Above:Emily Oaks Nature Center Photo: Skokie Park District
A few years back, Skokie was the only town in Illinois named one of America’s best places to live by a website called, fittingly, Livability. That may come as a surprise to those who merely pass through town while cruising down Dempster Street, but not to the people who reside there. The North Shore burb, once dubbed the world’s largest village, is known for its large Jewish population—an estimated 28 percent—but boasts a wider ethnic diversity within its 10 square miles: Residents speak nearly 100 languages. Skokie certainly has shopping figured out, too; it’s got an old-fashioned downtown as well as one of the country’s first outdoor malls. But if you don’t want to bust out the credit card, there are plenty of parks and outdoor spots to see for free.
1. Emily Oaks Nature Center
This 13-acre oasis lets you admire native wildflowers, paddle a canoe, or take it all in from an airy deck.
2. Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center
The third-largest museum of its kind in the world chronicles one of history’s darkest chapters. Coming soon: Interactive holograms of survivors will answer visitors’ questions.
3. Memorial Park Cemetery
It’s the final resting place for Broadway legend Elaine Stritch and actor Robert Reed. That’s right—Mr. Brady is buried in Skokie under an unremarkable granite stone.
4. St. Peter’s United Church of Christ
The Gothic structure’s two bells, which ring to begin Sunday services and weigh more than a ton, date back to 1887.
5. Skokie Northshore Sculpture Park
Dozens of works line this two-mile stretch along the North Shore Channel. Check out the Miró-like colors and curves of Luke Achterberg’s Calibration, just south of Dempster.
6. Skokie Public Library
The 133,000-square-foot building has a theater, a craft room, and a sewing/science area. You can even check out a robot or a book written in Urdu.
7. Skokie Sports Park
Perfect your backswing at this heated driving range, named one of the country’s top 50 by the Golf Range Association of America.
8. Aw Yeah Comics
This shop’s own line of graphic novels is set in—you guessed it—Skokie. Check the autograph wall for William “Refrigerator” Perry and the Fonz.
9. Cigar King
If your idea of heaven is smoking a $30 Davidoff Double R and playing cards, this is your place.
10. Illinois Nut & Candy
Enjoy homemade vegan and sugar- and gluten-free treats. But the shop has regular candy, too, if you want the traditional stuff.
11. Miishkooki Art Space
Founded by Oscar-nominated documentarian John Maloof (Finding Vivian Maier), this contemporary gallery once gave away art via Facebook.
12. Westfield Old Orchard
The bucolic outdoor mall was created to keep suburban shoppers in the burbs.
Eat & Drink
Sometimes you just need classic chicken soup. Good for the soul.
You could just scarf down the Latin fusion entrées at this cozy spot, but with a brunch that features such perfect chilaquiles …
15. New York Bagel & Bialy Corporation
Skip Taco Bell on your next late-night drive along the Edens. Instead, head a little east and get what might be the best bagel you’ve ever had.
16. Pita Inn
The Business Lunch Special is a heaping plateful of shish kebab, kifta kebab, shawarma, and falafel for—get this—$5.99.
17. Yolo Mexican Eatery
The cash-only joint serves a 32-ingredient mole negro to die for.
March 2:Mickey Bielski, whose father (played by Daniel Craig in Defiance) saved Jews in Poland during World War II, recounts his family’s amazing story at the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center.
March 3:Duo Aaron Diehl and Cécile McLorin Salvant spruce up the tunes of George Gershwin and Jelly Roll Morton at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts.
March 5:The Irish Heritage Singers perform everything from Celtic classics to U2 hits at the Skokie Theatre.
March 16:Northlight Theatre premieres By the Water, a play about Hurricane Sandy.
March 31:Grammy-winning trumpeter Chris Botti brings his big band sound to the North Shore Center.
Did You Know?
The town was originally called Niles Center. Residents voted in 1940 to change its name to Skokie. Other options: Oakton, Westridge, and Woodridge.