Beyond the skyscrapers and bustling streets of Chicago, lies Evanston, IL, a charming neighbor to the north. Home to Northwestern University, it draws scholars from across the globe, while the allure of Lake Michigan attracts others to its beautiful shores. Whether you’re a local, a visitor, or a potential new resident looking to buy a home or rent an apartment in Evanston, this Evanston bucket list will give you the insights you need. 

Enjoy local Evanston flavors

Begin your day with a culinary adventure introducing you to Evanston’s flavors. According to Jessica Wagner of Frida’s Breakfast and Lunch, “Frida’s Breakfast and Lunch is a must-visit location in Evanston for any visitor. Everything at Frida’s is created from a love of culture, food, and art, drawing inspiration from the life and works of the renowned Mexican painter, Frida Kahlo.” Located just a short 12-minute walk from the beautiful Clark Beach, dining at Frida’s is an easy decision. With their “fantastic staff and a wide selection of breakfast and lunch dishes with an authentic Mexican flair,” as Wagner emphasizes, Frida’s in downtown Evanston promises an exceptional dining experience. 

Soak in the sun at the beach

Clark Street Beach is one of many Evanston beaches. Offering an escape from city life back to our nature roots this beach provides a well-deserved experience. With a beautiful view of Northwestern University’s Block Museum of Art, the Clark Street Beach is a great place to enjoy the water. Take a swim in Lake Michigan and savor the fresh air. Kendra Robinson from Great Lake Plunge says, “Access to Lake Michigan is one of Evanston’s finest features, and a great community has formed around sunrises on the beach and daily dips.” If you’re visiting during the summer you might be able to be a part of the yearly plunge offered by Great Lake Plunge. Kendra says, “Each July, the Great Lake Plunge offers a family-friendly opportunity to get your feet wet with open-water swimming. Proceeds benefit Evanston Swims!, an organization that teaches swimming and water safety to local children.”

Sunrise at a beach with calming waves

Support small local shops

Angela Shaffer, a representative from Central Street Evanston, describes Central Street Evanston as, “the city’s northwest shopping district, occupied by locally owned businesses. The corridor is filled with independent stores, bakeries, coffee shops, boutiques, and restaurants. Bookended by two museums—the Evanston Arts Center and the Mitchell Museum — as well as Northwestern University’s Ryan Field stadium – you’ll find plenty of cultural, creative, and Big Ten inspiration there.”

Pam Lagger, a local photographer, also endorses visiting Evanston’s Central Street Shops. Pam says, “There are so many cute shops and restaurants on Central surrounding Independence Park. A few of my favorites are DeSalvo’s pizza (their veggie “Rabbit” pizza is amazing and they have pizza by the slice), Backlot Coffee, and Comida for tacos and fantastic margaritas.” In addition to the shops, Pam suggests “If you have little ones you can visit the playground at Independence Park and then take the kids across the street to Tag’s Bakery for an M&M cookie or to Great Harvest Bread Co. for monkey bread. It’s a great place to spend an afternoon!”

Follow the light to historical Grosse Point 

The Grosse Point Lighthouse stands as another favored destination certain to delight.  Located on the Lake Michigan shore, this lighthouse is open to the public daily. Amy from the Evanston Parent blog says the Lighthouse beach is, “open for picnics, sand play, and provides a wonderful backdrop of the lake and sky. For those who enjoy a lazy stroll in the garden, for the beach buffs and builders of sandcastles, and for the lovers of history, an afternoon at the Grosse Point Lighthouse will combine everyone’s interests into one spectacular visit.”

Take a break and enjoy some fika 

Ensure you carve out some moments for fika, a Swedish tradition resembling a coffee break but with added depth. This practice highlights a pause from the hustle and bustle, prioritizing social interaction and relaxation over coffee, snacks, and conversation. 

According to Elisabeth Hubbard of Funflector, “As a Swede, I love to meet friends for a refreshing walk followed by “fika” (coffee, pastry/sandwich, and interesting conversations), and for that, Evanston is the most perfect place! With so many parks and tree-lined streets, it’s nice to walk almost everywhere, but our favorite is along Lake Michigan, north of Lee Street, as the colors of the lake and sky never look the same from one day to another. For fika, we love Newport on Davis for their authentic Swedish cardamon buns, Evanston Pour on Dempster for the cosmopolitan atmosphere, and Capitol on Grove St. for the ultimate hygge experience.” 

Overhead shot of two Cups of Coffee on a table

Experience France from across the globe

Embark on a culinary journey to France at LeTour Restaurant, recommended by Maddie Sykes, an interior designer of Collected Design who remarks, “I highly recommend checking out Le Tour restaurant. I’m an interior designer and the atmosphere and decor of Amy Morton’s newest restaurant is warm, inviting, and really captivating. When you pair that with the exceptionally delicious food, you have the makings of a night to remember. I love that Le Tour is upscale yet cozy and approachable. It’s a must-try for any new or veteran Evanston resident!”

Visit family-owned businesses

“Stumble & Relish, located on Evanston’s Main-Dempster Mile, is your one-stop shop for thoughtful and unique treasures. Opened and owned by a mother and daughter duo, they love the little things to stumble on and relish while shopping for themselves or gifts for others,” shares  Kristel blogger for the On the Go with 4 Kids in Tow blog. “The boutique shop promotes local artists, handmade goods, unique finds, vintage accents, home decor, stationery, and beautiful designs.” 

Grab a drink with loved ones

In the days of prohibition, Evanston gained fame as a dry city. Today, enjoy a drink with loved ones at local bars. Kate Ahern from Double Clutch Brewing suggests their local spot in the area. Kate mentions, “Much more than just a venue for drinking beer, Double Clutch Brewing Company is Evanston’s ultimate gathering spot, where patrons are guaranteed a one-of-a-kind dining and entertainment experience.” 

Take an art walk 

“Evanston has a host of over 30 stunning public artworks by amazing muralists from near and far thanks to the Evanston Mural Arts Program, and they can be found in all corners of the community,” shares Lea Pinsky from Art Encounter. “You can take yourself on a self-guided tour with the helpful maps and make a scavenger hunt of the whole adventure! Check them out with a friend or meet someone new as you take the tour —  it’s a great way to get to know Evanston.” Additional art pieces, including the Evanston Art Center, can be found all over the city. The center offers classes, exhibitions, interactive arts activities, and community outreach.

Visit Northwestern University to round out your Evanston bucket list

One can not think of Evanston without thinking about Northwestern University. Located along the beautiful shores of Lake Michigan, the campus is a wonderful place to stroll through. The historic grounds are adorned with ivy-covered buildings making it a marvelous place to visit. At the Northwestern University School of Music or Theatre, you can witness the talent and creativity of budding artists. Whether you’re a prospective student, an alumnus revisiting, or simply a curious visitor, Northwestern University offers a captivating glimpse into the heart of Evanston’s rich cultural tapestry.

Birds-eye view of Northwestern University Campus -- an essential item on any evanston bucket list

Learn about the history of Evanston

Visit the Evanston History Center to immerse yourself in the captivating history of Evanston. Charles Gates Dawes’ magnificent home, now a National Historic Landmark, houses the History Center. This museum offers a look into the history of Evanston in addition to its stunning example of late 19th-century architecture. The center provides docent-led tours to the Evanston neighborhoods, downtown, and the lakefront. 

Explore the diverse museums 

Evanston is home to various museums offering options for everyone. The Halim Time & Glass Museum is home to beautiful art including over 30 stained glass windows. Another local favorite museum is the Mitchell Museum of the American Indian. The museum focuses on the history, culture, traditions, and art of the Indigenous people, the perfect place to round out your Evanston bucket list. This museum has become a great resource to understand and learn about Indigenous people.

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