A Day Out in Evanston, Illinois

by Elaine Glusac
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Hugging Lake Michigan, just north of Chicago, Evanston seems to have it all. It's a thriving college town, thanks to brainy and highly esteemed Northwestern University. It's a tranquil and often tony suburb (witness the mansions that make driving Sheridan Road a popular Sunday pastime). It's got both natural assets in its lovely lakefront, and urbane ones in its thriving shop-and-restaurant-lined downtown. Those many facets make Evanston a great destination for a day of diversity just 13 miles from downtown.


Elaine and her 9-year-old son, Seth

Why families love it:

It's got a little bit of everything, and the trip won't cost you much. Take in museum stops, lakeside romps, a private fossil collection, a great lunch (and even greater gelato), and a wonderful, old-fashioned toy store.

How to get there:

Evanston is highly accessible from downtown Chicago; taking the L (or elevated train) works best if you're headed to downtown Evanston or planning to walk through the Northwestern campus (especially beautiful in fall). However, if you want to hit all the sights listed here, do drive. Street parking is free or metered at reasonable rates. And the backseat is the best place for a kid to crash after a busy, multi-faceted daytrip.

Elaine's Evanston picks:

1. Mitchell Museum of the American Indian

3001 Central St.
Evanston, IL 60201

From sitting on deer skin rugs to fingering primitive snowshoes, kids are immersed in Native American culture here. The highlight is the "teaching lodge" on the second floor, a tent made of tanned elk hide over birch branches where kids can crawl in and play tribe. The well-stocked museum shop offers Native American crafts and fun DIY kits. 

2. Grosse Point Lighthouse and Lakefront

2601 Sheridan Road 
Evanston, IL 60201

The 1873-built beacon on Grosse Point serves as a giant garden ornament for the parkland surrounding it. In summer the historic keeper's house is open for tours and allows you to climb 141 steps to the top of the lighthouse for panoramic Lake Michigan views. But it's the grounds that charm year-round, and include public trails for gentle hikes through wildflower paths and lakeside dunes. 

3. Dave's Down to Earth Rock Shop and Prehistoric Life Museum

704 Main St.
Evanston, IL 60202

Part rock shop, part museum, Dave's is a must-see for junior geologists and budding paleontologists. Enter the busy shop and take an immediate left turn down into the basement to explore the fascinating fossil collection that ranges from Cambrian era trilobites to the Pleistocene skeleton of a cave bear with all manner of fossilized flora and fauna in between. 

4. Al's Deli

914 Noyes St.
Evanston, IL 60201

Tiny, beloved Al's Deli is an Evanston institution serving homemade soups and hearty sandwiches in a quick-service but friendly environment. Al's is equally famed for its oversized cookies though Linz and Vail just a few storefronts west is a sweet competitor with some of Evanston's best gelato. 

5. Toys Etcetera

711 Main St.
Evanston, IL 60202

The flagship store of a mini, four-store Chicago-area chain, Toys Etcetera endears shoppers of all ages with its hands-on approach to retail. Toys aplenty are available for the smallest -- a baby's bead maze, toddler's train table -- to the tallest in the form of games. An inviting book nook includes a child-size rocker for mellow moments.

Freelance travel writer Elaine Glusac lives with her husband and baseball-obsessed son in Chicago, walking distance from Wrigley Field.

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