The Impulsive Traveler: Details, Evanston, Ill.
Beyond my memories of Evanston, where South Boulevard Beach was once my back yard, there was a deeper nostalgia involved, a primal tug from childhood. Laureen, Bob’s wife, was my late mother’s first cousin. And, like my sister and me, she used to spend summer days on Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach, where my grandparents hosted family gatherings.
But now, in their 60s, Laureen and Bob generally shun sand and sun. In deference to me and their local grandchildren, however, they were prepared when I visited a few weeks ago. They’d purchased a piece of equipment — “the edifice,” they called it, or “the hut” — halfway between an old-fashioned beach umbrella and a tent. Bob carried it, slung over his shoulder, as we strolled to Clark Street Beach, a wide swath of clean beige sand with modern restrooms.
Consulting the instructions — this was his first beach visit of the season, and quite possibly his last — Bob wrestled the cumbersome red contraption into submission. Soon, he and Laureen, on matching beach chairs, were ensconced triumphantly beneath its shade. As the afternoon ebbed, they would finally venture forth, holding hands, and walk ankle-deep into Lake Michigan.
The beaches of Evanston? My profoundly urban Chicago friends tend to roll their eyes at the notion. Their city, they point out, is blessed with its own free beaches. Evanston, on Chicago’s northern border, charges modest fees for beach access. Then again, many Chicago beaches have instituted parking charges, and finding a space on a hot summer weekend can be an ordeal.
And there is this: Evanston’s lakefront is simply prettier, unblemished by the highway — Lake Shore Drive — that separates most of Chicago from its parks and beaches. And here, unlike in many city neighborhoods, there are no ugly high-rises obscuring the view.
In Evanston, a walk to the beach is a pleasant architectural ramble through the Lakeshore Historic District, filled with late 19th- and early 20th-century homes in a flamboyant mix of styles — Queen Anne, Tudor, Italianate, Classical Revival, Victorian Gothic, Prairie — along with a few modern and postmodern structures. Linking the beaches are parks with walking and bike paths, a fitness trail, playgrounds, tennis courts, benches and picnic tables. Past Northwestern, at Evanston’s northern tip, is Lighthouse Beach, where the picturesque Grosse Point Lighthouse, enveloped in foliage, still marks the shoreline.
Chicago’s North Shore is also rich in rainy-day attractions. In fact, when I reached the Baha’i House of Worship in neighboring Wilmette, the heavens opened up with thunder, lightning and a drenching downpour.