Naperville is regularly named to Money magazine’s list of “Best Small Cities to Live In” and was recently ranked in Fortune’s “Best Places to Live and Launch a Business.” It was dubbed the nation’s best place to raise children by the U.S. Census Bureau in 2000, and a Top 10 place to retire by AARP. So what gives?
Outstanding schools, world-class parks and nature areas, and a truly thriving downtown, for starters. Naperville also enjoys low crime, a robust local economy, diverse cultural options and an active civic community.
What started as a small, rural town has become an affluent powerhouse, with major area employers and a large retail presence. Naperville was one of the ten fastest growing communities in the US in the 1990s, and today it’s one of the largest metropolitan regions in the state.
The community has still managed to keep a touch of its small town charm, however, as evidenced by the historic look and feel of its downtown. And the key ingredient to its success remains unchanged – a focus on families.
Naperville is located approximately 28 miles west of Chicago.
To the south are Bolingbrook and Plainfield, to the west is Aurora, to the north are Warrenville and Wheaton, and to the east are Lisle and Downers Grove.
Density 4,162.8 people/square mile
White: 85.2 percent
Black: 3.0 percent
Hispanic: 3.2 percent
Asian: 9.6 percent
Other: 0.8 percent
Median per capita income: $35,551
Source: U.S. Census, Record Information Service
Naperville was founded along the banks of the DuPage River in 1831 by Joseph Naper. It is fitting the community bears his name since Naper also single-handedly surveyed, platted and registered Naperville’s original 80 acres with the State of Illinois in 1842. Later, when the community was incorporated in 1857, he was elected president of the first village board.
The area’s first residents were primarily settlers from the northeast, and Naperville remained a small, mostly rural town until 1864 when the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad ran its line through the area. Like many area communities, Naperville’s early growth would be driven by its rail connection to Chicago.
The area’s abundant stone quarries provided building materials for Chicago, especially after the Great Fire of 1871, and the railway also meant local brewers and furniture makers could ship their products to customers across the nation.
Naperville was re-incorporated as a city in 1890, and by 1900 its population had grown to 2,629 residents. This growth continued through the early part of the 20th century, but Naperville’s primary period of expansion didn’t begin until the construction of the East-West toll road in 1954.
Linking Naperville to downtown Chicago via the Eisenhower Expressway (I-290), the East-West toll road led to a residential, commercial and industrial boom. With improved transit, commuters flocked to the area and major employers such as OfficeMax, Tellabs and Nicor chose Naperville as the location for their corporate headquarters.
The 1980s saw the revitalization of area’s downtown and by the 1990s Naperville was one of the 10 fastest growing communities in the U.S. In 2000, Naperville’s population had reached 128,358, making it the fifth largest metropolitan region in the state and the third largest in the Chicago area, behind only Aurora and Chicago itself.
Naperville homes come in a wide range of prices and styles, from older subdivision houses in the mid-$200,000s to new ultra-luxury homes priced over $2 million. The average price is in the mid-$400,000s.
Naperville’s reputation as an outstanding community also helps resale values for those leaving the area, although many prefer to stay and buy up.
Naperville rail transportation is provided both by Metra and Amtrack. Metra’s BNSF Railway stops at Route 59 and Downtown Naperville station. The railway runs from Aurora in the west to downtown Chicago’s Union Station in the east. Express trains can travel from the Route 59 station to Union Station in less than 45 minutes, and from the Downtown Naperville station in less than 35 minutes.
Amtrack also operates out of the Downtown Naperville station, with trains running throughout Illinois as well as to Colorado, California and New Mexico.
Naperville is also served by Pace bus, which runs to and from Naperville Metra stations and other areas of the city, including the I-88 corridor and the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn. Routes 530 and 714 provide all-day service, and more than a dozen routes provide commuter service to the Naperville Metra. Pace also offers two Park and Ride locations that provide express bus service to the Route 59 Metra station.
For those traveling by car, Naperville enjoys easy access to major interstate highways, such as I-88 and I-355, and to O’Hare International and Midway airports.
Naperville mainstay Lantern (8 W. Chicago Ave) offers daily drink specials along with its famous burgers and chili. On weekend nights DJs and karaoke keep the crowd hopping. Patrons enjoy the pub’s neighborhood feel, and a younger crowd moves in later in the night.
Catch a live show at Frankie’s Blue Room (16 W. Chicago Ave). Its classy-but-casual atmosphere features candle-lit booths and tables and a wooden dance floor in front of the stage. A variety of bands play throughout the week, from blues to jazz, rock, swing and more. In the rear of the club, a large deck overlooks the DuPage River. Don’t forget your dancing shoes!
Two-Nine (29 W. Jefferson) is a sleek martini bar hidden above a Mexican restaurant. Upstairs from local eatery Potter’s, this trendy interior features exposed brick walls and iron “vines” climbing toward the ceiling. A balcony with its own bar overlooks the restaurant’s patio in warm weather. Its extensive martini list featured more than 30 varieties.
The heart of Naperville is its pedestrian-friendly downtown, a rich and vibrant destination filled with hundreds of shopping and dining options.
Starting in the 1970s, the city began sprucing up its downtown – planting trees, adding decorative touches – while preserving the area’s historic look and feel. Many of the old shops along Washington Street and Jefferson Avenue boast their original facades, complete with vintage crown molding and ornate windows, giving the area an authentic, old fashioned charm.
The success of Naperville’s downtown is also due to its proximity to the Naperville Riverwalk. Considered by many as Naperville’s “crown jewel,” the Riverwalk is 1.75 miles of parks and green space running through the heart of town along the DuPage River. Visitors and residents alike are drawn to the walk’s meandering brick paths and lush landscaping, replete with fountains, covered bridges, and public artwork.
A Riverwalk highlight is the Millennium Carillon, a 72-bell musical instrument housed inside a 160-foot bell tower. Programmed to play at certain times throughout the day, the carillon is also occasionally played manually for public events. A stairway leads up 14 stories to the tower’s observation deck, where visitors are rewarded with spectacular views of Naperville and, on clear days, the Chicago skyline.
Centennial Beach (500 W. Jackson Ave), another Riverwalk stop, offers plenty of grassy and shady space, as well as a large sand beach and swimming area with lifeguards and a diving center.
For those with young children, the DuPage Children’s Museum (301 N. Washington St) is filled with innovative, hands-on exhibits designed to stimulate kids’ curiosity and creativity.
For an utterly unique dining experience, enjoy tapas-style dining in a 150-year-old mansion at Meson Sabika (1025 Aurora Ave). The Willoway Mansion was built in 1847 on a pristine four-acre estate near downtown Naperville, and in 1990 it was renovated and opened as a restaurant. Meson Sabika serves up hot and cold tapas plates in nine separate dining rooms named after different wine regions in Spain. Weather permitting, patrons can also choose to dine outdoors on the terrace.
The dishes at Sugartoad (2139 CityGate Ln) revolve around fresh ingredients from the restaurant’s own garden. This casual, fine-dining favorite features regional American fare including superbly executed favorites such as Kobe beef shortribs, jumbo lump crab cakes and grilled Chinook Salmon. For desert try the “Ants on a Log” – a piece of celery root cake with peanut butter mousse and rum raisin ice cream.
Potter’s Place (29 W. Jefferson St.), is a quirky, fun Mexican restaurant located in downtown Naperville. Now under its third-generation of ownership, this local family-style favorite has all the Tex-Mex standards. In the summer, a large split-level patio is available for outdoor dining.
Naperville is also home to outposts of many Chicago favorites, including Heaven on Seven (224 S. Main St), Hugo’s Frog Bar (55 South Main St), Giordano’s Pizza (119 S. Main St) and Rosebud (48 W. Chicago Ave).
There is always something to do in Naperville, from the Naperville Jazz Fest each June to Oktoberfest in the fall, where residents gather for live music, authentic German cuisine, and steins of cold beer.
Stop by the Naperville Wine Festival, held at the Naper Settlement each September, to sample more than 200 wines from around the world. The festival also features wine seminars and cooking demonstrations by visiting and local chefs.
Naperville’s biggest festival, though, is Ribfest. For more than two decades, Rib vendors from across the country have packed up their grills and smokers and headed to Naperville for “the best fest in the Midwest.” Ribfest draws a quarter of a million people each July for food, fun and top tier live music. Take advantage of the free shuttles and bring your own bottled water and baby wipes!
For other leisure activities, the Naperville Park District offers 139 parks totaling over 2,500 acres. Facilities include a disc golf course, a beach, garden plots, a trap shooting range and a paddle boat corral.