Highland Park is unique among surrounding communities for its unique mix of urban and small town living. With a thriving downtown district, vibrant nightlife, and, of course, the one-of-a-kind Ravinia Festival, the City has the cultural heft of a city twice its size. On the other hand, quiet swimming beaches, excellent public education, and some of the most beautiful homes in Chicagoland provide Highland Park residents plenty of small-town charm. This perfect balance- just 24 miles north of downtown Chicago!
Some quick history! Highland Park was incorporated in 1869, constituted from the merger of trading ports Port Clinton and St. John. The newly-formed City’s was named for its scenic and lofty elevation relative to Lake Michigan by former Chicago Mayor and land speculator Walter S. Gurnee. Shifting from a commercial port, after the growth of Chicago and the construction of the Chicago-Milwaukee Railway, Gurnee and others realized that the area’s beauty made it well suited for residential development.
As anticipated, the community developed into a charming residential area. Professionals migrated to the area and built mansions along the lake bluffs and more modest developments further inland. Some of these residences were designed by the famed “Prairie School” architects including Frank Lloyd Wright. Wright designed four homes in Highland Park (and 12 in the North Shore), including the famed Willits House, an iconic lakeshore mansion.
Highland Park’s biggest attraction, the Ravinia Festival, began its long history in 1904. The brainchild of railway tycoon A.C Frost, Ravinia was founded as an amusement park in a scheme to lure visitors to the newly constructed electric streetcar. In these early days, park visitors would visit a ballroom, baseball diamond, and even a casino. In time, the Festival transitioned into a summer venue for classical music and gained a reputation as America’s “summer opera capital” and, in 1934, the summer home of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Today, as the world’s oldest outdoor music festival, Ravina provides an exciting lineup of performers in all genres. People come from across the Chicago area to listen to music, picnic, and relax under the summer stars.
Beyond Ravinia, Highland Park has some interesting claims to fame. Due to the proximity of the team’s practice facility, many Chicago Bulls players have lived in the community, including Michael Jordan. The community was also a favorite of director John Hughes, who set films such as Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Sixteen Candles, and Home Alone in the City.
Residents today can explore Highland Park’s excellent shopping and entertainment opportunities. Downtown Highland Park’s shopping features national retailers, specialty stores and boutiques, and fantastic restaurants. For movie-lovers, the Landmark Renaissance Place Cinema offers numerous movie choices and an expanded menu. Unlike the surrounding North Shore, the high walkability of the downtown and the thriving nightlife scene gives Highland Park the feeling of a big city. Looking for more excitement? Downtown Evanston and Chicago are just a quick drive or train ride away!
Highland Park residents enjoy some of the North Shore’s best recreational opportunities. On the six scenic miles of Lake Michigan lakefront, the village’s two public swimming beaches, a dog beach, and the North Shore Yacht Club, offer plenty of warm-weather fun. Residents love Hidden Creek Aqua Park, a public water park featuring slides, a sand area, and several swimming pools. For cooler weather, the city also offers a recreation center, a community center, a raquet club, and two public golf courses. In total, the Park District manages 44 parks and more than 700 acres of land.
Nature lovers also have much to enjoy in the City. Along its southern border, The Chicago Botanic Garden along offers visitors acre upon acre of spectacularly designed gardens, including a tranquil Japanese garden. The Heller Nature Center features a 97-acre forest preserve and a wonderful, immersive and interactive nature center run by the park district.
The cherry on top? Education. Highland Park has some of the best performing schools in all of Illinois. The City’s District 112 offers eleven highly achieving public elementary schools. In addition to providing excellent classroom education, these schools offer extra-curricular activities that focus on arts, sports, and building character. After eighth grade, students move into Township High School District 113, which also includes students from nearby communities Deerfield, Bannockburn, Highwood, and Riverwoods. Both District 113 schools–Deerfield High School and Highland Park High School– are highly ranked and highly achieving, sending over 90% of graduates to four-year colleges. As recently as 2000, both high schools underwent significant renovations and additions.
While the Village is known for having some of the loveliest single family homes in the North Shore, other housing options are available including luxury condominiums and historical townhomes. With recreational opportunities that span from nature preserves and beaches to a world-class music festival and a thriving downtown, Highland Park has found a perfect balance of big city and small town, helping to make it a great place to call home.