Lincoln Park gets all the buzz, but the smaller lesser-known Lincoln Square deserves some attention too. As a Chicago newbie, I knew nothing of this charming little neighborhood until I met one of my best Chicago buddies who used to live in Lincoln Square before moving to the northwest suburbs. She often talked about the awesomeness of Lincoln Square, and finally convinced me to join her on a tour of her old stomping grounds last fall. My kids, Julie, 8 and Johnny 4 tagged along with my friend and her four sons (7, 6, 4, and 2) We fell in love with the place. It’s in the city, but feels like a small town. There are adorable cafes and restaurants, unique little shops, a world-class music school and plenty of fun parks for kids to run and play. In the summer, a fountain in the middle of square comes to life and sometimes kids jump in or at least splash around. And the downtown community hosts festivals throughout the year, bringing out droves of Lincoln Square-ians. I have lived in suburbia my entire life, but Lincoln Square makes me long for city living.
If you decide to check out Lincoln Square (which you totally should!) here are some don’t miss stops:
4729 N. Lincoln Avenue, 773-989-5595, www.cafeselmarie.com
Located in the heart of Lincoln Square, this French café serves pastries and sweets, but also delicious soups, salads and sandwiches. The kids and I stopped at this restaurant on a chilly winter day and warmed up with some homemade macaroni and cheese, vegetable chili and the moistest and sweetest corn bread we’d ever tasted.
2324 W. Giddings, 773-989-1926, www.paciugo.com
What a perfect location for an ice cream shop---just steps away from the awesome fountain I mentioned earlier. So, in warm weather grab a gelato and sit by the fountain. Ever try banana beet sorbet? What about rum raisin or roasted banana cashew heath crunch. Me neither, but Paciugo offers 200-plus flavors, some strange, some simply delish.
4658 N. Rockwell St., 773-539-0645, www.pizzaartcafe.com
This BYOB restaurant is a great stop for salads and pizza. The restaurant is only open for dinner, but it’s still fine for kids. The pizza selection is wide—with dozens of vegetable, cheese and meat topping choices.
4723 N. Lincoln Ave., 773-334-8626, www.urbangeneralstore.com
I could spend hours in this tiny shop browsing all the unique gifts, books, décor and trinkets. Chicago lovers will love the really cool and different Chicago memorabilia from maps to distressed-wood picture frames. One my favorite frames is bright red and says “To the Moon and Back.” Adorable.
And, the store cracks me up. There are usually a handful of things I find that are hilarious---like a tongue in-cheek book for kid called “How babies are made” or “ Good Night iPad” (a parody of the classic children’s book.) There are fake mustaches, Abraham Lincoln bandages, bacon air freshener, Gingerbread men cookie cutters with different body parts missing and little gifts that you just hope your kids don’t see. Julie found a tin of lip gloss that said “Lip S*****” and she asked what that meant. Oops. I still love the store.
4753 N. Lincoln Ave., 773-293-4559, www.savoryspiceshop.com
Julie and Johnny were a little shocked when they scarfed down a bite of ginger, which I’m sure they assumed was a candy of some sort. Customers are invited to taste any of the spices in the shop, which can be fun, until kids realize it’s not “real food.” But the spice collection is pretty impressive. We left with a barbecue rub and a “blue cheese” seasoning which the kids really like. The store sells pretty much any spice you might be looking for, and is also a great stop for gifts.
4704 N. Damen Ave.; 773-942-6386,www.amyscandybar.com
About a half mile from Lincoln Avenue (still walkable with kids in nice weather), is Amy’s Candy Bar---a cute, yet tiny candy shop. Sweets of many colors and shapes overwhelmed my kids. They didn’t know what to choose! I think they were still in shock that I was actually letting them pick out any candy in the store. Julie chose pink strawberry-flavored gummies and Johnny chose candy-coated marshmallows.
4750 N. Lincoln Ave., 773-728-7243, www.genessausageshop.com
The homemade pierogis and specialty meats (venison, bison, rabbit and boar are among the more unusual choices) are worth a stop. The shop is also entertaining to browse with kids. Julie was a bit grossed out by the octopus salad, but intrigued that the store sold ostrich meat.
4749 N. Lincoln Ave.; 773-334-4445, www.timelesstoyschicago.com
Though this is technically a toy shop, kids can’t help but play here. There are puppets, dolls and trains, and plenty of fun games and a wide assortment of dress-up costumes. And the shop seems to encourage play. On one of the cool marble structures, written on a sign was “Ask for marbles to play.”
2333 W. Sunnyside Ave., 312-742-7511
At the corner of Lincoln and Montrose avenues is the 15-acre Welles Park. With playgrounds, spray parks, horseshoe pits and sports courts, the park offers something for everyone. While residents frequent the fitness center and gymnasium in the winter, the park really comes to life in the spring and summer when families flock there to picnic, play and enjoy outdoor concerts.
4544 N. Lincoln Ave., 773-728-6000, www.oldtownschool.org
Anyone who knows Lincoln Square knows about the Old Town School of Folk Music. This gem of music and arts seems to anchor the neighborhood. It was founded in 1957, though it didn’t move to Lincoln Avenue until 1998. Since that time, the Old Town School of Folk Music has been catering to people of all ages and talents. There are dozens of kids’ classes ranging from piano, guitar and art to dance, theatre, ukulele and banjo. There are also an assortment of “Wiggleworms” classes, which encourages young kids (babies to 3) to dance, sing and play. Even the older kids can enjoy fun classes like story time dance, comic book drawing and musical theatre.