Chi-Town, the Windy City, The Second City, the City of Big Shoulders. Chicago is a mix of west-coast hype, east-coast pace, and midwest heart. It is a city of hustlers and makers, with a distinct work ethic and charm. As a city of neighborhoods- each rooted in community, history, and cultural influence, there is no doubt Chicagoans are passionate about supporting local businesses, defending social causes, and preserving authenticity. Although no trip to Chicago is complete without seeing the Lake Trail, Millenium Park, or Magnificent Mile, venture to neighborhoods like the West Loop, Wicker Park, Bucktown, Logan Square and Pilsen to see how the locals do it.
Home of one of the world’s largest freshwater lakes and thousands of acres of parks, Chicago’s historic commitment to green space vivaciously lives today and continues to progress. With over 800 growing urban agriculture sites, this midwest hub is quietly leading the nation in urban food production. Look for a growing numbers of restaurants dedicated to growing food locally and even on-site.
To get around, be sure to take advantage of America’s second largest public transportation network, the CTA. Consider a $10 Ventra day pass which will get you unlimited rides on the “El”, elevated trains or CTA buses, which now runs a fleet of hybrid buses that use cleaner fuel and lower dangerous emissions. Better yet, rent a Divvy bike (Chicago’s bike sharing program) and zoom down hundreds of miles of bike lanes. Traffic in this city may not be as bad as L.A, but if you want to make sunset on Montrose beach, I recommend hitting the red line on the way there!
Coffee & Tea
Walking distance to Montrose beach, this friendly cafe has a deep commitment to the Uptown community on top of fair and direct trade coffee. Through local events,, showcasing local artists, and donating a percentage of proceeds to Chicago shelters for the homeless and marginalized populations, their mission truly goes beyond the coffee.
Tucked away from the buzz right off of Wicker Park’s infamous six corners, this bohemian and insta-worthy cafe offers coffee, tea, and seasonal elixirs from multiple local and sustainable roasters.
A collaboration with Hope For The Day and Dark Matter Coffee, this is the world’s first coffee shop where 100% of the proceeds support suicide prevention and mental health education. With multiple locations throughout the city, Dark Matter roasts in West Town and has a mission of transparency- delivering fair, direct, and quality coffee.
Serving clean and ethical coffee, this cafe also partners with local organizations to raise awareness and proceeds for social justice issues. Stop in to learn more about their involvement with the LGBTQ community and promoting healthy, sustainable food and food education for Chicago’s youth.
This community focused spot offers fresh cold-pressed juice from nearby urban farms, as well as organic produce, lunch options, and tasty vegan treats. The perfect way to treat your belli!
Organic juice bar in the front, metaphysical crystal shop in the back. This funky and unique stop has very welcoming and knowledgeable staff. Get a juice and save their hip bottle for a new flower vase and the perfect souvenir.
Check out any of their three locations for raw and organic cold pressed juice. Their space is minimal but their juices and elixirs are packed with nutrients and superfoods.
Where To Eat
Between the two locations in Lakeview and Rogers park, Uncommon Ground takes the medal for USA’s first certified organic rooftop farm and Illinois’ first organic brewery. This all-day eatery also has live music, showcases local artists, and donates their used fryer oil to nearby Loyola University Chicago’s biodiesel program. Arrive by foot or bike and receive a 10% discount.
The real O.G. of the Chicago farm to table scene known for sustainability, sourcing, and seasonality. The food is top class, but enjoy the hip, neighborhood vibe and try as much from the seasonal menu as possible. Don’t let the long brunch wait keep you away- put your name in and walk across the street to Logan Square Park, Passion House Coffee and Wolfbait & B-girls.
Attached to the world-wide natural food company Upton’s Naturals, this tiny cafe is just as the name suggests- a break room. Their seitan based, vegan menu has Asian and American influences so you can get everything from a bahn mi to barbecue. Don’t leave without getting their vegan soft-serve ice cream on your way out, promise you’ll regret it.
Tucked away in west town, this spot takes farm-to-table literally where their farm is, well, on the roof. The site’s 1,000-square foot garden and two massive vertical hanging gardens provide the freshest produce for your meal. Make a reservation and try to sit outside. Try to get closer to the source- I dare you.
This chic downtown spot provides fresh and organic eats with a mission to source food locally from American farmers. Sit on the patio for one of the best views overlooking the Chicago river and stunning architecture, while being steps away from the bustling downtown neighborhood.
Veg-heads now have room on Chicago’s “restaurant row”, the trendy Randolph Street known for making Chicago one of the foodie capitals of the country. Word on the street is, you’ll catch all types of eaters in this spot, vegetarian or not.
For your all-day 100% animal-free comfort food, hit up this Uptown gem. Oh yeah, did I mention an all-day breakfast menu?
Their mission is to serve the community healthy, organic meals- the “first slice of pie”. Through their cafes and subscriber program, First Slice helps serve over 300 needy and homeless each week. Check out any of their northside locations for fresh sandwiches, salads, coffee, and of course, pie!
Who would have thought a tiki, beach-vibe and vegan food worked so well? This Wicker Park spot has a 100% plant food menu and fresh cocktails. The colorful decor with bamboo, palm trees, and surfboards, can transport you to Hawaii even on the coldest Chicago day.
Seitan, drugs, and rock and roll? Possibly the hippest vegetarian restaurant in Chicago, enjoy the hipstery, neighborhood feel with organic and local ingredients. Be sure to grab a seat in the beer garden out back and feel like a true local.
“Meat Free Since ‘83”, this Logan Square staple does everything right, especially their award winning vegan milkshakes. It’s a fan fave and a must try.
The Loop, Bucktown and Gold Coast locations all provide a solid go-to for locals from a quick coffee, lunch, or snack on the go. As a part grocery store, they support small businesses and local artisans, housing unique curated products, craft beer, and locally roasted coffees.
Wicker Park Thrifting
This stretch on hipster highway in the heart of Wicker Park has too many vintage stores to count. Head to the six corners and pop into the many vintage and secondhand shops including Buffalo Exchange, Kokorokoko, Store B Vintage, Una Maes, Vintage Underground, andCrossroads Trading.
Visit Chicago’s largest farmers market, held indoors year-round. If visiting May – October, check out the outdoor Lincoln Park location on Wednesday or Saturday mornings. Grab a fresh smoothie, tasty breakfast treat and stroll through the park to North Ave. beach.
Showcasing over 250 local artists and Chicago-based fair trade companies, come in for handmade clothing, unique accessories, repurposed household items, and playful crafts. This shop also hosts community events and donates to local charities and causes.
Settled on the main strip of Lincoln Square, this higher-end retail shop carriers sustainable and ethical clothing, accessories, and household items. Purchases also help provide employment opportunities to adults with intellectual disabilities through the non-profit, Search, Inc.
Wicker Park | 1935 W North Ave
West Loop | 309 N Morgan St
With two locations in the West Loop and Wicker park, wander into this urban jungle for stunning florals, natural fragrances, and handmade ceramics.
Since 1979, this woman-owned bookstore is one of the largest feminist bookstores in the country and carries over 30,000 books by and about women, LGBTQ fiction and non-fiction. W&CF also established the Women’s Voices Fund in 2005 which brings events and speakers into the space to provide discussions for children and adults in the community.
As the name suggests, this shop + studio is a hybrid part metalsmith studio and part and eco-friendly shop supplying sustainable wears, local artisanal jewelry, and a vegan apothecary.
No stop to Pilsen is complete until checking out this vintage store offering pieces from the 1940s until today.
Wellness & Workouts
Cherry pick Chicago’s top spin, yoga, and hi-def instructors and what do you get? Studio Three. Their classes are crafted to perfection, offering a #damngoodworkout and fun community atmosphere. No matter which of the three classes you pick (cycle, yoga or interval), pre-order your protein smoothie or açaí bowl at Graze at before class so it’s ready after your sweat sesh.
A product line and self-service mask bar, Scratch goods uses all-natural and local skincare products. Stop in to check out their products or sign up in advance for a seat at the mask bar for a personalized, detoxifying or regenerative facial. They also offer weekly wellness classes of everything from letter-writing, to yoga, sounds baths and beyond!
Take in beautiful skyline views from Lake Michigan with Chicago SUP- Stand Up Paddle Board. Beginners can sign up for a 90 minute lesson. Experiences paddleboarders can take on their yoga class or take a blissful full moon flow under the moonlight.
This simple and quiet studio offers 30 and 60 minute meditation and yoga classes. You can also sign up for a twenty minute chair massage or in-studio mindfulness and meditation workshops. Sip on their complementary hot tea and chill.
An inn, shop, and spa offering psychic readings and energy healing services. Book a service or simply head in to check out this magical space.
Offering multiple style of yoga including vinyasa and kundalini to tai chi and dance, this west loop studio is the real deal for introspective yogis. Stay tuned for weekly workshops, cacao ceremonies, and community healing circles.
With a focus on heated vinyasa classes, this Bucktown studio also offers massage, reiki and breathwork. Take a class in the summer and enjoy the fresh air when the front garage doors are up!
What To Do
Filled with walking, biking, rollerblading, and jogging locals and tourists, the beaches and views of Lake Michigan are a must. Rent a Divvy bike and start south at Museum Campus near the Adler Planetarium. Work your way up north and stop at the highlights including the Navy Pier Ferris Wheel, Oak Street Beach, North Avenue Beach, Montrose Dog Beach and Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary.
What was once an abandoned 93,500 square foot pork processing facility, The Plant is now a non-profit with a mission to cultivate local circular economies. Check out the 20+ food businesses co-located inside with a tour, or take a workshop on circular economy or aquaponics. Their farmers market the first Saturday of every month in the Whiner Beer Tap Room is a must!
While the Chicago boat tours are also rave-worthy, consider learning about the city’s history by kayak! Join a tour at sunset, during the weekly Navy Pier fireworks show, or take an architecture & history or ghosts and gangster tour.
Set along an abandoned rail line, the 606 aka the Bloomington Trail, is a three mile walkway connecting the Chicago neighborhoods of Logan Square, Humboldt Park, Bucktown and Wicker Park. Caffeinate along the way at Ipsento 606 and snap a photo of the “ConAgra Brands Mural” by Jeff Zimmerman.
1,208 acres of beautiful green space filled with benches and paths for walking and biking. In the park take time to explore the Lincoln Park Zoo, Lincoln Park Conservatory, Theatre on the Lake, Chicago History Museum, or the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum.
Considered one of the country’s most stunning botanical conservatories, this spot includes 2 acres of green space of “art under glass” and 10 outdoor acres. See a variety of plant species and lush flora from all over the world. Download the digital tour-guide app and take a look at upcoming events including yoga, composting workshop, or beekeeping demos.
Chicago makes museum hopping easy. Check out dinosaurs at theField Museum, stargaze at the Adler Planetarium, or hang with the dolphins at the Shedd Aquarium – all within walking distance. Besides taking in arguably the best skyline views, grab a vegetarian style hot dog atKim and Carlo’s Hotdog Stand. Just remember to do it like a Chicagoan- add all the fixin’s but skip the ketchup.
I mean, if you didn’t take a photo with the bean, did you even go to Chicago? Head to Millenium park to check out the bean, aka the Cloud Gate. From May to September you can also BYOB (bring your own blanket, and booze…) catch free live music or a movie in the park.
Laugh it up and out where legends Bill Murray, John Candy, Mike Myers, Chris Farley, Tim Meadows, Steve Carell, Steven Colbert, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, (…the list goes on) got their names. Remember the cast – you will most likely see them on SNL or on the red carpet in no time.
Chicago Ambassador: Jackie Camardo
Jackie Camardo is a Chicago native, registered nurse, and doctoral student on the journey to becoming a Family Nurse Practitioner. As an active community member, Jac founded the organization Student Nurses for Social Justice at the UIC College of Nursing. She runs the blog @natural_jac which focuses on holistic health, travel for the soul, and steps to more natural and green lifestyle.