Best and Worst Parts of Living in Naperville
On paper, Naperville IL is one of the best places to live in America. The niche rankings place Naperville as the best city in the nation for raising and family and number one for public schools, as well as 3rd best city to live in and the 5th best city, to buy a house. But we get a lot of people asking us whether the reality of living in Naperville is as good as the sales brochure says.
As life-long locals to the western suburbs, we’re going to weigh in on the best and worst parts of living in Naperville IL – no holds barred. Brace yourself because we’re going in!
Worst parts of living in Naperville
5. The traffic and parking
If you’ve ever tried to get across Naperville during peak hours, you’ll know what we’re talking about. Between 7:00 and 9:00 a.m. and 3:30 till 7:00 pm, Naperville gets very congested with families doing the school run as well as commuters. Unlike quieter suburbs, you’re not only getting the flow out of the village and into Chicago, but plenty of people are also coming into Naperville to go to their retail and hospitality jobs downtown and shifts at Edwardsville Hospital.
It’s also not just the traffic but the sprawl of the suburb itself. Naperville is sometimes dubbed a city, and thanks to its size, there’s a lot to do here. But it also means that depending on where you live, it can take a while to get around. The downtown is very walkable, but from most places in Naperville, you can expect to set aside twenty minutes to get there, which also applies to the metra. If you live on the Southside of the city, it may take you up to 35 minutes to get onto I-88 when traffic is particularly bad.
Finally, there’s the parking. Naperville’s downtown is one of the most popular in the Chicago suburbs, so you’re not just competing with commuters for a parking spot – but you’re fighting off the day trippers too. Luckily, Naperville has free street parking although it is two hours maximum. There are also several free off-street parking facilities for those longer stretches. Just be prepared to drive around for a while, particularly on Friday and Saturday evenings.
4. The low housing inventory
Be prepared to tough out the competition for real estate, because boy, oh boy, is Naperville popular right now.
You could see this as a positive or a negative depending on your situation. If you’re looking to move to Naperville, getting onto the market at the moment can be a headache. Naperville has always been popular, but we’re still seeing extra increased demand since the post-lockdown swell. You will definitely need a realtor who is experienced with the Naperville area to help you close on the home you want.
However, if you already own property in Naperville or are looking at a long-term investment, you should see the popularity as a definite plus. And even if you are an outsider coming in, look at it this way; with the right realtor, you will get onto the Naperville property ladder – at which point you’ll have a solid investment in your hands.
3. The competitive schools and daycare
With the best public schools in Illinois, you shouldn’t be surprised that things can get competitive around here. Whether you see this as positive or negative is down to your subjective worldview. On one hand, a little healthy competition encourages students to strive for the best, giving them a great head start and teaching the reality of how competitive life can be. The flip side is that not everyone can compete and not everyone excels under pressure. It’s important to think about whether that’s the right environment for your family.
The other thing to consider is whether the schools’ demographics suit your needs. Often people ask us whether Naperville is a diverse suburb and there isn’t a simple answer. In this case, bear in mind that the demographics within schools can be different compared to the overall population.
If you look at the general Naperville population, you will see that it is a predominantly white suburb and that Asian people make up the largest minority group at 15% of the community. The high schools, however, are more diverse both in terms of ethnicity and in the percentage of low-income students. You can check out the figures yourself for each high school in Naperville at illinoisreportcard.com.
Finally, on the subject of school populations – bear in mind that it’s not just the academics that are competitive. There are long waitlists for daycare and nurseries in Naperville. If you are an expectant family or have young children already, you should get on the waitlist as early as you can so you don’t come unstuck.
2. The high expenses and cost of living
There are no two ways about it -- Naperville is expensive! Of course, how you view the expense will depend on where you’re coming from but compared to many other suburbs in Illinois, you will face high home prices and property taxes. The average family income in Naperville is $125,926, which is almost twice the national average. We have seen other sources estimate that you need to make around $80,000 to enjoy the minimum comfortable living standards in Naperville.
The average home value in Naperville is $410,800, so you can expect to pay around $9,102 per year in property taxes. The 2.22% property tax in Naperville is quite standard for DuPage County and compared to other DuPage suburbs, it sits in the middle of the road.
Hinsdale, Elmhurst, Downers’ Grove, Clarendon Hills, and Darien all come in cheaper, whereas you’ll pay more taxes to live in Wheaton, Aurora, Glen Ellyn, or Warrenville. Property taxes in Naperville are actually modest if you compare them to Glendale Heights or Hanover Park, which come in at a few percentage points more.
The other way to look at it is that, if you can afford it, it’s worth paying for the number 1 public schools in America and all the great amenities on offer here in Naperville.
1. The people?
Finally, we’re onto the most controversial criticism, which is the “Naperville Stereotype”. Some people say that Napervellians are snobby, rude, or that they are not inclusive of diversity. Yet, plenty of locals will tell you that this suburb is friendly and welcomes everyone. So, what’s the truth?
Spoiler alert: We can’t give the ‘official truth’ about Naperville people, because there isn’t one. Just like anywhere in the world, your opinion will depend on who you associate with and who you cross paths with. Instead, we would say that no matter where you are moving, you should visit the place extensively to find out if it’s a good cultural fit for you and your family.
What we can do is give a little insight into the demographics. Statistically speaking, Naperville plays host to a largely white and affluent community that has somewhat moderate political views.
That’s not the whole story though, as Naperville gets visitors from all walks of life and the diversity has increased in recent years. However, if you are looking for a very dynamic and open-minded suburb, you might consider checking out towns like Skokie or Aurora (or take a look at our full list of the best diverse suburbs in Chicago). They’ve both got their own vibrant downtown areas and are known for more diverse, liberal communities.
Best parts of living in Naperville
As well as putting Naperville’s drawbacks under the microscope, it’s only fair to consider its best sides too. After all, there is a reason that this suburb has such an impressive collection of awards and accolades.
5. The varied supermarkets
When you first take a look at an area, it’s easy to be drawn to the fun and exciting amenities – the fancy restaurants or the shopping. But when you live somewhere, it’s often the day-to-day conveniences that make the difference.
One of Naperville’s less bragged about qualities is that it has plenty of good stores in close reach. You’re never too far away from a Jewel-Osco or an ALDI, one of which is a 24-hour store. There’s also a Marianos, which is voted Chicago’s favorite for price and freshness combined.
Other popular stores in the Naperville area include Trader Joe's and a Casey’s and, naturally, there’s Whole Foods and a Costco too. All your tastes and price points are pretty much covered here in Naperville and that’s without considering all the small shops and restaurants in the downtown area.
4. The great outdoor spaces
Naperville is excellent for outdoor spaces, both urban and natural. The riverwalk through the downtown is one of the best in the state and it drifts through Burlington Park and Centennial Park. The more outdoorsy type can get their fix at the Springbrook Forest Prairie or McDowell Forest Preserve, and families here in Naperville love days out at the Knoch Knolls Nature Center. Last but not least is one of Naperville’s best-kept secrets, which is hiking up to the 190-foot scenic overlook in Greene Valley Preserve to watch the sunset over Naperville.
We can’t overstate how many outdoor activities there are to do here. There are bike trails, dog walking, horseback riding, fishing, boating, picnicking, and bird spotting, most of which are free. In the summer, you can splash about or kick back at Centennial Beach or one of the multiple outdoor pools. In winter, you can go skiing. You don’t get opportunities like this in every suburb of Chicago, making Naperville a real breath of fresh air for outdoor spaces.
3. The schools, amenities, jobs, and safety
Naperville might be busy and slightly expensive, but those downsides come with a significant payoff – the quality of life here is great. We’ve already touched on this key point a few times because we think that you get a lot back for what you pay in property taxes in this suburb.
Naperville is far from being the most expensive suburb in DuPage county, yet it has the best schools, fantastic community events, beautiful parks, plenty of job opportunities, and very reassuring safety data. If money were no object, a lot of people would jump at the chance to have the quality of life available in Naperville and so it’s definitely worth appreciating.
2. The vibrant downtown
Most of us only get one or two days each week off to enjoy ourselves, so it says a lot that so many people choose to spend theirs visiting Naperville. It has something for everyone; it’s a shopper's paradise and has over 50 restaurants and bars, all of which are set in the picturesque location around the DuPage river.
We’ve heard some people say that Naperville used to have more independent outlets – this might be true and there are certainly are a lot of national favorites in the suburb these days. But from time to time, who doesn’t love or need Barnes and Noble, Pottery Barn, or Sephora?
Plus, Naperville does still have plenty of family-owned places and one-off stores; if you’re looking for something special, you can find jewelry boutiques, antique collections, and mom-and-pop type restaurants all over the downtown area and surrounding suburbs. Me and my family personally love downtown Naperville, and that’s why it makes second on our list of the Chicago suburbs with the best downtowns.
1. The incredible school system
If you aren’t a family or a young person, then perhaps this factor doesn’t make number one on your list. But there’s a lot to be said for living in America’s number one destination for public schools. Naperville is renowned for having some of the best and brightest places for students to flourish. There are 3 High Schools, 8 Middle Schools, and 34 Elementary Schools to choose from – put together, more than 90% of them have an A-rating and above by niche.com, signaling that they offer the very best education.
Even if you don’t have a school-age child, living in an education-first suburb has its benefits. More than 30% of the population has a master’s degree and above and another 40% has a bachelor’s degree, making it no surprise that this suburb has great educational resources. Naperville has an impressive three public libraries, which together are considered a national treasure. There are also plenty of cerebral activities for adults and families to check out, including historical settlements, art galleries, a nature center, nearby museums, and more.
So, what do you think?
Do the pros of living in Naperville outweigh the cons? Perhaps you’ve found some surprises here that have changed your opinion about this popular suburb – let us know in the comments.
And if you’re looking for a new home around here, we want to help you get to know the Chicago suburbs! We’ve lived around here all our lives and have helped many families successfully move into their new homes in Naperville. If you have any questions about this suburb or other areas in the Western Chicago suburbs, we want to hear from you. And if anything piqued your interest, or if you’re now wondering whether Naperville is right for you, then we can help you find the right place for you.
Posted by Rafael Velasco on