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  1. Article
    Three-bedroom new-ish house with a yard on a quiet street in a diverse area, within walking distance of a good CPS neighborhood school, close to an El stop, with parks and restaurants nearby. These were our requirements when my husband and I were looking to move out of our cramped two-bedroom condo in Edgewater with our then 2-year-old son back in 2015. A tall order, for sure. But Old Irving Park, a small neighborhood straddling 90/94 on the Northwest Side, delivered on all points — and then some. "It's a little bit of suburbia in the city," I often say to people unfamiliar with Old Irving. Houses with decent-size backyards can often be found for less than $1 million; the community is tight knit (I'm a member of the Old Irving Park Association and the Irving Park Garden Club); my son's school, Belding Elementary, is a 2-block walk from our house and nearly all the kids on our block go there; and we know our neighbors — especially the many parents of kids my sons' ages. Here are a few of our favorite family spots in and around OIP: [Related: Family neighborhood guide to Sauganash] Parks Our go-tos are Mayfair Park (cute water feature in the summer), Independence Park (giant slides, climbing structures, and a zip line), playgrounds at Belding Elementary and Disney II , LaBagh Woods (wide open grassy areas, the southern start of the North Branch Trail, toddler-friendly hiking trails along the Chicago River), Portage Park (great pool with kids' spray park, big playground), and Gompers Park (fun playground and a perfect hill for sledding). Yeah…we go to a lot of parks! Schools We're partial to Belding, of course, but there are plenty of other top-notch schools nearby, including St. Edward Catholic School, Disney II Magnet School, St. Viator Catholic School, and lots of great daycares. Diversity Our kids interact with other children from different countries, ethnicities, socio-economic backgrounds every single day. Belding is majority minority, more than 25 languages are spoken there, and my son is learning both Arabic and Spanish. Restaurants One drawback to living in Old Irving is its lack of retail density. Coming from Edgewater, where you could quickly walk to countless restaurants and bars, a Whole Foods, and independent shops, it was a bit of an adjustment to have to drive to pick up groceries or shop for clothes and gifts. That said, a number of great spots have opened in the past few years that are family-friendly and have great food (a rare combo!). [Related: Family neighborhood guide to Buena Park] We love Backlot Coffee for donuts, Eris Brewery and Cider House for its big outdoor patio, Community Tavern for its generous and delicious kids' meals (kids eat free Tuesday–Thursday and Sunday — score!), Old Irving Brewing for its cornhole area where kids can burn off energy (or just hoard beanbags like my kids do), and Easy Street Pizza for its delicious pizza and enclosed patio. Other fun stuff The beautiful, light-filled Independence Library is a great way to spend a couple hours — we can't wait for the wood toys in the kids' corner and child programming to come back. The Irving Park YMCA ties the community together with social events, affordable summer camp, swim and sports lessons, and a kids' club where little ones can play while parents work out. Chicago Costume is just a few blocks from our house — the place is bananas and a fun stop even when it's not Halloween. Old Irving Park does more than check all our boxes — it's the first neighborhood we've lived in that really felt like home. When so many families seem to be moving to the suburbs, we continue to be thankful for our city/suburb hybrid 'hood.
  2. Article
    When my husband and I decided we needed to stretch out a bit more than our then 1-bedroom condo would allow, we cast a wide net into Chicago’s neighborhoods, but our criteria was firm: close to the lake, strong residential feel, and good walkability. We stumbled upon a townhome close to the lakefront that had some architecturally cool features, was priced right, and had room for us to tackle some renovation work and add some equity to the home. Still relatively new to Chicago, we didn’t mind that the home was located in a neighborhood we were not very familiar with — Buena Park — and instead we focused on the investment opportunity and work we could put into the home. What started as a this-looks-good-on-paper purchase turned out to be a great decision for us. We fell in love with the blocks surrounding our home, the neighbors we became closest to, the local businesses that kept popping up, and the amazing access to the lakefront. I could go on and on about Buena Park, but there are a few key highlights that I mention often to my clients who are considering purchasing in the neighborhood: Walkability Buena Park is a small, primarily residential neighborhood that borders Lake Michigan. It seems like every street has sidewalks and mature trees, and there is a pedestrian path under Lake Shore Drive that provides easy access to the bike path, Montrose Harbor, and Marovitz Golf Course. Many don’t know one of the absolute GEMS of the city, architecture- and history-wise, is the enclave of beautiful homes and estates that reside on huge lots right off of Marine Drive — a perfect backdrop for a walk around the 'hood. [Related: Family neighborhood guide to Sauganash] Parks Buena Park may be small, but its park game is mighty. Buena Park Circle, Peace Circle (tranquility and waterfall!), Challenger Park and even Challenger Dog Park are all sprinkled throughout the neighborhood. And of course, immediate access to the lakefront trail, Montrose Harbor and beach, Montrose Lakefront Track, Montrose Point bird sanctuary (an amazingly peaceful spot) and Cricket Hill. Education Park View Montessori is a cheerful spot for pre-k kids, and Walt Disney Magnet is not only extremely popular for families in the neighborhood, but a sought-after school city-wide. Eating & Shopping For a relatively small neighborhood, Buena Park has a great selection of local dine- in or take-out spots along Montrose and Broadway. There are multiple grocery options, and a Target nearby that makes errands quick and easy. Plus, if you are looking for more action, Lakeview is so close you have the best of both worlds — additional restaurant and boutique options are hopping just minutes away, but you get to go back home to your quiet, residential street. [Related: 7 places in Hyde Park to explore with your family] Prices Compared to other neighborhoods south along the lakefront or west of downtown, Buena Park real estate can be very reasonably priced. For an extra 5-10 minutes north on Lake Shore Drive, you can maximize your purchase power with a lot more space and amazing access to Lake Michigan. Our family has doubled since we bought our beloved Buena Park townhouse and we had to move on to our next chapter, but I’ll always have a nostalgic love for the neighborhood. It’s one of those communities I never get sick of talking about…and I just may have recruited a buyer or two who has now planted roots in this Chicago gem!
  3. Article
    This is the first in a series of articles exploring family-friendly neighborhoods in Chicago. I’m a big planner. I like to be prepared, anticipate what’s coming next, and have a plan. So imagine my surprise (at myself) when bambino #2 arrived and we found ourselves in a townhouse that did not include a bedroom for the new little man in our life. Whoops! And then…global pandemic. No school. No childcare. Walls felt like they were closing in on us, we were craving more outdoor space, and absolutely needing more office space. And of course, more bedrooms. Aaaand a 2-car garage, and…the list was getting longer and I was becoming increasingly uncompromising in what I wanted. I had been looking casually for over a year. The planner in me envisioned our family in Lincoln Park, Old Town, or Bucktown. We also considered the North Shore. But all were either out of our budget, too far from the city, or didn’t have the space we were looking for. [Related: 7 places in Hyde Park to explore with your family] During the initial quarantine days, we drove over to the LaBagh Woods forest preserve to get some fresh air, and after walking through the amazingly secluded-feeling trails, spotting several deer, and waving at friendly kayakers, we stepped out of the woods onto Bryn Mawr Avenue and were immediately greeted by a family playing in their yard. As a realtor, I had been in Sauganash with clients before, but that day I felt like I had rediscovered the neighborhood: people gardening in their yards, kids riding bikes on the sidewalks, grandparents pushing strollers, and couples walking dogs. It just felt like home. We struck up a conversation with this family about how their kids knew all the other kids on the block and how generations of families plant their roots in the community. I remember looking at my husband and saying: Do we want to live here? Three months later we had closed on our new home, and it has made our lives so, so much easier. We now have plenty of bedrooms, two offices, multiple living spaces, a yard and a garage — hallelujah! Our family has absolutely fallen in love with Sauganash for so many reasons, but the ones that stick out the most are: The sense of community Sauganash feels like a village. Multiple generations populate each street, and you can run into someone who has lived in the neighborhood for 30+ years just as easily as you can meet a new young family. I’ve yet to encounter someone who doesn’t say hello, and I’ve met dozens of people just by walking around the neighborhood. Parents know all the kids up and down their street, and when someone new moves in, it’s not uncommon for neighbors to drop off welcoming goodies to their front door. Just yesterday I saw a sign in the window of a home that read: “Children, bikes and dogs are welcome on this lawn!” It truly doesn’t get any better. [Related: 3 reasons I'm happy my kids aren't growing up in the suburbs like I did] The architecture From 1920s Tudors to mid-century ranches to French revivals to Cape Cods and even new construction, Sauganash is anything but cookie-cutter. The Sauganash Community Association prides itself in being a resource for renovation and construction, encouraging property owners to embrace different architectural styles. The location This was a huge consideration for me. As someone who lived near the lakefront for over a decade, I never thought I could let that go. But living by the forest preserves means we have access to trails and nature, so jogging, biking and unicorn hunting is covered. And Sauganash’s proximity to I-94 means you can get downtown in 15 minutes or less (my husband and I can get to the West Loop for dinner in 12 minutes!), get to O’Hare in about 15 minutes, and easily bounce around the greater Chicago area. The value There is such a wide variety of homes in Sauganash, there truly is something for every price point. While the inventory does tend to get snatched up quickly (which is why you need a well-connected real estate agent…hiiii!), if you act quickly, you can find fixer-uppers in the $300s and more updated homes starting in the $600-$700s. For the square footage, you can easily double your purchase power for a home here compared to neighborhoods like Lincoln Park, Old Town and Bucktown. The schools There are excellent pre-k schools in and around the neighborhood. Sauganash Elementary is a highly rated (Level 1+) K-8 school that soon will have a brand new addition to house more classrooms — including dedicated STEM rooms — and a new gym. Queen of All Saints, which enjoys a robust athletic program, is also in the neighborhood. Since moving to Sauganash, our day-to-day life as a family has become so much easier, and we can still navigate around the city easily, too. Sauganash may be one of the not-so-best-kept secrets in Chicago. If you’re thinking about a move here, let’s talk! Just don’t tell anyone else… Image: Chicago Neighborhood Walks
  4. As a child growing up in Chicago, I only thought of Hyde Park as where the Museum of Science and Industry lived. I'd go there on family trips or field trips, once or twice a year, always making sure to pay a visit to the baby chicks. On one memorable visit, my 8th-grade class ran into Davy Jones inside the Hall of Nobel Prize Winners. But for all the times I traveled to Hyde Park, I never truly visited the neighborhood. As an adult with children of my own, I've made a point to get out and really explore our city. I often craft whole itineraries based on their geographic proximity to one or two key places. I'll pull up a map on my computer and my kids will peer over my shoulder shouting out requests (usually asking me to find the nearest ice cream place) and we'll embark on our trip, sometimes pulling over if something new catches our eye. Here are some of our tried-and-true favorites in Hyde Park. Smart Museum of Art: An intimate but robust museum, the Smart hosts monthly family drop-in activities that are perfect for slow winter days. Not only are they free, they’re very high-quality projects. On February 3, it'll be celebrating everything blue with a Family Day inspired by the artist Yves Klein. There's even a cafe in the lobby for the caffeine jolt you’ll need after all that exhausting art-making. 57th Street Books: We almost never come down to Hyde Park without a visit to this iconic bookstore. The labyrinth of connected rooms and low ceilings make the whole place feel like it sprang from an author's imagination. Their selection of children's books is nicely curated and it can special order anything that's out of stock. Salonica Restaurant: Whether we are in the mood for standard breakfast fare like scrambled eggs and pancakes or Greek diner staples like gyros and moussaka, Salonica always has us covered. Their children's menu is a great value and service is excellent. Expect a wait on weekends. Nichols Park: My kids are always up for a trip to a playground in any kind of weather. Even in the middle of winter, we keep our eyes peeled for new or special parks. Nichols Park playground was renovated in 2016 and is a great place to blow off steam when the weather is above freezing (and even sometimes when it's not). Ice skating at Midway Plaisance: Rent skates or bring your own; this rink operated by the Chicago Park District is on the beautiful stretch of land that once hosted amusements for the World's Columbian Exposition including the original Ferris wheel. With the gothic architecture of the University of Chicago as a backdrop, this is one of my favorite vistas. Especially at dusk when the lights from the University buildings are twinkling. The Bakery at Piccolo Mondo: "Can we get hot chocolate?" I hear this one a lot and you probably do, too. My kids always want something “fancier” than your typical Starbucks treat. This Argentinian bakery has one of the coolest versions I've seen: It's called the "Submarino" and you get a glass of steamed milk served with a dark chocolate bar for a DIY hot chocolate that you mix yourself. Needless to say, this one's a big hit. Museum of Science and Industry: I've saved the best for last. Not much new can be said about this place except that you might not be aware of one of the city's best membership deals. At the annual fund level ($300) and above, you get invited to several special events throughout the year that really make it worthwhile. Our favorite is the annual Boo Bash with a buffet dinner, open bar, dessert station, and free admission to the coal mine and other special exhibits.
  5. There are lots of families who already call Lincoln Park home, but many more who haven’t yet explored all it has to offer! Summer is a great time to take advantage of the parks, the markets and the free activities hosted in Lincoln Park. In keeping with our theme of three things—one inside, one outside, one that involves food—these are the top things to do in Lincoln Park. Inside Where can you see the first “L” car, learn about the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 and turn yourself into a larger-than-life Chicago hot dog? The Chicago History Museum, of course! Admission for kids (under 12) is free, adults who are Illinois residents enter free on Tuesdays from 12:30–7:30 pm. Insider tip: Pick up a membership to the Chicago History Museum or one of its affiliates and get free entry to all of those museums: DuSable Museum, National Museum of Mexican Art and National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture. All are well worth the investment, and since they’re a bit off the tourist circuit, you likely won’t have to battle the crowds and lines to enjoy their exhibits. Outside From the south end of Lincoln Park all the way up to the Lincoln Park Conservatory, you can enjoy miles of beautiful paths through the park. Stop by the Lincoln Park Zoo—one of the only free zoos left in the United States! My kids have been especially charmed by Seiku the polar bear, one of the zoo's newest additions. Ask a zookeeper about his training times and you could get an up-close-and-personal encounter with this powerful animal! It seems there’s always something going on around this stretch of Lincoln Park: soccer games, festivals, impromptu concerts—you name it. We love checking out Green City Market on Wednesday mornings, where you’ll never run out of delicious food options to try. Come say hi to me on Wednesday, August 30, at 10:30am—I’ll be reading to kids at the Club Sprout tent! Food We all know Chicago has as many opinions for pizza as there are restaurants in which to eat it. And I love them all. If pressed, however, I’d tell you that my favorite is right here in Lincoln Park: Pequod’s Pizza. That caramelized cheese crust makes my mouth water just thinking about it! Plus, if you go on a weekday for lunch, you can get a 7” pizza plus a drink for $4.95! Lincoln Park has a gem around every corner and it’s easy to fill a whole day just wandering past the parks, the shops and the turrets, those beautiful, rounded towers on corner buildings fashioned after German castles. Bring your imagination (and your appetite) and have a great time! Kathleen Dragan is a South Looper and a mom of two Chicagoans. You can read more about Lincoln Park and many other neighborhoods in Kathleen's children's book Rickshaw Reggie, available now! Follow her on Instagram @RickshawReggie to see more of her Chicago adventures.

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