Just 12 miles north of downtown Chicago, you’ll find Evanston, an affluent North Shore community along Lake Michigan. The city is also home to Northwestern University, giving it a definite college-town vibe. The pastoral suburb is known for its sandy beaches, historic mansions, and beautiful parks. It was named one of Apartment Therapy’s 2019 Coolest Suburbs in America.
Evanston wasn’t always “coola.” The area was settled in the 1830s but it didn’t become a real municipality until a group of Methodist business leaders founded Garrett Biblical Institute and Northwestern University here around 1850. This religious group pushed for temperance in the area…and succeeded. Evanston was a dry community from 1858 all the way until 1972. Don’t worry, today it’s home to plenty of places to imbibe, including the intentionally ironic “Temperance Beer Company.”
There is about every type of eat you can want in Evanston—with close to 90 cafes and restaurants. There’s award-winning international cuisines like Japanese, French, and Asian as well as regional American specialities. Perhaps the most famous is Heckey’s Barbecue, known for its pulled pork, ribs, and to-go bottled sauce.
Despite (or perhaps, because of) its teetotaling past, Evanston is chock-full of craft breweries and distilleries. You can take a tour at Peckish Pig, or grab some fresh beer and a great meal at Temperance Beer Company. If you prefer the hard stuff, try the whiskey and gin at Few Spirits. Ironically, it’s housed in the first home of the Temperance Movement.
Most of the hotels in Evanston are perched next to Northwestern University. Whether you’re visiting a student or just checking out the area, there are plenty of lovely accommodations, although mostly chains. There’s a Hyatt, Hilton, and a Holiday Inn.
Northwestern University is one of the biggest attractions here, thanks to its Big Ten Team, the Wildcats. Cheer them on at your favorite sporting game—from football to lacrosse. Also on campus is the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art. It presents art across time, cultures, and media for a unique perspective.
You can also gain a new perspective at the Mitchell Museum of the American Indian, one of few museums that focuses on the art, history, and culture of Native AMericans in the U.S. and Canada.
For a historic tour and a great photo, visit the Grosse Point Lighthouse, a landmark overlooking Evanston’s stretch of lake Michigan since 1873. Tours are available.
A chateau-style mansion overlooking Lake Michigan doubles as the Charles Gates Dawes House and the Evanston History Center. This former home of the 30th Vice President of the United States offers tours and lectures. The history center also offers docent-lead walking tours throughout the neighborhood, also home to Daniel Burnham.
Evanston is home to several distinct shopping districts: Downtown, Central Street and Main-Dempster Mile. Downtown, you’ll find an array of independent boutiques, secondhand stores, and trendy chains like Urban Outfitters and Crossroads Trading.
Central Street is home to a charming array of independent stores. Find hand-ground spices, jewelry, antique stores, clothing boutiques, a pet bakery, and natural health products. More of Evanston’s artsy vibe comes forth on the Main Dempster Mile, with an array of bookstores, handmade knits, music stores, consignment boutiques, and craft stores.
Theater thrives in Evanston, with a diverse scene for adults and children. Little ones love Evanston Children’s Theatre and Tater Tot Theatre Company. Adult thespians can enjoy live shows at Fleetwood-Jourdain Theatre, Howard Street Theater, and Mudlark Theater.
Of course, you can also visit Northwestern University’s Virginia Wadsworth Wirtz Center for the Performing Arts to see more than 40 student productions each year.
Evanston Festivals & Events
The city hosts an array of street fairs, festivals, and concerts throughout summer months. There’s the Nature’s Night Out and Young Evanston Artists Festival for children. Then, enjoy the Thursday Night Life concert series through July and August. Foodies will love the Taste of Evanston, and movie buffs can enjoy a film under the stars in August.
When it gets cooler, locals enjoy spooky activities like Zombie Scramble and the Day of the Dead Celebration. And on New Year’s Eve, First Night Evanston starts the year on the right foot.
Evanston Parks & Beaches
Beachgoers have come to the right place. Evanston is home to seven sandy beaches along Lake Michigan. They enjoy boat launches, watercraft rentals, kayak and sailboat lessons as well. Locals can get a Season Token, and visitors can purchase a Daily Pass to enjoy the beaches.
The city also boasts more than 80 parks and playgrounds, with many located near the beautiful lakefront.