1. It has Chicago.
Let’s just get it out of the way first since it’s the most obvious reason Illinois is awesome. Although it is not the official state capital, as most foreigners think, Chicago is the epicenter of culture for the Midwest. From Shedd Aquarium and Sears Tower (yes, we will forever call it that) to the Taste of Chicago and Lollapalooza, the Windy City will always give New York and Los Angeles a run for their money.
2. And Chicago gave you deep dish pizza.
Let’s not forget this very important fact. A piping hot, cheesy pie from Lou’s is just what you need after a long night on Division, so thank goodness Chicago invented it.
3. The historic Route 66 starts in Illinois.
It doesn’t start in Michigan or Indiana or any other Midwest state, it starts in Illinois, just one block SE of this Adams Street sign. The 301 miles covered in Illinois offer some of the best when it comes to Americana icons, like the oldest usable service station — Soulsby Service Station.
4. The Land of Lincoln was the first state to abolish slavery.
The 13th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States was ratified by Illinois on February 1, 1865 before any other states. Way to go, Illinois (and you, too, Lincoln).
5. There is 26 miles of salt-free beachfront.
That’s right. No spitting every five seconds. No burning eyes. No layer of dried salt on your skin when you get out. Just crisp, fresh water allowing you to wakeboard without the lingering fear of getting eaten by a shark. And if you ignore the fact that you know geography, you can imagine that Lake Michigan goes on forever.
6. You’re able to read this because some smart people from University of Illinois invented the modern day web browser.
You can thank Marc Andreessen and his Big 10 University of Illinois education for changing our lives completely. While you’re at it, you can also thank Illinois for the zipper, Ferris wheel, nuclear reactor, skyscraper, tv remote, and cell phone. Seems to be a bit of an innovative state, eh?
7. Lake Michigan (and the Great Lakes in general) offer the best shipwreck diving in the world.
When you think about scuba diving, you might not think of Illinois, but Lake Michigan has managed to preserve (thanks to the lack of salt and other ocean-y organisms) some of the best shipwrecks in the world. There are over a dozen to explore underwater off the coast of Chicago alone! And let’s be honest, finding sunken treasure is way cooler than coming face-to-face with a giant sea creature.
8. Illinois breeds sporting legends and legendary fans.
Michael Jordan. Walter Payton. Mike Ditka. Ernie Banks. Chris Chelios. They were all made famous from their time on Illinois teams. And with all the superfans filling up the historic Wrigley Field and United Center, it’s perfectly clear to see why an athlete would thrive wearing a Chicago jersey.
9. The ice cream sundae started in Evanston, IL.
Yep. You can thank Illinois for trying to defy the rule against ice cream sodas on Sundays. There is no separating an Illinoisan from their ice cream, even if it is the Sabbath…
10. It’s an architecture buff’s dream.
Is there anywhere else you can take a 90-minute riverboat architecture tour where even people who don’t care about architecture will actually listen? Maybe, but it won’t be as cool as the one in Chicago. Illinois is chock-full of brilliant buildings from luminaries like Frank Lloyd Wright and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.
11. Starved Rock State Park offers waterfalls and canyons galore.
Waterfalls in Illinois? Only out-of-staters are surprised by this fact. Starved Rock is one of the must-see spots in northern Illinois. With 18 forest canyons, various riverside cliffs, and picturesque waterfalls, Starved Rock will make sure Illinois takes up a few pages in your scrapbook.
12. And also the largest population of wintering bald eagles outside of Alaska.
Let’s not forget that during January and February up to 3,000 bald eagles can be seen nesting and flying along the waterways near the state park. A plane ticket to Chicago is a lot cheaper than one to Alaska. Just sayin’.
13. 19 of the Top 100 Safest Cities are located in Illinois.
According to Neighborhood Scout, Illinois has 19 of the safest cities in the country, including the #2 spot. Sure the South Side reputation might scare you a bit, but it turns out Illinois is pretty darn safe in comparison to the rest of the US.
14. It is where Lewis & Clark began their historic journey.
It might have been part of the Indiana Territory back in 1804, but now this historical east bank of the Mississippi River belongs to Illinois. Looks like yet another major westward journey started in good ol’ Illinois, although I don’t think Troup has a song about this one.
15. Portillo’s started here.
Yes, it’s worth all the hype. There is absolutely nothing better than a chocolate cake shake to wash down your hot dog, roast beef, or chopped salad. Seriously, Portillo’s alone should be the reason Illinois deserves your attention.
16. Jackson Falls proves that Illinois is more than just flat.
Yosemite might be the climbing capital of America, but southern Illinois has something for climbers too. Yep, it’s not just cornfields and dairy farms. Jackson Falls, found in the Shawnee National Forest, is one of the nation’s best kept climbing secrets. Shhhh…
17. It has the only river in the world that flows backwards.
IN THE WORLD!!! And it turns green once a year on St, Patrick’s Day, too.
18. Lincoln Park Zoo is one of only three major zoos you can visit for free.
It is also one of the oldest zoos in the country. Screw paying $48 to see the panda bears in San Diego and just head to Chicago instead. You can go eat your lunch next to your favorite furry friend for free any day you choose.
19. Some of the biggest and best shopping outlets in America reside in Illinois.
For all you shoppers out there, Illinois has just what you crave. There is nothing like finding that once-in-a-lifetime deal at the J.Crew outlet that will allow you to respond, “And guess how much it was?!” when someone compliments your shirt.
20. You can find 320 million-year-old rock formations at Garden of the Gods.
Wait, Google says that’s in Colorado Springs?! Sure, sure, they might have coined the name first, but the Garden of the Gods Wilderness in southern Illinois is still heavenly. Much steeper and rockier than most of Illinois, this area of the Shawnee National Forest was made for the nature addict.
21. It is the only state to officially observe Casimir Pulaski Day.
You don’t get school off on the first Monday of every March in memory of Casimir Pulaski? Clearly, you’re not as patriotic as Illinois. The state officially shuts down once a year to honor “the father of the American cavalry.”
22. Halloween and Thanksgiving would be significantly less pumpkin-y without Illinois.
Illinois produces over 80% of the nation’s pumpkins. Think what Halloween would be like without any jack-o-lanterns to carve (and smash in the street) or how horrible Thanksgiving would be without pumpkin pie!
23. “Midwest Nice” could not exist more anywhere else.
If you ask foreigners what they liked most about Illinois, they will probably say the warm, friendly people. This hospitality, also known as “Midwest Nice,” is something that is felt throughout the state and travels with Illinoisans wherever they go.
24. Illinois gave you the Twinkie.
You’re welcome. (And sorry.)