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Wednesday, 13 July 2011 14:14

Top 10 Suburban Destinations

Written by  Elizabeth Pierson

Tired of the city? Exhausted of the sky-scrapers and taxi horns? Wondering just what exists beyond the city limits? Well, you may be interested to know that there is a wealth of popular destinations in Chicago's suburbs, some you've heard of and some are hidden gems to be discovered.

Read on to find out what we consider to be the Top 10 Suburban Destinations.

Chicago Suburbs - What to See

Brookfield Zoo: Though Chicago is home to the free Lincoln Park Zoo, just outside of city limits lies a beast by comparison. Brookfield Zoo is nestled in a quiet Western suburb but is home to some of the largest indoor zoo exhibits in the world, including Tropic World and The Swamp. Just a short train ride from Chicago’s Union Station, the Brookfield Zoo covers a sprawling 216 acres and holds over 450 species of animals. The zoo has indoor and outdoor exhibits, which make it ideal for any time of the year.

Some of the most popular exhibits include Tropic World, the largest and first fully indoor rainforest simulation (and yes, home to the famed gorilla that rescued a little boy in 1996). Other noteworthy exhibits include The Living Coast—an ocean-themed area—and the new Great Bear Wilderness.

Entrance to the Brookfield Zoo is $14 for adults, $10 for children. The zoo is open every day of the year from 9:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. (7:30 p.m. on Sundays).


  • Miles from the loop: 16.2 miles
  • How to get there: Metra train (BNSF line) from Union Station to Hollywood stop


Six Flags Great America: For Chicagoland thrill-seekers, look no further than Six Flags Great America. The largest theme park in Illinois, this branch of the Six Flags corporation boasts 13 roller coasters and over 25 other rides. The park also features live shows and entertainment throughout the eight different themed sections—such as the Yukon Territory and Hometown Square—and two specially-themed children’s play zones. For those looking for extra relief from the summer heat, Six Flags also has a monstrous water park, Hurricane Harbor, with over 17 different rides and slides and.

The most popular rides include the American Eagle, the fastest and longest racing wooden roller coaster, and the famous lightning-fast Raging Bull.

Admission to the park is $60 for adults and $40 for children. Six Flags Great America is open May-October.


  • Miles from the loop: 41.4 miles
  • How to get there: I-94 West to Grand Avenue exit



Woodfield Mall: Woodfield Mall is the largest mall in the Chicago area, with over 300 stores and restaurants. When built in the 1970’s, Woodfield mall was the largest mall in the United States. This mall is completely enclosed and houses shops such as Macy’s, the country’s largest Sears, Michael Kors, Coach, Guess and Pandora.

Woodfield Mall is open daily from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.


  • Miles from the Loop: 27.6 miles
  • How to get there: I-90W/I-94 West to I-290 E


Chicago Botanic Gardens: Make a trip to one of the country’s most-visited public gardens at the Chicago Botanic Gardens. This 385-acre living plant museum is beautifully situated on nine islands featuring 24 display gardens and is surrounded by four natural habitats The Gardens have a collection of over 24 million living plants. Stroll the grounds to admire the different flowers in bloom, embrace the native wildlife and, on select nights, enjoy al fresco dining and live music.

Some of the most popular exhibits include The Aquatic Garden, The Green Roof Garden and the Lakeside Garden. The Chicago Botanic Gardens are open until 9 p.m. and admission is free.


  • Miles from the Loop: 23.3 miles
  • How to get there: I-94 to Lake Cook Road exit. Or Metra train (UP-N line) from Ogilve Transportation Center to Braeside stop


Historic Oak Park: A suburb located directly West of the city, Oak Park has played home to two of Chicago’s most recognized players in the art world. Wander the charming downtown blocks on Lake St. (between Harlem and Oak Park Ave.) and admire century-old architecture and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Unity Temple.

For the complete architecture experience, Oak Park is also the location of the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio museum, as well as numerous examples of his prairie-style houses. The Home and Studio is a National Historic Landmark and contains artifacts and explanations detailing the architect’s life and work. In this house, Wright designed over 125 structures and raised six children. Tours are available daily for $15.

Also located in this suburb is the Ernest Hemingway Museum and Birthplace Home, which focuses on the literary legend’s Oak Park origins, life and career. See the bedroom where Hemingway was born and explore photos and documents that tell the story of his life. Admission to the Museum and Birthplace Home is $10. Open daily.


  • Miles from the Loop: 8.9 miles
  • How to get there: Chicago ‘L’ Blue and Green lines


Arlington Park Racetrack: Arlington Park is Chicago’s premier thoroughbred race track with 86 days of live racing and wagering. This historic park (open since 1927) is the destination for people interested in enjoying beautiful scenery and being a part of one Chicago’s most celebrated sports.

Arlington Park was host to the 2002 Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships and was the site of the world's first million dollar thoroughbred race. Currently, the park boasts a one mile and one-eighth dirt oval and a one mile turf oval with races occurring select days May-September.


  • Miles from the Loop: 26.4 miles
  • How to get there: Metra train (UP-NW line) from Ogilve Transportation Center to Arlington Park stop


Chicago Premium Outlets: For bargain hunters who just can’t cope with Cook County sales tax or the high prices on the Magnificent Mile, Chicago Premium Outlets is certainly a must-visit destination. This location is any avid shopper’s heaven, with savings of 25 to 65 percent in over 120 stores and restaurants. The mall is a collection of designer brands and favorite stores in a unique outdoor setting.

Stores in Chicago Premium Outlets include Brooks Brothers, J. Crew, Lacoste, Nike, Polo Ralph Lauren, Kate Spade, Vera Bradley, Bose and more.

Chicago Premium Outlets is open daily from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. with special hours available on their website.


  • Miles from the Loop: 36.3 miles
  • How to get there: I-290 West to I-88 West. Or Metra train (BNSF line) from Union Station to Aurora stop, then Pace bus #533


Morton Arboretum: This West-Suburban gem is made up of 1,700 acres of gardens of various plants and collections of trees. The Morton Arboretum includes native woodlands and one of the largest restored Illinois prairies, The Schulenberg Prairie. The Arboretum has over 4,100 different species of trees, shrubs and other woody plants from around the Midwest and around the world.

For those craving an escape from the hustle and bustle of urban life, reconnect with nature on over16 miles of hiking trails and nine miles of roadways for bicycling.

Popular exhibits include the Schulenberg Prairie, the Fragrance Garden, the interactive Children’s Garden and the Maze Garden. The Arboretum features educational programs that encourage conservation, studying horticulture, and learning how to grow plants in ways that enhance our environment.

The Morton Arboretum is open year-round and admission is $11 for adults and $8 for children.


  • Miles from the Loop: 25.1 miles
  • How to get there: I-88 West


Medieval Times: Medieval times transports you back to the Middles Ages with a family dinner theater, complete with medieval-style games, sword fighting, and jousting. As you indulge in a four-course meal—featuring select itmes like oven-roasted chicked, tomato bisque and a pastry of the castle—knights board their horses and engage in a jousting tournament, vying for the title of King’s Champion.

This unique experience is interactive and entertaining for all ages. Medieval Times is housed in a replica 11th-century castle and is interactive, encouraging guests to eat with their hands and don crowns for the show.

Tickets to Medieval Times are $60 for adults and $35 for children (which includes the meal).


  • Miles from the Loop: 27.9 miles
  • How to get there: I-90 West


Ravinia Festival: Treat your ears to something special at the older outdoor music festival in the United States: Ravinia Festival. From June to September, Ravinia hosts a series of outdoor concerts and performances from guests such as Maroon Five and Jennifer Hudson to Yo-Yo Ma and Rufus Wainwright. Ravinia Festival is also the summer home of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Located in Ravinia Park, the main attraction of the festival is The Pavilion, a 3,200-seat venue where the concerts are held. An expansive lawn extends beyond the seating area, ideal for picnicking and enjoying the outdoors—and, of course, music—with family and friends.

Tickets to the concerts vary in price.


  • Miles from the Loop: 24.7 miles
  • How to get there: Metra train (UP-N line) from Ogilve Transportation Center to Ravinia Park stop


1 concierge prefers Top 10 Suburban Destinations.

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Faith Czajkowski prefers Top 10 Suburban Destinations
December 20, 2011 at 13:24 PM
Last modified on Thursday, 30 August 2012 12:36