I’m not Swedish. Like most non-Swedish Americans, the main things I know about Sweden can be limited to meatballs, the American Girl doll named Kirsten, and IKEA. And, of course, Andersonville.
The primary claim-to-fame of Andersonville, which runs along the western edge of Chicago’s Edgewater neighborhood, is being Swedish. In fact, its recently demolished water tower was painted to resemble the Swedish flag, and other blue-and-yellow decorations adorn the street. And while the first residents of the neighborhood may have hailed from Stockholm, North Clark Street is a welcome day trip for all Chicagoans—whether you have Swedish blood or not.
Your first stop should be the Swedish Bakery (5348 N. Clark), a charmingly old-school spot that specializes in pastries from Europe. Keep an eye out for traditional Swedish treats like pepperkakor (ginger cookies) or drommar (dream cookies), helpfully marked with a blue-and-yellow flag. You’ll also find all the mainstays of a traditional bakery, plus beautifully decorated cakes. And when the line took a while, I took advantage of the free coffee while the kids enjoyed free samples of the goodies.
North Clark Street is home to a wide variety of family-friendly restaurants. If you’re looking to make it an all-Swedish day, check out Svea (5236 N. Clark), which serves up a Viking breakfast—complete with Swedish pancakes topped with lingonberries—that can be easily shared. Lady Gregory’s (5260 N. Clark) offers sandwiches, burgers and some traditional Irish fare. For pure experience, there’s Hamburger Mary’s (5400 N. Clark), a flamboyantly decorated spot (the check comes in a stiletto) that specializes in creatively named dishes like Buffy the Burger Slayer. Of course, Andersonville is also home to popular chain restaurants like Homemade Pizza Co. and Potbelly Sandwich Works, so there’s something for every taste.
Your trip would not be complete without a stop at George’s Ice Cream and Sweets (5306 N. Clark), a modern take on an old-fashioned ice cream parlor. It offers a huge range of hand-dipped flavors (with or without the fresh-baked waffle cones), including gluten-free, soy, and no sugar added options. For those who need a little help combining tastes, there are specialty sundaes and shakes to select. And if you’re not big on the cold stuff, don’t worry: there’s an extensive bakery menu, hot drinks, and an adorable candy bar in the back.
Families with little kids are sure to love the weekly story time at Women& Children First (5233 N. Clark). The independent bookstore opens early (10:30 a.m.) on Wednesdays just for the kids, who pile onto gym mats on the floor (or parents’ laps) and listen to popular children’s stories. They also throw in some fun finger plays to help get the wiggles out. At a half-hour, it was a bit long for my 2-year-old nephew, but fortunately, the store is brimming with books for a welcome distraction. Bring cash for the requested $1 donation.
Andersonville embraces its ethnic legacy at the Swedish American Museum (5211 N. Clark). Check out the huge Dala Horse in the museum’s lobby (its twin hangs out at the corner of Clark and Farragut) before heading upstairs to the real fun: The Brunk Children’s Museum of Immigration. Kids can experience life on a Swedish farm before boarding a boat that takes them to the homesteads of Minnesota. There are lots of things to do—milk a cow! row a Viking ship! ride a sleigh!—that are far beyond our American experience. My 4-year-old nephew gravitated toward the space section (did you know Buzz Aldrin is Swedish-American?) where we got to experience multiple bumpy “blast-offs.”
If you’re looking for some unique gifts or one-of-a-kind clothing, stop by The Red Balloon (5407 N. Clark). We enjoyed the wide range of personalized gifts like the keepsake name loveys and ceramic frames, the Chicago-themed onesies and the initial tees for older kids. And as an enthusiastic reader, I fell in love with the wall of classic and Chicago-oriented books, while my nephews were taken with the toy piano and mini-firetrucks just within their reach.
Make sure you set your schedule before heading into Toys et Cetera (5311 N. Clark) or your kids will want to stay all day. It’s absolutely brimming with toys, games and craft kits everywhere you look. My nephews immediately occupied themselves at the train table while their mom and I browsed for some gifts for an upcoming birthday. If you’ve got musical kids, stop by on Tuesdays at 11:30 a.m. or 4 p.m. for instruments and singing. And did I mention they gift wrap—for free?!
Just beyond Foster, and slightly past the best known blocks of Andersonville, you’ll find Green Genes (5111 N. Clark), an eco-friendly boutique. The boys played with the dollhouse and make-believe kitchen while we browsed adorably trendy clothing from Boys& Girls, Winter Water Factory and Maxomorra. You can find environmentally friendly lunch bags, water bottles, shampoo, nail polish and toys. My favorite was a portable changing pad from FEED—proceeds help bring food to the hungry around the world.