3 Great Chicago Neighborhoods to Explore | Midwest Living
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3 Great Chicago Neighborhoods to Explore

The next time you're in the Midwest's biggest city, treat yourself to a day in three neighborhoods rich with culture, personality and amazing restaurants.

Hyde Park/Kenwood

Not many people outside of Chicago had heard of Hyde Park/Kenwood until President Obama rose to power. But he's hardly the first famous person to have lived here. Since the 1880s, Chicago's elite have filled these mansions 7 miles south of the Loop: Max Adler, founder of the Adler Planetarium; meatpacking mogul Gustavus Swift; Sears and Roebuck CEO Julius Rosenwald; and, more recently, Louis Farrakhan and Muhammad Ali.

At the heart of Hyde Park, the University of Chicago breeds culture like it pumps out Nobel Prizes (87 so far). Architecture buffs tour the restored Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Frederick C. Robie House. Coffeehouses and bookshops thrive here, from the labyrinthine basement at 57th Street Books to the musty O'Gara and Wilson.

Still, Hyde Park balances its brains with natural beauty, thanks to landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted and city planner Daniel Burnham. They converted this marshy area into the iconic White City for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition. The fair's Palace of Fine Arts became Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry, which backs to Jackson Park's woodsy paths and tranquil lagoons. The grassy Midway Plaisance, once the exposition's carnival area, ends at the DuSable Museum of African-American History, whose slogan—"DuSomething Great Today"—seems fitting. Hyde Park definitely isn't a neighborhood that rests on old accomplishments. -- Kit Bernardi

Click ahead for our Trip Guide to Hyde Park/Kenwood plus details on Roscoe Village/Northcenter and Logan Square. For more information, neighborhood maps and guided tours, contact Chicago's Office of Tourism. (877) 244-2246; explorechicago.org

Pictured: The Museum of Science and Industry's South Pavilion overlooks Jackson Park and the Osaka Garden.

Hyde Park/Kenwood: What to do

57th Street Books (pictured). (773) 684-1300; semcoop.com

Blackstone Library Peek inside the 800-pound brass relief doors to see the recently restored rotunda of this 1902 beauty. (312) 747-0511; chipublib.org

DuSable Museum of African-American History Artwork and artifacts preserve history and culture. (773) 947-0600; dusablemuseum.org

Frederick C. Robie House Frank Lloyd Wright's design flourishes in this 1910 landmark. (708) 848-1976; gowright.org

Hyde Park Art Center In a former barracks, you'll find a coffee shop and galleries; free area tours depart from here seasonally. (773) 324-5520; hydeparkart.org

Hyde Park Hair Salon Visitors see Obama's autographed chair and get the $21 commander in chief's cut. (773) 493-6028; hydeparkhairsalon.net

Lakefront sites The 600-acre Jackson Park along Lake Michigan feels surprisingly remote. Wooded Island's restful Osaka Garden boasts tumbling brooks and pagoda-studded stone paths. At peninsular Promontory Point, you can take in Loop skyline views. (312) 742-7529; chicagoparkdistrict.com

Museum of Science and Industry Mythbusters: The Explosive Exhibition opens March 15, 2012 and will use science to answer wacky questions a la the Discovery Channel show with the same name. (773) 684-1414; msichicago.org

O'Gara and Wilson (773) 363-0993; ogaraandwilson.com

President Obama's house In Kenwood, security stops tourists from snapping 5046 S. Greenwood Ave., but you can see his backyard from 50th and Greenwood.

The Oriental Institute The University of Chicago's small but formidable museum devoted to archeological excavation and study of the ancient Middle East has massive sculptures and rare artifacts. Free. (773) 702-9514; oi.uchicago.edu

Smart Museum of Art Eclectic collections include ancient Greek ceramics, Japanese scrolls, 15th-century European paintings and more. Free. (773) 702-0200; smartmuseum.uchicago.edu

Tours Bobby's Bike Hike offers seasonal tours and bicycle rentals at 63rd Street Beach. (312) 915-0995; bobbysbikehike.com 

To arrange guided walking tours, contact the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs. (312) 742-1190

Hyde Park/Kenwood: Where to eat

Medici on 57th (pictured) Shakespearean lines deck the walls; the burgers and pizzas are delish. (773) 667-7394; medici57.com

Bonjour Bakery and Cafe The French owner serves croissants, quiche and goat cheese sandwiches. (773) 241-5300

Valois Restaurant This cafeteria whips up breakfast, plus platters of baked chicken. (773) 667-0647; valoisrestaurant.com

Roscoe Village/Northcenter

Walk under the El tracks at Roscoe Street and Lincoln Avenue on Chicago's North Side, and you can't miss the sign on the bridge: Welcome to Roscoe Village. Someone painted it years ago, and the flowery script captures a quaint rarity. A hand-painted welcome sign to a village tucked into a city of millions?

That neighborly touch stands out next to trendier neighbors of Bucktown, Wrigleyville and Lincoln Park. Still, most people haven't heard about Roscoe Village and Northcenter (and even some people who live there aren't sure where one starts and the other begins). Between the two, you'll find quirky antiques shops, hole-in-the-wall cafes, a retro breakfast spot, wine bars, a formal restaurant with a rooftop garden, and a craft brewery where people line up for hours just to take a tour.

The neighborhood began to flourish in the early 1900s, when an amusement park opened and dozens of watering holes sprang up to serve the crowds. Its fortunes rose and fell, but today, despite beautiful gardens surrounding pricey limestone homes, residents still tend to say "Roscoe Village" in hushed tones, as if it's a secret. And actually, that welcome sign isn't over the main thoroughfare. It's there for people who have made the effort to see a part of the city that feels undiscovered. Once you're in the know, you can't help but want to keep that delicious secret to yourself. - Kate Silver

Pictured: Tastings and super-busy tours draw fans to Half-Acre Beer Company in Northcenter.

Roscoe Village/Northcenter: What to do

Waveland Bowl (pictured) Old pros, hipsters and families all feel comfortable in this midcentury wonder. (773) 472-5900; wavelandbowl.com

Half-Acre Beer Company Craft beer fans come to Northcenter for samples. (773) 248-4038; halfacrebeer.com

Hazel You'll find affordable jewelry, kitchen accessories, cards and gifts. (773) 769-2227; hazelchicago.com

Lazy Dog Antiques Taxidermied animals, wood furnishings, chandeliers and jewelry await. (773) 281-3644

Night and Day Vintage High-quality clothing and furnishings and an uncluttered layout draw shoppers. (773) 327-4045; nightanddayvintage.com

Roscoe Village/Northcenter: Where to eat

Volo Restaurant and Wine Bar (pictured) Try the steamed black mussels with a white wine-butter sauce. (773) 348-4600; volorestaurant.com

Browntrout The menu changes daily; we loved the morels served with Illinois corn fritters and the crispy walleye. (773) 472-4111; browntroutchicago.com

El Tinajon Mexican favorites and Guatemalan stews rule. (773) 525-8455

Fountainhead A huge beer and whiskey list complements this pub's fare. (773) 697-8204; fountainheadchicago.com

Kitsch'n on Roscoe While The Jeffersons plays on TVs, Kitsch'n delivers quality comfort food, including great breakfast burritos. (773) 248-7372; kitschn.com

Mario and Gino's This tiny spot has amazing gelato and sorbet. (773) 529-8664

Logan Square

A 70-foot monument, grassy parks and 2.5 miles of leafy boulevards belie Logan Square's artistic, passionate personality. Adjacent to hip Bucktown on Chicago's North Side, edgy Logan Square's mash-up identity blends rich Chicago history with ethnic and economic diversity—and really cool shopping. Churches reflect the neighborhood's Norwegian heritage. Restored gray stone mansions coexist with taco stands, corner grocers, and graffiti alley art that could hold its own in a contemporary gallery.

Start exploring at the Illinois Centennial Monument, designed by Henry Bacon, who crafted the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. Logan Boulevard and Kedzie and Milwaukee avenues radiate like wheel spokes from the memorial. Artists, musicians and young families lunch at Lula Cafe, known for its farm-to-table dishes. Nearby is whimsical toy store Play; around the bend, independent, eclectic shops tuck between coffeehouses and ethnic bakeries.

Along Milwaukee Avenue, the main commercial strip, the neighborhood's artsy vibe thrives at the new Arts Center Logan Square/Avondale. Foodies flock to wine bar Telegraph, Revolution Brewing Company and Latin-fusion restaurant D'Noche. Each summer, more than 300 artists, musicians and performers showcase their work during the Milwaukee Avenue Arts Festival.

Even with all that's new, neighborhood treasures survive. Margie's Candies, opened in 1921, still dishes hot fudge sundaes in svelte silver gravy boats. That's a part of Logan Square that no one wants to change. -- Kit Bernardi

Pictured: The Illinois Centennial Monument anchors Logan Square.

Logan Square: Where to shop

Wolfbait and B-girls (pictured) Seamstress-designer girlfriends sell apparel, accessories and artworks by 170 Chicago artisans. (312) 698-8685; wolfbaitchicago.com

A Touch of Vintage Find antiques with vintage flair, including jewelry, martini sets, typewriters and furniture. (773) 384-8427; atouchofvintage.com

Fleur It's part florist, part home decor store. (773) 395-2770; fleurchicago.com

Play In this children's store, whimsical murals complement books and toys. (773) 227-6504; playlogansquare.com

Provenance Imported foods, gourmet snacks and wine from boutique vineyards fill the shelves. (773) 384-0699; provenancefoodandwine.com

Logan Square: Where to eat

Lula Cafe (pictured) Urban grit meets gourmet; try the roasted organic chicken and carrot cake. (773) 489-9554; lulacafe.com

La Boulangerie Owned by a Parisian, the corner shop sells breads, flaky pastries, and sweet and savory crepes. (773) 358-2569; laboulangeriechicago.com

Margie's Candies Opened in 1921, Margie's still dishes hot fudge sundaes in svelte silver gravy boats. (773) 384-1035

Try the trolley

Want to explore Chicago neighborhoods without driving or taking the El? Chicago Trolley leaves from Millennium Park and from North Michigan Avenue, just north of the Chicago River. You can hop on, hop off, learn all about some of the city's most impressive sites—and eat your way through eclectic neighborhoods.

The 90-minute West Neighborhood Tour takes you through a buffet of stops, with drivers narrating the history of each. Riders can stop to try dim sum at Three Happiness in Chinatown, grab a cantaloupe lemonade at seasonal Mario's Italian Lemonade in Little Italy and dig into a gyro at Athena Greek Restaurant in Greektown. At each stop, your driver will tell you when the next trolley will be by to pick you up. With a $35 three-day pass and dozens of options, you can make each trip completely different. (888) 881-3284; chicagotours.us

Pictured: Hazel is one of many quirky shops near Northcenter.

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