One of Chicago’s most coveted zip codes is Lincoln Park. And it’s no wonder: the neighborhood features a 1,200 acre urban forest, a free zoo, one of the city’s most popular (and sexy) beaches, DePaul University and plenty of independently-owned shops, bars and attractions. You’ll find a mix of college students, families and young professionals here.
In the 1840s, the area that is now Lincoln Park was the Chicago cemetery. But due to health hazards (namely improper and illegal burials in loose, sandy soil that is very close to water) the grounds were shut down. By the early 1860s graves were relocated and a sprawling public park was built. After President Lincoln’s assassination in 1865, the park was renamed in his honor and is now the second-most visited park in the United States (New York City’s Central Park is number one).
This urban sanctuary snakes seven miles along Lake Michigan’s shoreline, interspersed with harbors, recreational areas, forest, meadows, public beaches, protected nature reserves and even an outdoor theater on the lake—but the neighborhood extends well beyond its namesake green space. Its official boundaries are: Lake Michigan to the east; the Chicago River to the west; Diversey Parkway to the north; and North Avenue to the south.
We scoured the neighborhood for the best insider eats, drinks and activities. Next time you’re in Chicago, here’s how to do Lincoln Park…like a local.
Coffee Shops and Cafes
For an unforgettable breakfast, make a beeline for Batter & Berries (2748 N Lincoln Ave). This local’s favorite serves up more than 50 variations of French toast, each more scrumptious than the next. Ask for the flight to sample the staples—strawberry, blueberry, lemon and caramel.
We love guilt-free indulgences, and that’s what we loved about La Fournette bakery (1547 N Wells St). Not only does this bright, sunny spot serve up authentic French crepes, pastries and beignets (its sister location is in Schnerscheim, France), it was designed to be energy efficient and operate with minimal waste. It’s a perfect spot to refuel with a light snack and a proper coffee.
After breakfast, get ready to hit the streets of Lincoln Park. Some of the best shopping is in the Armitage-Halsted District, located on Armitage Avenue between Halsted Street and Racine Avenue, and Halsted Street between Armitage and Webster Street. Known for its high-fashion boutiques and designer stores, the district is slowly becoming a culinary destination for Chicagoans as well. You’ll find a nice mix of upscale women and children’s stores, independently-owned shops and plenty of coffee bars and cafes to keep your energy up.
Don’t miss Berco’s Popcorn (810 W Armitage Ave). The beloved gourmet popcorn shop serves old standbys like butter and white cheddar, but keeps it modern with offerings such as “Way Too Expensive White Truffle” and custom powder concoctions such as dark chocolate, fire salts and strawberry that are mixed daily. The shop also boasts the über-indulgent “Billion Dollar Popcorn”—caramel covered in 23-karat edible gold.
If your child has four legs instead of two, be sure to visit Barker & Meowsky (1003 W Armitage Ave), where you’ll find well-made, durable gifts for the stylish pets in your life (and maybe a few for the humans, too).
Art Galleries & Gardens
If you’re searching for local artists, look no further than Fortunate Discoveries (1022 W Armitage Ave), a curated collection of mini art galleries. Here, local artists rent wall or booth space to display a dizzying array of irresistible wares. Our favorites: Mistura watches crafted from sustainable wood, flowers and other natural materials and sleek, modern candleholders from Esclusso.
Rotofugi Designer Toy Store & Gallery (2780 N Lincoln Ave) isn’t your typical stuffy art space. Instead, you’ll find an unparalleled selection of plush, capsule toys and vinyl figures to indulge your inner kid, as well as pop surrealism and lowbrow art. The gallery opens a new show each month and features well-known and emerging toy designers.
Even in the dead of winter, Lincoln Park Conservatory stays green and lush. The mammoth greenhouse is used to propagate saplings for the city’s parks, and has separate houses for ferns, orchids and palms and a fairy-tale-like lilypad pond.
Restaurants and Pubs
Lincoln Park locals love to congregate at Goose Island Brewing Co. (1800 N Clybourn Ave) for craft beer and conversation. The flavorful beers get their unique taste from aging in previously-used bourbon and wine barrels that are exposed to temperature variances in Chicago’s extreme hot and cold ecosystem.
Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder Co. (2121 N Clark St) is known for one of the city’s most unique indulgences—it’s legendary pizza pot pie. (It’s exactly what you’re imagining, but better). Dim lighting, an inconspicuous entrance and old-school, heavy wooden booths hint at the fact the building was once used as a lookout for Al Capone’s gang.
Bacon lovers will find their nirvana at Paddy Long’s Beer & Bacon (1028 W Diversey Pkwy). Go for Wakin’ Bacon brunch for dishes like bacon waffles and BLT Eggs Benedict, or book a Beer & Bacon Tasting (five cuts of bacon paired with five beers) online.
We love playing with knives and fire, so The Social Table (819 W Armitage Ave)was right up our alley. BYOB, learn to cook a new dish and meet some new friends at these laid-back dinner-party-style cooking classes. (Don’t worry, you won’t have to clean up!)
No trip to Lincoln Park is complete without a trip to Kingston Mines (2548 N Halsted St). This legendary blues club has live music seven nights a week and hosts some of the best blues acts in the world. Founded in 1968 during the height of the civil rights movement, it is a favorite for locals and celebrities alike (David Bowie is known to drop by when he’s in town).
Or, if Broadway-style shows are more your thing, check the performance schedule at Steppenwolf Theater Company (1650 N Halsted St). Some of Chicago’s most acclaimed actors put on artistic and educational programs here six days a week.
If you’re in the mood for some laughs, The iO Theater (1501 N Kingsbury St) is where it’s at. Comedy’s next big stars take the stage nightly—stars like Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Mike Meyers have performed here.
Perhaps the best-known attraction in the neighborhood is the Lincoln Park Zoo. Operating since 1874, the zoo now houses more than 1,200 animals including gorillas, reptiles, big cats and penguins. Kids will love Farm-In-The-Zoo, a working reproduction of a Midwestern farm where you can feed, touch and interact with the critters. The best part? It’s free.
Chicago has many beaches, but North Avenue Beach is a local favorite. It boasts the largest lifeguard staff and its boathouse has the most amenities (including Castaways (1603 N Lake Shore Dr), a raucous full-service beach bar.) You’ll also find bike and sports equipment rentals (jet skis, kayaking, standup paddleboarding), a concession stand and first-rate people watching.
Oz Park celebrates the iconic Wizard of Oz film and is a must-visit for families. Lifelike statues of the film’s characters dot the grounds, students lounge and read amongst the colorful, scented flowers in the “Emerald Garden” and children’s laughter wafts through the air from the swings and slides. It’s a wonderful respite from shopping or just a lovely walk. All that’s missing is a yellow brick road.