There are a variety of areas from which to choose when exploring Chicago’s western suburbs. The great part about these locales is that in most cases each unique village or suburb has its own particular look, style and feel. And while they might be tightly packed, for the most part, each suburb has its own sense of community, style of architecture and character, almost like a little town, but often complete with the services and amenities that come with a big city.
There are so many unique suburbs to choose from in and around the Chicago area that visiting them could almost become a hobby. Choosing to visit and explore one suburb each weekend could keep a person occupied for years. The three spots that I have chosen to describe here are a few of my personal favorites and ones that I have found particularly intriguing and unique from those around them. All three are approximately 12 miles west of downtown Chicago and are lined by the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad, which conveniently connects them to downtown by way of the Metra rail line running west from downtown to Aurora.
The first stop among these three suburbs that you’ll encounter along the Metra line heading west from downtown Chicago is the Village of Riverside. Designed by Frederick Law Olmsted (known also for his work on such projects as the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, New York City’s Central Park, and George Vanderbilt’s Biltmore Estategrounds in North Carolina), this historical suburb provides visitors with a sense of what Chicago might have been like in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Its beautifully bricked rail station sits across from the village’s historic water tower (a museum is now housed in the water tower’s adjacent pump house) and immediately has you stepping back into an earlier time. Just walking among the village’s Victorian-era mansions is enough to keep you busy for an afternoon, but if you’re in the mood for a bite to eat, Riverside’s quaint downtown offers up spots such as the The Chew Chew Restaurant, Mollie’s Public House, and Grumpy’s Cafe. There is also a lovely walk that starts near the village’s library (which, by the way is beautiful inside and overlooks the river) and guides you along the Des Plaines River all the way to the nearby Village of Lyons.
I mentioned the Village of Brookfield mainly for one reason. While there is a nice little downtown area with eateries and a few shopping options, probably the best known and most traveled attraction in Brookfield is its zoo.
Open every day of the year, the Brookfield Zoo provides a vast amount of entertainment for children and adults of all ages. From the dolphin show (seasonal) to the wolves, polar bears, and children’s petting zoo, this place certainly has enough to see and do to fill multiple days. There are playgrounds available, spots to picnic, and you can bring food and drinks (no alcohol) to the zoo as well as wagons and strollers. There are plenty of vendors available to provide ample calories should you decide not to bring your own food though, and there are stroller and wagon rentals inside the zoo as well if you tire of carrying the little ones.
There is a great “Tips For Your Visit” page on the zoo’s website, as well as a “General Information” page with hours and ticket prices that you might want to peruse before you head off for a visit.
The Village of LaGrange is a bit different from these first two stops. A tad more upscale, and a little faster paced, LaGrange still provides and cozy, small town feel, but with the hustle and bustle of a more urban environment. Homes similar in scale to the Victorian mansions of Riverside skirt the busy retail shops and restaurants lining LaGrange Road.
There is an element of excitement in LaGrange, and with the train station right downtown on the corner of LaGrange Road and Burlington Avenue, you step off the platform into the middle of the action. There is a variety of café’s, eateries, and restaurants, mostly in the mid-scale price range. With everything from Italian, French, and Mexican food to barbeque, Chinese and tapas, there is plenty to choose from in the culinary realm. And if you’re into shopping, there’s plenty to choose from there as well. With boutiques, antiques, consignment, and resale shops, there’s something for almost any price range or style of shopper.
One of my favorite stomping grounds in LaGrange is Palmer Place Restaurant & Biergarten, which offers a fast-paced and fun eating environment with a vast variety of beers to try, great food, a huge outdoor seating space, and plenty of flat-screen televisions. It’s a great place to relax, enjoy a boisterous outing with friends or family, and have a drink or two while chomping on onion rings or a hearty burger.
I also enjoy having a Guinness at Chequers Restaurant complete with English Beer Garden at 100 W. Burlington Avenue, and if I’m in the mood for some delicious fried rice or a great Mai Tai, I’ll be stopping in to see my friends Tom, Steve, and Grace at the Magic Wok located at 23 W. Harris Avenue.
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