Chicagoland consists of the Chicago metropolitan area in northeastern Illinois, including Chicago and its surrounding suburbs. Broader definitions also include parts of Southeast Wisconsin and Northwestern Indiana.
The major cities of the region are, well, Chicago — period. None of the outlying cities remotely approach the size of this mammoth metropolis. In fact, all besides Chicago have populations under 200,000. But that's not to say that Chicagoland doesn't include other destinations; some of the larger cities include:
Cook County, where Chicago is located, is the largest county by population in Illinois and the second-largest in the United States (after California's L.A. County). With more than 5 million residents, its population is larger than that of most U.S. states; a little more than half of them live in the central city, with the rest in a chain of suburbs that surrounds Chicago on the north, west and south sides.
To the northwest of Chicago, in the vicinity of O'Hare International Airport, are such towns as:
Cook County's West Side includes towns like:
To the south, a region home to Chicago's poorest suburbs as well as plenty of wealthy ones, are such communities as:
West of Cook County, DuPage contains mainly Chicago bedroom communities, such as:
Lake County, in the northeast corner of the state, was once largely rural but has become increasingly suburban in recent years. Its largest city, Waukegan, is also the county seat.
Its southeast is part of Chicago's affluent North Shore, including:
Other Lake County towns include:
Will County lies south of Cook and DuPage; its largest city and county seat is Joliet, undoubtedly best known for its huge prison.
Counties outside Illinois
Just how much territory is covered in the term "Chicagoland" is a point of controversy. Certain surrounding counties in Wisconsin and especially Indiana have enormous commuter populations, which share Chicago's regional culture, and it is hard to exclude them.
Lake County, Indiana, a highly industrialized and densely populated section of Lake Michigan's shoreline, represents some of the poorest suburban areas and satellite cities in Chicagoland. Gary in particular has fallen on extraordinarily hard times, and has one of the highest violent crime rates in the country. Once upon a time the city was an industrial giant, and was an urban center in its own right, but today an ever increasing number of Gary residents commute towards Chicago for employment. The three major cities on the lake are known as a gambling mecca of sorts. Hammond's Horseshoe Casino is seen as the poshest. And in terms of culture, Lake Co. is solid Chicagoland territory, from hot dogs to the blues. Plenty of great Polish and Mexican cuisine eateries exist in central and north Hammond, especially. Don't forget Whiting's famous Pierogi Fest, featured before on Oprah!
Access Lake County via the free 80/94 expressway coming from Chicago or I-65 coming from the south. You may also access the casinos and beaches very quickly via I-90, aka the Indiana Toll Road, and avoid most of the urban blight that way. U.S. routes 41/20/12 all run from Chicago's Lake Shore Drive on the south side into the communities bordering on the lake. U.S. Route 12, aka the Dunes Highway, will take you directly to the Indiana Dunes.
Cities and towns in Lake County worth a mention include:
Some residents of Kenosha consider the Chicagoland denotation controversial, as it is closer to Milwaukee. But nonetheless, there is a much bigger commuter population to Chicago. Metra, the suburban train system, has a route from downtown Chicago to Kenosha. The federal government considers Kenosha part of the CSA of the Chicago metropolitan area.
Chicagoland is huge; it is one of the world's largest metropolitan areas both in terms of population and area.
Chicagoland is served by numerous Amtrak routes.
In addition to an extensive highway system, Chicagoland is served by Metra's 12 rail lines and by Chicago's CTA, which reaches some of the nearer suburbs.
For all intents and purposes, Chicagoland is Chicago when it comes to food. You don't need to head into the city proper to get your Chicago-style pizza, hot dogs, beef, steaks, and what have you. There are some Chicago-style fast-food locations outside the city that will serve you these items, prepared better than anywhere in the city. Same goes for many styles of ethnic food—you can get Mexican, Polish, Italian, Greek just as good or even better in the 'burbs. Some ethnic cuisines out here you would have trouble finding in the city—Uzbek, Russian, Afghan, etc.