Best Places to Live

Champaign, IL

Population: 84,008
Photo: University of Illinois

Students attending the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have the benefit of two college towns at their disposal. Combined, the cities of Champaign and Urbana form a thriving metropolitan area that gives residents a large assortment of cultural activities, restaurants, recreational opportunities and a stable economy.

The university highly influences the art scene, culture and character of both Champaign and Urbana. It provides the area with more than 3,600 full-time jobs and more than 4,000 part-time jobs. Most students hang in Campustown, an eight-block district packed with restaurants, bars and apartments. Champaign's downtown, with the iconic Virginia Theatre and a long list of cafes, bars, creative restaurants and shops, draws more diverse crowds. Considered a laboratory for theater, music and dance students at UI, the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts delivers highly entertaining experiments. Events such as Roger Ebert's Film Festival and the Boneyard Arts Festival create quite the party scene.

The Champaign Park District maintains an array of neighborhood parks and trails that residents from all walks of life utilize, not only for recreation, but also to get around. The Urbana Park District's Meadowbrook Prairie includes a path that allows users to wander through fields of switchgrass, rye and clover, and the university's arboretum features 160 acres of gardens and farmland. Champaign and Urbana share a public transportation system that lets residents easily experience the best of both cities.

Champaign, IL Highlights

Home of: University of Illinois
Student population: 44,500
Conference: Big 10
Where to hang: Black Dog Smoke & Ale House in Urbana
Where to eat: Big Grove Tavern, which serves farm-to-table American cuisine and Midwestern craft beers in downtown Champaign
Extra credit: Considered one of the best libraries in the country, the Urbana Free Library provides residents with a variety of educational programs, artwork and a knowledgeable staff.