Conveniently situated just north of Chicago, Evanston offers the charms of a small community with all of the amenities of a big city — including a bustling downtown, a lively arts scene, and plenty of unique shops and galleries.
Though it is known worldwide as the home of Northwestern University, Evanston is not quite your typical college town. In fact, this eclectic community was recently named one of the “Cooolest Suburbs in America,” thanks to its ample greenspaces, convenient public transportation, and thriving cultural offerings.
So, what should be on your “bucket list” of things to see and do in Evanston, Illinois? Whether you’re putting down roots or planning the perfect day trip, here are ten incredible experiences to try:
1.) Explore the Grounds of Northwestern University
Located in the heart of Evanston, Northwestern University is a world-renowned institution of higher learning — with a stunning campus and an impressive array of cultural offerings to match. A stroll through the grounds of Northwestern can lead to some pretty amazing places, including the eye-catching and secluded Shakespeare Garden, or the Northwestern Lakefill, which boasts unmatched views of the Chicago skyline. The university is also home to one of the area’s most beloved free museums, the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art.
2.) Sample Some Locally Made Spirits
Activists in Evanston were among the leading voices in the temperance movement that led to Prohibition, and the city remained a completely dry community until the 1970s. In more recent years, however, Evanston has become one of Chicagoland’s most active centers for distilling and brewing — while still paying tribute to its past. For a little tongue in cheek humor, look no further than Temperance Beer Co., which operates a popular tap room serving up a rotating collection of new drafts in the heart of Evanston. Similarly, some say that FEW Spirits gets its name from the initials of one of the temperance movement’s leaders, Francis E. Willard. For even more creative drinks, Evanson is also home to the Smylie Brothers Brewing Co. and Sketchbook Brewing Co.
3.) Eat and Drink In the Great Outdoors
Looking to enjoy a little bit of dining al fresco? Evanston is one of Chicagoland’s best neighborhoods for foodies, and is home to plenty of great places to savor a delicious bite or sip while enjoying a fine summer’s night. Some of Evanston’s best restaurants boast incredible patio and rooftop spaces, including Five & Dime, Peckish Pig, Found Kitchen and Social House, and Mid Kitchen, among others. Or you could grab a cup of coffee and take a stroll on a crisp autumn day, thanks to convenient spots like Coffee Lab, Unicorn Cafe, Backlot Coffee, and Curt’s Cafe.
4.) See the Stars at the Dearborn Observatory
Chicagoland is full of some pretty stunning sights, but it’s not always the best place for stargazing — unless you know where to look. Enter the Dearborn Observatory. Every Friday night, this Northwestern University facility opens its doors to the public, who can view the skies using the Observatory’s historic 18.5″ refracting telescope. The Observatory also hosts special events and “astronomer evenings” throughout the year.
5.) Experience History at the Grosse Point Lighthouse
Want to experience a true piece of local history? Standing since the 1870s, the Grosse Point Lighthouse is one of the icons of northern Chicagoland. This beautiful lighthouse was built to help safely guide boats to shore in Lake Michigan, following a series of calamitous shipwrecks and maritime disasters. The lighthouse became automated in the 1930s, and remained in service until the ‘40s. Today, this Evanston landmark is on the National Register of Historic Places, and is open to the public for photographs and tours.
6.) See a Show at a Local SPACE
Looking for a big sound in an intimate venue? Located in the heart of Evanston, SPACE is one of the Chicagoland area’s most unique concert halls. Since opening its doors in 2008, SPACE has played host to thousands of eclectic acts from across the musical spectrum, who create incredible soundscapes for audiences in an up-close-and-personal setting. In addition to its remarkable roster of touring bands, SPACE also boasts a state-of-the-art recording facility, and shares a dining room with Union Pizzeria, one of Evanston’s favorite spots for artisanal Neapolitan-style pizzas.
7.) Wander Through the Merrick Rose Garden
Nestled at Lake Street and Oak Avenue is the Merrick Rose Garden, one of Evanston’s favorite hidden gems. This adorable enclave is home to hundreds of eye-catching rose bushes, and boasts more than 2000 roses in several hundred different varieties. The garden also plays host to the historic Centennial Fountain. Stop by to take pictures or enjoy a stroll — or sign up to host an event in the spring or summer months.
8.) Find Your Favorites at the Downtown Evanston Farmers’ Market
The Downtown Evanston Farmer’s Market runs from May to November each year, setting up shop at the intersection of University Place and Oak Avenue on Saturday mornings. This popular weekend activity draws more than 60 unique vendors to Evanston, selling everything from fresh fruits and vegetables, to delicious baked goods, to handmade pieces of art from local creators. With plenty of things to see and do, as well as fun and games for kids, the Farmers’ Market is a great way to spend a bright, sunny day in the heart of Evanston.
9.) Relax On the Beach
Like many of Chicagoland’s North Shore neighborhoods, Evanston offers unparalleled access to the beautiful waters of Lake Michigan. During the spring and summer months, Evanston’s lakefront beaches fill up with students, locals, and tourists alike, coming together to soak up some sun and enjoy the gentle surf. You can take your pick of beaches in Evanston, which is home to a few popular spots, including Lee Street Beach, Greenwood Street Beach, and Clark Street Beach, which puts you close to the serene and beautiful Arrington Lagoon, and the lovely greenspaces of Dawes Park.
10.) Discover Something Special at an Evanston Shop
Evanston is home to some of the area’s most eclectic and interesting boutiques and shops. Whatever you’re looking for, you’re sure to find somewhere in town that can provide. Some highlights include the neat stacks of Bookends and Beginnings; the handmade home goods of Stumble & Relish; the vibrant bouquets at Bloom 3; the minerals, gems and fossils on display at Dave’s Rock Shop; and the diverse and accessible array of choices at Vinic Wine Shop.
Want to Keep Exploring Evanston?
Want to get to know this charming community even better? To see market trends, properties for sale, and other important information you should know about this thriving area, please visit our guide to Evanston real estate, available here.