A quaint residential oasis amidst a busy and growing business corridor
Photo by Ed Ahern
It’s not quite off the beaten path — the town is under a flight path into Chicago O’Hare International Airport, is adjacent to I-290, I-355 and IL Route 53 and is a stop on the Metra line — but Itasca is one of those suburbs that is a gem when you discover it for the first time. Lots of people go through Itasca on a given day. This suburb includes dozens of office buildings, warehouses and manufacturing facilities. Beyond the business community, Itasca is home to more than 9,000 people and offers a variety of things for residents and visitors alike to see and do. Let’s see where the paths to and from Itasca lead.
Stroll through a Historic Downtown
One path puts you off Irving Park Road into charming downtown Itasca, where you’ll find framed-sided buildings dating to the 1850s and street names that evoke a Laura Ingalls Wilder book, like Walnut Street and Cherry Street. Many of these buildings house mom-and-pop businesses, with some that hang a literal shingle to let you know how they can help, whether it’s fixing a legal problem, fixing your PC or fixing your hair.
Old time baked goods . . . at Kean’s Bakery, where the ovens are firing up while you’re just going to bed. Stop and taste the real thing — and don’t forget your cup of Joe to go with that pastry.
A retro diner . . . steps away from Kean’s is Daddy O’s Diner, a throwback to the era of James Dean, juke boxes and poodle skirts tucked inside a 19th century building. Owned by longtime Itasca residents, Daddy-O’s serves up hand-formed burgers, tuna melts and Greek omelets — and if you’re in the 50s spirit, a milkshake or malt.
Go off the rails . . . for a fun history lesson with a quick stop at Itasca Historical Depot Museum, one of the last original train depots on the old Chicago and Milwaukee line. The depot, complete with vintage caboose, artifacts and historic photos, is open for free tours from December through May on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. You’ll also learn how Itasca got its name. (Okay, we’ll tell you: it’s named for Lake Itasca in Minnesota, apparently a favorite place of one of the early settlers.)
If hobby trains are more your speed . . . include a visit to one of the Chicago area’s largest hobby stores, America’s Best Train, Toy and Hobby Shop. It’s a paradise for model train collectors and aficionados. Other hobbyists –- photographers and videographers — put their focus on Itasca, too, at Helix Camera and Video. One of the area’s leading photography equipment stores, Helix offers classes for novices and experts alike.
Sit a spell . . . at the gazebo in Usher Park. It’s a visual icon in town, a gathering spot for activities and events and the subject of Itasca’s illustrated logo.
Here’s the church, here’s the steeple . . . or “The Spire,” that is, at the early-1900s Lutheran Church of St. Luke. It’s now Itasca Baptist Church, but is known to locals as Steeple Church.
Keep busy with a book . . . or join the Busy Bee Quilting and Craft Club that meets at the Itasca Community Library on the first Thursday of the month. Trust a quaint town like this to continue this old-time craft that has never lost its charm or usefulness. This is just one of the many library programs on offer, from traditional book clubs to educational classes ranging from how to play Mah Jongg to sausage making.
Raise a Glass, Pass a Plate
Abbondanza! Since it’s a Chicago suburb, there are plenty of choices for Italian fare in Itasca, including Antonio Ristorante on Rohlwing Road and DeMarco’s, at Lake Street and Rt. 53.
There’s good ol’ sausage pizza plus . . . a whole lot more when you make a path towards Tree Guys Pizza Pub, an Itasca favorite. Tree Guys (named in Chicago-ese for the trio of founders) offers a full menu of other dishes, including burgers, sandwiches, wraps, pastas, salads and more, along with live music and special events.
Come for the accommodations . . . stay for the food. In Itasca, some of the finest dining is to be found inside the town’s upscale hotels. Enjoy inventive cuisine at Seared Fine Dining, located inside the Westin Chicago Northwest at Hamilton Lakes. The modern American restaurant offers a full “steak bar,” along with other entrées, small plates, salads and more.
Eaglewood Resort has two places to eat, Burnham’s Restaurant and Prairie River, which has a fire pit in summer and a golf simulator for those itching to get out and swing during colder months.
I’ll drink to that! In Itasca, an adult beverage may come with an added touch of local knowledge and craftsmanship. Wine With Me in the downtown area is a wine tasting bar and retail wine shop with hundreds of vintages. It’s housed in the former Itasca village hall and police department, across from Usher Park and near the gazebo, Spire and a Riverwalk. If you’re not a vino enthusiast, not to worry — the bar also offers beers and small-batch spirits.
Hop culture . . . is alive and well at Itasca Brewing Company, a “nano-brewery” located on the lower level of Itasca Country Club. It was founded by a beer expert and enthusiast who had close family in Itasca. The site includes a bar, tasting room and restaurant in addition to the on-site brewery. Teetotaler? No problem. Sip on hand-crafted sodas, such as a frothy homemade root beer. Get a handle on other brews made in Itasca at Church Street Brewing Company. The lively tap room hosts events and entertainment and is a hotspot for unique beers, from the popular Church Street Pils and Heavenly Helles to the hometown namesake Itascafest beer.
Get Your Festival On
For a relatively small suburb, Itasca throws some big bashes.
Great Scot! Even if you can’t toss a caber, stomach the taste of haggis or sport a kilt, you can enjoy seeing all of that and more at the annual Scottish Festival and Highland Games, a much-anticipated event across the Chicago area that is now held at Hamilton Lakes in Itasca. This year’s Highland Games takes place over the weekend of June 14 –15, and includes a variety of Scottish games, a rugby tournament, bagpipe bands, dancers, live music, a children’s area, a food court and a car show.
Oh, say can you see . . . the night sky lit up with fireworks at Itasca’s annual 4th of July fireworks at Hamilton Lakes, which puts on one of Chicagoland’s largest fireworks shows.
And that’s not all . . . Come back to town a few days later for Itascafest, slated for July 11–14 in Washington Park. Looking ahead, autumn traditions are celebrated at Oktoberfest celebration on Sept. 6 – 7 and at Itasca’s Largest Tailgate on Sept. 8.
Usher in summer at Usher Park by listening to live band concerts staged there every other week from June 12 through Aug. 21.
Channel Your Inner Athlete
There are plenty of ways to feel the burn in Itasca. Take to the streets with your fellow runners through the Itasca Running Club, which steps off from the Itasca Starbucks coffee shop every Saturday morning. Or grab a leash and take your dog for a run or walk to the new dog park in Itasca on Rohlwing Road, set to open in May.
Get with the program . . . at Itasca Recreation and Fitness Center, which offers memberships for all ages — and military veterans get to work out free for a year!
Hit the links . . . at some of the top area golf course. Founded in 1925, the private Itasca Country Club has an 18-hole course and an 18-hole natural turf miniature putting course. For members only, there’s an outdoor pool and platform tennis. And all are welcome at the clubhouse, home to Fox & Turtle restaurant and the Itasca Brewing Company.
Tee off at the course at Eaglewood Resort, with links covering scenic rolling hills. The resort is its own oasis within Itasca, featuring a full-service spa, a 25-meter indoor pool, a sun deck and a six-lane bowling alley.
Right next door to Itasca is one of the more well-known golf courses in the country and on the pro golf circuit. Medinah Country Club in nearby Medinah has three golf courses, one of which has hosted major championships like the Ryder Cup in 2012, the PGA Championship in 2006 and 1999 and the U.S. Open in 1990, 1975 and 1949. This year, the BMW Championship will be played Aug. 13 - 18 at Medinah, which features an iconic clubhouse that you might recognize from past TV coverage.
The Show Goes On
Also in Medinah, Overshadowed Theatrical Productions stages a variety of productions throughout the year. Next up? “The Diary of Anne Frank”, running March 8 - 30. The family-friendly theatre group will stage the musical “Newsies” later this year. It also offers classes and a summer movie in the park.
The paths that lead through Itasca make it an easy town to stroll. Try the Riverwalk that winds through town, starting on Walnut Street, wending through Springbrook Nature Center and ending at the corner of the municipal park. The Riverwalk follows Spring Brook Creek.
Nurture your nature fix . . . at Springbrook Nature Center. Operated by the Itasca Park District, it is located in a charming red barn-like building. Go for the day to watch birds of prey, including raptors, red-tailed hawks and screech owls, or sign up for one of the many nature programs offered for all ages.
For the birds . . . Wing on over to Ray Franzen Bird Sanctuary on Rohlwing Road, renovated last year. Set on nearly 12 acres, the sanctuary has walking trails and an outdoor classroom.
Swim and play . . . at the Itasca Park District Waterpark, an outdoor haven with a Caribbean theme. Family-friendly features include a “Calvin Clam” slide and a 9-ft spraying palm tree. Daily admittance and season passes are available when the waterpark opens this summer.
The Business at Hand
A drive through town quickly shows that Itasca is home to numerous businesses and enterprises. Most visually notable among them is Hamilton Lakes Business Park, a 3.5 million-sq-ft space which includes the Westin Chicago Northwest hotel.Edit Module