Why settle for the mall when our region has so many great locally owned shops? This season, ditch the road traffic and instead experience a day on the rails, stopping in at several downtown shopping districts along the Metra lines.
This holiday season, forego the crowded, stale shopping mall in favor of an experience worth remembering. We’re talking about a day on the Metra, which runs through most of our region’s major cities on its way toward downtown Chicago, and which offers an $8 weekend pass with unlimited rides.
Its platforms are located in the hearts of our downtown business districts, within easy walking distance of many a homegrown store or restaurant. Because trains pass through every hour or so, you have plenty of time to treasure hunt before heading toward your next destination.
So, grab the gals (or the guy) and ride the train to some of our area’s best-kept shopping secrets. We promise you’ll find quirky gifts, delicious meals and a memorable experience unlike any big-box store. Happy holiday shopping!
Union Pacific Northwest Line
Route: Travels from downtown Harvard to Chicago’s Ogilvie Transportation Center. A secondary line travels at select times, on weekdays, from McHenry to Chicago.
The Metra station is located one block outside of the Woodstock Square, where a number of shopping and entertainment destinations await.
Green Box Boutique
Filled with a variety of apparel and accessories, candles, body products and more, this store is all about earth-friendly products. Most everything is a combination of eco-friendly, repurposed and fair-trade goods. 100 Cass St., (815) 669-6003.
Eclectic and quirky, this store carries handmade artisan goods and vintage products – many times combining the two with creative results. 106 Cass St., (815) 338-3007.
Chocolate! (Enough said, right?). This chocolatier’s counters are lined with delectable desserts and baked goods. At the bar in back, order a hot drink, maybe one of five hot chocolate flavors. 113 S. Benton St., (815) 687-0320.
Material Things Artisan Market
This colorful artist’s gallery/studio carries handcrafted gifts and home decor items crafted by some 50 North American artists. Look for quirky metal sculptures, shimmering jewelry and colorful glass. 103 E. Van Buren St., (815) 575-9710.
Read Between the Lynes
Book lovers are sure to get lost in this newly expanded, locally owned bookstore. Its titles include national bestsellers, undiscovered treasures and books by local authors. Can’t find it here? Just ask. 111 E. Van Buren St., (815) 206-5967.
Grab a bite inside the freshly remodeled basement of Woodstock’s old courthouse, where historical photos and architectural elements meet white-tablecloth casual dining. 101 N. Johnson St., (815) 337-6060.
Woodstock Opera House
Woodstock’s arts center welcomes theater troupes and national thought leaders like author Candice Millard, who visits in January. This season, look for “A Christmas Carol” and “The Nutcracker.” 121 W. Van Buren St., (815) 338-4212.
A New Interiors Anew
Specializing in home decor and accents, this inviting store sells a blend of new and antique items. Look for furniture and gift items, garden decor, upcycled items and jewelry. 134 Cass St., (815) 337-9131.
The Metra station is located in the center of downtown Crystal Lake. Head north to Williams Street for plenty of shopping, or head south for several dining options.
Out of the Box
Always decorated for the season, this colorful homegrown retailer carries a creative assortment of home decor, jewelry and gift items. Ask about the always-popular gift wrapping and box. 71 N. Williams St., (815) 444-7446.
Penny & Izzy’s Children’s Boutique
All about the young ones, this retailer carries children’s clothing, maternity wear, toys and decorations, such as handmade clocks. 37 N. Williams St., (815) 900-9757.
Le Petit Marche
Stop in early for a light breakfast, or enjoy the breakfast sandwiches, pastries, cheese and fruit plates, and wine tastings available all day. Dinner is served on weekends. Ask about the fresh-baked bread. 19 N. Williams St., (815) 477-3296.
Victoria’s Secret this is not. This European lingerie fits any style and size, as attested by the shop’s free custom bra fittings. 10 N. Williams St., (815) 477-3404.
Raue Center for the Arts
The moviehouse-turned-arts-center is booked many weekends with theatrical and musical entertainment. This season, look for a sing-along Messiah, comedy nights and the Nutcracker ballet. 26 N. Williams St., (815) 356-9212.
O’Reilly Stained Glass
The colorful stained glass in the window is just the beginning. Look inside at a variety of handmade creations and ask about classes and workshops. 58 N. Williams St., (815) 444-1797.
Marvin’s Toy Store
Every toy inside this fun emporium has an educational spin, whether it’s the children’s blocks and books or the science kits in back. 64 N. Williams St., (779) 220-4179.
Wear Did U Get That
Ladies will ask that same question when they see you sporting trendy apparel and accessories from this women’s boutique. Its modern clothing appeals to women of many age groups. 66 N. Williams St., (815) 455-7500.
Crystal Lake Brewing
While the ladies go shopping, let the boys enjoy a beer. Although CLB doesn’t serve food, patrons are encouraged to bring their own. 150 N. Main St., (779) 220-9288.
From the Metra station, walk about a half-mile east to Green Street, where you’ll find plenty of shopping and dining. Note: This station operates on weekdays only.
Hidden Pearl Cafe
The locals enjoy this cafe’s warm beverages, European-style coffee, baked goods and light lunches – but they especially enjoy the live entertainment that happens on select weekend evenings. 1208 N. Green St., (815) 388-0008.
Black Orchid Boutique
Geared toward women of all ages, this boutique sells locally crafted accessories and small quantities of apparel by names like Boo Radley. 1226 N. Green St., (815) 322-2624.
Blooms & Rooms Design
Launched by a former florist, this store is abundant in creativity, with decor for the home, custom flower arrangements and workshops to improve your own skills. 1245 N. Green St., (779) 704-2943.
Reese’s Barkery & Pawtique
It’s all about the dogs at this locally owned pet supply store. Find homemade treats for dogs and cats, in addition to healthy pet foods and supplies. Ask about doggie training courses. 1313 N. Riverside Dr., (815) 363-7297.
The Bike Haven
Treat the cyclist in your family with bike gear or equipment from many major manufacturers. Ask about repairs and tune-ups, riding clubs and a BMX bike team. 3318 Pearl St., (815) 385-4642.
The Metra stop is located at the far east end of downtown Barrington, just a few blocks from the shopping district.
Grassroots Clothing & General Store
This unique trading post taps its American roots, with a rock ‘n roll atmosphere and the services and products of a general store. You’ll find everything from Blackhawks gear to apparel and staple items. 211 Park Ave., (847) 655-2344.
Heads Up Boutique
Gifts for every occasion: for babies and children, brides-to-be, hostesses and more. Look for Barrington Broncos gear and cozy apparel by Crow Island and Vineyard Vines. 200 E. Main St., (847) 304-5450.
This women’s boutique is all about trendy, sophisticated clothing for all occasions, with modern gifts and accessories to boot. It’s also where you’ll find holiday ornaments by Christopher Radko. 202 S. Cook St., (224) 655-2085.
Bravura Home & Gift Shop
Set inside a yellow home, this quaint store contains gift ideas from jewelry and scarves to kitchen gadgets and singing plush animals. Ask about the Snoozies plush slippers and the Bearington Baby gifts. 209 S. Cook St., (847) 277-7200.
Anderson’s Candy Shop
Candy the way it used to be, with creams and caramels cooked over an antique stove, family recipes handed down through generations, and authentic ingredients. This is where the locals satisfy a sweet tooth. 128 E. Main St., (847) 304-7985.
Imported from Libertyville, this new fine dining experience has earned notice for its Asian fusion dishes, all created by a chef who’s led some of Chicago’s trendiest eateries. 121 W. Main St., (224) 655-2853.
It’s a bit of a walk, but we promise this all-American general store is worth it. The store’s more than 4,000 products, each American-made, encompass every product line: home to holidays, food to tools. 400 Lageschulte St., (847) 382-8872.
The Metra stop is right where you want to be – close to several dining options and a short walk from the best shopping.
Emmett’s Brewing Co.
You’ll find award-winning handcrafted beers, made right in our region, and a menu of delectable dishes to pair. 110 N. Brockway St., (847) 359-1533.
This chic women’s apparel retailer carries a variety of styles and accessories. 17 W. Wilson St., (847) 221-5001.
Cook, Cork & Fork
Surprise your family’s foodie with a gift from this new cooking specialty store, which is filled with kitchen tools, spices and gourmet foods. Go a step further and sign up for a cooking class or workshop (available for kids, too). 34 W. Palatine Road, (847) 348-3356.
The Music Room
Named one of the nation’s Top 100 Music Retailers by the Association of Music Merchants, this specialty store provides new instruments and accessories, rentable equipment, repair services, and music lessons for adults and kids. 26 N. Brockway St., (847) 934-5440.
Add a festive touch to your home or your friend’s with home decorations or a custom floral arrangement, including a handmade wreath. 16 S. Bothwell St., (847) 934-6150.
Metra drops you into the heart of this mini metropolis, where dinner and evening entertainment come in plentiful supply.
Arlington International Racecourse
Before you reach downtown Arlington Heights, Metra stops at this thoroughbred horse-racing track, where the Lambs Farm Holiday Lights Gift and Craft Fair happens every weekend in December. 2200 W. Euclid Ave., (847) 385-7500.
La Tasca Tapas
Its specialty is tapas – small-plate dishes in classic Spanish styles, but it’s also gained a reputation for paella, homemade sangria and live Latin-style performers. 25 W. Davis St., (847) 398-2400.
Star Cinema Grill
At this Texas-imported cinema and restaurant, movie-lovers can enjoy dinner and an alcoholic beverage while watching a first-run movie. 53 S. Evergreen Ave., (847) 259-7827.
Brackett & Company
This eclectic shop is filled with home accents, from furniture and decor to candles and artwork. Ask about the interior decorating services for home, office and public spaces. 13 W. Campbell, (847) 873-1250.
Metropolis Performing Arts Center
More than 300 performances and 40 productions happen here every year. Upcoming shows include a John Denver Christmas special and “The Second City’s Holidazed.” 111 W. Campbell St., (847) 577-2121.
Milwaukee District West Line
Route: Travels from downtown Elgin to Chicago’s Union Station.
Your journey begins in downtown Elgin, a mini metropolis of great shops, dining and recreation. The Metra station is across the river from the best destinations.
Collingbourne’s Interesting Things
“Interesting” includes precious metals, paper money, coins, lamps, tools, china, art and all types of furniture. 219 W. Highland Ave., (630) 667-6447.
Elgin Knit Works
This yarn store with a vintage-urban feel supports independent artists with a selection of yarn bowls, project bags, stitch markers, shawl pins and other crafting items. 8 Douglas Ave., (847) 627-4700.
This quaint gift shop is inspired by an industrial, romantic and repurposing imagination. Search for a mix of jewelry, home decor, ladies’ apparel and handmade items. 10 Douglas Ave., (224) 223-7718.
Al’s Cafe & Creamery
This local malt shop is renowned for its milkshakes, made from a recipe that’s been handed down since the cafe’s soda-shop beginnings. 43 DuPage Ct., (847) 742-1180.
Wall to Wall Retro
A hip haven for all things vintage, with art, clothing, glassware, furniture and other groovy products. 225 E. Chicago St., (847) 697-3876.
Fat Cat Custom Guitars & Repair
Give the music lover in your family their very own custom guitar. Specifications can be simple or complex. 57 Douglas Ave., (847) 888-0000.
Here, you’ll find all of your vinyl wants, from new releases to the best pre-played records. 9 S. Spring St., (847) 961-8445.
Buckingham Steakhouse and Lounge
This award-winning restaurant is located inside the Grand Victoria Casino, where recreation, entertainment and fine dining collide. Sip on a cocktail in the lounge before enjoying exquisitely prepared beef, poultry, lamb, seafood dishes or desserts. 250 S. Grove Ave., (888) 508-1900.
Consider this a quick stop with a couple of gems, all within a five-minute walk of the Metra station.
D’licious Crepes and Roti
This cafe offers French and Indian street-food, from sweet and savory crepes to roti burritos and kathi rolls. Walk right up to the counter and watch as the experts prepare your food. 225 Main St., (630) 855-5373.
An eclectic mix of products awaits, from women’s clothing and accessories to baby gifts and paper products. If nothing else, marvel at the store’s adorable pet bunnies. 211 W. Railroad Ave., (630) 837-1727.
Bartlett’s Candy House
Between 24 flavors of soft-serve ice cream and a large selection of classic candy favorites, you’re bound to satisfy your sweet tooth and find a nostalgic gift for anyone who remembers Razzles. 211 W. Railraod Ave., (630) 777-7497.
Downtown Itasca is pretty compact, but it’s a good quick stop. The Metra station is located right in the business district.
Eaglewood Resort & Spa
Spend a day at the luxurious spa and stay overnight for a mini-getaway. The resort is a long walk from downtown, but a shuttle is available for hotel guests. 1401 Nordic Road, (630) 773-1400.
Daddy O’s Diner
Step into mid-century America at this classic diner, where breakfast and lunch are served until late afternoon. The menu is classic America, with the occasional Greek specialty served. 219 N. Walnut St., (630) 773-3101.
Right next door, this family-owned bakery serves up fresh-baked breads, desserts, pastries, pies and cookies. 217 N. Walnut St., (630) 773-0339.
For the photographer in your family, stock up on equipment for photo, video, audio, studio shots, telescopes and more at this homegrown retailer. Ask about classes and photography clubs. 100 N. Walnut St., (312) 421-6000.
You’ve survived your shopping extravaganza and made it to the Windy City! From Union Station, head east toward the heart of Chicago’s Loop neighborhood. Jump on the “el” to travel toward neighborhood destinations such as Lincoln Park and Wrigleyville.
Chicago’s “Magnificent Mile” is rife with big-name shopping destinations, among them the Nike Store, Crate & Barrel and Forever 21. South of the Chicago River, head to State Street and admire the festive window displays and the Walnut Room at Macy’s.
You won’t spy the Stanley Cup here, but you will find plenty of gear from Chicago’s NHL champs. Arrive early – the line to enter can extend out the door. 333 N. Michigan Ave., (312) 759-0079.
Grant Park & The Museums
Tour the Art Institute of Chicago, the Field Museum, the Shedd Aquarium and the Adler Planetarium – or browse their gift shops. Ice skate at Millennium Park.
This Michelin-rated fine dining restaurant has received numerous accolades for its menu of farm-fresh seasonal cuisine. Its latest menu includes items such as barbecued sturgeon with basil, burnt sunchoke and plum. 619 W. Randolph St. (West Loop), (312) 715-0708.
Also located in Rockford and Madison, this chic cosmetic and skincare boutique carries several lines of hard-to-find products. Ask about makeup, hair styling, brows and lashes, and wedding day services. 1359 N. Wells St. (Old Town), (312) 291-9750.
Union Pacific West Line
Route: Travels from Elburn to Chicago’s Ogilvie Transportation Center.
This small community’s Metra platform is hard to reach by foot, so it’s better to order a taxi ride to the shops or visit by car before jumping on the train.
This urban coffee shop is a cute spot for hand-crafted sandwiches, freshly made bakery items and, of course, a fresh cup of coffee. Ask about the weekly specials. 2 S. Main St., (630) 448-1133.
Ream’s Elburn Market
Randy Ream has won more than 200 awards for his smoked meats and sausages, earning him a spot in the Cured Meat Hall of Fame. This is the place to go for grilling, snacking and meat-related needs. 128 N. Main St., (630) 365-6461.
Frivolous Treasures Inc.
Find pieces from the past, such as crystal, china pieces, pictures, table accessories and furniture pieces. New items arrive every week. 138 N. Main St., (630) 833-3397.
Treat the train enthusiast in your family to a unique European model train, domestic train or military model. 122 N. Main St., (630) 365-6340.
The Metra takes you into the heart of Geneva’s downtown shopping district, with more than 150 stores and restaurants in easy walking distance.
The Strawflower Shop
Find a vast amount of furniture, rugs and decor in this family-owned shop. Be sure to walk to the basement and see the outstanding floral department. 210 W. State St., (630) 232-7141.
The Little Traveler
Scouters travel through Europe and the Far East to find the treasures in this store. This collection of one-of-a-kind pieces for your home and gifts for your friends and family is ever-changing. 404 S. Third St., (630) 232-4200.
Anastazia Treasures for the Home
Experience the latest in decorative accessories, wall decor and accent furniture. Uncommon gifts, from artisan-crafted soaps to hand-poured candles, are wrapped in gift boxes and topped with a hand-tied bow. 447 S. Third St., (630) 208-8048.
The Paper Merchant
Nicknamed “Gothic House,” this building attracts out-of-towners and locals alike. Stop by the store for event and wedding invitations, unique gift wrap, boxed stationary, decorative paper plates and napkins, and much more. 328 S. Third St., (630) 232-1880.
This eco-chic boutique proudly offers innovative and sustainable products for all ages, such as tea, bath and body products, handcrafted utensils, upcycled wine bottle glasses, children’s toys and handcrafted outdoor decor. 212 S. Third St., (630) 232-6300.
Discover two floors of whimsical gifts for hard-to-please teens and in-laws who already have it all. Look for custom furniture, seasonal decorations, quirky books, baby gifts, candles, jewelry, fragrances and more. 212 S. Third St., (630) 232-8340.
A great stop for vintage and pre-owned cowgirl boots, women’s clothing, home adornments, jewelry and more. 221 S. Third St., (630) 232-8855.
Kilwin’s Chocolates & Ice Cream
This family-owned shop specializes in chocolates, confections, truffles, cremes, candy, caramels and fudge. 407 S. Third St., (262) 248-4400.
The Metra puts you in the center of this town’s best shopping and dining.
Gnarly Knots Pretzel Chips
Try a traditional Bavarian-style pretzel, or go “knots” and order a pretzel infused with cheese, Italian beef or other delicious ingredients. 27W570 High Lake Road, (630) 473-0439.
John’s Restaurant and Tavern
This family restaurant has been a hoppin’ place since 1921. Its classic pub menu suits the timeless tavern atmosphere. 27W482 Jewell Road, (630) 752-2000.
Somsri Thai Food
More than 60 dishes to choose from, all made with ingredients directly imported from Thailand. A unique feature: you’re allowed to bring your own beverages. (630) 665-7811.
Winfield Flower Shoppe
From fruit baskets to flowers, there’s a plethora of gift ideas at this nationally recognized Top 500 flower shop. 0S118 Winfield Road, (630) 668-8460.
Antiques of Winfield
This newly renovated space of more than 6,000 square feet offers antiques from about 50 dealers who are always adding to their booths. 27W461 Beecher Ave., (630) 665-2525.
Metra’s first Wheaton stop puts you in the middle of its downtown district, while the College Avenue stop takes you to Wheaton College’s campus town.
Prairie Path Books
This independently owned bookstore is a reader’s haven, with the latest bestsellers, novelty books, children’s books, cards, stationery and holiday items. Inside Toms-Price Home Furnishings, 303 E. Front St., (630) 765-7455.
Mile Long Records
Classic rock-and-roll vinyl records and players make this shop a destination for any serious collector of classic vinyl recordings and new releases. The owner, an avid collector, selects each album for quality and condition. 350 W. Front St., (630) 474-4954.
This high-style bazaar features cutting-edge fashion and jewelry, unique home decor, handmade candles, mirrors, pillows and objects de art. 104 N. Hale St., (630) 580-9279.
Moore Toys & Gadgets
A colorful toy shop with interactive board games, educational and innovative toys and ‘gadgets’ to capture the imaginations of children and adults. The owner, a mother of three boys, selects all toys and games. 107 E. Front St., (630) 480-4285.
From classic teas to rare, exotic and flavored delights, this charming shop carries more than 100 varieties of loose-leaf teas. The shop also carries Downton Abbey gifts, tea towels, handcrafted porcelain teapots and sets, and other accessories. 221 W. Front St., (630) 784-8327.
Christmas Tea is served at this classic bistro from Nov. 28 through Dec. 31, Monday through Saturday at 2:30 p.m. and on Sundays at 1 p.m. Reservations are required for this sell-out event. 211 W. Front St., (630) 462-0898.
This European-style florist specializes in one-of-a-kind floral designs, lush and fresh arrangements and specialty gifts that are perfect for presenting to the hostess of your next holiday party. 204 W. Wesley St., (630) 456-4689.
This eclectic home decor and lifestyle store features dramatic mirror and wall decor, accent tables, glassware, linens, jewelry and scented candles. 120 N. Main St., (630) 665-5255.
The Metra pulls up to a vibrant shopping area, where “cute” quickly becomes your word of the day.
The Glen Art Theatre
Since the 1920s, this cinema has charmed visitors and locals alike. Catch a first-run or independent film. 540 Crescent Blvd., (630) 469-1976.
1 Happy Girl Boutique
Spoil a lucky lady in your family with clothing, shoes and accessories from this stylish boutique. 560 Crescent Blvd., (630) 243-1579.
Glen Ellyn Sweet Shop
This old-fashioned candy store features all kinds of chocolaty, sweet, sour and fruity candy, plus nostalgic treats from Zagnuts to Abba Zabas. 550 Crescent Blvd., (630) 942-1152.
A Toda Madre
Its name in Spanish is slang for “totally awesome,” and that’s how locals feel about the Mexican-inspired cuisine. 499 N. Main St, (630) 474-0969.
Sign of the Whale Antiques
Take a walk into 19th century America as you browse through quilts, folk art, decoys, early glass, oil paintings and accessories. 558 Crescent Blvd., (630) 469-5320.
Marcel’s Culinary Experience
Sometimes a gift basket is the way to go. Pick up a pre-packaged offering or create your own parcel of sauces, spices, breads, cheeses, sweet treats and kitchen tools. Or, ask about cooking classes. 490 N. Main St., (630) 790-8500.
The Metra drops you close to some of the best places in town.
Shannon’s Butcher and Deli Shop
Not only can you enjoy subs, sandwiches, soups and salads, but you can also arrange to have your entire Christmas dinner catered. 11 S. Park Ave., (630) 790-9080.
Fairy Tales Inc.
Collectible bears, figurines and dolls are just the beginning at this collectible treasure specialist. 28 St. Charles Road, (800) 495-6973.
Every piece of ladies’ fashion accessories is handmade, from the holiday dresses to the hats and household items. 19 St. Charles Road, (630) 785-3478.
Featuring modern European and French-inspired cuisine, this upscale dining establishment offers an experience that’s fun, intimate, energetic and personal. Be sure to try the crab cakes. 229 W. St. Charles Road, (630) 495-0470.
Step off the Metra into a familiar world of shopping, dining and recreation.
The Uptown Shop
Just steps away from the train station, this gift shop is a great stop for fun jewelry, clothing and furniture, with a selection of Vera Bradley, Trollbeads and other name-brand products. 111 E. First St., (630) 832-9200.
Main Street Candy & Toys
Kids (and kids at heart) love this neighborhood toy store’s industry “hot” toys, educational and specialty toys, and novelty, old-fashioned candy. 123 N. York Road, (630) 415-3195.
Since 1931, this downtown fixture has presented stylish fur coats, outerwear and accessories for both women and men. 107 N. York St., (630) 832-2200.
Two Brothers Ristorante & Pizzeria
Family recipes fuel the authentic Italian cuisine. Cutting carbs? Try the steak, ribs, seafood or sandwiches. 128 W. Park St., (630) 833-0414.
With more than 100 jewelry lines, this ladies’ fashion store has the right piece for that special someone. Other up-to-date accessory items are scattered throughout the shop. 140 N. York St., (630) 530-2965.
Elmhurst History Museum
This museum’s collection includes more than 15,000 artifacts; more than 10,000 photographs, letters and manuscripts; and a library of more than 500 books. Explore the new exhibit on Elmhurst’s 165-year history. 120 E. Park Ave., (630) 833-1457.