How to get there:
The Cermak-Chinatown stop on the CTA’s Red Line “L” train is just steps away from the traditional entrance gate, and less than 15 minutes’ ride south of the Loop.
By car, the Dan Ryan and Stevenson Expressways meet here. Cermak Road is the main access to the neighborhood; best to use the Wentworth Ave. parking lots and walk around as on-street parking can be scarce.
A brief history:
Chicago’s Chinatown was the second major center for Chinese migration in the U.S., after San Francisco. The Transcontinental Railroad which spurred so many laborers to emigrate was also the pathway out of an increasingly anti-Asian California of the 1860s-1870s.
Early arrivers built a small community inside the Loop, but in the 1910s, Chinese fraternal associations bought property and started construction in today’s location. Businesses, banks, and housing at affordable rates made it a natural choice for newcomers, as well as a “safe space” against racial discrimination and crime.
Investment and expansion continued through the 20th Century to keep this neighborhood vital and attractive to migrants from China in the post-“opening up” era of the 1980s-1990s.
What to see and do:
People from all over Chicagoland know this neighborhood has some of the best dining in the city, especially its Dim Sum options like at Phoenix, Cai, and Triple Crown. Eater has a wonderful map listing well over a dozen recently-reviewed restaurants.
Chinatown offers a number of events throughout the year, including of course a Lunar New Year parade and a Mid-Autumn celebration. Each weekend on Temple Street in Chinatown Square there is a street market offering gifts, produce, and prepared foods.
Chinatown Square itself, abutting Archer Avenue, is a newer two-story mall with a number of restaurants, groceries, clothing and gift shops. This area also includes the Chicago Chinese Cultural Institute, and just to the north, Ping Tom Memorial Park along the South Branch of the Chicago River. The park has walking paths, an activity center, kayaking, and even water shuttles during the summer.
Even more variety of shopping can be found along Wentworth Avenue, the heart of the old neighborhood. Bakeries, kitchen-supply shops, and antiques are all fascinating stops to make. You’ll also find the small Chinese-American Museum of Chicago at 23rd Street, a half-block west of Wentworth. At the southern end of the neighborhood along West 24th Place is tiny Sun Yat-Sen Park.
Where family travelers can stay:
There are dozens of great family-friendly hotels in Chicagoland, but for easy access to the Red Line (a connection at the State/Lake station will get you on the Blue Line to O’Hare Airport; or on the Orange Line to Midway Airport), some locations to consider in the downtown core include:
- The Wit – a DoubleTree by Hilton, one block from the Lake station and just south of the Chicago River
- Homewood Suites on West Grand Avenue – one block from the Grand station
- Embassy Suites Chicago Downtown, on State Street between Ontario and Ohio – also one block from the Grand station
- The Hampton Inn Chicago Downtown, on Illinois at Dearborn, two blocks from the Grand station
- The Hilton Garden Inn Chicago Downtown, on Grand at State, directly above the Grand station
- And the iconic Palmer House, on South State Street, at the Monroe station and one block from the Art Institute
One stop further south on the Red Line will get you to USCellular Field for a White Sox game. One stop further north is the Roosevelt station; on a pleasant day it offers a nice walk to Lakefront for the Field Museum and Shedd Aquarium.
North Michigan Avenue is justifiably famous for shopping, but when kids get tired of stores, views of the river and the lake at either end are great fun, the Art Institute of Chicago is always worthwhile, and a ride up to the top of the John Hancock Center in good weather is great entertainment. (Don’t forget a snack at Wow Bao at the street entrance of Water Tower Place!)
Millennium Park, including the Cloud Gate and the Crown Fountain, are tremendously popular with families because the attractions and artwork are just SO fun to interact with, there is plenty of space to roam in, and food stalls and trucks are handy. Even better, referring to the theme of this series, the park is a place where families and tourists from all over the city – and all over the world – are there to indulge their sense of wonder and play with each other in peace. You’ll hear dozens of languages, including a lot of Chinese, Korean, and Japanese …