Downtown Evanston is a hard neighborhood to pin down, in large part because choosing what commercial districts define it is a nearly Sisyphean task. So, for this neighborhood guide, we won’t be delineating Evanston’s downtown boundaries. Instead, we will be focusing on some of the restaurants, parks, coffees shops, businesses, and places of interest that make Evanston’s urban core so unique.
While E-Town’s downtown has changed greatly in the last few years, it is still a fantastic place to find small businesses that provide great service with a smile. The food scene is diverse, with restaurants offering cuisines from nations the world over calling downtown home. And if you want to enjoy yourself downtown without spending a thing a trip to the library or a nearby park is highly recommended.
Getting to and around downtown Evanston is easy thanks to copious public transit, dedicated bike lanes, and sidewalks.
The area is highly walkable with many public parking garages available for those that prefer to drive downtown.
Downtown Evanston is also serviced by both Metra and CTA train services. Transferring between the two is easiest at the Davis Street Station which has both Metra UPN service and CTA Purple Line service. The Davis Street station is also a main bus terminus with routes to the western suburbs, O’Hare Airport, and Chicago neighborhoods scheduled.
Clark Street Beach
A short walk east of downtown, past Sheridan to the south of Northwestern’s campus, is one of the closest beaches to downtown, Evanston’s Clark Street Beach. In addition to access to the surf, sand, and some volleyball nets, Clark Street Beach also offers a beach house with simple changing facilities, restrooms, a shower area, and a lifeguard station. Clark Street, like all of E-Town’s beaches, will be free to all Evanston residents seven days a week for the 2022 season.
This park off of Chicago Ave. is a great place to bring younger children to enjoy the wide-open fields and expansive playground equipment. The playground includes swings for all ages and abilities, multiple slides, climbing apparatuses, and a sandpit. Besides the playground, Raymond Park offers space for picnics, many benches for relaxing, and an art installation of chairs in its northwest corner. Water fountains are turned on during warmer months.
Evanston’s downtown provides easy access to the city’s lakefront parks and the recreational opportunities that they provide for residents and visitors alike. Centennial Park is a tree-filled oasis that is traversed by both walking and biking paths. The park contains the entrance to Clark Street Beach and offers excellent views of the lake and Northwestern’s campus. Just to the south of the park a lagoon is filled with water in the warmer months and is often home to flocks of geese and ducks, in the colder months it is turned into an ice rink.
Cornelia Lunt Park
Cornelia Lunt Park is an irregularly shaped park that is often overshadowed by the larger Centennial Park and nearby lagoon. Yet, during the summer months, Cornelia Lunt Park can be a lovely place to enjoy a picnic or read a book under the shade of one of its many mature trees. The park is named after Northwestern founder Orrington Lunt’s daughter, Cornelia Lunt, who was very involved in both the Evanston and Northwestern communities. And for those looking for a tranquil waterfront retreat, the best part is, it is often a less crowded park as well!
Next to Roycemore School between Ridge and Asbury, to the west of downtown Evanston along Grove, you’ll find Alexander Park. This park slopes up and away from Ridge and offers a great place to sit and read or enjoy lunch at a picnic table. A playground offers slides, a jungle gym, and swings and is shaded by several large trees. The large sloping field is great for a simple game of catch.
Merrick Rose Garden
One of the most beautiful places in Evanston is the Merrick Rose Garden, especially if you are lucky enough to catch the roses in full bloom. This formal rose garden has a lawn designated for passive enjoyment that makes for a great place to rest and enjoy the beautiful surroundings. The distinctive cast-iron ornamental fountain at one end of the garden is the original namesake for Evanston’s fountain square. There is a wheelchair-accessible entrance and water fountain on Oak Ave.
Downtown Evanston Plaza
While not technically a park, Evanston’s refurbishment of fountain square definitely deserves mention here. The city has made strides in recent years to make the area more inviting and pedestrian-friendly. Full results will wait for a fix of the new fountain system’s water pressure issues, but the plaza is nonetheless a delightful place to relax and watch the world unfold around you on a summer’s day.
This Evanston original has quickly become a part of the community since its founding over eight years ago thanks in large part to its quality BBQ and brews, and though Smylie Brothers have recently expanded into Chicago, the charm of the original Evanston location remains. The cavernous dining room remains intimate and warm thanks to the bowed roof and gas fireplace. Diners will be able to view the micropub in action through large windows that show off the brewing process.
1615 Oak Avenue, Evanston, IL 60201
With its authentic Spanish cuisine and emphasis on sharing of small plates, Tapas Barcelona is the perfect spot for an impromptu romantic night out. The authentic Spanish dishes on offer make this one of Evanston’s favorite spots for those looking for something out of the ordinary, be it Spanish-style seafood ceviche, grilled squid, distinctive pizzas, or even baked snails. The restaurant is inviting and intimate with walls filled with art and European movie posters.
1615 Chicago Ave, Evanston, IL 60201
Fans of Mexican food will be happy to find this authentic spot named after the famed artist Frida Kahlo. Frida’s Breakfast and Lunch dishes up a variety of crowd-pleasing favorites including, crunchy French toast, breakfast burritos, salads, wraps, and triple berry crepes.
618 Church St, Evanston, IL 60201
Founded in the summer of 2018, what sets 10Q apart from other Evanston-based chicken purveyors is its distinct Korean influence. This East Asian influence can be seen in the bold and unique flavoring sauces that 10Q offers for its wings, chicken sandwiches, and chicken bowls. Will Song, one of the co-founders, is also associated with Chicago-based Asian-fusion fast-food chain bopNgrill and many of the same influences can be found here with flavors such as Katsu Aioli and Kangnam. Be sure to save room for dessert and some matcha-flavored soft serve!
816 Church St. Evanston, IL. 60201
Beneath this Evanston restaurant’s humble counter service façade is some seriously tasty Mediterranean food including kebabs, gyros, shawarma, and more. Habibi In offers a no-frills dining experience that is perfect for those that want a casual lunch or are looking for a quick takeaway option downtown. The gyro sandwich combo comes with fries and a drink and vegetarians will want to give the falafel sandwich a try.
825 Church St, Evanston, IL 60201
Sometimes all you truly want is a classic slice of Chicago-style deep-dish pizza and luckily downtown’s Lou Malnati’s can scratch just that deep-dish itch. The local chain has one of the best takes on deep-dish in Chicagoland and offers much more than their famous butter-crusted pizzas, with a good variety of pasta and salads available as well. A word of warning for those ordering a salad, portions are generous, and a regular size could easily feed two people.
1850 Sherman Ave, Evanston, IL 60201
Five & Dime is one of downtown’s best places to rest and relax with friends and family. The rooftop setting is rare for Evanston and offers a great place to enjoy a summer afternoon with quality drink and food options. Favorites include the margaritas and a rack of BBQ ribs. The patio quickly fills up on a sunny day, so expect a crowd when the weather is good.
1026 Davis St, Evanston, IL 60201
Just downstairs from the aforementioned Five & Dime, you’ll find Taco Diablo which is famous for its margaritas and many varieties of tacos, some so inventive you’ll think the chef must have made some sort of deal with the devil to get the recipes. Highlights include the potato, duck and pork chorizo, and spicy shrimp tacos, all of which are best washed down with the classic O.G. margarita. Besides tacos and drinks, enchiladas, tortas, and churros are other menu items worth sampling.
1026 Davis St, Evanston, IL 60201
Evanston is blessed with many quality Thai restaurants, but NaKorn Urban Thai stands out from the pack thanks to its fresh, vibrant, and inventive flavors. With its menu, NaKorn brings the heart of Thailand to the North Shore thanks to dishes such as poached tiger prawns, braised beef with banh mi noodles, and coconut curry braised chicken. New items are always being added to the menu and local ingredients such as smoked Lake Michigan whitefish are foundational parts to many entries.
1622 Orrington Ave., Evanston, IL 60201
Coffee Shops Downtown:
It is hard to miss this Colectivo location with its bold red neon signs and awning prominently displayed on the corner of Sherman and Church. Colectivo Coffee has been serving up quality java since getting its start in Milwaukee in 1993. With locations arriving in Chicago in 2017, Evanston’s café ensures students and seniors alike can enjoy a strong cup of coffee. And besides beverages, Colectivo also offers up breakfast food items, such as the chorizo breakfast burrito, all day. Looking for an intense way to get your caffeine fix? Try the Colectivo nitro cold brew for a smooth and rich kick of coffee-fueled energy.
716 Church Street Evanston, IL 60201
Philz Coffee was founded in a convenience store in San Francisco’s Mission District in 2003. The wide range of blends available helps any coffee addict find the right cup for them. The shop offers standard lattes, breakfast sandwiches, and baked goods in addition to subscriptions to bags of its premium blends.
1030 Davis St, Evanston, IL 60201
Cupitol posits itself as the best parts of a café, restaurant, bar, and lounge all wrapped up in one day-long package. Patrons can come and grab coffee and breakfast and feel free to stay as long as they want while enjoying the casual and laidback atmosphere. Brunch options are available seven days a week along with more substantial sandwiches, soups, and salads for later in the day. Entrees include skirt steak with frites, wild mushroom alfredo, and Faroe salmon.
812 Grove St, Evanston, IL 60201
This mom-and-pop café offers delicious waffles, crepes, and steamed sandwiches in addition to a wide variety of iced and hot beverages. Fresh fruit smoothies are a particular highlight and can be made dairy-free if requested. In addition to the delectable liege waffles (which use imported Belgian pearl sugar), the “Nutty Prof” specialty sandwich is a peanut butter-banana-cinnamon sugar delight! Savory sandwiches with corned beef, bacon and ham, and turkey are also available.
1100 Davis St, Evanston, IL 60201
Kilwins is a confectionary chain renowned for its sweets, fudge, ice cream, and chocolates. On a blustery winter’s day, nothing hits the spot quite like Kilwins’ decadent hot chocolate. And if you’re always scrambling to get gifts at the last minute the gift baskets on offer can be a real lifesaver. Of special note is the wide assortment of toffee bars available to suit anyone’s taste.
1724 Sherman Ave, Evanston, IL 60201
Patisserie Coralie brings the flavors and atmosphere of a French café right to the streets of downtown Evanston. Not only does the Patisserie offer authentic French baked goods such as croissants, Parisian street sandwiches, eclairs, and macarons, but specialty Julius Meinl drinks as well. The décor hints at the sidewalk cafes of the French capital with its marble-topped tables and distinctive caned furniture, making this a great place to relax and enjoy a shot of espresso.
600 Davis St, Evanston, IL 60201
University students probably are already familiar with this provider of late-night cookie fixes, as Insomnia Cookies has locations in cities and college towns across the Midwest. The cookies can be ordered for delivery late into the night and should arrive in a fresh-baked gooey state that is likely any college-aged person’s idea of perfection. Snickerdoodle, S’mores, and peanut butter chip are just some of the favorite varieties of cookies to try. Ice cream, brownies, ice cream sandwiches, and cakes also appear on the sugar-heavy menu.
1725 N Sherman Ave, Evanston, IL 60201
While the novelty of watching your ice cream be hand mixed with toppings on a chilled granite slab has probably worn out for most, this local outpost of the national chain is still the best ice cream parlor downtown Evanston has to offer. Besides making your own ice cream novelties from ice cream made in-store, you can also enjoy ice cream shakes, smoothies, and cakes. Best of all, you can add your favorite toppings to almost anything you can think of.
1611 Sherman Ave, Evanston, IL 60201
Bennison’s is an Evanston icon, its flashing marquee is a heartening and familiar sight to many an Evanstonian. A smiley face cookie from Bennison’s is sure to cheer up even the most dour-faced child (or adult!). And in addition to cookies, danishes, and doughnuts, Bennison’s also offers award-winning loaves of bread, macaroons, and a darn fine cup of coffee.
1000 Davis St, Evanston, IL 60201
Fun Places to Explore Downtown:
Visitors to downtown can’t miss Evanston’s Main Library, which takes up an entire corner of Church St and Orrington Ave. More than just a place to borrow books, the Main Library also is a great source of programming and events for both children and adults. The children’s wing is imaginatively decorated and includes a dedicated computer lab and regular storytimes with librarians. Teens can enjoy dungeons and dragons, anime club, or coding challenges. Adults may join free book clubs for lively discussions with other library patrons. Other services include access to the eCatalogue, space rentals, and career counseling aid.
1703 Orrington Ave, Evanston, IL 60201
Are you a big fan of stained glass? Or maybe you enjoy the artistry of an antique timepiece? Fans of either (or both!) will want to make it a point to visit the Halim Time & Glass Museum for one of the most unique collections in Chicagoland. The museum holds numerous stunning displays of stained glass, with over 30 windows produced by masters on display. In addition, visitors will also find amazing examples of clocks and timepieces made by artisans around the world.
1560 Oak Avenue, Evanston, IL 60201
You would never know that a garden designed by famed architect Jens Jensen was located on Northwestern University’s campus, that is, unless you know where to look. The curious will find the Shakespeare Garden, which was restored in 2016, tucked away behind thick rows of hedges on Northwestern’s campus just east of Sheridan and south of Haven St. The garden was created in 1917 at the behest of the Garden Club of Evanston to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the Bard’s death, and it has been cherished by the community ever since. Visitors will find a small oasis that features numerous decorative stone elements and is filled with flowers, trees, and shrubs that are mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays.
Did you know that Evanston claims to be the birthplace of the prohibition movement as well as the originator of the ice cream sundae? Be sure to stop by the Evanston History Center to learn more about E-Town’s past. The history center’s research room and archive are great resources for curious community members and local history buffs alike. The center itself is housed in one of Evanston’s most stately and noted homes, the Dawes house, named for Charles Gates Dawes, former U.S. Vice President, and recipient of the 1925 Nobel Peace Prize.
225 Greenwood St, Evanston, IL 60201
While the famous Bookman’s Alley has long since been resigned to the memories of Evanston’s older residents (closing in 2013 after 33 years), two interesting Evanston businesses have grown to take its space, the independent bookstore Bookends and Beginnings, and the Alley Gallery. Bookends & Beginnings is the more recent addition with the Alley Gallery being established in 1985. Both offer unique items and personal service that can’t be beaten. The Alley Gallery often hosts local artists in its Saw Room Exhibition Space and the Bookends & Beginnings has hosted many readings with authors over the years.
Alley Gallery: 1712 Rear 2, Sherman Ave, Evanston, IL 60201
Bookends & Beginnings: 1712 Sherman Ave, Evanston, IL 60201
Public Schools Near Downtown:
The closest school to Evanston’s downtown is Dewey Elementary, home of the Dewey Tigers. Despite its proximity to Evanston’s urban core, the school is still surrounded by quiet residential streets and boasts plenty of space to allow students to bring their learning outdoors. Dewey also offers a full gymnasium, library, auditorium, and dedicated space for student services and programming. Dewey is also home to one of District 65’s Dual Language Immersion (or TWI) programs, which you can learn more about here.
The Evanston Family Neighborhood Guide is sponsored by The Malow Team – your Evanston Real Estate Experts.
Office: 1316 Sherman Avenue, Suite 208, Evanston, IL 60202