Chicago can seem like a very big place – but it is really just a big city composed of many small neighborhoods. In my opinion, the individual character of each neighborhood is one of the very best parts of living in Chicago.
We are raising our kids in the Wicker Park neighborhood. While I know the very best park to meet up for a play date or store to grab a last minute birthday present in my neck of the woods, I certainly don’t have that intimate knowledge of every single neighborhood in Chicago. Best kid-friendly lunch spot in the South Loop? I have no idea. Looking for a free story time in Edgewater? Can’t help you.
Because Chicago has more to offer families than one mama could possibly cover, I’ve decided to start a “neighborhood spotlight” feature on Wee Windy City. Today, the spotlight is on Albany Park.
Shylo Bisnett, Albany Park resident and mother to a nine-month-old is here to tell us what her neighborhood has to offer families. Here is what Shylo has to say:
My neighborhood, located on the Northwest side, is one of the best
places in the city to raise a family. I didn’t know that when we moved
here nearly seven years ago, but as I tote around a nine-month-old
baby, I’m discovering that we unwittingly won the jackpot.
Albany Park is one of the most diverse parts of Chicago. It’s home
to sizable populations of Arabs, Latinos, Asians and now, aging
hipsters like me living in everything from brand-new condos to
traditional Chicago bungalows. Our neighborhood is also very
walkable. Within 20 minutes, I can trot to two grocery stores, a drug
store, several dozen restaurants, the library, coffee shops and a Brown
Line station. This is exactly what we wanted after growing up in sleepy,
We eat well in this neighborhood. While I was pregnant, I craved
falafel and hummus, particularly from Semiramis, a Lebanese joint
featured on “Check, Please.” Kedzie Avenue is home to other fantastic
Middle Eastern eateries including Noon-O-Kebab, Salaam, Dewali and many
more. We are also huge fans of the family-friendly Guatemalan spot
Mayan Sol, McDonald’s alternative Charcoal Delights, and the
lost-in-time pizza parlor Marie’s. There are so many options in
Albany Park — I’m drooling just thinking about it.
We’re lucky to have a wealth of natural resources in our area,
including four large parks (Eugene Field, Gompers, Peterson and River),
a nature center (North Park Village) and a forest preserve (LaBagh
Woods) in walking distance. I’m part of Eugene Field Park’s Advisory
Council so Gus and I spend a fair amount of time there. Our playgroup
($15 for 12 weeks) meets there and in a few years, he’ll take arts and
crafts and athletics classes there as well.
Our Advisory Council is
also busy planning events for the park, including Super Family Dance
Party, an indoor activity for parents and their children under five, as well as a Children’s Spring Sale where parents can buy and sell used kids’ wear.
For families who want
to experience nature up close, head to North Park Village and walk its
trails, count dozens of deer, and attend
events such as the Maple Syrup Festival and Winter Solstice celebration.
Because Albany Park is such a food-centric neighborhood, we have
tons of grocery stores. The Jewel two blocks from our house is a weird
microcosm of the area and once in the checkout line I saw Orthodox
Jews, strippers from the nearby Admiral Theatre, and the shiny-cheeked
future missionaries from North Park University. In addition to this old
standby are several independent markets geared toward the needs of
Albany Park’s immigrant populations. Try Mayfair Market on Pulaski for
exotic frozen fruit pulps; and Andy’s Fruit Ranch on Kedzie for dried
fruits, nuts and microbrews.
The boutique shopping pickings in Albany
Park are kind of slim, but if I have to do gift buying or just want to
salivate over awesome stuff, I go to The Sweden Shop on Foster and
drool over the Marimekko selection.
When we want to hang out with grown-ups or have some quiet moments
together, my husband and I head to a few spots where we can indulge in
our two favorite things: coffee and beer. We can choose from two
Starbucks (and, man, were we thrilled when they moved in!) but we also
like Blue Sky Inn. This independent, not-for-profit business provides
job training for disadvantaged youth by running a delightful cafe and
bakery at Albany south of Lawrence. It features good coffee, light-filled space,
amazing vegan chocolate-chip scones. If we’re feeling like beer, we
have fewer options, as part of the neighborhood is dry, but Marie’s
always has something good on tap and it’s connected to a very large
liquor store with a decent selection. A recently opened corner tap at
Elston and Montrose, Striker’s, has been a welcome addition.
While it’s not without challenges (like most in-transition city
neighborhoods), we really do love Albany Park and feel excited to raise
a family here. I’m not sure where else in Chicago (or the country,
really) could I own a classic home with backyard large enough for four
large vegetable beds, dozens of international food options, and green
space all within an easy walking distance. Come visit — at least for
Want to write a guest post about why your Chicago neighborhood is a great place to raise a family? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.