Champaign-Urbana, Illinois


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What's it like to live in Champaign-Urbana?

What's it like living in Champaign as a non-student?

The downtown areas of Champaign and Urbana have developed a lot in the past decade and this area is becoming much more desirable for young professionals to stay here. There are quite a few nice bars and restaurants (a great BBQ option and a couple great Mexican places, among others), a few local breweries, and a lively crowd of grad students and young professionals.

Having a large university draws plenty of cultural events, music, etc., though usually smaller acts. But we do have a large arena for bigger concerts, and have major university sports. Also, the Krannert Center for the Performing arts is a world-class venue for a variety of musical and theater performances. Downtown Champaign also has the Art Theater, which shows some great films (classic, indie, foreign) and film series/events. Downtown Champaign also has the Virginia Theater which draws a variety of performances (e.g. Nick Offerman, ZZ Top recently), screens new and old films (e.g. Dunkirk in 70mm) and also hosts the annual Roger Ebert film festival.

C-U also has a few larger summer festivals, like the Urbana Sweet corn festival and other festivals in the surrounding area (county fairs, Illinois State Fair ~1hr drive, the Homer Soda Festival, etc.)

Check out this website of events in the area and websites like to get an idea of what goes on here.

Also, check out the wonderful contributions of our sub's MVP, u/queerdeviant who has posted weekly summaries of events, among other things.

What's it like living in Champaign as a non-student?

It's a good place to live. Tons of grad students, so not all middle aged families and undergrads. I'll be honest though, most activities in town do involve eating and drinking. If you like hiking, you'll be doing some driving. Kickapoo and Forest Glenn are pretty good, but are ~.5-1hr drive. For longer hikes, Shawnee, Mark Twain, Wyalusing, and Red River aren't super far. I've never felt the "need" to go up to Chicago, but have went up that way a few times for festivels and museums. Indianapolis and St Louis are also close by. A big plus to the area is the extremely low cost of living. It is super cheap to live here. Lastly, not sure where you are coming from in the south, but Chambana is extremely liberal/open minded. No one has ever asked me what church I go to.

What's it like living in Champaign as a non-student?

There's a ton of cultural activity available around town, both on and off campus. Both Champaign and Urbana have thriving little downtowns with great restaurants and bars that don't see a lot of students. There's always something going on somewhere in town, and while it's mostly family-friendly a lot of it isn't kid-oriented.

I'm an alum, but I'm no longer directly affiliated with the university, nor is my husband, and we still live here and enjoy it a lot.

In addition to the hiking options already mentioned, there's a really cool little park on a private estate in Monticello called Allerton, about 20-30 minutes outside of Champaign. It has multiple hiking trails around the estate featuring several very distinct and really neat gardens, with interesting statues scattered around the forested parts of the trails.

There's also a lot of geocaching in the area if you're looking for a different way to get outdoors and have fun exploring.

What's it like living in Champaign as a non-student?

I retired here, after a long career in New York City. I knew what I was choosing: a quieter, less stressful life, that is affordable. And that is exactly what I got. If I want world class city stuff, I go to Chicago for day trips, and then come home to cozy C-U. I love the cultural offerings at Krannert Center, the many free concerts through the University, I can audit classes on campus, and take OLLI courses too. For a population of about 150,000 there is a great variety of ethnic food choices, and I love the many different Asian restaurants in town. The public library systems in C-U are both excellent, and as a state resident, I have access to the university library system too. Traffic is nothing compared to any big city, there are no real traffic jams. And the people are nice: I've made friends with smart and pleasant people. Let's just say I love it here as a townie, and a big part of it is that it's a quintessential American college town…9.5 out of 10 for me :)

5 Reasons Champaign Urbana Is A Great Place To Live
Zoe gives you 5 reasons why Champaign-Urbana is a great place to live!

What is it like to live in Champaign, Illinois?

When I went to grad school there I was married with two kids. My wife loved it so much she wanted me to find a job there after I graduated so we could stay there, although beside the Solo Cup Company and Kraft Foods plants, there wasn’t much opportunity for that.

I thought it was a wonderful school both academically and in terms of environment. My professors were generally very good and resources, particularly the library, were excellent.

Politically, the school brought in a fairly equal share of left and right student ideology. This will date me, but when I was there both Ronald Reagan and Walter Mondale came to campus and spoke to students out on the green in 1984. I loved the political discussions that occurred, much more civil and enriching than what shows up on most campuses today.

The university brought in some great concerts and plays, as well as providing some great school performances and activities that were family-friendly for the kids. Several times, we took the kids to a great children’s museum in Indianapolis and up to Chicago for the sites (lake, zoo, museums, etc.). Both are about 2 hours away.

We lived in Savoy, just south of campus, in a cooperative. It was a great place for families including a place to have a huge, prolific garden. We never had to water it because it rained a couple of times a week, usually at night. The biggest challenge was keeping down the weeds. The complex was highly diverse with students and their families from all over the world. We used to have a periodic pot-luck out on the commons where we could sample each other’s native cuisine. We met many wonderful people from all over and some came to our home to teach us their recipes and traditions.

The land is flat, so I biked to school most of the time and it was pretty easy to get everywhere. There was also a bus that picked up students from there, so there was a good alternative in the winter.

Living costs were very reasonable, there were a couple of very inexpensive grocery stores in town. We could get great sweet corn at roadside stands and there were farmer’s markets and U-Pick It places nearby where you could get great fresh produce.

Summers were hot and muggy. Winters could be cold and windy. Not a ton of snow, but it could drift high due to the wind. It was cold enough that I created a little skating rink on our patio that entertained the kids most of the winter. Spring and Fall were very nice.

Kickapoo Park is a very nice nearby state park. We spent a fair bit of time there with the kids. They loved the water, enjoyed chasing frogs, and just being kids.

I have a nephew who went there to grad school as well and met his wife there. He quite enjoyed his program and experiences. He rented a house off campus that my brother bought for that purpose because houses were so inexpensive.

We have very fond memories of our time there.