Simply taking a train through Chicago is exciting enough when you’re a kid. But taking a train through Chicago while hopping on and off to shop a cool toy store, see a photo exhibit and eat a hot fudge sundae? That’s a day made in kid heaven. Join us for a tour of the Brown Line, where we disembark at the best area attractions, starting in the northwest and ending in the Loop. All aboard.
Begin with a Chicago history lesson. In the Ravenswood Manor neighborhood, at 2934 Sunnyside Avenue, you’ll see the bungalow where former Governor Rod Blagojevich used to live. Tell the kids why he doesn’t reside here anymore … or refrain from the details. It’s up to you.
Directions: From the station, walk south on Francisco Avenue for .3 miles and then go north on Sunnyside for about two blocks.
Indulge at Margie’s Candies (1813 W. Montrose Ave.), the second location of a nearly century-old ice-cream empire. It still looks like a classic soda fountain — all the better for showing your kids how their grandparents used to enjoy a cold treat. We recommend the gigantic old-fashioned ice cream sundae with hot fudge served on the side. Bribery stop, anyone?
Directions: It’s right under the train tracks.
It’s time for a little culture. Stop at Chicago Photography Center (3301 N. Lincoln Ave.) to see free, ever-changing exhibits by local photographers. The space is big and open, so you can all let loose a little. While you’re there, sign up for a photography course; they’ve got adult classes for amateurs and pros alike. Think of it as a great investment: Once you learn how to take amazing pics of your kids, you won’t have to hire someone else to do it. There aren’t any kids’ classes here yet, but we’re keeping our fingers crossed.
Directions: Walk southeast from the train down Lincoln Avenue for about 2 blocks.
The tiny and colorful Uncle Fun shop (1338 W. Belmont Ave.) is a toy store – but it’s not just for kids. As you scour the shelves and dig through drawers (there are tons, and each holds a surprise), you’ll recognize playthings you had growing up, including Wonder Woman dolls, vintage robots, 101 Dalmatian figures and Hello Kitty bags. That, plus lots and lots of potty-humor junk. It’s fun, cramped and definitely worth a stop.
Directions: Walk south on Southport Avenue (for about 5 minutes) and turn left on Belmont Avenue. This shop will be a few doors down.
For a meal the whole family will appreciate, zip along to Xoco (449 N. Clark St.). Rick Bayless’ casual spot is known for its delectable Mexican hot chocolate and tortas. The space is small and cramped, and the line can go out the door. But don’t be dissuaded; everything moves quickly and the food is worth it.
Directions: From the station, walk north on Kinzie Street (for a few minutes) and take a left on Clark Street.
If you prefer a good hearty breakfast, any time of day, continue down the track to Lou Mitchell’s (565 W. Jackson Blvd.). Waiters keep kids happy here by doling out free donut holes and Milk Duds. It’s the most loveable kind of greasy spoon, offering everything imaginable (waffles, eggs, sandwiches, more).
Directions: Walk west on Jackson Boulevard for about 6 blocks.
Harold Washington Library
The name of this El stop says it all. Look at that enormous, stone gargoyle-adorned building next to the tracks. It’s Harold Washington Library (400 S. State St.) and just so happens to have an amazing children’s section. There’s a board book section for toddlers and plenty of tomes and magazines for older readers, too. If your bookworm can write his full name, he can get his own library card and check out materials. The library is open Monday-Saturday from 9:00 am-9:00 pm. Given its late hours, it can be the last (and most quiet and calming) stop on your Brown Line trip.
Directions: It’s directly south of the station. You can’t miss it.
See you on the rails!
What’s your favorite spot within walking distance of the Brown Line?
— Danielle Braff
Photos: Courtesy of City of Chicago, Margie’s Candies, Chicago Photography Center, Uncle Fun, Xoco, and Phil Moloitis for Chicago Public Library