Want to send your kids to excellent Lake Forest High School while sidestepping the affluent Lake Forest scene? Tiny Lake Bluff is the place. The real-estate market here hasn’t fully recovered from the free fall it suffered after 2006—the median house currently sells for about a third less than you would have paid at the peak—so you get decent value for your money. That’s especially true in the East and West Terrace subdivisions off Green Bay Road, where a savvy shopper can find a four-bedroom split-level for $450,000 or so. Big houses closer to the sensational public Sunrise Park and Beach along Lake Michigan can easily eclipse $2 million.

Expect to feel frozen in time in this little village—in a good way. Century-old houses line a grassy New England–style town square; mom-and-pop shops and cafés, plus the Lake Bluff Brewing Company, populate the block-and-a-half downtown; and there’s a cute seasonal farmers’ market on the village green. Even safety statistics hark back to a bygone age: Not a single violent crime was committed in Lake Bluff last year.