Living in a waterfront community doesn’t have to be just for summer retreats, and if you’ve longed to be near the water year-round, you don’t have to travel far! There are plenty of beautiful locations in northern Illinois where you and your family can enjoy all the benefits of shoreline living. In addition to proximity to rivers or lake, all of the featured communities have unique amenities, shopping and dining options, activities and events that make them exceptional choices for a permanent home or a weekend getaway.
Let us take you on a tour of just a few waterfront communities from across our region.
City-styled St. Charles
Straddling DuPage and Kane County is St. Charles, a picturesque community located 35 miles west of Chicago, offering all of the amenities of a big city, nestled along the quaint Fox River. A vibrant nightlife, upscale and casual restaurants, an excellent school district and plenty of recreation and wellness activities make this community an excellent choice for anyone who wants both peaceful shoreline living and a bustling downtown.
For the outdoor recreation enthusiast, St. Charles has 62 parks, eight bike paths, three dog parks, three skate parks and two outdoor swimming pools. Boating and kayaking on the Fox River is a popular past time for residents and visitors. A great way to explore the river is on a majestic paddlewheel riverboat docked at Pottawatomie Park, or rent a canoe or pedal boat from the St. Charles Park District. Fishing is available from several city parks located on the river.
St. Charles is a festival town, with many community events dotting the city calendar. Every October, the city hosts the nationally-known Scarecrow Festival, drawing visitors to the city from across the country to marvel at the more than 100 handmade and mechanical scarecrows on display in the downtown area. The Holiday Homecoming Parade kicks off the Christmas season every November with live music, sleigh rides and a holiday parade. Award-winning local bands and cheerful leprechauns take to the streets of downtown St. Charles every March for the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade. Additionally, there are music festivals, a Craft beer festival, and the annual Dragon Boat races, a part of the June Festival of the Fox along the riverfront.
St. Charles is the proud home of the historic Arcada Theatre, a 900-seat music venue that welcomes nationally-known artists and bands. Just a block north of the theatre is the Hotel Baker, a 1928-built historic building that it on the National Register of Historic Places. Residents and guests can express their creative side at one of many classes, including pottery, jewelry-making and more, at the Fine Line Arts Center. Sports fans will won’t want to miss a Chicago Steel hockey game or a Kane County Cougars minor league baseball team game, at venues nearby.
The city is known as “The Pride of the Fox” because of its gorgeous river walk, quaint downtown and historic architecture. St. Charles is also home to international employers and thriving entrepreneurs with local shops and restaurants, making the city an ideal locale for families and retirees.
“St. Charles is a health and happiness minded city with small town values and big city amenities,” said Lula Cassidy, executive director of the Greater St. Charles Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Once you experience our entrepreneurial spirit, healthy lifestyle where organic farms meet ‘big city’ conveniences, soon you want to live it. The lifestyle and friendliness of the St. Charles street corners with our arts, music and culture soon let you know that the saying ‘home is not only where you live, but where they understand and support you,’ could not be more true.”
Median Home Price: $277,448
Median Household Income: $98,573
All you need in Naperville
Recognized as one of the best places to live and raise a family in the United States, Naperville is a vibrant community that offers the best of city life with suburban charm. Located 28 miles west of Chicago in DuPage County along the DuPage River, Naperville offers plenty of outdoor recreational activities, in addition to a thriving nightlife scene and a wide variety of dining and shopping options. The city boasts award-winning school districts and one of the best public library systems in the country.
The Naperville Riverwalk, located in the heart of downtown Naperville on the DuPage River, has a 1.75 brick walking path lined with fountains, bridges and more. The city’s new Water Street District, which opens up onto the west branch of the DuPage River, features restaurants, shops and the Indigo Hotel, where residents and guests can enjoy beautiful views of the river.
For the more adventurous types, canoes and kayaks can be rented through the Naperville Park District for enjoyment on the river. Centennial Beach, located just off the DuPage River, is a historic stone quarry near the downtown area, is perfect for all swimming abilities, with zero-depth entry for youngsters and 15 ft. depth for advanced swimmers and divers.
Naperville hosts many festivals during the year, including the famed Rib Fest every Fourth of July weekend, bringing some of the biggest national music acts together with a variety of mouthwatering ribs from vendors across the country. The city also kicks off the fall season with the Last Fling, a music festival held every Labor Day weekend. Naperville’s annual Christkindl Market, located at the historic Naper Settlement, makes the holidays extra special.
The city hosts several athletic and sporting events throughout the year, including several 5k races, a half-marathon, marathon and triathlon. In addition to several golf courses, the recreational athlete can enjoy a variety of sports year-round at great indoor facilities like the Naperville Yard Sports Plex and Players Indoor Sports. Outdoor enthusiasts can take advantage of one of Naperville’s many green spaces, parks and biking and hiking trails.
“Naperville has been given many awards as one of the greatest places to live, raise a family, work, play and retired,” says Christine Jeffries, president of the Naperville Development Partnership. “The outstanding city services, low crime rate and great schools draw families to the community and the businesses provide an abundance of professional and career opportunities. But what makes Naperville so special is the big city amenities that comes with small town warmth.”
Median Home Value: $379,000
Median Household Income: $109,468
Recreation-rich Rock Falls
The City of Rock Falls, located on the Rock River in Whiteside County, is a great option for those looking for shoreline living at its finest at a very affordable cost. Rock Falls and its sister city, Sterling, are located about two hours from Chicago, right off Interstate 88.
The Rock River is the heart of the community, offering endless opportunities for outdoor activities. Boating, canoeing and kayaking are all very popular recreational activities, as are fishing and hiking. The Rock River is home to many species of fish, and the trails along the river are popular spots for bird watching. Eagles are frequently spotted along the riverbanks.
The historic Hennepin Feeder Canal has year-round, multi-use trails for cross-country skiing, running, biking and more. The canal is also one of the longest snowmobiling trails in the state. For those who don’t own a boat or other outdoor equipment, several businesses along the river rent boats, kayaks and bicycles. Several miles of the trail are paved so families can bring strollers for the kids.
Every summer, the popular Rock Falls River Chase draws thousands of people to the Sauk Valley for two days of boat racing, family-friendly activities and plenty of food. Rock Falls and Sterling also host many other outdoor events, like several 5k races and a half-marathon, as well as the Rock Falls Spring Challenge, a youth baseball tournament that brings in teams from across the state.
Both Rock Falls and Sterling have community events year-round, including craft shows and music festivals in the summer and a wine walk and craft beer festival in the fall. Christmas is a special time in Rock Falls as the city hosts its annual Hometown Holiday event featuring parades and a community concert.
Residents and visitors can enjoy a variety of dining options in both Rock Falls and Sterling including classic American fare, ethnic restaurants, coffee shops, bars and more. Both cities boast quaint downtown areas filled with boutiques and specialty shops.
For those interested in buying property right on the Rock River, check out Browns Beach. The waterfront community is located a few miles east of downtown Rock Falls, and features homes priced between $173,000 and $467,000. Many of the properties, which sit on about one and a half acres, have boat launches or docks in the backyards.
“Rock Falls offers its residents a lifestyle that has something for everyone,” says Janell Loos, director of tourism and events at the City of Rock Falls. “Our area provides the urban infrastructure that you’re looking for in a small town community. We have exceptional area shopping, pro-active business-friendly communities and qualified jobs. Rock Falls and Sterling are melting pots of unique histories, attractions, parks, restaurants and unparalleled festivals and events.”
Median home value: $74,700
Median household income: $39,658
Michigan-styled living in Lake Bluff
Less than an hour drive north of Chicago is Lake Bluff, a small, quaint village along Lake Michigan that offers the best of historic shoreline living. Lake Bluff has been called one of Chicago's best places to live in regional publications, as well as one of the country's happiest "seaside" villages by Coastal Living Magazine.
The suburb is unique because of the amount of single-family homes near the lakefront, while some cottages and smaller lots are available less than a block away from Sunrise Beach. The village boasts a wide variety of historic homes and new construction that add to the town’s unique architectural appeal. Lake Bluff is home to many families with young children, who you’ll often see playing outside or walking along the shore with their pets. The excellent school district offers small class sizes.
Outdoor enthusiasts will find Lake Bluff has plenty to offer, including parks and playgrounds, a community beach and pool, tennis courts, a golf course, the Lake Bluff Yacht Club and a shaded jogging/biking path that runs to the Greenbay Trail, connecting the north shore suburbs to the city of Chicago. During the winter, children will love the community sledding hill and outdoor ice rink. The Lake Bluff Park District has plenty of activities, classes, sports and programs offered year-round. Little-leaguers will also enjoy the Lake Bluff Youth Baseball Association.
In addition to the myriad of outdoor activities, Lake Bluff’s charming downtown business district, which surrounds the village green, features unique shopping, fitness studios, salons, coffee houses, a wine bar and a microbrewery. The Metra North line also runs near the downtown area, making Lake Bluff an ideal location for commuters to Chicago.
Lake Bluff prides itself on hosting a number of special events throughout the year, but the village really comes alive in the summer. From the annual Fourth of July parade, which is capped off with live music on Sunrise Beach to the Criterium Bike Race, which brings in cyclists from around the world, there is truly something for everyone. On Friday mornings from June through October, folks from all over the area visit Lake Bluff’s Village Green for its excellent Farmers Market, which features live music and cooking demonstrations. The same location also hosts Bluffinia, a summer concert series on Sunday evenings.
“A stone’s throw from Chicago, the village of Lake Bluff exudes character and charm that is difficult to replicate, making it a wonderful place to call home,” says Brady Andersen, broker at Griffith, Grant & Lackie Realtors in Lake Bluff. “In addition to the beauty, peace and walkability of this historic town, residents delight in the small-town feel of this northern suburb.”
MEDIAN HOME VALUE: $587,000
MEDIAN HOUSEHOLD INCOME: $150,962
Out-of-the-box options in Ottawa
Tucked away on the Illinois River in La Salle County is Ottawa, a town known for its natural beauty and proximity to one of Illinois' most picturesque state parks, Starved Rock. Ottawa is home to many historic places and registered landmarks like the Reddick Mansion, as well as museums like the Ottawa Scouting Museum, dedicated to the founder of the Boy Scouts of America, William D. Boyce.
Ottawa is an ideal locale for outdoor enthusiasts. The city is home to more than 100 acres of community parks, many of which have boat launches, docking facilities, trails, basketball courts, fishing areas, playgrounds and more. The Illinois River Road National Scenic Byway goes right through Ottawa, so visitors can hike the bluff trails, bike along the historic canal pathways and enjoy national wildlife habitats. Sky Dive Chicago, a popular destination for thrill-seekers from around the world, is right in the city’s backyard.
But its surprising array of dining and entertainment is what really caught the eye. Residents and visitors can sample a variety of ethnic restaurants, while craft beer lovers will enjoy touring and sampling brews from Ottawa’s Tangled Roots Brewing Co. or visiting one of the areas local winery’s for a tasting. Ottawa’s downtown is full of women’s clothing boutiques and other unique specialty shops.
During the warmer months, Ottawa hosts several festivals and special events, like The Ottawa 2 Rivers Wine and Jazz Fest every June and Riverfest, a five-day music festival held in early August that also features family-friendly activities.
There is always something going on year-round to keep folks active and entertained. Whether it is a book club or children’s program at the Reddick Public Library, or one of Starved Rock’s many outdoor adventure activities, there is always something to keep everyone in the family engaged during all four seasons.
New to the community is Ottawa’s magnificent Heritage Harbor, a can’t-miss destination for those looking for their dream home on the Illinois River. The world-class marina offers fishing, boating, and many more water sports, and daily rentals are available. Homes and cottages along the river are available to rent or buy at many price points. Lots are available for those looking to build.
“Ottawa has the big town feel with small town charm,” says Curt Bedei, executive director of the Ottawa Visitors Center. “The area creates a peaceful and beautiful backdrop for residents and visitors. It’s become a popular destination for anyone looking to relax and enjoy some “me-time” without losing the comforts of life. The downtown is full of activities, businesses, lush plantings and many friendly faces.”
MEDIAN HOME PRICE: $148,076
MEDIAN HOUSEHOLD INCOME: $46,422
Illinoisans love historic Galena, but its neighboring city across the Mississippi is Dubuque, Iowa, famous for having one of America's best riverfronts. Activities abound, like paddle boating, canoeing and kayaking, on the majestic Mississippi River. From spectacular views of the river from one of the many waterfront parks to art-filled river walks, Dubuque is a can't-miss destination for all nature-lovers.
Dubuque, Iowa’s oldest city, sits at the borders of Iowa, Wisconsin and Illinois, and is about a three-hour drive from Chicago. Dubuque’s most popular destination is the Port of Dubuque, which features restaurants, world-class entertainment and the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium, a Smithsonian-affiliated museum that explores the river’s history and significance through interactive exhibits and displays. America’s River Festival, held in June along the Mississippi, features two days of country music and classic rock, combined with an outdoor brew fest. And new in 2018, guests can board the last remaining operational tank landing ship from World War II that took part in the Normandy landing. The USS LST 325 will dock at the Port of Dubuque for self-guided tours in August.
In addition to the Mississippi River, another of the area’s biggest attractions is the “Field of Dreams” baseball field, where the iconic 1989 movie starring Kevin Costner was filmed. Guests are invited to tour the diamond, surrounding corn fields and the farmhouse, and even play a pick-up softball game. Visitors from around the world flock to the field, which also holds special events throughout the year, including a celebrity softball game on Labor Day weekend.
Dubuque has plenty of cultural events, including the Julien Dubuque International Film Festival in April, which brings filmmakers from around the world to Dubuque’s historic downtown for screenings, panels and other special events. The city is home to the Fighting Saints, a multi-year winning Clark Cup champion in the United States Hockey League. It’s also home to three private, liberal-arts colleges, a community college and a Bible college.
For those thinking of making Dubuque their permanent home, the city offers exceptional quality of life at a very affordable cost. The city’s public school system is consistently ranked among the top in the U.S. And not only is Dubuque located at one of the most picturesque parts of the country with lush greenery and rolling hills, it’s one of the safest communities in the Midwest.
“Dubuque is a great place to live. It’s very friendly and there are a lot of opportunities for work,” says Keith Rahe, president and CEO of Travel Dubuque. “There’s an extremely strong business climate here, from technology to education to manufacturing. Tourism is also a huge industry. We have a very low unemployment rate.”
Median Home Value: $144,300
Median Household Income: $46,806