Evanston is a beautiful college town located on the shores of Lake Michigan north of downtown Chicago. Home to Northwestern University, the streets just inland from the lake feature beautiful Victorian homes. Downtown Evanston, the Northwestern campus, and Lakeshore Historic District are all very walkable and can be easily visited without a car.
A Short Visit
My grandmother recently made the difficult decision to leave Chicago after spending most of her life there in order to be closer to my family in Maryland. My parents planned to fly out to help organize the move and then accompany her back to Maryland on Amtrak’s Capitol Limited. I asked if I could join them during my days off, seeing as they had space in the hotel and the upper berth in my father’s roomette on the train back was vacant. I exchanged 4500 British Airways Avios for a ticket on Onewold partner American Airlines from BWI to Chicago O’Hare. After the movers boxed up the contents of my grandmother’s apartment, my family headed to nearby Evanston, where my parents used to live.
After I finished work the morning of April 22 I drove straight to BWI to catch the morning flight. I arrived in Chicago around lunchtime. It’s possible to take public transit from O’Hare to Evanston, but you have a bus or the L into downtown Chicago. My Mom recommended I just reserve a cab from Norshore Cab. They have a flat rate of $35 (credit cards accepted) from O’Hare to Evanston. I reserved over the phone while waiting for my flight at BWI. They have a pool of cabs waiting at the airport, so on arrival you just call back with your reservation number and the cab will be along in about ten minutes. The ride to Evanston is maybe 40 minutes.
The downtown area is built up around the “L” and Metra tracks and Chicago Ave, which runs parallel to the railroads. There are plenty of shops and restaurants along Chicago Ave and its major cross streets like Main and Dempster. In contrast to the historic lakefront, the downtown area has increased in density in recent decades as apartment buildings have spring up. There are some neat buildings in downtown that are historic in comparison to the new arrivals, such as the 1929 former Marshal Fields department store with its patina details. I have a soft spot for Marshall Fields since my grandmother worked there at one time; they were absorbed by Macy’s, but this particular store didn’t survive in that form either.
I can’t comment extensively on Evanston cuisine due to the brevity of my visit, but I found all my meals satisfying. Right after I arrived, I warmed up from the unseasonably cold, dreary day with a bowl of warm black bean soup at Blind Faith Cafe, a vegetarian restaurant and bakery on Dempster. As a nod to me, my Dad decided we’d have dinner at the Firehouse Grill on Chicago Ave. Located in the old Evanston Station 2 (the new one is around the corner on Madison), the Firehouse Grill’s pub food is nothing special but the atmosphere of the c. 1902 station is great. No visit to Evanston is complete (regardless of the season) without a visit to Andy’s Frozen Custard, with its “Concretes”- a mix of custard with a variety of ingredients sort of like a Blizzard from Dairy Queen. If you’re not on the diet, try the “James Brownie Funky Jackhammer”- vanilla frozen custard, peanut butter, brownie, with an injection of hot fudge.
Lakeshore Historic District
The streets east of downtown are filled with beautiful old houses including a lot of Victorian-style ones. Each house is unique, colorful, and in excellent shape despite their ages. It’s a great place to visit but you probably couldn’t afford to live here. The closer you get to the lake, the more ornate the houses become. At a certain point it would be more appropriate to call them mansions.
The Charles G. Dawes house is an 1894 mansion on Greenwood St now home to the Evanston History Center. Dawes had a distinguished career as a businessman, general in World War I, and Vice President of the United States under Calvin Coolidge. Perhaps his highest achievement was sharing the 1925 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to balance the needs of the postwar German economy with the Treaty of Versailles-imposed war reparations. There is a park running along the shores of Lake Michigan across the street from the house.
Northwestern has a pleasant and of course walkable campus on the shores of Lake Michigan east of town and north of the Lakeshore Historic District. There’s a variety of architecture- buildings on the lake are quite modern while there are older buildings inland. In case you ever forget you’re in a college town, the ubiquitous Northwestern Wildcats signs on businesses in town will remind you.
Grosse Point Light
North of the Northwestern Campus is the attractive 1873 lighthouse. Lake Michigan has had its share of shipwrecks and the 1860 Lady Elgin disaster nearby is cited as a major factor in building the lighthouse here after things settled down following the Civil War. The lighthouse was temporarily extinguished in 1941, ostensibly as part of blackout efforts during World War II (something which I have to say defies logic as surely Germany would have attacked the Eastern Seaboard cities rather than Chicago, even if had aircraft capable of crossing the Atlantic, which they didn’t). After the years of fear passed, Grosse Point Light resumed service in 1945. Today, you can walk the grounds and sometimes take a tour. There’s an adjacent park and beach as well.
Baha’i House of Worship
Just a short drive north of Evanston in nearby Wilmette is the only Baha’i house of worship in the United States. This spectacular building was started in the 1920s and completed in 1953. It’s the oldest of seven surviving Baha’i house of worship in the world, as the original in Turkmenistan was demolished in 1963 after being damaged in an earthquake years before.