10 Offbeat Things To Do In Chicago

mexican national museum of art in chicagoIf you’ve never been to Chicago, or you’ve only visited during the winter, which tends to last roughly from early fall through late spring, you have to see the place in the summer. As soon as the weather gets warm, the city’s residents flock to the lakefront and the place buzzes with live music, street festivals and places to dine al fresco.

The typical tourist itinerary includes stops at the Art Institute, Navy Pier, a boat ride on the lake or the river, Wrigley Field, the Magnificent Mile, and the Willis (Sears) Tower, among other places. If you’ve already been to these places, or you’d rather dig deeper and go further off the beaten track, here are ten more under the radar things to do in America’s Second City.

10. Jam Sessions at the Old Town School of Folk Music
Chicago is loaded with great places to hear live music but I have a soft spot for the city’s free jam sessions and this place is one of my favorites. They have two locations – one in Lincoln Park and one in Lincoln Square – that host live shows and classes. The Lincoln Square location has jams on Wednesdays from 12 – 2 p.m. and Thursdays from 7 – 10:30 p.m. and the Lincoln Park location hosts jams on Saturdays from 12 – 1 p.m. You never know who’s going to show up but it’s a great place to listen to live music and to meet locals. (Or if Bluegrass is your thing, head to the Montrose Saloon on the second Wednesday of each month for their open jam.)

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9. St. John Cantius Church

Chicago has plenty of atmospheric old churches but I’m partial to this baroque beauty in the city’s hip Bucktown neighborhood. The church was built around the turn of the 20th Century by Polish immigrants and it has some incredibly beautiful stained glass. And if you love to visit historic churches, get on 90/94 West a couple miles north to check out the Our Lady of Sorrows Basilica, another turn of the century beauty which still hosts masses in Polish on Sunday mornings.




8. National Museum of Mexican Art

I dig this museum, located in the city’s Pilsen neighborhood, because the works of art tend to be colorful and accessible rather than abstract. It’s free and they have a terrific gift shop that is filled with great gifts that are handmade in Mexico, including loads of Day of the Dead themed items.

7. Bookman’s Corner

My wife refuses to step foot in this fire hazard of a bookshop but I’m addicted to the place. John Chandler, who has been selling used books “rare, medium and well done” at this Lakeview shop since 1984, is a character. It’s worth a trip to this place just to listen to him shoot the breeze with some of his regulars who stop in to buy and sell books on Saturdays. There are books everywhere, so watch where you step. I’ve had books come crashing down on my head here and if you pull something out of a big stack, the whole pile might come crashing down on you like an avalanche. But I always leave with something unexpected and the prices are unbeatable. Just don’t ask John if he has a specific book because trust me, he’s not sure.

6. Traditional Irish Music Sessions

I spent a summer in Galway in college and have been hooked on traditional Irish music ever since. Chicago is a great place to take in a free Sunday “session” where you’ll hear some great music and meet plenty of colorful Guinness quaffing locals as well as visitors and expats from Ireland and Scotland. My favorite Sunday sessions are at Tommy Nevin’s Pub in Evanston, a great little town just north of the city (3-6 p.m.), the Abbey Pub (4 p.m.), the Grafton (5-8 p.m.) and the Galway Arms (8 p.m.) (If you prefer classical music, try the free weekend concerts at the Julius Meinl Cafe on Southport.)

5. Neighborhood Beaches

On a sunny day, you can’t go wrong with any of Chicago’s beaches, but the Ohio Street and North Avenue beaches can be ridiculously crowded on warm summer weekends, so head further north along the bike path to carve out a little more space in the sand. If you’re a dog owner or a dog lover, you’ve got to check out the Montrose Dog Beach; if you’re looking for a gay beach, Kathy Osterman Beach is a good call; and if you want a beach with plenty of sports and recreation opportunities, check out Foster Avenue Beach. If you just want to photograph the city skyline, go south of the city to Promontory Point in Hyde Park. I like to cap off a summer day at the beach with dinner or drinks on the rooftop deck at Pegasus in Greektown, which has great food and views of the skyline.

4. The Money Museum at the Federal Reserve Bank

Inside Chicago’s Federal Reserve Bank you’ll find this interesting little museum, where you can see and have your picture taken with old and rare coins and bills, including $5,000 and $10,000 bills. They have a free 45 minute guided tour at 1 p.m., Monday-Friday and on your way out you can pick up a bag of “Fed Shreds,” which is $300 worth of shredded, uncirculated money. (Good luck trying to piece your bag of money back together again.)

3. A Taste of Arabia in Albany Park

Take the Brown Line train up to Kedzie to get a flavor of this fascinating neighborhood, which has some of the best Middle Eastern restaurants in the city. I love walking on Kedzie between Montrose and Lawrence to check out the Arab shops, bakeries and restaurants. My favorite places to eat on this strip are Al Khyam (Lebanese),Noon O Kabab (Persian), and Salam (hole-in-the-wall pan Arab). For after dinner sweets try Jaafer Sweets.

2. Richard H. Dreihaus Museum

A visit to Chicago’s old Nickerson Mansion will transport you back to the Gilded Age. I took a tour of the place with my family in March and was floored by the ornate stained glass, the Moorish inspired décor and all of the amazing period furniture. There is no better place to get a feel for how the city’s elite lived at the turn of the 20th Century.

1. Devon Avenue

You don’t have to leave the Midwest to travel to the Indian subcontinent. Just make your way to Devon Avenue near Western and you’ll be in a place where saris, turbans, and shalwar kameezes are the order of the day. This is often referred to as an Indian neighborhood but it’s both Indian and Pakistani. You’ll find Gandhi Electronics right across the street from an Islamic Finance Bank and both communities- Hindu and Muslim- seem to coexist nicely here.

Most visitors come here to eat. My favorite restaurants are Annapurna – a hole-in-the-wall spot which has a $3.49 lunch special – Hema’s Kitchen, which has a killer vindaloo, and Urban India, which has the best garlic naan in the city. While in this hood, I also like to walk down to the Georgian Bakery, which has great bread and Georgian specialties like khachapuri (a cheese pastry) and khin-kali (meat dumplings).

I also like to pop into the sari shops, the Indian video stores, the House of 220 Volt Appliances, which has suitcases big enough to store baby elephants, and the food shops, were you’ll find some treats that might make Andrew Zimmern blush. On Michigan Avenue, you’ll be tripping over other tourists, but on Devon Avenue, you’ll be tripping over 50 pound sacks of basmati rice and flowing saris. The choice is yours.

[Photo credits: Dave Seminara, Viewminder, Clint McMahon, and Swanksalot on Flickr]

Drink, Pray And Polka In Underrated Milwaukee

milwaukee brewing companyIt’s Friday night and I’m at a brewery tour in Milwaukee drinking beer. Good beer – not the mass-produced crap that Milwaukee is famous for. Tom Martin, our guide at the Milwaukee Brewing Company, takes a moment to state the obvious for the benefit of out-of-towners like us.

“We have a drinking culture here in Wisconsin in case you haven’t noticed,” he says, standing beside an imposing stack of 50-pound barley sacks. “You can get caught driving drunk with a child in your car and it’s still only a misdemeanor here.”
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He’s joking but the point registers. According to Trulia, Milwaukee has the second most bars per capita in the country, just a hair behind New Orleans, with 8.5 bars per 10,000 households. (And unlike the Big Easy, all the bars in Milwaukee cater to locals.) But Forbes named Milwaukee America’s drunkest city and, according to USA Today, the state of Wisconsin has the highest percentage of binge drinkers in the country and ranks fifth in total number of breweries with 112.


milwaukeePerhaps the good people at the Milwaukee Brewing Company had these statistics in mind when they created their brewery tour. Brewers ordinarily make patrons suffer through long, boring tours before they deign to offer a chance to taste their product and even then, they might serve just one full beer or a few tastes.



But tonight, our tour started with free beers, and then there were two beer breaks during our hour-long tour before we were sent back to the bar for a half-hour long open bar to cap the experience. And did I mention that our $10 ticket also entitled us to two tokens that are good for even more of their beer at area bars? Welcome to Milwaukee.

If you want to compile a short list of America’s most underrated cities, start with the places that have lost population over the last 50-100 years. Philadelphia, St. Louis, Buffalo and Cincinnati all had a larger population 100 years ago than they do now. And Milwaukee and Richmond were more populous in the 1950s and 1960s than they are now.



These are seen as declining cities – yesterday’s news – but I think these are six of the most underrated urban destinations in the country. All of these cities are brimming with history, culture and style but none are overwhelmed with tourists.

A year ago, I opined that Richmond might be the country’s most underrated city, but after a recent visit to Milwaukee, I might be ready to change my vote and not just because I like beer. In the winter, the place has a vacant, almost haunted vibe. It would be easy to conclude that the place is dead but keep looking. The city is synonymous with bad beer and the television shows “Happy Days” and “Laverne & Shirley,” but if you take the time to get to know this inviting city and the unpretentious people who live there, you’ll discover that it’s one of America’s best-kept secrets.

It’s a city where the Friday night fish fry is an institution, a place where sausage is elevated to an art form, a community where every neighborhood has a church that even an atheist would want to visit, a metropolis defined by its taverns and people who aren’t too cool to the do the Chicken Dance, and good, yes, good beer. Go ahead and tour the Miller and Pabst breweries if you must, but when you’re ready for the good stuff, check out the tours at Sprecher, Milwaukee Brewing Company, and Lakefront Brewery, which also has a killer Friday night fish fry complete with live polka music (see video below).




basilica of st josaphatStart your Milwaukee tour at the Basilica of St. Josaphat, which opened in 1901 to serve the largely ethnic Polish community in the Lincoln Village neighborhood. The basilica is modeled after St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and the interior is as beautiful as any place of worship in the country (see video below).

You can see the domed basilica from miles away but you could easily miss the St. Joan of Arc Chapel (see above), which dates to the 15th century but was moved to the campus of Marquette University in 1966. (The chapel was moved from near Lyon, France, to Long Island in the 1920s before its move to Milwaukee.) It’s worth the effort to find this place – as soon as you step through the big wooden doors and feel the bluish glow of stained glass, you’ll feel like you were visiting an ancient church in rural France.



If you want a flavor of old Milwaukee, the city, not the beer, take a stroll through the lobby of the Hilton City Center, which was built in 1927 and is still loaded with vintage charm. Check out the German bars and sausage shops on Old World Third Street and then, to get a feel for some of the outlying neighborhoods, cruise over to Brady Street or Murray Hill on the east side, or Bay View or Walker’s Point on the south side. Definitely have lunch at Milwaukee’s Public Market in the historic Third Ward and, if the weather is good, don’t miss the Estabrook Beer Garden. There are great neighborhood bars everywhere, but Wolski’s is one old-school watering hole that everyone washes up in at one time or another.


I think of Milwaukee as a venerable old town but the city’s premier attraction is modernity personified. The Milwaukee Art Museum has an impressive collection of art but the real attraction here is the Quadracci Pavilion, a stunning, futuristic annex built by the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava in 2001. Even if you don’t want to visit the museum, take a walk into the pavilion or dine at Café Calatrava downstairs for gourmet food and a sublime view. The building’s Brise Soleil wings open and close during the museum’s opening and closing hours and the wings also flap at noon each day.




milwaukeeEach time I visit Milwaukee from my home base in Chicago – which was once called a “pompous” Milwaukee – I feel like the city is a less expensive, more laid back, and more manageable version of the Windy City. And I think that Badger state residents have more pride in their state than any other place in the country, with the possible exception of Texas. There’s a cohesive culture in Wisconsin that revolves around beer, brats, cheese, the Packers, the Badgers, fish fry, supper clubs and 1,000 other things that make this state unique. Milwaukeeans will tell you that they are content to keep their hometown a well-kept secret, but there’s always an empty barstool somewhere in town, so stop by the next time you thirst for something different.



[Photo/video credits: Dave Seminara]


A Video Tour Of Chicago’s Christkindl Market And CTA’s Holiday Train

christkindlmarket chicagoThere is nothing quite like the smell of a Christmas market. Step anywhere near Chicago’s Christkindlmarket and you’ll pick up the intoxicating scents of grilled meats, roasting nuts, glühwein, sizzling potato pancakes and incense. It’s enough to get even the biggest Scrooge into the holiday spirit.

Chicago’s Christkindlmarket is a mini version of the Nuremberg Christkindlmarket in Germany that is widely recognized as the biggest and best Christmas market in the world. Nuremberg’s Christmas market dates to at least 1628, or about 40 years before Potawatomi guides first took the French trader Nicolas Perrot to the site of present-day Chicago.

I’ve been going to Chicago’s Christkindlmarket since the year after it started in 1996 during my on and off stints living in the city and the place never fails to get me into the Christmas spirit. Santa is available for visits (on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and Christmas Eve day), there are dozens of stalls selling everything from Christmas ornaments to cuckoo clocks, and there’s an indoor/outdoor beer garden where you can indulge in hot chocolate, glühwein served in a souvenir boot, or some Spaten lager or doppelbock.


christkindlmarket in chicagoThe core of the market is filled with German shops and German treats: pretzels, bratwurst, potato pancakes, strudel and the like, but in the periphery of the market, it’s anything goes. This year I noticed booths selling trinkets from all over the world: Sweden, Ireland, Poland, Mexico, Ukraine, Ecuador, Peru and more. There was even a stand selling “Sherpa jackets” from Nepal.

But it is still essentially a German market and most of the major sponsors are German companies. I met Nicole Lorenz, a German woman who runs the Bavarian Workshop stand and also hires local people to help run some of the German stalls in the market. She told me that most of the German vendors come from Saxony, in eastern Germany.

The market is open until Christmas Eve but it takes the vendors a couple days to take down their operations, so they all spend Christmas away from their loved ones. Lorenz rents an apartment in Chicago each year for the five weeks the market is open and hasn’t been able to spend Christmas at home in the 11 years she’s worked at the Christkindlmarket. But she wasn’t complaining – she likes the market and it’s usually well worth the effort and disruption to her life in Germany.

cta holiday train christmas train in chicagoWe timed our visit to the market this year so we could take the Chicago Transit Authority’s (CTA) holiday train back to our home in Evanston. For the last 15 years, CTA has been running the holiday train on a rotating schedule across all the different lines in the month prior to Christmas day. (See the schedule here.) The train exterior is decorated with multicolored lights and there’s a ginormous Santa Claus in a flatbed sleigh filled with presents right in the middle part of the train.

We stepped into the car and were greeted by CTA elves offering candy canes and Christmas music. The car interiors are filled with Christmas decorations and even the seats themselves are upholstered with images of Santa lugging presents and other holiday scenes. In typical CTA fashion, our train arrived late and within a few stops was jam-packed, as it always is near the five o’clock bewitching hour. But the festive vibe kept all the commuters in relatively good spirits, even if many of them barely averted their eyes from their phones and other mobile devices.


cta chicago holiday trainThings got a little hairy though when we got off at the Howard stop. The platform is quite narrow right by where Santa’s sleigh was parked and hordes of us were all trying to snap his photo before the train pulled away. As people jockeyed for space, I decided that being tossed onto the platform wouldn’t be the most festive way to end an otherwise great day so I backed off.

The holiday trains generally run from 1-8 on weekends and 3-7 weeknights. I highly recommend you avoid rush hour, because it’s easier to stay in the holiday spirit when you have some breathing room.

[Photo and video credits: Dave Seminara, Christkindlmarket]

Eating Out In Chicago For $3.49

annapurna indian food in chicagoIs it possible to get lunch in Chicago for $3.49? That was the question I sought to answer on Friday at Annapurna, an Indian vegetarian restaurant on Devon Avenue, in the heart of Chicago’s largest South Asian neighborhood. Whenever I need a quick trip to a foreign country but can’t make it to O’Hare, I gravitate to one of my two favorite ethnic enclaves in Chicago: the Arab corridor of Albany Park, on Kedzie Avenue between Wilson and Lawrence, or the South Asian section of West Rogers Park, on Devon Avenue near Western.

Devon Avenue is filled with exotic delights: women wearing the niqab, men in the traditional shalwar kameez, sari shops, Hajj travel agencies, and endearingly bizarre little shops like the House of 220 Volt Appliances, which sells ridiculously large suitcases, tiny little microwaves and everything in between. On one side of the street, a storefront advertises Islamic mortgages right across the street from Gandhi Electronics. On the subcontinent, India and Pakistan are geopolitical adversaries, but on Devon Avenue, Indian and Pakistani immigrants coexist peacefully, even if in parallel universes.

I’ve been eating at the Indian and Pakistani restaurants on Devon Avenue for years but, as a devoted carnivore who is addicted to dishes like Butter Chicken, Vindaloo and Korma, I’ve never been tempted to try any of the street’s vegetarian restaurants until I saw a sign outside Annapurna advertising a $3.49 lunch special. I’m a bargain hunter – in Virginia, I used to patronize a Korean beauty school for $5 haircuts, and I’m not put off by a language barrier.

But I have an above average appetite, so I was skeptical that a three-dollar meal at a vegetarian restaurant would leave me feeling satisfied. Nonetheless, the price was irresistible, so my wife and I tried the place for lunch on Friday.
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Annapurna’s décor is surprisingly smart for a place whose menu is filled with items that cost less than four bucks. But it is indeed like going out to eat in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language and have no idea what to order. There are no descriptions of any of the items on the menu and we were the only gringo diners on a day when the place was packed with Indian regulars who knew the menu well and didn’t need to ask questions.

I knew I was going to try the dirt-cheap lunch special, but wanted to ask some questions about what we were ordering and some of the other menu items, but the stern-faced, attractive woman working the counter seemed less than eager to talk to us about the menu.

The lunch special changes each day. The Friday special is masala rice and curry soup, and it comes with a glass of buttermilk, chilies, and a small tomato, onion and cilantro salad in a plastic container. The rice dish was nicely spiced and came with potatoes and onions mixed in it. The soup was very sweet and tasted a bit like coconut to me, though the woman at the counter said it was made with yogurt. Either way, I thought that both dishes were delicious, though my wife thought the soup was “peculiar.”

But we both agreed that the buttermilk, on the other hand, was revolting (see video). It was lukewarm, salty and intensely sour. The look on my face when I took a gulp of the stuff would have made for an entertaining passport photo. Still, I felt satisfied – not stuffed, but content – and we had spent a total of $7.66 for two meals, including tax. You can’t get one meal at Panera for that price, let alone two.

I’d had enough to eat, but in the spirit of adventure and gluttony, we decided to split one more dish, a chickpea-based dish called chole bhature, which came recommended by a group sitting near us. At $3.99, it was a nice little splurge and came with two pieces of what tasted very much like the kind of fried dough you’d find at a state fair. It was greasier than Paulie D’s hair, but it tasted damn good.

annapurna chicago specialsWhen the line evaporated and the place started to thin out, I asked the woman at the counter to write down what the special is on each day of the week (they are closed Tuesdays). None of what she wrote means a thing to me, but I’ve included a photo of what she wrote here in case you’d like to try to decode it. I’ve also included the restaurant’s menu, which isn’t available online, in case you’d like to Google these menu items before trying the place.

All in all, it was a tasty and economical outing. We learned that you could indeed eat out in Chicago for $3.49 at 2608 W. Devon Avenue. If you want a tasty, dirt-cheap lunch that comes with that pleasantly helpless feeling you get when out of the country, try it yourself.

[Photo credits: Dave Seminara]

10 Chicago Suburbs That Don’t Suck

bahai temple wilmetteTravel writers don’t spend much time waxing poetic on the joys of American suburbia – and for good reason. Spending time in the suburbs of most American cities is about as exciting as listening to a filibuster attempt on C-Span. Unless you enjoy the numbing sensation that comes from driving past row upon row of characterless houses, strip malls as far as the eye can see and the identical array of chain stores and restaurants one sees all over American suburbia these days.

But Chicago is different. There are plenty of soulless bedroom communities and quite possibly the lamest historic district in the country, but there are also a number of places that are brimming with character and things to do. Most visitors to Chicago never set foot outside the city center and that’s a shame.

If you stay in the city, you’ll miss out on some of Frank Lloyd Wright’s most impressive creations, one of the country’s best independent bookstores, the Bahai Temple, some beautiful beaches and a host of shopping, dining and cultural attractions in very manageable, walkable towns that are accessible via Metra and/or CTA. (But if you prefer a scenic drive, take Sheridan Road up to Chicagoland’s North Shore.)I’ve lived in Evanston and River Forest, so this is a subjective list based upon my experience in the north and west suburban communities that I’ve had an opportunity to explore during my seven years living in the region.

Evanston

evanston illinois lake michiganThis big, diverse community directly north of the city along Lake Michigan belongs on the itinerary of every visitor to Chicago. It’s home to Northwestern University, some 61 structures listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and six sandy beaches. The pedestrian friendly downtown is filled with nice bookstores, cafés, shopping and restaurants and there are beautiful homes scattered among several historic districts within the town. Evanston also has an amazing library, which allows patrons to take out up to 75 books a time (seriously).

Wilmette

Wilmette is another great lakeside community with a terrific old school cinema, and an endearing little downtown that has a Mayberry-esque charm. Business Week rated Wilmette as one of the top ten places to raise a family in the country and it’s also a great place for visitors to take a long walk or bike ride. Don’t leave town without checking out the stunning Bahai Temple on Linden Avenue.

Winnetka

If you drive through Winnetka with a clunky old car, you might get a few funny looks, as this is one of the poshest communities in the Midwest. Right now, there is a 27,000 square foot home on sale for a cool $27 million in town, and there’s also a modest little, 7 bedroom, 11 bath, 15,000 square foot fixer upper at 319 Sheridan Road that comes in at a just under $16 million.

But it’s still worth a visit despite the pretension. Every town should be fortunate enough to have a great little downtown like this one. It’s filled with interesting, independent shops and restaurants. The town also has three nice beaches and its flagship bookstore, the Book Stall, was voted the best independent bookshop in the country by Publisher’s Weekly this year.

Highland Park

This is another exclusive North Shore community that’s worth a visit thanks to its nice downtown and jaw dropping mansions. Michael Jordan and Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins own homes here and Corgan recently opened up a tea shop in town as well.

Highland Park may have the most expensive home in the region for sale at 2700 Point Lane. In case you’re in the market, it’s a 9 bedroom, 19 bathroom- yes 19 bathrooms, just in case you have a hockey team over and they all have to go at once-32,683 square foot monster priced at $29 million. Oh, and there’s a 15 car garage to boot.

Lake Forest/ Lake Bluff

Lake Forest is another elegant lakefront community oozing with wealth and charm on the North Shore about 30 miles north of Chicago. The downtown has a European flair and boasts some nice restaurants and distinctive retail. Take a drive or a bike ride around the residential neighborhoods surrounding the downtown and you’ll feel like you’re lost in the pages of “The Great Gatsby.” Lake Bluff has a nice beach, a public green and an old time corner store.

In Lake Forest, check out the mansions on North Mayflower Road. At the moment, there’s a 10 bedroom, 16 bath 24,000 square foot home priced to move at $12 million at #405 and a cute little 7 bedroom, 9 bath number at #255 that’s a steal at just under $8 million.

Oak Park & River Forest

river forest homeOak Park is a unique, left leaning community due west of the city, accessible via CTA’s green line or Metra, that prizes its diversity and its Frank Lloyd Wright connection. Wright started his career in Oak Park and you can visit his studio and check out a host of homes he built in the area. Oak Park has the largest concentration of FLW homes in the world.

Oak Park is also the birthplace of Ernest Hemingway, and the Hemingway museum , located right around the corner from the Frank Lloyd Wright Studio. Oak Park also has three distinctive retail districts, but the real attractions here are on the side streets, where you’ll find an array of beautiful homes, many in the Prairie or Victorian style.

Due west of Oak Park, River Forest is another distinguished suburb with more Frank Lloyd Wright houses and dozens of other stately homes on huge lots along wide, tree lined streets that are nothing like most planned community suburbs built today. The residential area between Lake and Augusta and Thatcher to Lathrop is filled with classy, unique homes.

Riverside

Riverside is a splendid little community, just south of Oak Park, with a lost in time downtown, an eye-catching water tower, and some noteworthy architecture. The town itself is a National Historic Landmark that was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted as one of the region’s first planned communities.

Elmhurst

This appealing little community in Chicago’s western suburbs is noteworthy for its appealing, pedestrian friendly downtown that has a cool, 1950s feel to it.

La Grange

La Grange is another western suburb with a terrific, old school downtown and some nice old Victorian homes. Less pretentious than nearby Hinsdale, it boasts an awesome BBQ joint and a classic old cinema. La Grange used to have what was quite possibly the country’s most ludicrous marketing campaign. A few years ago, someone had the bright idea to put up banners all over the town with the words, “Ah, La Grange!” One can only hope they didn’t pay an ad agency too much to come up with that clunker.

Naperville

OK, so Naperville has a lot of sprawl, but it’s also got a killer downtown, with a great riverside bike path and a beautiful, huge man-made beach and pool. The area around North Central College is perfect for a nice stroll.

Other Chicago suburbs that are worth a visit: Forest Park (home to loads of bars and a great St. Patrick’s Day celebration), Glen Ellyn, Glencoe, Woodstock, Hinsdale, Wheaton, St. Charles, Geneva, Frankfort, Western Springs, Highwood and Tinley Park.

[Photo credit: Flickr users Sandeep, rseidel3 and Chicago Geek.]