WNDR Guide to Chicago’s West Loop

May 24, 2024

Before or after you’ve experienced the immersive magic found at the intersection of art, people and technology, you may be wondering what else is on the agenda. Maybe you’re hungry, maybe you’re tired, maybe your appetite for art has been ignited and you’re ready to see more. While it may be hard to believe, the West Loop neighborhood has a lot more to offer than just our humble venue. In fact, within a five-minute walk of this establishment, you’ll find plenty of wonder-sparking places to eat, shop, lounge or simply consider the vastness of the universe and your place within it. 

The WNDR Guide to the West Loop is a niche collection of locations close to our museum where WNDR guests can find inspiration, respite, a tasty bite or all of the above. We chose our picks based on the following two key criteria:

  1. Does it inspire wonder? 
  2. Is it within a short walk of the museum?

All of the following options fit the bill, so go forth and wander. 


WNDR is but a stone’s throw away from some of Chicago’s finest dining offerings, and there’s no shortage of “Best in Chicago” lists featuring those spots. If you’re looking to drop some money on food and beverages in Fulton Market, you can check out one of those lists. If you’re looking for a quick, delicious and under the radar bite nearby, we got you.

J.P. Graziano

J.P. Graziano Grocery: Arguably the best Italian deli in the city is just a 5 minute walk away. If you’re in the mood for fresh sliced meats and cheeses piled high on an assortment of perfectly baked Italian breads, you know what to do. Every sandwich is made to order and will keep you full for the rest of the day, if not until tomorrow morning. Order the Mr. G with hot peppers and a side of olives, and do it online if you want to skip the lunchtime rush line. Trust us, you won’t regret it. 

Talay Chicago: A quality Thai and sushi joint that serves up perfectly spicy hot noodles and curries, cold sashimi, a creative mix of sushi rolls and a wide variety of sakes, beer and wine. Perfect for a casual lunch or dinner out on the town, or a delicious takeout meal to eat in front of the TV. 

Morgan Street Cafe: This classic, counter-service neighborhood cafe is open for breakfast and lunch with an assortment of sandwiches, burritos and wraps for your munching pleasure. Pro tip: their dog-friendly patio space is a great spot to enjoy an egg sandwich and a coffee on a sunny day. Bring a book and a dog and soak up the sun.

Cone Gourmet

Cone Gourmet Ice Cream: A family-owned and operated ice cream shop with a fun array of flavors that will help keep you cool and satiated on even the hottest summer days. Originally from Ireland, owner Sean McGuire adds a little old country flair to his ice cream flavors, with options ranging from Irish favorites like Jameson, Guinness and Baileys to the Irish Breakfast, a delicious combination of candied bacon and Cinnamon Toast Crunch. According to the staff, the biggest crowd-pleaser on the menu is Cone’s neon blue Cookie Monster flavor, which features a crunchy cookie combo of Oreos, Chips Ahoy and good, old-fashioned cookie dough.

Sumu Tokyo Ramen & Sushi: Load up on noodles, dumplings and sushi galore at this underrated Madison Street gem. From their signature no-broth ramen to the complex and umami flavor of their 10-hour pork and chicken broths, Sumu has a lot to love at a price point that’s significantly lower than what you’d find just a few blocks north. Try the Thai tea with boba for a sweet afternoon pick-me-up.

Pockets Restaurant: Good for vegans, vegetarians and omnivores alike. With an assortment of salads, wraps and their signature pita pocket sandwiches packed with veggies and their signature ranch dressing, this unassuming lunch spot is a good option for a quick, healthy meal that won’t leave you in a bloated energy slump.


Madison Street Books

Madison Street Books: There are few things more wonder-inducing than stepping into an independent bookshop. It’s a veritable feast for the senses – the comforting smell of paper, the colorful sight of floor to ceiling bookshelves, the feeling of flipping casually through the pages of a new book and the anticipation of being sucked into a story that’s not your own. Madison Street Books has all of this and more, a welcoming spot for book-lovers looking for a peaceful respite from the busy city streets. 

The Fig Tree: A bright, cute and cozy gift shop chock full of everything from candles and cards to socks and jewelry. Let’s just say if you have a Millennial mom in your life, you’re destined to find something she’ll love at The Fig Tree. 

Leaders 1354: A fixture in urban streetwear since 2002, this apparel retailer is a frequent stop for Chicago locals Chance the Rapper and Chief Keef, who both appreciate the wide selection of creatively designed hats, shoes, hoodies and accessories. Anyone looking to add another pair of sneakers to their growing collection would do well to stop by for a quick browse through this iconic establishment.

Play West Loop

Play West Loop: What better way to spark wonder in the hearts and minds of the youth than to bring them to Play? This Chicago toy store chain is dedicated to helping kids learn, grow and enjoy themselves through the power of play. If you’re shopping for a creative kid who may want something a little more sophisticated than anything you’ll find in the Target toy aisles, Play has a great selection of unique toys for kids of all ages, abilities and interests. Plus, their helpful staff is happy to make recommendations. 

Smitten Boutique: A quirky cool gift shop with something for everyone, Smitten Boutique boasts a wide array of jewelry, kitchen gadgets, home goods, kids toys and self care products in a cheerful modern space. Stock up on greeting cards for any occasion, and don’t forget to hit them up if you’re ever in the market for custom invitations. 

Notre: If you’ve ever looked at pictures of Kim Kardashian’s palatial minimalist home and thought “That looks like a great place to buy upscale clothing and accessories,” look no further than Notre. The expansive and minimalist store reads more like a museum than a boutique, but the ever-changing stock of high-end styles on the racks are anything but antiquated. 

Dispensary 33: What do you get when you cross an art gallery with a dispensary? Head over to Dispensary 33 to find out. This sleek and futuristic weed shop has all the THC, CBD and CBA goodies you could ever desire, and the laid-back, customer-focused service is great for cannabis consumers of all types. Whether you’re a seasoned pro or a relative newbie, the staff is always happy to help you find exactly the product you’re looking for. 


Vietfive Coffee

Vietfive Coffee: Founded by a first generation Vietnamese immigrant, Vietfive is arguably much more than just a coffee shop and brand. Yes, their Vietnamese-style coffee is some of the best in town, but they also sell delicious pastries, banh mi sandwiches, bowls and empanadas. Stop by Monday through Thursday from 4-7pm for their BYOB happy hour, and make sure to take a few cute pics for social media next to their iconic pink ladder. 

Drip Collective: High ceilings, lots of natural light, a killer playlist blasting at full volume and a rotating selection of artwork add a cool and airy vibe to this West Loop coffee shop. This isn’t your average caffeine factory – every drink is made to order and you can taste the care and precision in every drop. Try the Ube espresso for a sweet shot of energy.

Groundswell: A small, no-frills coffee joint with a simple menu and wide selection of Do-Rite donuts for dipping. Perfect for grabbing a java on the go when you’re in a rush.


The Publishing House Bed and Breakfast

The Publishing House Bed and Breakfast: Need a place to rest your head that’s more than just a chain hotel? The stylish and centrally-located Publishing House Bed and Breakfast is a great choice for those seeking an elevated, full-service hospitality experience with a dark academia vibe. With incredible, white-glove service, delicious breakfast offerings that go far beyond a continental, and impeccable decor in every library-themed room, you’ll sleep soundly in the former Methodist publishing house turned casket factory turned hologram museum turned hotel. 

Hyatt House Chicago: A great option for longer stays, Hyatt House rooms feature a little kitchenette and sweeping city views that allow you to pretend you’ve moved into a studio apartment in the West Loop. In fact, depending on the season, a month-long stay at the Hyatt House may actually be cheaper than renting a studio in the most expensive neighborhood in the city. Something for even locals to consider!

Crowne Plaza West Loop: The location is prime and the digs are clean, comfortable standard hotel fare. Plus, pets are allowed, so you can feel free to bring Fido along for a nap. 


Kavi Gupta Gallery

Kavi Gupta Gallery: A contemporary art gallery with a rotating selection of innovative and thought provoking modern exhibits and art pieces, this internationally-known name in the art world is a mainstay at events such as Art Basel, EXPO Chicago and Frieze. With free admission and a dedication to uplifting diverse and underrepresented artists, there’s always something to feast your eyes and ears upon at the Kavi Gupta Gallery. 

Gallery 400: A nonprofit gallery featuring the work of University of Illinois at Chicago Art and Art History students, Gallery 400 is free to the public and within walking distance of WNDR. Stop by to see the latest from the next generation of up-and-coming artists. 

MADE Gallery: Part art gallery, part sneaker store, part artesian retailer for glass bowls, bongs and bubblers, MADE gallery is a beautiful hodgepodge of culture and positive energy. 

Big Monster Toys Door

Big Monster Toys Door: Adoring the entrance of the former Big Monster Toys’ corporate office is a giant yellow door that’s practically begging to become your next viral Instagram photo. No, you can’t go inside, but why would you want to when the experience of pretending to be a tiny person can be had for free on the street?

Epiphany Center for the Arts: Located in the opulent former Church of the Epiphany, this combination art gallery, music venue, event and studio space is worth the walk over to Ashland Ave. Stop by for “Golden Hour” Wednesday through Saturday at 5pm to enjoy a $4 beer, two for one light bites, half priced bottles of wine and a live show from a featured musical guest. 


Skinner (Mark Park)

Skinner (Mark) Park: Situated with a perfect view of the Chicago skyline, this seven-acre public park features a community garden, a bustling playground, baseball fields, basketball counts and a host of summertime events like Movies in the Park. Come by with a picnic and a book and relax on the grass.  

Bartelme (Mary) Park: A small neighborhood park with a playground, sunken dog park, fountain and artistic “gateway” sculpture that emits a spray of vaporized water on hot summer days, Mary Bartelme Park is the perfect place to cool down and take in the city. 

Union Park: While perhaps best known as the venue for Pitchfork, Union Park is more than just a playground for your favorite indie artists. Stop by in the summer to take a dip in the park’s outdoor pool, hit some homeruns on the baseball diamonds or sign your kids up for day camp.

Written by Caroline Thompson, a freelance writer and content strategist based in Chicago, Illinois.


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