Chicago neighborhood guides

Chicago is always called a city of neighborhoods, and it is so true. We love how each pocket of this big city can still feel like a cozy community with it’s own unique restuarants, shops, playgrounds and more. Here are some of our favorite picks from neighborhoods around the city to help your family explore.

Chicago is a city of neighborhoods. We’ve picked a few of our favorite spots in each community.

Walking tour of Wicker Park for families

Wicker Park is known for its world-class restaurants and trendynightlife. But it is a very different scene by day. Parents pushstrollers to the park. Kids ride bikes up and down the sidewalks.Families take advantage of all that this neighborhood has to offer.Wicker Park is relatively small, making it an ideal neighborhoodfor a strolling tour.

The boundaries of Wicker Park are North Avenue to the north,Division Street to the south, Ashland to the east and WesternAvenue to the west. Within those boundaries, there are manywonderful spots for families to play, eat, shop and explore.


Celebrate Dia de los Muertos in Pilsen

The Pilsen neighborhood offers many reasons tovisit, but expect even more as Dia de los Muertos-The Day of theDead-draws near.

Starting at the National Museum of Mexican Art, you’llfind several large and beautiful altars created by artists andfamilies. The meaning and traditions behind the art make themsomething very special. While at the museum, check out the manyactivities for children, including Family Sundays, art classes andspecial projects such as decorating sugar candy skulls and creatingDia de los Muertos art of your own.

The gift shop there is a treasure trove, with somethingfor every pocketbook.

For younger children, seeing images of skulls andskeletons presented as both comical and loving tributes may helpalleviate fears around Halloween. It’s hard to be afraid of a skullwhen you’re going to decorate it with frosting andcandy!

Older kids and teens will be fascinated by the diversityand detail of each altar. They will be drawn in by the spookynature of the skull masks andcalacas-skeleton figures often dressed as famouscharacters, wrestlers, or in fancy costumes and set into sillyscenes.

Make a day of your visit by strolling to 18th Street totake in the local shops and murals. Pilsen, well known as a ChicagoArts District, shows off its modern and traditional murals proudly.The kids will have fun looking for them.

While there are many panaderiasand sweet shops in the neighborhood, for a special treat,stop at Bombon Bakery. Choose a sweet to take home, from theluxurious mini tres leches cake, jewel-like fruit tarts, flans andrich red velvet cookies.

A short walk up the block brings you to two great placesto eat lunch or dinner: Nuevo Leon Resturant or el Milagro. Bothare very family friendly and you will quickly sit down to a heartymeal. It is the perfect end to a day of celebrating Day of the Deadand seeing the art and culture of Pilsen.

That is, until you get home to dig into your bakerytreats.


South Loop for families

In recent years, the South Loop has transformedfrom a mob-loving danger zone to a stroller haven. With thattransformation, the abandoned warehouses and empty lots were turnedinto parks, play areas and funky family-friendly restaurants.

There are weeks when I never feel the need to leave theSouth Loop, and my 3-year-old and infant are completely contentwith all the kid-friendly activities here.

It’s also the perfect place for a day trip. I had amini-meeting with my preschooler and baby, and we’ve come up withour absolute favorite South Loop spots.

Women's Park and Gardens  1801 S. Indiana Ave.
 
 (312) 328-0821

In the spot that formerly housed the Vietnam VeteransMuseum, a free indoor play space is our go-to spot for colder,rainy days. It’s a large room boasting a play kitchen, play houseand plenty of climbing areas. Did I mention that it’s completelygratis? If it’s sunny, go outside, where the massive gardens andgravel roads are perfect for toddlers and tricycles. Our favoritehideout is the kid-size house near the two other historic homes inthe gardens. Let your children literally play house inside. Beforeyou leave Women’s Park, grab a slice of thin crust pizza at CaféSociety (same address), adjoining the park.

Sprout Playspace  1454 S. Michigan Ave.
 
 (312) 922-3131

This newbie is an eco-friendly playspace destined tobecome a toddler and preschooler obsession. What’s especially coolabout Sprout is that kids will find things here that they’ve neverseen before because many of the toys and the décor were customcreated for the playroom by local artists. And parents will lovethat kids are playing in a room filled with reclaimed wood,recycled cork flooring, low VOC paint and super-bright naturallight. Bonus: The owners tell us that kids classes and birthdayparties will be offered ASAP.

Waffles
 
 1400 S. Michigan Ave.
 
 (312) 854-8572

This newish addition to the South Loop has peopletraveling from the `burbs just to get a taste of the waffles, whichsatisfy every tooth-sweet and savory. Choose between the MexicanChocolate waffles (our fave), the red velvet waffle and the savoryfried chicken and bacon waffle, among others. Yes, they’ve gotother stuff on the menu, but we stick to what they do best. We alsolove their hot chocolate flight, which offers four differentshot-sized hot chocolates. Plan to spend a while there, especiallyif you come on a Sunday, when the wait time can be upwards of 45minutes.

Cottontail Park  44 W. 15th St.

Want to play in the sand? They’ve got a great sandbox withtoys. Want to swing? Or slide? Or play soccer? They’ve got it all.BYO lunch, and eat it on the picnic tables-or throw a blanket downon the grassy field. We love stopping at Panozzo’s Italian Market(1305 S. Michigan Ave., 312-356-9966) and grabbing a few meatballsubs and a tub of gelato to bring to the park. Once you’re doneeating, grab a ball and head to the massive green space for astart-up baseball or soccer game. The South Loop has at least fiveplaygrounds-but this one is our favorite. Fuel yourself for a longafternoon here by hitting up Overflow Coffee Bar (1550 S. StateSt., 312-949-0877), where they serve eco-conscious,farmer-friendly, fair trade coffee, cookies and sandwiches in alarge, open space.

Put It On  1319 S. Michigan Ave.
 
 (312) 465-2606

When all the families flooded the South Loop, we all knewwhat would follow. And finally, this spring, a boutique clothingstore owned by a South Loop mom of three that sells women’s andchildren’s clothing made its appearance. Pop in for giftitems (we love the cute kids’ aprons and the hair accessories),baby and kids’ clothing (a typical


Family guide to Rogers Park neighborhood in Chicago

Known for its ethnic diversity, Rogers Park throws its doorswide open to families, offering an eclectic taste of Chicago andoff-the-beaten-path discoveries that will appeal to everyone fromtoddlers to tweens, plus mom and dad.

My family, plus my son’s best friend, set out late one morningfor the far north side neighborhood for a day of wandering.

The first stop: Uncommon Ground, the organic
restaurant on Devon Avenue. The boys bellied up to the bar for hot
milk steamers and cocoa, I picked an absolutely delicious
‘chaider’-hot organic apple cider and chai tea that is tart, spicy
and sweet.

The restaurant was bustling for morning brunch, but not crowded.Older neighborhood residents mixed nicely with younger hipsters andfamilies, from the stroller set and older.

Our next stop was a Devon Avenue classic. On a street known forits Indian and Pakistani shops and eateries, the ArgoGeorgian Bakery is a small change of pace. The gentleman
who runs it speaks with a thick Russian accent, but when you point
to the traditional beehive brick oven, he grins and nods.
“Khachapuri? How many?”

The hot bread, light and flaky, with cheese clinging to theinside, is big enough to hold in both hands, making a perfect hotsnack. We bought a bag of frozen dumplings to take home and wereoff again, munching happily.

Next our plan called for a stop at Evil SquirrelComics on Glenwood Avenue. We’d heard really good things
about the small, sunny store and my son wanted expert advice on
trading card games. As we browsed, I asked the owner, Shawn King,
what he’d recommend for kids just getting into comics.

My son ended up with two early Classic Avengers anthologies.Upon hearing that William is also interested in Magic: TheGathering, another employee explained the packs on display and theboys each added a starter deck to their pile of loot.

We left, promising to bring the boys back for the regular Sundayevening Magic: The Gathering game, which is open to beginners. I’malso intrigued by a regular Knit Night for knitting and comicsdiscussion. The next time we come to see a show at the LifelineTheater up the street, we’ll be sure to stop back in.


Chinatown for little feet: A guided tour

The jumble of old and new, bold and subdued,treasure and trinkets that is Chicago’s Chinatown has fascinated mesince my parents started toting me there for Sunday lunches when Iwas little. Decades later with my own kids in tow, there’s stillthe same untamed, what’ll-I-find-today, street-bazaar feel thatensures no two trips will be alike. Mostly crammed along asix-block stretch of Wentworth Avenue north and south of Cermak,Chinatown is a hodgepodge of gift shops, restaurants, grocerystores and candy shops.

Navigating with small children takes a little extraplanning. Strollers, for example, are difficult. And you may wantto limit your jaunt to a few blocks, rather than the full stretch.Here are some helpful how-tos:

Start in the middle

Parking in the big Chinatown lots just north of the cornerof Wentworth and Cermak puts you smack in the middle of thedistrict’s two main shopping areas. For a more kid-size trip,choose one side or the other. Either way, if you have astroller-age child, this is one outing where you’ll do better witha backpack-style kid carrier-much easier to navigate the crampedquarters and ins-and-outs of the many small shops.

But if stroller you must, you’ll be better off headingnorth where you can walk Chinatown Square and head along thetree-lined pedestrian-only, two-level mall of shops.

View, eat, shop

Each family will have its own Chinatown rhythm andpriorities, but with kids along, it’s helpful to let everybody knowthe basic game plan before you set out.

For us, it’s worked well to let our kids know they’ll eachhave the opportunity to buy one inexpensive gift store item beforewe leave. To keep them from clamoring for that purchase throughoutthe entire trip, we say we won’t buy any trinkets until afterlunch. This way, the kids have more fun window shopping during ourwalk and are more likely to look at a wider array of items beforemaking their final decision.

Photo Slideshow

Then we have our snack or lunch break at one of therestaurants or bakery/tea shops. We retrace our steps to buy eachchild’s chosen trinkets on the way back to the car. Be forewarned:There are a lot of gift stores full of inexpensive, brightlycolored swords, dolls, tea sets and other toys.

This is not Disney

Much of what you’ll view in Chinatown may be unfamiliarand exotic. Think tea-smoked ducks, hanging by their necks on hooksin windows with other barbecued items, such as powerfully odiferousdried fish and oddly twisting ginseng, herbs and mustymedicinals.

This is a great place for your kids to experiencesomething new and different with you to guide the way. Beadventurous! If you are willing to taste or smell something youhaven’t tried before, your kids will follow yourexample.

Northerly stroll

Walking north and one block west of the Chinatown parkinglot along Archer Street puts you at Chinatown Square with its mallof shops and restaurants. There are lots of shade-producing ginkgotrees and seating areas along the pedestrian-only avenue rightthrough the middle.

Things to see here: Look to the trees around the squarefor decorative red lanterns hanging among the branches. Check outthe stone and metal sculptures of the 12 animals of myth and legendfrom the Chinese Zodiac.


Shopping on Southport

Forget massive, stuffy malls or big box stores forfall shopping-head to trendy North Southport Avenue in Lakeview fora day of retail therapy and fun for the whole family. From kids andbaby clothes to entertaining stops along the way to burn off someenergy, Southport has everything parents need for a productivefamily stroll without even one whiny “Are we done yet?”

Royal attire

Got a princess in your royal family? Then don’tmiss The Princess Club (3300 N.Southport) for tutus and dance attire for even the most discerningballerina. Little princes won’t mind a pit stop here either, as thestore stocks a few toys that appeal to the rough-and-tumbleset.

Maternity and baby

For those with a bun in the oven or young children,Krista K Maternity + Baby boutique (3530 N.Southport) ensures moms-to-be and their offspring look runway freshwith the hippest in maternity wear, onesies and stylish toddlergarb.

Outdoor gear

Nature enthusiasts will appreciate the large selection ofrugged clothing and footwear for babies and up at theoutdoorsy Uncle Dan’s (3551 N.Southport). Carrying brands like Patagonia, The North Face andMarmot, Uncle Dan’s ensures kids stay warm and dry all winter longwithout hibernating, and camping gear abounds for the Cub Scout inyour crew.

Time for a trim?

Someone in the gang looking a bit straggly? Stop in for atrim at Snippets (3724 N. Southport)where no appointment is necessary and children pick from Barbie,Lightning McQueen or Thomas the Train-themed barber chairs whileenjoying an animated show of their choice. Don’t leave without sometot-friendly hair products and accessories like adorable handmadeheadbands and ribbons.

Footwear

Petite Feet (3715 N. Southport) has boots foreven the tiniest tootsies. Brands like the sparkly but practicalLelli Kelly light up this upscale establishment that also offersprecious baby items and memorable shower gifts.

For your canine

Don’t forget Fido! Stop in atDogaholics (3657 N. Southport) so your poochdoesn’t feel left out (or bring him-lots of Southport venues aredog-friendly). Then spoil him with an organic canine-friendly cake,a new luxury dog house or a Cubs jersey made just for pups (yes,really).

Sweet treats

Want to reward the little ones for being such patientshoppers? Pop into Sensational Bites(3751 N. Southport) for a mouth-watering signature flowercupcake or a double doozie (scads of thick vanilla icing stuffedbetween two freshly baked chocolate chip cookies). Or if your totprefers a sucker for their sweet tooth, head toCandyality (3425 N. Southport), housing adizzying array of bulk candies such as jelly beans, salt watertaffy and old-school jaw breakers.

Play

Time to run off that sugar! If the weather allows, popinto Sheil Park (3505 N. Southport) wherethe up-to-date playground offers a slide, plenty of equipment toclimb on and a gigantic blackboard complete with chalk. If it’sraining (or even if it’s not) pay-to-play at Exploreand Much More (3827 N. Southport), a two-story dreamplayroom with a children’s museum atmosphere including a bouncehouse, costumes and a climbing wall.


A family guide to downtown La Grange

There always is something to do in downtown La Grange.With free parking, restaurants for every taste and budget andplenty of shops and activities, it’s a great place for a family tospend the day.

If you want to start with brunch, you can’t do better than localfavorite BlueberryHill Breakfast Cafe. Park in the garage behind City Hall and
head across the street for all the classic breakfast and lunch fare
you could want. Don’t be discouraged by the folks waiting
outside-tables turn quickly and once you’re seated, your order will
arrive fast, delicious and piping hot. Blueberry Hill is
particularly family-friendly, with a big after-church crowd on
Sundays.

Just up La Grange Road, make a stop at the LaGrange Hobby Center. Ask the staff to recommend a model or
project. They can even set you up with the latest radio-controlled
plane, helicopter or a Lionel train.

A little further up the street is Chimera’s Comics. Whether
you already have a comics collector in your family or are just
learning about them, the friendly staff will have great suggestions
for you.

For the main event, everyone will enjoy a trip to the La Grange Theatre. Built
in 1925, the theater was converted to a movie theater in the late
1940s. A renovation in 2004 modernized the space, while keeping all
of its old-time charm. Second-run movies and matinee prices all day
and evening make it an entertainment bargain.

If you want to pick up dinner before or after your show,downtown La Grange is full of options. One of the best is the Hot Dog Company. Crispy hand-cut
fries and hot dogs from Chicago-style to hand-dipped corn dogs are
just a few of the treats. The chili cheese tater tots are a local
favorite. Before you leave, check out the wall of specialty sodas
and customize a four-pack to take home.

For a sweet treat, take a short walk over to Tate’s Old Fashioned IceCream Shop, a neighborhood tradition for decades. Family owned,
they make all of the ice cream in the shop. Try the unique flavors
such as peach cobbler, hazelnut and peppermint mocha, or grab a hot
chocolate ice cream soda. There are board games if the kids get
restless and a huge shelf of old-time candies and sweets.

A short walk back to the car through the quiet,leaf-shaded streets and you can be on your way after an easy,fun-filled day in downtown La Grange.


A family guide to a day in Roscoe Village

Roscoe Village has a reputation as prime realestate for young families, which also means it’s a retail mecca foranyone with kids. The L-shaped stretch of Roscoe Street and BelmontAvenue makes for a walkable day of shopping, fun for parents andlittle ones alike. Here are some spots to hit. Check the last slidefor a map to see just how walkable the village is.


Exploring Chicago’s Little Vietnam neighborhood with kids

Nestled by the Argyle Red Line stop in Uptown is anarea known as “Little Vietnam.”Recently called out as an”Opportunity Area” by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and newly adorned with abig “Asia on Argyle” sign, this vibrant area full of restaurantsand shops is on the rise, and makes for a fun place to spend anafternoon.

Dining

If you’re a fan of Pho-a tasty noodle soup dish that’s acommon street food in Vietnam-this is the neighborhood to get yourfix. With its expansive menu, Tank Noodle is the area’s mostpopular Pho destination. If you feel like skipping the line atTank, you can step over to nearby Pho Viet or Pho Lily, which bothoffer up tasty versions of the dish at reasonableprices.

Another popular Vietnamese street food is Bahn Mi, and theArgyle Corridor’s best place to get your hands on a wide assortmentof these spicy sandwiches is at Ba Le. Family owned, Ba Le alsomakes a delicious Vietnamese Iced Coffee and its own macarons in arainbow of flavors and colors.

Though the area is dominated by Vietnamese food, Chinesecuisine also appears. For Chinese food, Furama is an ornate Chineserestaurant with an impressive dim sum, and Lao Sze Chun is a recentaddition to the scene. At Sun Wah B-B-Q Restaurant, a whole familycan stuff themselves on the Beijing Duck Feast, served with Bao andvegetables.

Shopping

There are a few great little shops to acquire a variety ofcool souvenirs and gifts. Tan Thanh Gift Inc. has plenty of Chineseporcelain for you to peruse, and Hiep Loi has a lot of bambooplants and home décor items. If you’re looking for the premierAsian market in Chicago, Tai Nam Market will blow your mind withmore than 10,000 food items and a wide assortment ofcookware.

Other fun

When you’re done eating and shopping, stop by the Bezazianbranch of the Chicago Public Library or the Carmen Playlot. An”Asian Market”-featuring food vendors, later hours forshops and entertainment-will be starting soon on Thursday evenings,which should bring even more attention to the area.

“Little Vietnam” is a cultural treat for thesenses right in the middle of Uptown. Take the time to be a touristin your own city, and check it out!

View Discover Chicago’s Little Vietnam in a larger map


Take a tour of Chicago’s own Beverly Hills

The neighborly sign on 95th Street reads “Welcome to BeverlyHills.” What it doesn’t say is that this particularneighborhood-commonly referred to simply as Beverly-is home toChicago’s only hills, an Irish castle, legendary burgers andone-of-a-kind ice cream cones.

Originally built by English engineers as an exclusive streetcarsuburb, the landscape is dotted with a variety of older housing,from ridge-top mansions to bungalows. It has become one of the mostracially and ethnically diverse neighborhoods in the city andconsidered one of the best.

Here are some not-to-be-missed Beverly neighborhoodpleasures.


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