“Two-thirty, baby, won't you meet me by The Bean?” If you’ve heard these lyrics from Drake’s song “Chicago Freestyle,” you might know he’s referencing the renowned Bean in the heart of downtown Chicago. While the Bean is a great spot to take a selfie or watch an impromptu street performance, given the typical swarm of tourists, it may not be the best place to meet someone. Chicago is a city of many neighborhoods, so there is so much to see and experience in addition to the downtown area! All students at UChicago receive something called a U-Pass, which gives us free access to the Chicago Transit Authority (“CTA”) trains and buses, making it easy for us to explore. Today, I’ll share with you some of my favorite neighborhoods around the city that I’ve visited with friends!
- Andersonville. Andersonville is a small neighborhood in Northern Chicago, known for its Swedish roots that shine through in its many authentic Swedish pastry shops and in the Swedish American Museum. As I walked around Andersonville for the first time, I found myself popping into several antique stores, record shops, and even a shop devoted to antique taxidermy, anatomy items, and other oddities called Wooly Mammoth Chicago. My friend dared me to buy one of the eyeballs they sold…instead, I left with a sticker and an unsettled stomach—but it was definitely a unique experience! Andersonville is also home to the Chicago Magic Lounge, a hub for magic performances, and the Gethsemane Garden Center, a beautiful indoor and outdoor shop with enough shrubbery to turn your apartment into a jungle (still trying to get my roommates on board with that idea...).
- Lincoln Park. If you find yourself searching for “fun things to do in Chicago,” you needn’t search further than Lincoln Park. Not only does Lincoln Park boast several beautiful green spaces and botanical gardens, but it is also home to many iconic sites. Among these sites are the Lincoln Park Zoo, one of the nation’s oldest zoos with free admission; the Lincoln Park conservatory, a lively conservatory with a beautiful garden right outside (great for reading a book and even better for taking a nap); and the Chicago History Museum. Less than a 10-minute walk from the History Museum is the International Museum of Surgical Sciences, one of my personal favorite museums in Chicago, which has extensive medical equipment, historical artifacts, and rare medical texts. Lincoln Park is also ripe with many boutiques and restaurants and is home to The Weiners Circle, a famous hot dog stand where etiquette dictates employees and customers yell at each other (in a fun and comedic way).
- Wicker Park. Whenever my friends and I leave campus to go to a specific restaurant or shop, we always seem to end up in Wicker Park. This is unsurprising given that it’s a very lively neighborhood with some of the trendiest restaurants and a vibrant nightlife. Wicker Park is known for being very artsy and “hipster,” and is a great place to go shopping for vintage clothes and to explore bookstores, record shops, and cool coffee houses. One of my favorite spots in Wicker Park is Young Chicago Authors, a hub for young artists and poets to create and present their work. I have had the opportunity to engage in their weekly workshops and open mics, which have exposed me to the incredible talent of young people from all over Chicago. While in Wicker Park, be sure to stop by Mindy’s Hot Chocolate for life-changing hot chocolate!
- Chinatown. Though my personal goal is to try to visit every Chicago neighborhood, I still have many left to visit. Part of the reason for this is that I’ve probably been to Chinatown about 20 times at this point... Chinatown has some phenomenal restaurants and is only a few train stops away from UChicago’s campus, making it a very popular destination for students! A few of my favorite restaurants in Chinatown include MingHin, Three Happiness, and a wonderful dumpling restaurant called Qing Xiang Yuan (QXY) Dumplings. I really enjoy walking around Chinatown and popping into the boutiques and shops, many of which have beautiful handmade jewelry and other items. And, if you bump into me walking through Chinatown, you will be sure to see me enjoying a cup of boba from one of the many boba stores!
- Hyde Park. While there’s so much to see and do around Chicago, there’s also so much to experience in our very own neighborhood: Hyde Park! UChicago’s campus is about a 15-minute walk from Promontory Point, a spot along Lake Michigan that has bonfires and a great view of the city. I’ve spent hours at the lake, reading good books, having long conversations with friends, and biking along the bike trail. On 53rd street, just a few blocks from campus, there are many shops and restaurants, including Valois, said to be Barack Obama’s favorite restaurant in Hyde Park! On 57th street, a 5-minute walk from campus, there are several restaurants popular among students, including Medici, a bakery and restaurant that features deep-dish pizza, milkshakes, sandwiches, pastries, and everything in between.
These are just some of the many neighborhoods in Chicago, but there are plenty more that I want to get to know. Of course, given the pandemic, now is not the best time to explore; however, once it is safe to travel again, you will find that with so much to do in both Hyde Park and the greater city, there is never a dull moment in Chicago. So, come two-thirty in the Windy City, I hope you now have a good sense of where you can meet apart from the Bean!