Having grown up on the North shore forever epitomized by films like Mean Girls, Home Alone and Breakfast Club (really all John Hughes movies) Chicago’s north suburbs are somewhat like living in Pleasantville. The North Shore is comprised of a handful of affluent suburbs with the biggest houses bordering the lake. The area is generally accepted to include Evanston, Wilmette, Kenilworth, Winnetka, Glencoe, Highland Park, Lake Forest, and Lake Bluff with a few others on the outskirts.
Coming of age in an area like that is interesting for a number of reasons. For one, most of the town shuts down at 10 pm, which is just begging you to get in trouble out of sheer boredom. Then there’s the whole hyperbole from gym class being called “kinetic wellness” to various other traditions like wearing white wedding dresses to graduation that seem totally normal at the time, but once you get out of the bubble, you realize how ridiculous it is.
Since high school, I’ve learned to appreciate the ‘burbs for what they are, and although I try to stay as far away as possible, there are a few North shore gems worth going back for.
Eat and Imbibe
The best restaurants in the North shore run the gamut from high-end cuisine to grab and go lunch spots with many offshoots of popular Chicago locales – so much so you don’t even need to go into the city for a good meal. Here are a few not to miss dining options.
Pete Miller’s (Evanston) and Ruth’s Chris (Northbrook) are the go-to celebration spots if you’re craving a great steak, but for more innovative dining Libertad (Skokie) offers Latin American small plates in a low-key neighborhood foodie spot that’s gaining serious national notoriety. Executive Chef/Owner, Armando Gonzalez, comes from a rich culinary resume that includes Mas, Bin 36 and mk. And with one of Food and Wine’s top sommeliers on staff, enjoy views of the open kitchen, exceptional food, and a glass that’s never empty.
Local ethnic favorites include That Little Mexican Café (Evanston), which has been serving Northwestern students for 20+ years, Viet Nom Nom (Evanston) for comfort pho-od and accoutrements, Campagnola (Evanston) for upscale Italian, Szechwan North (Glenview) for approachable Chinese, and Restaurant Michael (Winnetka) for haute French cuisine.
Bangers & Lace (Evanston) is an offshoot of the popular Wicker Park beer and sausage spot, while Boltwood (Evanston) is the brainchild of the Chef de Cuisine from The Publican. Five & Dime (Evanston) is home to one of the only rooftops on the Northshore, while Blind Faith Café (Evanston) has been dishing up approachable vegetarian cuisine for 30+ years.
We can’t talk North shore without mentioning the ever-so-craveable fast-casual dining. Pita Inn (Skokie) is totally worth the commute from the city and boasts some of the best hummus and falafel in the greater Chicagoland area. And with a lunch that’ll run you less than $5, it’s a steal in that neck of the woods. Be sure not to miss their homemade hot sauce – it really is hot! Kaufman’s Bagel & Delicatessen (Skokie) and Max & Benny’s (Northbrook) have some of the best bagels and lox for those craving deli foods, while Superdawg (Wheeling) is one of Chicago’s most iconic and timeless hot dog stands complete with carhops.
See the Sights
The Baha’i Temple (Wilmette) is by far the North Shore’s biggest attraction. Visible from Sheridan Road (the north section of Lakeshore Drive), it’s an architectural marvel as much as its celebrated for its diverse religious beliefs. One of just seven remaining Baha’i Temples in the world, everyone is allowed to appreciate sacred space and wander the exquisite gardens.
Catch a concert at Ravinia Festival (Highland Park). The see and be seen venue in the area, Ravinia is North America’s longest running music festival. The home of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, they also attract big-name artists and major headliners from Lady Gaga and John Legend to Tony Bennett and Aretha Franklin. North shore moms vie to outdo each other with the most elaborate lawn spreads so pack your finest china, charcuterie, and candles because picnicking here is a summer must (you may even want to invest in season tickets).
Explore the Chicago Botanical Gardens (Glencoe). An immaculately landscaped 27 gardens spread across 385 acres, the botanic gardens are one of the only in the country to be museum accredited and the second most-visited gardens of their size in the U.S. They’re renowned for their bonsais and shoreline trails.
Take advantage of the lake. The North shore has some of the best beaches in Chicago perfect for posting up and watching the waves. If the kiddos are in tow, many of the local pools also have slides and waterparks if you want to make it a family day out.
Shop ‘til You Drop
Shopping is virtually a sport in the suburbs and a major pastime on Chicago’s north shore. Old Orchard Mall, (Skokie) made famous by Mean Girls, does exist (and is a really good mall), but unlike the movie, it’s actually all outdoors. The area is also dotted with high-end gift shops popular boutiques like E Street Denim (Highland Park), which is by far the best place for jeans. 12,000 square feet of brand name brattiness, they have about 12,000 pairs from 60-70 different designer labels in hundreds of fits and styles. If you can’t find a good pair of pants there, you may as well just give up.
Cady Heron, is that you?
Plan Your Trip: Where to Stay on the Northshore
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