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Fellow knitters, I live in and love Philadelphia, but Chicago is my sweet home. What follows is a smattering of places I visit when I go back. Chicago readers and expats, please let loose in the comments with your favorite things to do, places to see, and specialties to eat, but know that, always and forever, the best red hots are served not in Chicago, but at Elmwood Park landmark Johnnie’s.

City of the Big Buildings

Chicago boasts architectural gems that give it one of the finest skylines of any U.S. city. I always recommend a river tour to friends who ask me what to do during a visit. The best one is sponsored by the Chicago Architecture Foundation. The gallery above is filled with shots I took as my family and I cruised the Chicago River on a cloudless summer day. From the boat we also got a view of the meandering Chicago Riverwalk. Take in riverside parks, cafés, and public art on a pre- or après-cruise stroll.

Architect Jeanne Gang’s Aqua Tower is the largest project ever awarded to a firm led by a woman, and Studio Gang’s Vista Tower pictured here will be the third tallest building in Chicago when it is completed.

Walk the Mile, Eat the Pizza

The stretch of Chicago’s Michigan Avenue from the DuSable Bridge (where river cruises begin and end) to The Drake Hotel is known as the Magnificent Mile.  It’s the city’s premiere commercial district. You may choose to shop and occasionally drop into coffee bars and restaurants along your way. Or you may prefer just to be part of the bustle as you make a beeline for the observation deck at the John Hancock Building or, if skyscrapers aren’t your thing, for the wide open spaces of Oak Street Beach.

You’ll want lunch at some point. Yes, Gino’s East just off Michigan Avenue has delicious deep dish pizza and atmosphere with a capital A. But if you sit down only once to this Chicago specialty, head to a Lou Malnati’s. It’s our family favorite. (If you’re determined to do your homework on deep dish, read more about it in TimeOut Chicago.)

A Wicker Park Ramble

Chicago’s seventy-seven vibrant neighborhoods can’t all be visited in a weekend. How was I to choose one to highlight for your late Saturday afternoon? When I walked into Firefly Fiber Arts in Wicker Park, the answer became clear. It’s a destination yarn shop. I had a delightful conversation with co-owner Sarah Jamison about fiber, sustainability, and dyeing yarn with plants and minerals. Inspirational! I could have stayed all day, but I had a son in tow and he was hungry for a burger at Small Cheval just a few blocks’ walk away. (Also in Wicker Park is Irazú—a Costa Rican BYOB we make a point of visiting every time we’re in town.)

There weren’t many skeins left of Firefly Fiber Arts’ mellow, mineral-y Earthly Yarns after Chicago Yarn Crawl participants had pretty much cleaned out the weekend before my visit.

If coffee is what you’re craving after your visit to Firefly Fiber Arts, Chicago is the home of Intelligentsia and their Wicker Park Coffeebar will hit the spot. Want sweets? We didn’t fit it in during our summertime visit, but we have enjoyed James Beard Award-winning Mindy’s Hot Chocolate during holiday visits. You’re welcome!

I’m afraid you’re on your own for nighttime entertainment because I was a homebody and a lark even before we started a family. I hear that Chicago is famous for blues and improv. (That’s a joke!) Chicago’s lively theater scene can always draw me out. Check out what’s at Court Theatre, Lookingglass Theatre, Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Goodman Theatre, and Steppenwolf Theatre when you plan your visit.

Cooler by the Lake

Chicago’s Chinatown is one of the oldest in the U.S. and a great place to start your Sunday morning. Consider Cai for dim sum. After breakfast, wander toward Wentworth Avenue, the neighborhood’s main street of shops and stop at The Nine Dragon Wall on your way. The Chinatown Branch Library is worth a walk-around, though it won’t be open on a Sunday.

Now you’re ready to head back downtown for a visit to The Art Institute of Chicago, a place where I have spent countless hours from my middle school years (when I was allowed to ride the L downtown alone or with friends) and on. Georgia O’Keefe’s Sky above Clouds IV was my magnet (like Georges Seurat’s A Sunday on La Grande Jatte is for Cameron in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off).

Yes, I was so taken with the painting I later rendered it as a Ballband Dishcloth (Now in the Kay Gardiner Collection).

Stretch your legs in Millennium Park where you’ll find photo ops galore in the naturalistic Lurie Garden highlighting native species; on the Great Lawn under the Jay Pritzker Pavilion designed by Frank Gehry; by Jaume Plensa’s mesmerizing Crown Fountain; and, of course, at Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate.

A Collage of Millennium Park impressions.

The Yarny City

  • Friendly greetings come your way as soon as you open the door of bright and colorful Knit1. They have a superb collection that will keep you busily browsing.
  • Vibrant Sister-Arts Studio is Lincoln Park’s yarn shop and “craft café” offering kits to engage makers of all ages and satisfy all fiber-arts interests.
  • Historic Printer’s Row is home to comfy yarnify! and its rainbow collection of fibers and hand-dyed yarns.
  • Enter the wonderland that is Nina in Noble Square and make your mark at their striking, community-building Make Wall. You’ll find a gorgeous and diverse selection of yarns and fabrics too.
The Make Wall awaits.

Museums Galore or Choose Your Own Adventure

Swap out one of the mornings or afternoons I describe above for an alternate agenda!

In the MDK Shop
Take MDK with you wherever you roam! When you shop with us, you support everything we do here at MDK. Thanks!

About A Knitter’s Weekend

Each piece in our series A Knitter’s Weekend is written by a knitter with local knowledge and a personal point of view. If you have additional places or information you’d like to share, we’d love to hear it—please leave a comment. And if you have plans to visit Chicago, be sure to save this article in your MDK account.

About The Author

An artist in multiple media by nature and by education, Cristina Shiffman is a knitter, sewist, potter, and photographer who also draws, paints, and dyes with natural materials. Cristina has been collaborating with MDK since 2017.


  • Having grown up in Chicago and now living in the western suburbs my friends and I still love Gene and Jude’s for hot dogs in River Grove. It has not changed and is still the same as when I was a teenager. Just remember, never ask for ketchup!

    • Yes! Gene and Jude’s is the best!

      • Elgin Knit Works is also well worth a visit!!!

    • River Dogs! Yes, there’s always a conflict about which place to visit when my brother and I are both in town at the same time. Thanks, Patti!

  • If hot dog’s aren’t your thing, there are always Italian Beef Sandwiches. While in the city, Al’s Beef on Taylor Street, our own Little Italy, is my go to. Of course, Johnnie’s also serves them.

    I must suggest if you come to Chicago, plan on an extra day to visit our amazing yarn shops in the suburbs. You will find them in all directions. Being from the western suburbs my favorites are String Theory in Glen Ellyn, Knit Nirvana in Forest Park, and Knitche in Downers Grove. If you want to stay longer, come at the beginning of August and join in our annual yarn crawl. You can hit all points of interest mentioned above while winding your way through all the local shops.

    • I lived in the south loop for 2 years, just around the corner from Yarnify, but on the weekends I loved to get out of the city and visit the suburban yarn shops. Knitche, String Theory, and Knit Works were among my very favorites!

    • So many great shops. While we’re in the Western Suburbs, shout out to Dye Hard Yarns in Oak Park! They’re on the move: and I’m looking forward to seeing what they dream up.

      • Great shout out to Chastity. She has passion and vision!

  • A journey in Chicago isn’t complete without Garrett’s Popcorn! Pop into one of many locations around town (or get in line!) for the best fresh hot caramel corn (yes, my favorite over Nuts on Clark!). Or try the cheese corn/caramel corn mix. Either way you end up with sticky or orange fingers so wash up before picking that knitting back up! Yummm

    • Garrett’s is available at O’Hare!! United terminal just inside security. You’re welcome.

    • Or eat it with a spoon like I’ve been known to do while knitting! LOL

    • Someone just brought back a bag of Garrett’s caramel and cheese corn mix, and it was fabulous!!!

      • Garrett’s has an outpost in O’Hare as well!

    • Now you can even get Nuts on Clark popcorn on O’Hare layovers . . .

      • Nuts on Clark is highly addictive.

  • I love to visit Knit1 in North Center and Soutache for buttons and vintage ribbons. Both worth the trip!

  • Next time you are in Chicago… venture to North Shore-
    Three Bags Full Knitting Studio iin Northbrook is worth the trip!
    Not far from it is the Chicago Botanical Gardens….a great place to spend some time wandering around or sitting and knitting in beautiful surroundings!

    • It is their 21st Anniversary this week!! Great shop!

  • Get on the train and visit String Theory, the wonderful yarn shop in Glen Ellyn. Great restaurants and shopping and you will love the yarn and the folks at String Theory.

  • This is fantastic! I am not big on traveling, but this Article makes me want to book a flight to Chicago and explore!

    • So walkable and easy to navigate (the Lake is always east!). You’d love it!

  • What a great write up on my most favorite city! Be sure to check out the Chicago History Museum with it’s wonderful exhibit of the Columbian Exposition of 1893. The museum is in a great neighborhood and near the lake, so you can walk around and explore the area, too.

  • Don’t miss The Idea Shop in LaGrange, for another friendly, well stocked yarn shop. Nice selection and friendly helpful folks.

  • The closest to Johnnies is Knit Nirvana in Forest Park. The owner, Sue, has a great variety of yarns and is always ready to help.

  • I highly recommend the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s boat tour of spectacular architecture on the Chicago River.

  • So much to do in ChicagoI always stay with my friend who lives within walking distance of Knit1–if you are a sewist, also be sure to stop by the fabulous Oak Fabrics just down the street. Half Acre brewery is not far either.

  • I’m NYC born but Chicago raised. I don’t live in the city anymore and this little write up made me homesick! I spent many a rainy Saturday with my dad in the Seminary Co-op. I bought my very first MDK book in Powell’s! My grandma never took us downtown without going in the John Hancock building so we could ride the clear elevator. Every New Year’s Day we went to Chinatown and spent the day schmoozing and eating. The second most important day of December (after Christmas itself) was the day my mom would let us stay up late and go down to Marshall Fields to look at the Christmas windows! Chicago was a magical place to grow up. So many memories!

    • I do so miss Marshall Fields. Frango mints are still a must when we’re in town, but remember when you could see them being made at the State Street store?

  • One of my most favorite cities. (How can I pick just one?) It was love at first sight from the day I first visited. Thank you for this wonderful post. Those Earthly Yarns, particularly those on their banner, look good enough to eat.

  • You can’t mention South Side museums without the incredible Museum of Science and Industry! Captured German submarine from WWII! 1930s coal mine! And the amazing Colleen Moore Fairy Castle (always the best-for-last treat every time I went to the museum)!

    And if you love the Fairy Castle and its miniature everything, don’t miss the miniature rooms at the Art Institute: ncredibly detailed historic recreations in miniature.

    I moved away from Chicago in 1968 but I loved growing up there. You’ve made me miss it once again.

    • My grandmother took me to Chicago to visit my uncle during Christmas vacation when I was in fourth grade. I still vividly remember my visit to the Museum of Scienc and Industry. To put things into perspective, my granddaughter is now in fourth grade. That visit was also the first time I saw a thermometer calibrated to 40 below zero!

    • I get all choked up thinking about the MSI. My now 21 year-old and I strolled there almost every other day of his toddlerhood. Half hours of knitting got done while he gazed wonderingly at the Swiss Jollyball Machine! And the Thorne Rooms! And don’t forget the paperweights!

  • This makes me want to get back to Chicago asap! Such a beautiful city.

  • If your kids can’t wait for the next Jurassic World movie, take them to the Field Museum of Natural History. “Sue,” the T. Rex, is sure to impress. The kids may also like the collection of taxidermically-preserved animals, which includes the Man Eaters of Tsavo. Other don’t-miss exhibits include the Chinese bronzes, the collection of artifacts from Pompeii and the Hall of Jade. The nearby Shedd Aquarium is also worth a visit.

  • I lived in that great city for 16 years, and I have to recommend Katsu on Peterson Ave. for the best sushi I’ve ever had. And think about visiting in July–although the large crowds for the Taste of Chicago are a bit much, the free concerts are spectacular!

  • I love Chinatown, but if you enjoy Indian food, may I suggest hearing North to Devon Street? A great selection of Indian shops and restaurants in the area! Was going to suggest a charming yarn shop in Highland Park, but in the course of searching for the name, I see it appears to have been permanently closed. 🙁

  • If you’re visiting Millennium Park and The Bean, be sure to cross Michigan Ave and visit the Chicago Cultural Center. It’s free and used to be the downtown location of the Chicago Public Library. Gorgeous Tiffany dome and rotating art exhibits. The American Writers Museum is a new museum on Michigan Ave and is a wonderful place for those who love to read…and write.

  • When you are in Downers Grove to visit Knitche, have lunch at Caribbean Corner right in downtown Downers Grove. Best Cuban sandwich around! Grab a bread pudding to go, too!

  • Oh Cristina, you made me so homesick! Good thing I’m due for a trip there in Oct. Maybe I’ll stay an extra day to visit all those shops that used to be my go-to’s.

    • Earthly yarns at Firefly Fiber Arts are really amazing and unique. Have a great visit, Susan!

  • I LOVE all of your “content” MDK!

  • Another virtue of Knit One is that it is right next to Oak Fabrics.

    • All of the shops mentioned are terrific in different ways, but another shout out for Knit Nirvana and Dye Hard Yarns in Forest Park and Oak Park, where I live. While you’re there, take a tour of the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio and the Wright-designed buildings nearby, including the incomparable Unity Temple. No one has mentioned the Garfield Park Conservatory, a balm for the soul at any time of year. It’s a stop on the Green Line el train as you make your way from the Loop to Oak Park. Walk a block away for lunch at Inspiration Kitchen.

  • You were allowed to take the L in middle school?
    My Dad freaked out when my sister and I took the bus to River Forest!
    I envy your freedom!

    • As the sixth and seventh children in our family, my brother and I followed the “what they don’t know won’t hurt them” rule of parent management. We were allowed, but I don’t think my parents had ever taken the L themselves, so as long as we were home by dinner, we could disappear all day.

  • Love the Art Institute! The Thorne Miniature Rooms are magical, for kids and adults alike. Museum of Contemporary Art is also lovely and has a fun gift shop.

  • If New York is exciting (which it certainly is!), Chicago is both exciting and Bracing. The Lake Michigan air and wider spaces (because Chicago can spread out more) just are so exhilarating. I can’t remember the name of the downtown hotel or the restaurant next to it but my husband and I were thrilled by that restaurant – high-ceilings, sturdy dark wood beams, marble columns, generous, uncramped spaces, excellent food. It is still my favorite place to eat of all time. And we have traveled a lot.

  • The Knitter’s Weekend series is a delight as we face (voluntary) Covid stay-at-home once again. Thank you so much for armchair travel with a knitting lense.

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