There's a delicious irony in the title of Robert Redford's Oscar-winning movie, filmed in Lake Forest: Ordinary People.
Lake Forest, as everyone instantly recognizes, is not an ordinary place in any aspect, and it is closely associated with the extraordinary people who designed, inhabited, passed through and preserved its natural beauty and tranquility during its storied 150-year history. Lake Forest residents have included industrial and commercial titans (McCormicks, Swifts, Armours, Fields), literary legends (F. Scott Fitzgerald), numerous professional sports figures, and popular current stars (Vince Vaughn).
There are two Lake Forests, east and west, developed along very different paths 100 years apart. East Lake Forest is the setting for grand estates, the historic downtown and Market Square, and ravine-studded terrain along Lake Michigan. West Lake Forest, developed in the last 50 years, shares the open, spacious feeling of East Lake Forest but hosts newer ranch homes and significant commercial office developments on a more level landscape.
City services, park district
The Lake Forest Parks and Recreation Department oversees more than a dozen parks encompassing well over 100 acres, a nature preserve, a wildlife discovery center, a fitness center and the 18-hole public Deerpath Golf Course. The department also offers an extensive year-round array of adult and children's programs.
Forest Park Beach vies for the title of "North Shore's most beautiful beach." It has a boat launch ramp, boat storage and rentals, sheltered pavilions, a fishing pier, broad sandy areas and grasslands set against a forested backdrop.
Playing "the Onwentsia," the almost impossibly beautiful 18-hole course at the Onwentsia Club, is a memorable event for many golfers and an everyday one for members.
The City of Lake Forest offers a wide variety of high-quality services including professional police and fire departments and youth and senior citizen programs. Unique among North Shore communities Lake Forest has a historic and scenic municipal cemetery with formal gardens.
Lake Forest is best known for the distinguished country estates designed by the starchitects of earlier eras – Howard Van Doren Shaw, David Adler, Henry Ives Cobb and modernist George Fred Keck – and landscaped by Frederick Law Olmsted and Jens Jensen.
There is a huge variety of housing in Lake Forest beyond the great estates, with a median price of just under a million dollars.
Condos are available from the low $100s. You'll also find townhomes and single-family homes priced from the low $200s in many architectural styles. East Lake Forest has a stock of modestly-sized homes within walking distance of downtown. Newly-built homes and condominiums are available in west Lake Forest.
Lake Forest is served by two train routes. Metra's Union Pacific North Line stops in downtown Lake Forest and arrives in downtown Chicago in a little over an hour.
Metra's Milwaukee District / North Line reaches downtown Chicago in just under or just over or just under an hour on local and express trains from west Lake Forest.
Few homes in Lake Forest are within walking distance of the train stations, since Lake Forest spans nearly 17 square miles. All of Lake Forest is within a few minutes drive of either of the two Metra routes.
Shopping, dining, nightlife
At the heart of downtown Lake Forest is the charming Market Square, designed by Howard Van Doren Shaw, and one of the earliest shopping centers in the country. It houses several dozen interesting shops and restaurants, and dozens more are available along Deer Path Road, the main artery through downtown Lake Forest. The award-winning chefs at the historic Deer Path Inn serve up traditional, sushi and pub menu delicacies.
Lake Forest residents enjoy top-tier schools from kindergarten through graduate school.
Public school students attend one of the three District 67 elementary schools and the Deer Path Middle School (grades 5-8) before progressing to the outstanding academic and sports programs at Lake Forest High School.
Students from 31 countries and 17 states join local day students and boarders at tradition-laden Lake Forest Academy on 160 spectacular acres of the former J. Ogden Armour estate in Lake Forest. Lake Forest Country Day School is the preferred option for some local residents.
Lake Forest College traces its roots to the founding of Lake Forest in the 1850s. Steep ravines cut through the 107 park like acres of the wooded campus' setting on Lake Michigan.
The Lake Forest Graduate School of Management offers a variety of programs leading to the MBA degree.