I've been a bad blogger. Work has been busy, our trips out haven't been as frequent, and I've often put off or forgotten to talk about the cool places we've been.
But I wanted to highlight a great suburb I'd not previously spent much time in: Oak Park. The surrounding area of River Forest and Forest Park (how confusing is *that*?) is also quite nice.
Bordering the city, Oak Park's downtown runs along Lake St (US 20) and a few blocks north and south, starting at and continuing east from Harlem.
There's a great variety of shopping, restaurants and stuff to do along this stretch. Just on the other side of Harlem is a shopping center with grocery, chain restaurants and more, and free parking (always a bonus in this area). And downtown Oak Park has bookstores, a movie theater, plenty of restaurants, shoe stores, clothing, crafts, food and more.
A few highlights of places to go:
Ten Thousand Villages, 121 N. Marion St.: a fantastic store full of home goods, crafts, accessories and more made by artisans in developing countries and sold at fair trade prices.
Pumpkin Moon, 1028 North Blvd.: A funky store jam-packed with creative gifts and odds and ends from Pez dispensers to political t-shirts.
Barbara's Bookstore, 1100 Lake St., and The Book Table, 1045 Lake St.: Two locally-owned bookstores offering new and used titles -- and a great local alternative to the third bookstore on the block, Borders.
Bleeding Heart Bakery, 1010 North Blvd.: A "punk" bakery started in Chicago, and made famous on Food Network Challeges, this cozy place offers fresh, local, sustainable baked goods including a wide variety of cupcakes.
Wells St. Popcorn, 1119 Lake St.: Serving the quintessential Chicago snack food guaranteed to turn your fingers orange, with cheese corn, caramel corn, kettle corn and buttered.
There's plenty more in Oak Park and the surrounding area to explore, including a very cool-looking forest preserve, but there are a few highlights. Take note, suburbanites: Most parking is metered, except on Sundays. You can park in the Whole Foods shopping center lot on Lake for free for three hours; there is also a Metra and Green Line station on Harlem.