Laid-back Urbanity: Lake Forest's Market Square
I live in the country, but I love the city, too. Sometimes I want the best of both worlds and decide to take a trip to Lake Forest’s Market Square. Like a great cup of tea, Market Square delivers a refreshing dose of laid-back urbanity, plus it’s easy to reach via train or car (just 30 miles north of Chicago).
Market Square charms me because it takes visitors back in time without a spec of nostalgia or kitsch. It’s a slice of slow life in a fast lane world; the graceful buildings and long village green remind me to calm down, breathe and shop (of course). It’s as if a dollop of southern hospitality plunked itself down here in the Midwest and decided to stay awhile.
Market Square was designed by architect Howard Van Doren Shaw in 1916 to create a defined city center. He certainly succeeded; beloved by Lake Foresters and copied by cities around the country, Market Square consistently draws shoppers, fine diners and commuters who disembark at the Metra train station across the street.
I, along with many pedestrians, tend to linger in the grassy park. When the weather’s nice there’s no better place to sit and chat with a friend. Shady benches along the brick-lined walkways provide a sense of public privacy. Small shops line the longer north and south sides and many have been there for generations, such as Kiddle’s Sports and Helanders Stationers on the northwest corner.
My kids love to picnic on the lawn – if I can get them out of The Toy Station – so we grab snacks at Einstein Brothers Bagels to eat near the fountain. If I’m on my own, I usually slip into the Lake Forest Bookstore or grab a bite one block north at Foodstuffs.
On the Square’s west side, a snappy J. Crew store now brightens the impressive anchor building (formerly Marshall Field’s and Macy’s). Avid shoppers also enjoy Three Sisters, Penny’s From Heaven, and The Lake Forest Shop. Moving to the southwest corner, you can sit outdoors to dine at the Bank Lane Bistro or Southgate Cafe (this building housed Lake Forest’s first fire department). The tiny Bank Lane leads to more taste bud treats. The Green Teaist helps visitors experience the joy of Japanese tea, and Sweets makes the finest toffee this side of London.
If the day starts to get late and you’re going to stick around for drinks and dinner, do what the locals do and walk a block north of Market Square to The Lantern, a long-time kid-friendly favorite with on-tap specials and model trains running on tracks suspended from the ceiling. Visitors who plan ahead can spend the night nearby at the historic Deerpath Inn. Other accommodations include the Hilton Garden Inn and Residence Inn, both just west of the highway in rural Mettawa.
Fans of Market Square’s architectural style might also want to drive by Ragdale, Howard Van Doren Shaw’s 1897 Lake Forest summer home (now an extensive artists’ retreat).
To get a taste of Market Square in downtown Chicago, take a moment to step into the small church courtyard that’s just across the street from the Hancock Center. Those only peeking in from the sidewalk cannot imagine the peaceful environment experienced by visitors to the Shaw-designed “Children’s Fountain”. If this small taste of urban tranquility leaves you hungry for more, no worries. Just take a trip north to one of my favorite places, Lake Forest’s Market Square, and plan to stay awhile.
- Linda Gardner Phillips
To learn more about Linda, check out her bio.