A suburban treasure: Sunrise Beach in Lake Bluff
Average house price: $638,971
Transportation * * (out of 4) An in-town Metra stop; I-94 lies four miles to the west.
Schools * * * * Outstanding public grade schools (with K–5 students meeting in a new facility); most students travel to Lake Forest for high school.
Shopping * * The village center has a handful of restaurants and small boutiques; drive west, to Vernon Hills and Libertyville, for larger scale shopping.
Plus: Sunrise Beach, a wide, sandy park, fronts Lake Michigan (nonresidents pay a user fee).
The closest Chicago-area approximation of a quaint New England village, Lake Bluff features a public green, an old-time corner store that serves as the center of social life, and an assortment of shingled and stuccoed older homes in the heart of town. When its sylvan ravines burst into color in the fall, Lake Bluff is not quite Vermont, but it offers as pretty an autumn as you can find around here.
The town got its start as a Chautauqua-style revival camp meeting ground in the 1870s. While that chapter is gone—hotels, cottages, and all—another bit of Lake Bluff history is rekindled every Fourth of July, when a lively parade snakes through the streets on the east side of town. During World War I, the Chicago Tribune dubbed Lake Bluff “the most patriotic town in America” because, the paper claimed, the town had raised more money and sent more soldiers than others of its size.
But Lake Bluff isn’t a museum of past moments; it is a vibrant community that keeps an eye on its heritage. A few years ago, a new block of retail shops and offices was proposed for a vacant spot facing the green. “The thing on everyone’s mind was making sure we held on to the unique charm and character of Lake Bluff,” says Drew Irvin, the village administrator. Eventually, the new brick building—now half a block long—lengthened the downtown area by one-quarter; it currently holds a bakery, a noodle bar, and other shops, part of a public-private, multimillion-dollar revitalization of downtown that plays to the village’s historic roots.
West of the old lakeside part of town are younger neighborhoods, including the more affordable blocks around Green Bay Road, and scenic Tangley Oaks, an old Armour family estate where wooded cul-de-sacs finger out from a road that rings the manor house.
Photograph: Courtesy of the Lake Bluff Park District