix Rogers
Flickr/Erick Allix Rogers

Flossmoor

Cook County
How to get there: Metra ME line from Millennium Station, 45 minutes
Why you should visit: Is it wrong to make a trip to the suburbs strictly to visit a brewery? Not when the suburb is Flossmoor and the brewery is the legendary Flossmoor Station, built into a historic former train station and now serving award-winning brews in one of the finest settings in all of Chicago (they’ve even got a caboose out back, so you know it’s legit). Surrounded by green space, the town is also a haven for golf lovers and is just a short ride from Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre (where you totally saw your first M√∂tley Cr√ľe concert with your parents… or wanted to).
While you’re here: Hit the Holy Trinity of South Suburban beer with side trips from Flossmoor Station to Blue Island’s Rock Island Public House and Tinley Park’s Soundgrowler, both within a 20-minute drive (or, better yet, Uber ride).

Courtesy of City of Highland Park, Illinois
Courtesy of City of Highland Park, Illinois
Courtesy of City of Highland Park, Illinois

Highland Park

Lake County
How to get there: Metra UP-N line from Ogilvie Station, 51 minutes
Why you should visit: With former resident Michael Jordan and current resident Billy Corgan (who operates a tea shop/art studio in town called Madame ZuZu’s), Highland Park is packed with beautiful lakeside homes and filming locations that have made their way into many classic ‚Äė80s films from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off to Sixteen Candles to Risky Business. These days the town offers a lively Downtown scene, two beaches, several golf courses, and plenty of bars in nearby Highwood. But one of the best things to do here is take a leisurely drive down scenic Sheridan Rd (which winds through several posh North Shore suburbs) before stopping off for an outdoor summer concert at iconic venue Ravinia (which promises it is returning in 2021).
While you’re here: Just across the border from Highland Park is the town of Glencoe, home to the utterly beautiful, date-worthy, and, somehow, free) Chicago Botanic Garden. (Preregister for timed entry.)

Flickr/Rachel
Flickr/Rachel
Flickr/Rachel

Elmwood Park

Cook County
How to get there: CTA Green line or Metra UP-W line to Forest Park; 10-25 minutes drive/bus north on Harlem to Elmwood Park
Why you should visit: While it may not be super-pretty to look at from the outside, Elmwood Park is a Chicago food lover’s dream-home to the original old-school locations of Johnnie’s Beef, Old World Pizza, and Armand’s, not to mention Russell’s Barbecue and Alpine Subs. A trip to the Bourdain-approved Johnnie’s is reason enough for a visit, but stick around and explore this historically Italian community to discover your new favorite. Either way, you aren’t going home hungry.
While you’re here: A drive past the beautiful homes of neighbouring River Forest leads you to the notorious row of Irish bars along Madison St in Forest Park, where you can cap off your night of heavy boozing with even more heavy delights in the form of Chicago hot dog icons Portillo’s and Parky’s.

Flickr/Michael Kappel
Flickr/Michael Kappel
Flickr/Michael Kappel

Naperville

DuPage/Will County
How to get there: Amtrak Illinois Zephyr from Union Station, 35 minutes
Why you should visit: There’s a difference between living in and visiting a place, and there are certainly worse places to visit than Illinois’ fifth-largest city. The highlight would have to be exploring the bars and restaurants along the pretty brick paths and covered bridges of the Naperville Riverwalk, in addition to a respectable area craft beer scene led by Solemn Oath Brewery alongside Two Brothers Tap House in nearby Warrenville and Hopvine in neighbouring Aurora.
While you’re here: With 16 miles of hiking trails and 4,000+ species of trees, nearby Morton Arboretum is Chicago’s closest thing to a national park. And Naperville Ribfest (still being planned in a downsized format for 2021) is quite probably the best Fourth of July party in the suburbs.

Jay Gentile is an award-winning freelance journalist specializing in travel, food & drink, culture, events and entertainment stories. In addition to Thrillist, you can find his work in The Washington Post, The Guardian, CNN Travel, Chicago Tribune, Lonely Planet, VICE, Outside Magazine and more. Follow @thejaygentile.

Chicago

Robyn DaCultyre Is Doing It for the Culture

"The cool thing about Ohio is that there is literally a place for everyone."

Photo by Kayode Omoyosi
Photo by Kayode Omoyosi
Photo by Kayode Omoyosi

I was introduced to Robyn DaCultyre at an Untitled Queen show at C’mon Everybody in late January, and it was one of the most unique drag shows I’d seen in a while. Afterwards, I tracked down this self-described “drag creature” and video chatted about her drag origin story, the state of drag in her native Ohio, and the dual identities that make up her persona. Thrillist: I want to ask you about how Robyn DaCultyre came about and your point of view behind your performance.

Robyn DaCultyre: I’ve been travelling around the country from a young age in ministry and Christian studies. I moved to Chicago right after high school. Four years later, moved back to Columbus and decided I didn’t really want to do church anymore; that wasn’t where my heart was.

I had a really low point in my life and had a suicide attempt and then really found drag and started doing drag as a coping mechanism and way to let off steam. I started in July of 2019, and it was really a lot of punk and metal music. I created this drag creature of sorts and they were really out of this world and celestial and all of those fun alien type terms.

And then we went into a global pandemic and I had a lot of time to figure out who I wanted to be. Digitally I was still doing a lot of drag creature-esque numbers and all of that, but I had this moment where we’re on the front lines getting hit with pepper spray and rubber bullets and pepper spray-all of those lovely things. And I said, I have this platform and I need to start showcasing what’s happening.

Untitled [Queen] stepped in at the right time and messaged me and said, “I’m doing this show for Independence Day called Untitled in America with 52 different performers and I want you to be a part of it.” It was at that moment I was able to take the footage I had been recording on the front lines and incorporate it into digital content. I did a song called Black Like Me by Mickey Guyton that talks about white picket fences, but if you want to see how America is, then you should try being Black like me. The imagery of what’s literally happening in Columbus in that digital performance really spearheaded me into focusing on people who look like me.

Nina Simone is one of my biggest inspirations, and one of her quotes that resonates with me is that it’s the duty of the artist to resonate with the times. My art is politically charged. I like to entertain, but there will definitely be a time when you come to a show expecting to have your drink and be chill and that might not be the case.

How did the name Robyn DaCultyre come about?

I was smoking with Ursula Major, who was on season one of Dragula, and the first time I introduced myself to her I was Robyn Banks, which is my drag name originally. She said, “Well, do you just not want to be original at all?” [Laughs] And I sat with that for a couple of months, and I got really stoned one day and was listening to Janelle Monae, and she talks about doing it for the culture, and I said “I do it for the culture, too!” And the rest is history.

And you started a series called Melanated.

We started Melanated last February. I told the idea to my show director that there were no shows specifically run by Black people that only featured Black entertainers. I wanted to do this show for a night and she said, Why don’t we do it once a week for the whole month? The first show happens, and it’s a sold out crowd, and [my director] comes back and says we should do this every month. So I sucked it up and here we are a year later.

Melanated is the only fully Black show in all of the state. It’s a horrible marketing tool and not something I want to promote, but it is just a fact. It amazes me that we are the 13th largest city in America and there’s nothing here that’s fully focused on Black entertainers. The name also comes from Janelle Monae; she says she’s highly melanated and I said, that works.

Photos by Chay Creates LLC (left) and Bridget Caswell (right)
Photos by Chay Creates LLC (left) and Bridget Caswell (right)
Photos by Chay Creates LLC (left) and Bridget Caswell (right)

You refer to yourself as a drag creature, as opposed to drag queen or king…

This is actually the first time I’m making this public. I am in this place where I want to separate the alternative creature from who this melanated goddess or whatever is. DaCultyre is definitely the person who runs Melanated and then Robyn is this drag creature that is out of this world and really loves punk and alternative music. And both intertwine to make Robyn DaCultyre.

You also do pageants. Tell me about that.

In 2020 I was appointed by Nina West, who is from Columbus, as the representative from Ohio for National Entertainer of the Year in Louisville, Kentucky. I placed ninth out of 13 contestants and I really fell in love with the system and fell in love with the pageantry and loved the idea of reigning and being different. I want to show that we as alternative performers, as bearded performers, you can come into these systems and shake things up.

Is there a uniquely “Ohio” style of drag?

No, and I think that’s one of the things that makes it so amazing is that everyone has their own unique style, and it’s all pretty much accepted. I started as a performer and a drag creature and there was space that was afforded to me and I transitioned to more glamor and pageantry and that’s afforded to me as well. I’ve been a bearded entertainer for a year now. The cool thing about Ohio is that there is literally a place for everyone.

I think I have everything I need. Is there anything else I didn’t ask you about that you want to bring up, or‚Ķ

I don’t think so. Are there any generic questions you haven’t asked?

Generic questions‚ĶI think I asked all of them already [laughs]. I like to ask what you’d be doing if you weren’t doing drag?

It’s a great question. I have a day job that is very demanding so I need drag to get away. I’m also very creative and artistic. I used to do web design and all these other things to pull into my creativity. Drag is the longest thing I’ve stuck with in all parts of my life, so I don’t think it’s going anywhere anytime soon.

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John deBary¬†is a drinks expert and writer. His first cocktail book,¬†Drink What You Want, is available now, and his next book,¬†Saved by the Bellini, is expected in early 2023. He is also the co-founder and president of the¬†Restaurant Workers’ Community Foundation, which is dedicated to improving the lives of hospitality industry professionals through advocacy, grant making, and impact investing.

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