(Chris Linden photos)

Destination: Downtown Wheaton

A helpful daytripper’s guide to exploring our Northwest Chicagoland region. This time, we stop by Wheaton, a town that’s a real hidden gem.

(Chris Linden photos)

Formerly dubbed “The Dry City,” this charming community of more than 50,000 in central DuPage County knows how to enjoy itself. Its thriving downtown business district, nestled along the Metra tracks and Main Street, is a family-friendly destination that’s a balance between longtime merchants frozen in time and new additions who preserve the area’s architectural character. You’ll find big-box shopping along Illinois Route 64 and Illinois Route 38, but downtown is all about local.

➲ The Dress by Nicole
The Blackhawks-themed wedding dresses and tuxes in the window say it all: this place has spunk. Owner Nicole Kalteaux Kurz specially selects every wedding dress, prom dress and gown, many from niche designers. 131 W. Wesley St., (630) 653-3737.

➲ Andrew’s Garden
Launched from Andrew Parravano’s home in 2009, this fragrant addition to downtown caters fresh-cut arrangements and bouquets for many social events, especially weddings. Ask about floral classes, held every few weeks. 204 W. Wesley, (630) 456-4689.

➲ MOORE Toys & Gadgets
Children of all ages (and adults too!) are invited to stay and play at this colorful store, which is filled with STEM-inspired toys and games. Owner Diane Moore’s pre-teen sons are often on-hand to lead demos and offer product advice. Ask about school game nights. 107 E. Front St., (630) 480-4285.

➲ Prairie Path Books
Tucked inside a corner of Toms-Price Home Furnishings, this independent bookseller carries a diverse curation of reading materials and regularly hosts kids’ programming and book clubs. 303 E. Front St., (630) 765-7455.

➲ Little Popcorn Store
It’s literally a hole in the wall – a shop that’s 49 inches wide, sandwiched between two buildings. The wide collection of classic “penny” candies and popcorn have been a favorite with kids since it opened in 1921.
111 ¼ Front St., (630) 690-7712.

➲ Tasting deVine
Locals call it the “Cheers” of Wheaton because most nights you’ll find friends enjoying wines from Roselle-based Lynfred Winery. Take home a bottle, sip a glass or try a tasting – three reds, three whites and one fruit. 127 W. Front St., (630) 752-9463.

➲ Emmett’s Brewing Co.
The fourth, and newest, location of this favorite Fox Valley brewpub is set in a beautifully restored former bank. Open for lunch and dinner. 121 W. Front St., (630) 480-7181.

➲ Ivy of Wheaton
Built as a chapel in the late 1920s, this restaurant’s majestic interior and ivy-covered patio are the perfect setting for a casual white-tablecloth meal. 120 N. Hale St., (630) 665-2489.

➲ Wheaton College
Located at the far eastern end of downtown, this Christian college of 2,800 students is a cultural draw for many reasons, including:
• Artist Series: Welcomes big-name performers such as Yo-Yo Ma.
• Billy Graham Center Museum: Walks visitors through the history of American evangelism and the career of one of its most famous leaders.
• Meyer Science Center: Its interactive atrium museum is kid-friendly and includes the Perry Mastodon, which was uncovered in Glen Ellyn in 1963.

➲ Cantigny Park
The estate of Chicago Tribune magnate Col. Robert R. McCormick is now a draw for golfing, historical re-enactments, gardeners and family gatherings. It’s also home to the kid-friendly First Division military museum. 1S151 Winfield Road, (630) 668-5161.

➲ Major Events
There’s always something happening downtown. Draws include Wheaton Brew Fest on Aug. 1, Wine & Cultural Arts Festival on Sept. 19, Lighted Holiday Parade on Nov. 27 and Holiday Stroll on Dec. 5.