Visit Oak Park and River Forest, Illinois

Looking for something to do in Oak Park and River Forest? To be bored here, you'd have to work at it. The problem is figuring out how to triage all the attractions. The place to start is the Oak Park Visitors Center, 1010 Lake St. (www.visitoakpark.com). The center is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily and provides information on Oak Park, River Forest and surrounding territory. In addition to all the brochures, they also have a pretty nifty gift shop.

The tourism industry here goes back to 1974, when a group of dedicated citizen preservationists managed to save the Frank Lloyd Wright Home & Studio from being dismantled and shipped off to Japan. They purchased and restored the building, then created the annual Wright Plus housewalk (third Saturday each May), which spawned myriad others, making us the housewalk capital of the U.S. Today the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust also offers docent-led walking tours of the Wright Historic District as well as the Robie House in Hyde Park.

The Ernest Hemingway Foundation (which includes some of the same folks who saved the Home & Studio) formed in 1983 and managed to purchase and renovate his birth home and the home he lived in until he graduated from Oak Park and River Forest High School, 201 N. Scoville Ave. The foundation also runs the Hemingway Museum (200 N. Oak Park Ave.).

Why visit Oak Park and River Forest? Well, it's easy for one thing - two CTA rapid transit lines, the Metra and an expressway make the trip painless. Approximately 150 eateries satisfy attempts to satisfy your gastronomic cravings (and sweet teeth). To repent from overeating, we have almost 60 houses of worship, ranging from synagogues to churches to temples to the Vajrayana Buddhist Center.

Oak Park's three historic districts make the village a virtual living architecture museum and our urban forest makes tourists sigh audibly as they walk the streets. We've heard them.

To say the least, Oak Park and River Forest are worth the trip.

Attractions

In addition to the 25 Frank Lloyd Wright structures and three Ernest Hemingway sites, local attractions include: The Oak Park Conservatory (three climate zones); the Lake Theatre (1936 art deco building, classic neon marquee, seven screens); Pleasant Home (national landmark, houses the Historical Society of Oak Park and River Forest, which hosts trolley tours of the famous, and infamous, residents who lived here); Farmers' Market (every Saturday morning, mid-May through October, many come just for the donuts); Oak Park Public Library (award-winning design, serves as a true community center); Unity Temple (Frank's worship space is unlike any other); Oak Park Post Office (WPA building featuring WPA murals); Trailside Museum (on the edge of River Forest, this old-fashioned nature center is a testament to the memory of Virginia Moe); and Wonder Works Children's Museum (testament to persistence, not to mention dedication to kids).

And there's a wealth of activities just beyond our borders: The Columbus Park golf course (and refectory) on the other side of Austin Boulevard; FitzGerald's nightclub, featuring live American roots music on the Berwyn side of Roosevelt Road most every night; Forest Home Cemetery in Forest Park, where the historical society each October leads a "ghost" tour of the famous folks buried there; Brookfield Zoo (a 20-minute drive away); Ralph Frese's Chicagoland Canoe Base, which can outfit you for a kayak or canoe trip down the Des Plaines River; and the Garfield Park Conservatory on Chicago's West Side (the CTA Green Line stops there). Keep going and the Green Line will take you to the Goodman Theatre, Millennium Park and the Art Institute, just to name a few.

We are a trove of treasures - some hidden, most in plain sight.

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Dining

Enjoying meals that have been prepared for you can be a nourishing experience in Oak Park and River Forest. More than just getting out to dining destinations, it's also about seeking out places you can count on-where you know preparations, even if simple, are respectful.

It's about knowing where to call when you need a last-minute dinner at home. Or a place to set up a gift account for a friend going through a stressful time. It's about appreciating local diversity, because Oak Park and River Forest have a kick-ass range of dining options.

American fare comes in pubs, cafes, bistros, steakhouses, a drive-through and from a commercial kitchen that's only for pick-ups and delivery. Cuisines such as pan-Latin, pan-Asian, Mexican, Indian, Japanese, Brazilian, Italian, Greek and French fill out the village's culinary landscape.

The pub with the biggest stock of beer is also one of the kid-friendliest spots in town. You can get egg yolk flowing atop a salad and from the center of a pizza. Giant lima beans can be a side for lunch or dinner; fresh greens, instead of hash browns, can be a side for breakfast. Try exotic seafood at several spots, or go for fresh pasta made from squid. A fan of smelts? You can find them here. Ditto for quail, rabbit, goat, and foie gras.

A place known for its yucca fries is down the street from a spot that serves a side of yucca flour crumbles. Chocolate fondue draws out-of-towners, while locals in the know seek out chocolate nachos.

It's cool to know where to find a fried roll of chocolate chip cookie dough and where to get the kitchen sink sundae that serves at least three.

So stick with us, because we've got details that can make you a foodie sophisticate in Oak Park and River Forest.

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