Illinois : Safety by City
- Arlington Heights
- Crystal Lake
- Des Plaines
- East St Louis
- Fairview Heights
- Granite City
- Mount Prospect
- Oak Lawn
- Rock Island
- Tinley Park
Waukegan, Illinois sits on the far north shore of Lake Michigan in the Chicago area.
It’s a working-class community with remnants of industrial sites on the shoreline instead of the pristine beaches of other communities along the lake.
It’s far from the glitz and glamour of the historic neighborhoods with mansions or the fashion sense of Michigan Avenue, but it’s not too far to get a true Chicago experience when visiting.
The real eyesores of Waukegan are the Superfund sites still going through the process of cleanup and safely disposing of hazardous materials.
The city has more of an industrial feel than a suburban atmosphere.
There is a master plan to redevelop the lakefront area and bring more visitors and residents to the area.
This is the hometown of famed comedian Jack Benny and the art of performance is still thriving in Waukegan.
Even though it’s not a wealthy community, it is rich with arts and culture, if you don’t mind that it’s not shiny like a new penny.
Part of the movie Contagion was also shot in Waukegan as well as Save the Last Dance, just to name a few Hollywood moments.
Waukegan can get a bad rap for being one of the poorer communities in the affluent Lake County, but that doesn’t mean it’s not safe or fun to visit.
It actually looks more sketchy than it really is.
You just can’t go in with high expectations because there are parts of the city that are run down.
Warnings & Dangers in Waukegan
OVERALL RISK: LOW
There's a low overall risk in Waukegan, despite other sources saying it's not too safe. All crime data from the 2020 FBI report comes in under the national level except for one category and violent crime is less than the Illinois average.
TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK: LOW
You can get to downtown Chicago in less than 90 minutes via the Metra rail line. Taxis and rideshares are also available. PACE busses are the ones to take to travel within Waukegan and surrounding suburban counties. There's low risk with any option, but when taking public transportation you should always be aware of your surroundings and not put in earbuds and zone out.
PICKPOCKETS RISK: LOW
The theft rate is lower than the national average, and while the crime reporting doesn't break out the types of theft, you can feel comfortable that there is a low risk. However, as part of any major metro area, you want to take steps to protect your belongings when walking around.
NATURAL DISASTERS RISK: LOW
You're going to have severe weather potential in every season, from winter storms to thunderstorms and the occasional tornado. There's low risk on an average day, but if any weather watch gets issued, pay attention. There's plenty of planning to do when severe weather threatens.
MUGGING RISK: LOW
The robbery rate is the only category that is above the national average. There's a one in 827 chance of being a robbery victim. While that's still a low risk, you should never fight back against a robber. Just be as good of a witness as you can to give information to the police. You can reduce the risk of robbery by not walking around at night alone and staying away from the industrial areas, especially after dark.
TERRORISM RISK: MEDIUM
There's a medium risk for every community in the Chicago area because of the sheer population size. The hazardous material plants here pose a greater risk because if there was a leak, it could ruin the drinking water for millions of people.
SCAMS RISK: LOW
There's a rather elaborate scam that happened to one person here after a scammer pretended to be from PayPal and, while posing an effort to "help" the victim, ended up taking a lot of their money. While this isn't exclusive to Waukegan, it's a great example of the lengths scammers will go to for your hard-earned money. There's a low-risk something like this will happen to you, but it should make you think twice when you get an email or text saying you've been defrauded. Always contact the payment vendor directly.
WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK: LOW
There's a low risk for women when you dissect the crime numbers, but you definitely want to be on guard here. With more rundown areas and industrial sites that could be hideouts for criminals, you should stay within the main areas for tourists and don't drive around without having a destination. Always stay on main surface streets or the freeway and avoid taking shortcuts through neighborhoods.
TAP WATER RISK: LOW
The presence of the Superfund sites might make you a little nervous about the risk to the water. The 2021 Annual Water Quality Report shows there were no violations and the city says water is monitored every three seconds for quality control. There was a presence of some bacteria like Giardia that could make a person very sick from 2015 through 2017 and the water treatment process has been modernized to reduce the risk of that as much as possible. Reduce, but not eliminate. There's low risk by the numbers, but I don't blame you if you got bottled water here, just in case.
Safest Places to Visit in Waukegan
One of the great things about the North Shore communities is that they are all so close.
Going between the cities isn’t going to take long or be costly if you want to explore outside of Waukegan.
The downtown area is where the courthouse and other businesses are, so it’s a great place to have lunch or walk around during the day.
It isn’t that exciting at night after business hours (or happy hour).
The Genesee Theatre is a great place to catch a show at night but you’ll need to buy tickets in advance as they tend to go quickly.
While there aren’t a plethora of beaches in Waukegan, there is one big one.
Waukegan Beach stretches a mile long on the Lake Michigan shore.
Self-guided walking tours are available to take in the sights, sounds, and wildlife along the way.
You can also charter a boat at the marina.
Windy City Salmon does a lot of Facebook posts with videos, so you can see what the experience will be like ahead of time.
You can also get self-guided walking tours through the Waukegan History Museum Companion App.
The museum itself is open by appointment only, but the walking tour shows you the historic (and safe) places to visit in the city.
There’s also a self-guided tour offered by the city called the “Jack Benny Historical Tour.”
Jack Benny fans will love this one!
Places to Avoid in Waukegan
Crime mapping shows the area along the waterfront to North Jackson Street on the west has the highest crime rates.
The northwest part of town is the safest area on the crime map.
Waukegan is one of those cities where you can tell if you are in a place you shouldn’t be or a place that isn’t designed for visitors.
In my research, there aren’t a lot of places residents consider dangerous but the word “sketchy” was used quite often.
The poverty rate here is 15% and the average home is worth $140,000, so you aren’t going to find incredible mansion-lined streets to see.
It’s just a working-class community.
I would recommend you avoid any chain restaurants while you’re here.
Chicago is known for having amazing food and pizza is a specialty.
Visit locally-owned businesses and try some deep-dish pizza.
Grab a Chicago-style hot dog from a vendor and leave a good tip.
Safety Tips for Traveling to Waukegan
- Sign up for alerts through Waukegan Connect on the city website. This will get your emergency or important community information during your visit.
- Parking downtown is relatively cheap. The parking garage is $1 per hour and the meters are 25 cents per half hour. There is a two-hour time limit on the meters from 8 am to 5 pm. If you are parking on the street, there’s an Alternate Parking Ordinance. This means you have to park on the odd-numbered side of the street on odd days, and the even-numbered side of the street on even days. For example, if you are parking on the 3rd of the month, you would be on the odd side of the street. If you are there on the 4th, you’d need to move to the even side of the street. Seems easier to just park in the garage if you ask me.
- You can look at updated crime maps with interactive mapping from the police department. Just go to cityprotect.com and choose Waukegan Police. You can then search by address, type of crime, or date range. This is particularly helpful for you to see crime trends closer to your time of visit.
- There are traffic cameras in Waukegan. You can get a ticket for running a red light, obviously, but you can also get one if you don’t come to a complete stop before turning right at a red light. The fine is $100, and yes, they can track down rental car users. Your picture will not be taken, just the car, and you’ll be able to review photos and video if you get a ticket.
- If you are going fishing or taking a charter boat, you’ll need a fishing license from the state of Illinois. You can’t get by with a license from your home state or city. Make sure to get a non-resident license. You can purchase these online through the Department of Natural Resources. Some of the charter services and tackle shops offer a license for purchase as well on site.
- The beach in Waukegan never has lifeguards, so you swim at your own risk. It is open from 6 am to 9 pm from Memorial Day to Labor Day. You cannot bring alcohol or portable grills to the beach. Don’t feed the birds, either. If you see someone breaking the law at the beach, call (847)599-2608.
- If you are visiting a local park and see graffiti, immediately report it to the parks department. Graffiti can be a sign of gang activity and also contains lewd words at times. Help keep the park safe and clean by reporting any vandalism you see. If you are there while someone is vandalizing the park, don’t approach them. Let the authorities handle it. The number is 847-360-4725.
- You might have heard that recreational marijuana is now allowed in Illinois. That’s true, but there are some pretty strict rules. You have to be 21 years old and can only use it in a private residence where the owner has approved the use. You can’t use it around children, either. Certainly don’t use it in public.
- Sign up for Alert Lake County notifications through the county website. This will keep you up to date on any weather emergency, road closures, or civil emergency. You can choose if you want emails or mobile phone notifications (or both).
- You need a good weather app when you’re visiting here. LakeCountySkywarn.com is one of the most popular here and what the county recommends. You can get early warnings about the potential for severe weather or snowstorms and plan your day around them.
So... How Safe Is Waukegan Really?
Waukegan is about as safe as the average city in America.
Compared to the state, the violent crime rate is lower than the average and property crime is slightly above.
There are interesting Reddit threads to read about people in Lake County and Waukegan discussing safety and the appearance of the city.
The overwhelming theme is that the city looks more rundown and dangerous than it actually is.
It’s also located in a county with pretty high standards when it comes to what is considered nice.
There are some pristine areas of Lake County.
Waukegan just isn’t one of them.
It’s got a little bit of grit with a lot of hard-working people who just want to live a comfortable life.
You’re going to run into crime risks here, but nothing that is so overpowering you should re-consider staying here.
Lock your car, keep your wallet in the front pocket, secure your purse with a crossbody bag, and don’t go looking for trouble.
The city did have seven homicides in 2020, which is higher than the national average.
Unfortunately, the state of Illinois doesn’t have its cities report detailed information about the crimes that happen, so I can’t dig deeper into the statistics than what is offered at face value.
That’s where that crime mapping before your trip will become so important.
Most of the hotels are along North Green Bay Road, which is one of the safer parts of the city and far away from the industrial blight along the lakefront.
How Does Waukegan Compare?
|Santiago de Chile (Chile)
|Hong Kong (China)
You should start your Visa process about four months out. If you are coming from out of the country, you'll show the Visa at the airport before you leave for your final destination. You won't need to show the Visa anywhere else when you're traveling around Chicago. You will need a passport.
You can only use the U.S. Dollar here. Aside from some quarters for the parking meters, you really don't need to carry cash here. Credit cards and mobile pay are widely accepted. Be sure to let your credit card company know you'll be traveling so it won't set off a fraud alert when you make purchases far away from home.
You'll get all four seasons here, so dress accordingly. Winter can get incredibly cold with temperatures below freezing and wind chills below zero. Bring snow boots too. You can rent all the fishing equipment you need so you don't need to lug it on the plane with you. Summers are going to be humid and you'll need bug spray and comfortable walking shoes.
You can be at O'Hare airport in 45 minutes and Midway in about an hour. Keep in mind traffic could double those commute times, so check the mapping software of your choice before you go.
It's always a good idea to have travel insurance when visiting a city this size that is prone to weather delays and cancellations.
Waukegan Weather Averages (Temperatures)
Average High/Low Temperature
|Temperature / Month
Illinois - Safety by City
|East St Louis