Family Neighborhood Guide: Evanston

Get to know this great community by discovering places to explore, great play spots and where to eat and shop when visiting Evanston with kids.

This charming college is a popular suburb thanks to its close proximity to Chicago and diverse community. There’s good reason Apartment Therapy named Evanston one of the coolest suburbs in America. Although Northwestern University is a major draw, its lakefront, mom-and-pop restaurants, cultural and quirky offerings provide a lot to explore on Chicago’s North Shore.

Getting there:

Evanston is a quick ride out of the city on the CTA Purple Line or an absolutely lovely drive if you use Jean-Baptiste Pointe DuSable Lake Shore Drive and Sheridan Road, hugging Lake Michigan.

EAT

Hewn

Where: 1733 Central St., Evanston

Nosh on breads made from organic stone-milled flours and grains at this women-owned bakery. From sprouted buckwheat and challah to brioche and Holmenkollen rye, it’s all fermented with wild yeast, many from unique blends and heritage varieties of wheat from Midwest farms. Try the sticky buns, croissants, scones, seasonal galette, biscotti, monkey bread and cinnamon brioche.

La Cocinita

Where: 1625 Chicago Ave., Evanston

Eat Venezuelan-inspired street food at this hot spot that has garnered acclaim for its food trucks in Chicago and New Orleans. This is its first standalone restaurant. (With the pandemic, they’ve switched to take-out only.) Try an arepas, a cornmeal stuffed patty like the El Pabellon, the national dish of Venezuela that includes black beans, brisket, sweet plantains, queso fresco and cremita. There’s also tacos, empanadas and build-your-own bowls.

Soul & Smoke

Where: 1601 Payne St., Evanston

Chef D’Andre Carter knows how to do slow-roasted barbecue. Grab some smoked brisket, pulled pork, pastrami and rib tips. Couple it with cornbread and mac and cheese. There’s also chicken gumbo and Cajun shrimp and grits. Top off the meal with a slice of caramel or coconut cake. Get takeout or eat the meal indoor with picnic-style dining.

Bennison’s Bakery

Where: 1000 Davis St., Evanston

For more than 80 years, this bakery has served up European-style pastries. Grab an almond (or chocolate) croissant. There’s a huge selection of doughnuts, (think Bismarck, Boston Cream, apple cider and glazed cake), cinnamon rolls, eclairs, scones, turnovers, tortes, paczki, macarons and an Apfelstrudel (an apple strudel), as well as savory sandwiches, pretzels and artisan breads.

Mid Kitchen

Where: 1512 Sherman Ave., Evanston

Dine-in, grab takeout or do curbside pickup at this breakfast spot that caters to multiple dietary lifestyles. Try traditional eggs “bennys,” pancakes, French toast and sandwiches. Or get vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options, including vegan chicken and waffles and a savory gluten-free, vegan Zoodles bowl made with zucchini.

Peckish Pig

Where: 623 Howard St., Evanston

This gastropub offers up fried chicken sandwiches, fish and chips as well as grilled salmon, beet arugula and Brussel sprouts Caesar salads. There’s also kid-friendly fare like buttered noodles and mac and cheese. Grab a cocktail, glass of wine or a non-alcoholic, hopped-up grapefruit soda. 

PLAY

Little Beans Cafe & Play Space

Where: 430 Asbury Ave., Evanston

Need a break? This is play space lets your kids (0-12) run around and explore. Bring socks (shoes stay in cubbies for the littles) and gym shoes (for the older ones). The Little Beans Village is geared towards kids 6 and under and filled with miniature buildings like a general store and camper as well as self-propelled cars and other fun toys. For older kids, there’s an indoor ninja warrior course, a half court gym for basketball, karate and a kid karaoke spot. There’s also a “Serious Slime Room” created by two moms who appeared on Shark Tank, and a cafe that serves pastries and sandwiches with coffee, beer and wine.

Art Makers Outpost

Where: 609 South Blvd., Evanston

This makers space helps young artists and adults get creative. Make art from wearable to the wall-hanging kind with papier mache, wood working, clay, mosaics, jewelry making, painting as well as 3-D design projects, many made from recycled materials. This environmentally conscious spot holds youth (6-14) and teen nights as well as 21-and-up BYOB events. Attend camps, workshops and special “no school” events.

Evanston SPACE

Where: 1245 Chicago Ave., Evanston

This live music hall is an intimate space to hear large acts perform in close proximity. With a 250-person capacity, it’s one of the best acoustic venues to see a concert while sitting at a candle-lit small round table or standing in back. Grab pizza and a cocktail next door at Union Pizza.

EXPLORE

Lighthouse Beach and Grosse Point Lighthouse

Where: 2611 Sheridan Road, Evanston

Although swimming is closed during the off-season, the sand portion of the beach is open daily, 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. regardless of the time of year. The Grosse Point Lighthouse grounds are open for exploration all year but due to the pandemic, tours inside were suspended at press time. A virtual tour is available on its website.

Alley Gallery

Where: 2319 Thayer St., Evanston

Created by artist Teresa Parod, colorful murals of flowers, purple elephants, outer space and other vibrant images line garage doors in Evanston alleys. It started with Parod painting her garage door, and then neighbors asking for more. Drive through the alleys between Thayer Street and Isabella Street as well as Park Place to see the artwork by car.

Halim Time & Glass Museum

Where: 1560 Oak Ave., Evanston

It is currently temporarily closed, but check back as restrictions ease. The fact that children under age 9 get in free should say something. But if you like breathtaking work of Louis Comfort Tiffany and other stained glass artisans, this is a good place to visit. The five-story building is the love story of real estate developer Cameel Halim and his wife who have spent more than 30 years collecting (and rescuing) pieces like the newly acquired Tiffany Ascension Window that was in an Ohio church. Opened in 2017, the museum holds more than 1,100 clocks and 80 stained glass pieces, including some 25 feet tall.

Merrick Rose Garden

Where: 1426 Oak Ave., Evanston

When the weather gets warmer, this quiet oasis in Merrick Park features several thousand roses and hundreds of varieties and a Centennial Fountain. During warmer months, pack a picnic and kick around a soccer ball in the large grassy area.

Charles Gates Dawes House

Where: 225 Greenwood St., Evanston

Visit the mansion of former U.S. Vice President Charles Gates Dawes (1925-29) who served under President Calvin Coolidge. The U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom and co-recipient of the 1925 Nobel Peace Prize served as a general during World War I. From 1909 to 1951, Dawes lived in Evanston in this mid-1890s home that’s now a National Historic Landmark. It has 25 rooms, including six bedrooms. Take a tour through the Evanston History Center.

Shakespeare Garden

Where: 2121 Sheridan Road, Evanston

Located on Northwestern’s campus, the Shakespeare Garden (located next to the Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary) was designed by well-known prairie-style landscape architect and conservationist Jens J. Jensen, who designed Columbus Park in Chicago, and organized movements for the creation of the Cook County Forest Preserve District, the Illinois park system and Indiana Dunes State Park and National Lakeshore. Built between 1916 and 1929, the garden is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Two hawthorn hedges unfold the garden like a book opening its pages with more than 50 different flowers, trees, herbs and plants found in Shakespeare’s works, including lavender, lemon balm and roses.

SHOP

Booked

Where: 506 Main St., Evanston

This children-focused bookstore even has a miniature door for kids to enter through. Pre-pandemic there were regular story times. There’s also a small adult section. It has reopened to in-person shopping, but online orders can also help this bookstore survive.

Stumble & Relish

Where: 1312 Chicago Ave., Evanston

This quirky, artisan-filled shop is like a localized Anthropologie store gone wild. It’s full of unique homemade goods, purses, bags, jewelry, children’s books and toys, stationary as well Chicago and Evanston-centric wares and vintage finds that surprise and delight.

Cultivate Urban Rainforest & Gallery

Where: 704 Main St., Evanston

Get an air plant, buy decorative pots, hanging planters, terrariums and other plant supplies. Take a plant parenthood workshop to figure out how to develop a green thumb or pay $5 to get a plant repotted. (They also offer plant care videos online.) Find nature-inspired artwork and gifts. Plants range from easy-care houseplants to more rare and unusual varieties. Browse by categories from low-light and pet-safe to carnivorous plants.

Squeezebox Books and Music

Where: 743 Main St., Evanston

Dig through bins to find vinyl records (45s and LPs), CDs, DVDs, cassette tapes, graphic novels, and eclectic assortment of second-hand books. This spot is a favorite among co-ed set.

Dawn Reiss is a Chicago journalist and the great-great granddaughter of  who owned Connor Hardware, a well-known historic hardware store in Evanston.


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