Family Neighborhood Guide to Wheaton

Get to know this friendly community with these places to eat, shop and explore with kids.

There’s a running joke in Wheaton that there’s more traffic on a Sunday morning than on a Friday afternoon. Even though this college town is known for its religious bent, there’s more to Wheaton than its namesake Evangelical Christian college.

For families, there’s lot of locally owned shops and restaurants with a centrally located downtown and thousands of acres of forest preserve with places to hike and explore.

Getting there

Located 30 miles west of downtown Chicago and centrally located as the county seat for DuPage County, Wheaton has two train stops off the Union Pacific West Metra line (Wheaton and College Station) and interstate access to its east and south.

Eat

302 Wheaton

Address: 302 W. Front St., Wheaton

This has quickly become a popular hotspot known for its burgers, tap beers, kid (and adult) milkshakes and family-friendly outdoor patio. The inclusive atmosphere has brought rave reviews from parents of children with developmental differences and food allergies. (There’s a separate fryer to ensure the fries are gluten-free.)

302-burger
Photo credit: 302 Burger

Suzette’s Crêperie

Address: 211 W. Front St., Wheaton

This locally owned French bistro offers an order-at-the-counter bakery, a sit-down restaurant as well as a wine bar for parents who need some adulting. Try quiches, savory and sweet crepes (including a gluten-free variety), croissants and artisanal breads as well as French onion soup and macaroons. Try the chocolate mousse cake. Go for breakfast, brunch (Saturday and Sunday) or lunch when kids can get a croquet monsieur, a caprese sandwich on focaccia or French scrambled eggs (that includes cream and butter) with sauteed potatoes. For teenagers with a refined palate, there are lots of grown-up dishes like beef bourguignon, duck confit and a rack of lamb at dinner. There’s also afternoon tea at 2 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday or 1 p.m. tea on Sundays.

GIA MIA Wheaton

Address: 106 N Hale St., Wheaton

This popular local suburban chain offers a delicious array of Italian options. It’s sure to please a picky eater and has never disappointed in the many times I’ve gone. There’s a $13 daily lunch specials with a 7-inch Neapolitan-style wood-fired pizzas and dressed up salads. Try the classic Margherita or the pear and caramelized onion or classics like the chicken parmesan or rigatoni bolognese. There’s a kids menu with meatballs, cheese pizza, mac-n-cheese, calzone, ravioli, BBQ chicken pizza or a pasta (linguini), marinara and meatball. I’m a fan of the small plates options, especially the ricotta and honeycomb or prosciutto and burrata pairing. It’s not a flour-free kitchen but gluten-free pasta and pizza crusts can be ordered.  Dine-in or sit outside. There’s also ample wine, beer and cocktail options.

Pa Lian Burmese Restaurant

Address: 254 Geneva Road, Wheaton

Vegans, vegetarians and those with gluten-free restrictions will find plenty of options at this restaurant. The chicken, beef and goat that’s served here is Halal. There’s a lot of curry and coconut-based dishes with spices that are akin to Thai food. There’s samosas and fried chickpea tofu squares that’s paired with tamarind-based dipping sauce. Try the curry-style coconut chicken egg noodle soup and tea leaf salad made with fermented tea leaves, fried fava bean, peanuts, cabbage and lime. For dessert, there’s green tea cheesecake and mochi or mango ice cream.

Altiro Latin Fusion-Wheaton

Address: 132 N. Hale St., Wheaton

Eat tapas-style Latin fusion dishes at this family-owned local restaurant that has several locations in the ‘burbs. Order a margarita or a glass of sangria with chips and guacamole and a small plate of gourmet tacos—skirt steak, Basque seasoned shrimp-chorizo, or pan-seared tilapia paired with mango salsa. The kids menu offers simplified steak, chicken or plain tacos and quesadillas.

The Burger Social

Address: 108 N Hale St., Wheaton

Choose from a huge selection of over-the-top burgers with toppings that range from classic (onion rings, bacon, fried eggs) to adventurous (fried leeks, pickled jalapeños, ghost pepper cheese). The kids menu offers kiddie classics like tenders and mac and cheese.

Shop

Little Popcorn Store

Address: 111 W. Front St., Wheaton

Open since 1921, this landmark spot is an institution in Wheaton. Only four customers are allowed into this long and narrow spot that’s only 49 inches wide and 60 feet long. There’s usually a long line down the street with people waiting to get in. Grab candy from bins against the wall filled with classics like Now and Later, Mamba and Smarties candy necklaces as you make your way to the register. There’s only one type of popcorn, white popcorn that’s freshly popped with salt and oil so it’s gluten-free and dairy-free.

popcorn-shop
Photo credit: Popcorn Shop

Wheaton Meat Company

Address: 310 S Main St., Wheaton

This meat market has a built a cult following for its choices of cuts. Don’t expect any discounts at this knowledgeable butcher shop that orders top shelf. You’ll find Waygu beef, Iberico pork and prime rib.  There’s also lamb, chicken, sausage, fish and seafood as well as game like quail, pheasant, geese, duck and Cornish hens. Try the chicken salad and smoked salmon.

Moore Toys and Gadgets 

Address: 107 E. Front St., Wheaton

This family-owned, independent toy store has a slew of games, toys and books for kids of all ages. Browse tall shelves filled with Toy of the Year (TOTY) Awards-winning merchandise as well as STEM-centric items and classics from decades ago (think Silly Putty) and games that are popular right now.

Frocks and Frills Vintage

Photo credit: Frocks and Frills Vintage

Address: 203 S Hale St., Wheaton

This curated vintage shop has clothes organized by decade. Shop or sell your vintage clothing and accessories by appointment or Wednesday-Saturday from 11 a.m. until close. Frocks and Frills is known for having quality one-of-a-kind pieces, some date back to the 1800s with the collection going into the 1980s. Include hats, shoes, handbags, accessories, jewelry and clothing for men and women.

Wheaton French Market

Address: East Liberty Street and Reber Street between Willow Avenue and Liberty Drive., Wheaton (near 210 Reber St., Wheaton)

This outdoor market is better than most. It’s quite popular so it’s best to go early. Buy baked goods, shop for jewelry, organic soaps, crafts and flowers at this open air, outdoor French Market. There are plenty of vendors — including a knife sharpener — and a variety of food including non-GMO farm-fresh produce, crepes, empanadas and doughnuts being made onsite. The market operates from 8 a.m.-2 p.m. on Saturdays April-October, with reduced hours in November. The only complaint by some is that it gets “too crowded” because it’s so popular, making it difficult to navigate with a stroller.

A Baby Naturally

Address: 130 W. Willow Ave., Wheaton

Find natural baby products made from bamboo and organic cotton, books, toys, accessories and clothing at this boutique. Rent cloth diapers, learn about baby wearing and essential oils. The store also offers Bradley Method and Informed Beginnings childbirth education courses. (Cue the sleep training and baby led weaning classes.) There are also items geared towards toddlers and other littles up to age 6.

Bricks & Minifigs Wheaton

Address: 204 E. Geneva Road, Wheaton

This is a Lego lover’s paradise. My son didn’t want to leave it. Buy new or used Lego sets that are showcased in glass displays. Scour massive bins filled with Lego bricks and parts that are sold by filling up a plastic bag or containers. Hard-to-find minifigures are sold behind locked glass displays. You can buy, sell or trade parts.

Jeans and a Cute Top

Address: 123 W. Wesley, Wheaton

This store loves moms who wear jeans and offers shopping options with catchy sayings like: “Mom and CEO Jeans,” “Drop That To-Do List Jeans,” “First Date Post-Divorce Jeans” and “Love Shack Getaway Jeans.” Think moms who don’t want to dress like their daughters but “refuse to settle for shapeless lounge wear.” Check out the upscale resale section called “The Closet” boutique with clothing less than 3 years old that still looks new. It also works with Naomi’s House to help sexually exploited women start a new life.

Play

Cosley Zoo

Address: 1356 N. Gary Ave., Wheaton

This quaint zoo is a good spot for families who want an intimate, quieter interaction with animals. In October, Cosley Zoo hosts a Pumpkin Fest.

DuPage Art League

Address: 218 W. Front St., Wheaton

This nonprofit art school and gallery offers classes and workshops as well as free public arts exhibits. More than 50 artists display their work that is changed out monthly. Art classes begin at age 6. In the fall, kid classes includes watercolor, cartoon drawing and acrylic painting with clay modeling and animation. Teenagers 15 and up can take adult classes that includes advanced drawing.

Sensory Garden Playground

Address: 4044 Naperville Road, Wheaton

Walk through a rainbow archway over a bridge to see art sculptures, play outdoor musical instruments, swing, climb and slide at this sensory-friendly park. This “play for all” sensory park is currently geared towards toddlers and preschoolers. Dig in the dirt, touch the sculptures or walk down a wooded trail or play at tucked away spot.

Explore

Cantigny Park

Address: 1S151 Winfield Road, Wheaton

This 500-acre former estate of Chicago Tribune publishers Joseph Medill and his grandson Colonel Robert R. McCormick is best known for its outdoor “Tank Park” filled with military vehicles children can climb on and the First Division Museum, which has 14,000 military-themed artifacts from World War I through Vietnam. There’s plenty of other things to do with a playground, 50 picnic tables and a variety of gardens, including an “Idea Garden” with a waterfall, a bridge over a stream and stepping stones. Another well-kept secret: Cantigny offers early childhood programs each month for toddlers and young children ages 18-months to 6 years. Check out the two-day Revolutionary War Reenactment in September and its fall festival in October with crafts, music and hayrides. There’s also a very popular Lego Train show in December where families can see massive Lego builds in several rooms.

photo-by-Steve-Ivanov
Photo by: Steve Ivanov

Danada Forest Preserve

Address: 3S507 Naperville Road, Wheaton

This massive 797-acre preserve has a 35-acre restored prairie, wetlands and woodlands filled hiking trails where you can see egrets, blue herons, painted turtles and a bunch of frogs. Many people don’t realize you can go horseback riding (horsemanship or trail riding) at the Danada Equestrian Center with year-round group or individual lessons. See horses in pasture and wander through the 26-stall “Kentucky-style” barn or take a 30-minute wagon ride on Fridays and Saturdays. This property was all part of Dan and Ada L. Rice estate that once housed thoroughbreds, including 1965 Kentucky Derby winner Lucky Debonair.

Illinois Prairie Path (Wheaton segment)

More than 60 miles of the Illinois Prairie Path go through Cook, DuPage and Kane counties. Built on former railroad lines, this rail-to-trail path is a great way to bike or walk on a flat limestone path that’s surrounded by trees. Jump on the Prairie Path at Hoffman Park (439 N. Prospect Ave., Wheaton) and ride west and north to Lincoln Marsh.

Lincoln Marsh

Address: 1000 W. Lincoln Ave., Wheaton

Go to the Prairie Patch Play Area, an unstructured nature play area housed inside the 151-acre Lincoln Marsh Natural Area. There’s wooden logs and structures for kids to climb or jump over with stones and located at the East Entrance. Bring the bug spray and hike about 2 miles of trails, mostly woodchipped. Download one of the scavenger hunts for hiking on the trails. In the winter, snowshoes can be rented. Trails connect with the Illinois Prairie Path, making it an ideal place to bike or jog. There’s also a teams course obstacle course (for 4th graders and older) open until end of October.

Herrick Lake Forest Preserve

Address: 3S580 Naperville Road, Wheaton

This relaxing 887-acre forest preserve (which has Danada Forest Preserve to its East) feels like another world once you get inside. It’s a hidden gem. Bring a picnic, take a hike and enjoy the fall foliage. Rent a canoe, kayak or rowboat May through September. Walk along crushed limestone paths. There’s more than 7 miles of trails to hike, bike, cross country ski or horseback ride. Take the 0.8 mile path around 22-acre Herrick Lake or walk a few miles along Danada-Herrick Lake Regional trail that cuts through the preserve, which included Herrick Marsh in the middle. Trails are well-marked and the mature forest has many 150-year-old oak trees. More than 250 types of wildlife are found here from coyotes and bobolinks to woodpeckers, muskrats, minks and woodchucks. Fish for largemouth bass, channel and flathead catfish, crappie, carp, sunfish and black bullhead.

Billy Graham Center Museum

Address: 500 College Ave., Wheaton

Many people don’t realize evangelist Billy Graham graduated from Wheaton College with a degree in anthropology in 1943. Even if you’re not very religious, many have found this museum insightful. Located on Wheaton College’s 80-acre campus, this 20,000-square-foot museum walks through the history of evangelism in the United States and the personal life and work of Billy Graham. Open Tuesday-Saturday 10 a.m.-5 p.m. There’s no admission fee but a suggested donation of $7.

Wheaton Public Library

Address: 224 N. Cross St., Wheaton

Younger kids will love the large play area at Wheaton Library. There’s plenty of play places with a “French Market” fruit stand and kitchen, a wooden train table, Legos, a miniature dollhouse, a massive Connect 4 game and a light-up diorama of the bedroom scene from “Goodnight Moon”. Preschoolers and other littles can do a Bounce, Clap, Stomp class or a drop-in toddler playdate for kids and their caregivers, go to a kid-centric concert or storytime. Teens can take a painting class with an artist from the DuPage Art League, join an anime or writing club. Grab a lemonade (or espresso) with a panini, soup or salad at Altiro Wheaton Coffee Shop that’s run by Altiro Latin Fusion.


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