Lincoln Park gets all the buzz, but the smaller, lesser-known Lincoln Square deserves some attention too. As a Chicago newbie, I knew nothing of this charming little neighborhood until I took a tour of Lincoln Square with a friend who was a long-time resident.
My kids, Julie, 8, and Johnny, 4, tagged along with my friend and her four sons (7, 6, 4 and 2). We fell in love with the place. It’s in the city, but feels like a small town. There are adorable cafes and restaurants, unique little shops, a world-class music school and plenty of fun parks for kids to run and play.
In the summer, a fountain in the middle of the square comes to life and sometimes kids jump in or at least splash around. And the downtown community hosts festivals throughout the year, bringing out droves of Lincoln Square-ians. I have lived in suburbia my entire life, but Lincoln Square makes me long for city living.
If you decide to check out Lincoln Square (which you totally should!) here are some don’t-miss stops.
Though this is technically a toy shop, kids can’t help but play here. It’s filled with puppets, dolls and trains, plenty of fun games, and a wide assortment of dress-up costumes. And the shop seems to encourage play. On one of the cool marble structures, written on a sign was “Ask for marbles to play.”
At the corner of Lincoln and Montrose avenues is the 15-acre Welles Park. With playgrounds, spray parks, horseshoe pits and sports courts, the park offers something for everyone. While residents frequent the fitness center and gymnasium in the winter, the park really comes to life in the spring and summer when families flock there to picnic, play and enjoy outdoor concerts.
Old Town School of Folk Music
Anyone who knows Lincoln Square knows about the Old Town School of Folk Music. This gem of music and the arts seems to anchor the neighborhood. It was founded in 1957, though it didn’t move to Lincoln Avenue until 1998. Since that time, it has been catering to people of all ages and talents. There are dozens of kids’ classes, ranging from piano, guitar and art to dance, theatre, ukulele and banjo. There are also an assortment of “Wiggleworms” classes, which encourage young kids (babies to 3) to dance, sing and play. Older kids can enjoy classes like story time dance, comic book drawing and musical theatre.
Located in the heart of Lincoln Square, this French café serves pastries and sweets, but also delicious soups, salads and sandwiches. The kids and I stopped at this restaurant on a chilly day and warmed up with some homemade macaroni and cheese, vegetable chili and the moistest and sweetest corn bread we’d ever tasted.
Paciugo Gelato and Cafe
What a perfect location for an ice cream shop—just steps away from the awesome fountain I mentioned earlier. In warm weather, grab a gelato and sit by the fountain. Ever try banana beet sorbet? What about rum raisin or roasted banana cashew heath crunch? Me neither, but Paciugo offers 200-plus flavors, some strange, some simply delish.
Pizza Art Café
This BYOB restaurant is a great stop for salads and pizza. The restaurant is only open for dinner, but it’s still fine for kids. The pizza selection is wide—with dozens of vegetable, cheese and meat topping choices.
I could spend hours in this tiny shop browsing all the unique gifts, books, décor and trinkets. Chicago lovers will love the really cool and different Chicago memorabilia, from maps to distressed-wood picture frames. One of my favorite frames is bright red and says “To the Moon and Back.” Adorable.
And, the store cracks me up. There are usually a handful of things I find hilarious—like a tongue-in-cheek book for kids called How Babies Are Made or Good Night iPad (a parody of the classic children’s book). There are fake mustaches, Abraham Lincoln bandages, bacon air freshener, gingerbread men cookie cutters with different body parts missing and little gifts that you just hope your kids don’t see. Julie found a tin of lip gloss that said “Lip S***” and she asked what that meant. Oops. I still love the store.
The Savory Spice Shop
Julie and Johnny were a little shocked when they scarfed down a bite of ginger, which I’m sure they assumed was candy of some sort. Customers are invited to taste any of the spices in the shop, which can be fun, until kids realize it’s not “real food.” But the spice collection is pretty impressive. We left with a barbecue rub and a blue cheese seasoning the kids really like. The store sells pretty much any spice you might be looking for, and is also a great stop for gifts.
Amy’s Candy Bar
About a half mile from Lincoln Avenue (still walkable with kids in nice weather) is Amy’s Candy Bar—a cute, yet tiny, candy shop. Sweets of many colors and shapes overwhelmed my kids. They didn’t know what to choose! I think they were still in shock that I was actually letting them pick out any candy in the store. Julie chose pink strawberry-flavored gummies and Johnny chose candy-coated marshmallows.
Gene’s Sausage Shop & Delicatessen
The homemade pierogis and specialty meats (venison, bison, rabbit and boar are among the more unusual choices) are worth a stop. The shop is also entertaining to browse with kids. Julie was a bit grossed out by the octopus salad, but intrigued that the store sold ostrich meat.
Kristy MacKaben is a mom of two and frequent contributor at Chicago Parent.
See more of Kristy's stories here.
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