Illinois may not seem as popular for retirement as Florida, Arizona, or Texas, but plenty of retirees call the Prairie State home. But what is it really like to live in Illinois? And which area of the state might be best for you?
In addition to everything you need to know about retiring in Illinois, it’s also valuable to take a closer look at different lifestyles available in the state. This includes an overview of the three distinct regions in the state followed by some of the specific outdoor recreation and cultural attractions that residents can enjoy. Here’s what it’s like to live in Illinois.
Living in Northern Illinois
With over 60 active adult communities, Northern Illinois is the most popular region in the state for an active retirement. It’s also the most largely populated with estimates that over 75 percent of the state’s population calls the area home.
Residents of Northern Illinois enjoy close proximity to Chicago, which boasts a rich offering of cultural and recreational attractions (with a few highlights below). This commercial hub also features some of the state’s most renowned higher education institutions, such as Northwestern University, University of Chicago, and the University of Illinois at Chicago.
The city also hosts world-renowned sports teams beloved by people across the nation. Residents can easily see their favorite teams play in the city, including The Cubs, The White Sox, The Bears, The Bulls, and The Blackhawks. The Cubs play at Wrigley Field, The White Sox play at Guaranteed Rate Field, The Bears play at Soldier Field, and The Bulls and The Blackhawks play at United Center.
The northernmost area borders Lake Michigan, which provides ample opportunities for freshwater boating, fishing, and water recreation, as well as 26 miles of beaches within the city alone. In addition to parks such as Illinois Beach State Park that offer recreation on land and water, expansive greenspaces include Starved Rock State Park, Rock Cut State Park, and Channahon State Park.
Living in Central Illinois
The middle third of the state, Central Illinois, is sometimes referred to as the Heart of Illinois. This flat prairie land is characterized by its small- and mid-sized towns, its agricultural production, and its manufacturing centers.
Central Illinois includes the state capital of Springfield, which includes some of the state's most-visited historical attractions. The capital city hosts the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum as well as the Lincoln Tomb. Additional attractions include the state fairgrounds, the Illinois Symphony Orchestra, and the Illinois State Museum.
The area also offers a unique recreation opportunity with its Route 66 Trail, a system of off-road paths and roads ideal for motorbiking, bicycling, hiking, horseback riding, and more. The 369-mile route spans from "The Bean" sculpture in the heart of downtown Chicago all the way to the old Chain of Rocks Bridge over the Mississippi River north of St. Louis. According to the program guide, the route currently includes many quiet, rural roads that follow Route 66 proper as much as possible.
Some of the other popular cities in the area include Peoria, Decatur, Champaign, and Bloomington. Though the area remains popular among active adults, many people come to the region for higher education at universities such as Illinois State University, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Millikin University.
Living in Southern Illinois
Although residents of Southern Illinois may be furthest from the urban atmosphere of Chicago, they find themselves within a reasonable distance of several popular cities, including St. Louis, Missouri; Evansville, Indiana; and Memphis, Tennessee. The St. Louis metropolitan area represents one of the most populated urban centers in Southern Illinois.
Throughout the rest of the area, there are quaint small towns, charming boutiques, and local establishments to explore. Some of the small towns that draw visitors include Belleville, Mt. Vernon, and Carbondale, which houses the main campus of Southern Illinois University. Near Belleville, the Scott Air Force Base hosts Air Force training.
The extensive agricultural and farmland throughout Southern Illinois often grows corn, soybeans, and apples; there's also an increasing number of vineyards. Some of the most unique farms to visit include Rolling Oak Alpaca Ranch, Breezy Hill Farm, Marcoot Jersey Creamery, and Eckert’s Country Store & Farms.
The southernmost part of Illinois is the Shawnee National Forest with diverse terrains such as woodlands, lakes, and rolling hills. Notable features include sandstone formations at The Garden of the Gods, wildlife habitats at Heron Pond, and the natural land bridge at Ponoma Bridge.
While each distinct region of the state offers its own lifestyle opportunities, many active adults want to live near Chicago. With approximately 2.7 million residents across 234 square miles, the city brims with activities, events, and things to do.
Some of the most popular attractions in Chicago are the world-renowned museums, which include the Field Museum, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the American Writers Museum. Also worth a visit are institutions such as the Adler Planetarium, the Shedd Aquarium, Navy Pier, and the free Lincoln Park Zoo. Many of these museums offer rotating exhibits, attractions, and events, meaning they continuously offer something new.
Another reason to visit Chicago includes the vast variety of cultural events, festivals, and concerts that appeal to almost any interest and hobby. Some of the annual events include the Chicago Wine Fest, Christkindlmarket, Restaurant Week, Dance Month, and the Chicago Jazz Festival. Residents also enjoy parades throughout almost every season, including a St. Patrick’s Day Parade, a Pride Parade, a Halloween Parade, and a Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Even though the entire state of Illinois boasts an interconnected highway system, as well as national train services, the Chicagoland area offers additional ways to travel with ease. The Metra commuter railroad can transport active adults throughout the entire Chicagoland area across 11 railroad lines. Within the city itself, the “L”—the elevated train system—is often considered the best way to explore the city with ease.