Whether you’re planning a trip to Chicago or a staycation weekend, this is your guide to sustainable things to do in the second city.
In this roundup, you’ll find plenty of plant-based and vegan-friendly restaurants, ethical fashion stores, lower impact modes of transportation, and environmentally conscious things to do in and nearby the Windy City.
After living in three different Chicago neighborhoods and living nearby *not to be dramatic* since I was born, I’ve slowly but surely expanded my collection of favorite conscious Chicago spots I love. And now I’m sharing those all with you!
And there certainly is no shortage of things to do in Chicago! But before we get to those, I want to share about a glamping-style nature retreat just outside of the city. Because: sometimes you just want to disconnect and do less.
Getaway House: A Nearby Nature Escape
Whether you live in Chicago and want to plan a weekend escape, or you’re visiting the city and want to add on an extra leg to your trip, Getaway’s outpost in Michigan will be just what you’re looking for.
What is Getaway? It’s likely you’ve seen their internet famous cabins on Instagram, but perhaps you’re still curious what Getaway is all about.
Getaway House offers modern, tiny cabins surrounded in nature. To date, there are 20 different outposts (i.e. locations) that Getaway offers, all about two hours away from major cities in the United States. Each outpost has several 1-bed and 2-bed cabins.
My husband and I visited the Chicago Outpost in Grand Junction, Michigan in May of 2022. This location is also known as Getaway Barber Creek. It was about 2 hours 15 min away and a 15-20 minute ride outside of the beachside city of South Haven.
The location was ideal for enjoying the great outdoors without totally being in the middle of nowhere. We had been to South Haven before, but our experience at Getaway was completely different! South Haven can get quite crowded while Getaway’s tiny cabins are a quiet escape into nature.
Here’s an overview of the key things to know about Getaway and their Chicago Outpost!
The Getaway Cabins
Getaway’s sleek cabins are a glamping style accommodation — you have everything you need and nothing you don’t.
Inside the cabin, you can expect to find all your basics: bed, small table and chair, equipped kitchen, and private bathroom.
The queen-sized bed (or beds if you get a 2-bed cabin by the wide window overlooking nature is certainly the main attraction! Truly the view is even more impressive in person — especially if you get nice weather on your trip.
The kitchen is stocked with all your cooking essentials from cookware and utensils to dinnerware and silverware. There are also a few cooking ingredients like salt, pepper, and olive oil. There’s also a mini-fridge and electric stove top with a kettle. Plus you have dish soap, a sponge, and cloth towels to clean your dishes as well!
Also on each cabin’s kitchen counter, there are a few provisions available for purchase. You can find responsibly-sourced coffee, tea, and my personal highlight: a perfectly portioned s’mores pack with ingredients to make 4 s’mores. Roasting marshmallows over the campfire totally transported me back to my favorite summers in childhood!
And the bathroom has everything you need as well: a toilet, shower (with body wash, shampoo, and conditioner inside), and bath towels.
Outside of the Cabins
Since this is glamping, what’s outside of the cabins is just as — if not more — important!
Similar to what you’d find at a campground, you have your own outdoor space to relax and soak up the great outdoors. But you’ll have far more space than a typical RV or camping lot, which is quite nice. Getaway also strategically places the cabins so that you probably won’t even see your neighbors. (Socially distant by design, as they say!)
Next to each cabin at the Getaway Chicago Outpost, you’ll have: space to park, a picnic bench, Adirondack chairs, a fire pit, and bundles of logs for purchase.
On our Getaway trip, we cooked and ate all of our meals outside using both the fire pit and our camping stove. (If you don’t have a camping stove, don’t worry! You could also use the indoor electric stove inside the cabins.)
More Near the Cabins
At Getaway Barber Creek, there was a small lake nearby with a little enclave exclusive to Getaway guests, so you could pack your swimwear to take a dip or bring / rent a canoe.
There were also several trails within a 20 minute drive and a couple of large public beaches along Lake Michigan. So bring your hiking gear and maybe even your bike if you’d like to get active on your getaway!
Finally, as I mentioned in the beginning, South Haven is just 20 minutes away from the Getaway grounds and it’s a super cute beach town along Lake Michigan.
For more ideas on what to do on your Getaway trip plus a packing list, check out my full Getaway Review.
Use code CONSCIOUSLIFE for $25 off your booking
Ethical Fashion and Eco-Friendly Shops in Chicago
There are a LOT of secondhand shops around the city. Here are a few to check out:
Neighborhood: Wicker Park
This fun and eclectic secondhand shop is full of unique pieces. And it’s located in one of the go-to spots for preloved finds in the city: Wicker Park.
Neighborhood: Wicker Park, Andersonville, and Lincoln Park
Crossroads is a secondhand shop with a pretty strong collection of women’s and men’s clothing and accessories.
This social enterprise secondhand store sells preloved goods in an effort to raise money for their 3 core missions: break cycles of youth homelessness, rebuild lives, and reduce recidivism.
Opened in 2008, Knee Deep Vintage is on a mission to curate the best unique and fashion-forward vintage clothing from around the world. Their staff has decades of experience and is committed to helping their customers find exactly what they’re looking for.
Dedicated to being Chicago’s premiere designer consignment boutique, Mr. & Mrs. DIGZ carefully curates preloved designer items from labels like Prada, Eileen Fisher, Michael Kors, and Alice + Olivia to give them a new life. Mr. & Mrs. DIGZ also offers services like styling, personal shopping, and estate buy-outs.
Ethical Fashion & Decor Shops:
There are also many small boutiques where you can find sustainably-sourced and ethically-made goods!
Andersonville Galleria hosts over 100 independent artisans in their space. This is a great spot to support locally-made goods in a convenient spot. The galleria is open 7 days a week.
Dearborn Denim & Apparel creates high-quality denim jeans in classic styles that were designed, cut, and sewn in the United States. They also sell other apparel, belts, and accessories at their North Clark Street location.
The Shudio is a boutique in Pilsen with eco-conscious jewelry handcrafted locally in Chicago from vintage and recycled materials, unique, handmade cards, and natural, gender-neutral fragrances made with essential oils.
Milk Handmade is a small boutique with handcrafted goods and pieces from many local and independent designers.
Neighborhoods: Lincoln Square and Wicker Park
This Chicago-based shop curates handmade, ethically-sourced, locally-made, and earth-friendly goods. Expect to find home and lifestyle products, from kitchenwares to artwork.
Sustainable Chicago Eats: Organic, Plant-Based, Farm-to-Table, and Mission-Driven Restaurants in Chicago
While known for our deep dish pizza and Chicago style hot dogs, there are also a growing number of vegan, vegetarian, farm-to-table, and mission-driven locally-owned restaurants in the city.
For a long list of restaurants that source farm fresh, local ingredients check out Chicago Farm & Table.
Belli’s is an independently-owned and woman-owned healthy local market and cold pressed juice bar The plant-based store offers made-to-order smoothies, fresh salads, vegan food, health lattes, and cold-pressed juices.
Neighborhood: Gold Coast
This farm-to-table spot is focused on seasonal, sustainably-sourced ingredients. Blue Door Kitchen & Garden serves lunch and dinner, plus weekend brunch. If you’re in Chicago during the warmer weather months, definitely request to sit outside — they have a gorgeous garden seating area!
Neighborhoods: Lakeview and Logan Square
Since 1983, Chicago Diner has been serving meat-free cuisine at it’s traditional-style diner. They serve brunch, lunch, and dinner, plus some pretty incredible desserts, including their (rightfully) award-winning vegan milkshakes.
Neighborhood: Gold Coast
Completely vegan and entirely raw, this spot has healthier versions of all of your traditional favorites, like lasagne, burgers, and chocolate. The raw raviolis are really good, and they also have delicious smoothies.
Neighborhood: Logan Square
Stock up on snacks and cooking ingredients at this collectively-owned, community-centered grocery store. Dill Pickle Food Co-Op also has grab and go options like soups, salads, and sandwiches for lunch on the run.
Neighborhood: River North (they also have a “Farm Bar” located in Lakeview)
Farmhouse Chicago sources their ingredients sustainably and locally in the Midwest. The brunch, lunch, and dinner spot is much more approachable than a typical farm-to-table style restaurant.
Neighborhood: River North
Frontera Grill is an award-winning Mexican restaurant by Top Chef, Rick Bayless. They source many local, seasonal ingredients, they compost, and the building is LEED certified. While there aren’t a lot of meat-free choices on the menu, I did have two vegetarian dishes here that were incredible!
This woman of color-led nondairy creamery is on a mission to drive a solidarity economy through ice cream. The cooperative donates 100% of profits to grassroots movements.
Neighborhood: Logan Square
A cute café and “boheme bistro” with many local, fresh ingredients and plenty of vegetarian options. Founded in 1999, they were at the forefront of the farm-to-table movement in Chicago.
Neighborhood: Lincoln Park
Situated overlooking a pond and the Chicago skyline, this restaurant offers an intimate setting and a menu that features exceptional seasonal ingredients. The small restaurant supports small, local farmers, growers and producers.
Neighborhood: Park Manor
Just as it sounds, this restaurant has your typical Southern soul food in vegetarian form. Their menu of comfort foods include items like meat-free chicken wings and burgers.
Neighborhood: River North
The Kitchen is a beautiful, chic restaurant using organic, sustainably-sourced and local ingredients in their fresh dishes. If you’re making a stop during a warmer time of year, request a table outside overlooking the river.
Neighborhoods: Lakeview and Edgewater
As the first certified organic rooftop farm in the US and first organic brewery in Chicago, Uncommon Ground is leading the way for sustainable restaurants and bars. They’re open for brunch, lunch, and dinner.
Neighborhood: East Wicker Park
This all-vegan ice cream shop offers oat milk soft serve, vegan milkshakes, and vegan sundaes (flavors include s’mores and cosmic cake). Check out more vegan-friendly ice cream shops in Chicago here.
Conscious Coffee Shops and Cafes in Chicago
Neighborhood: Back Of The Yards
As one of the only Latinx and woman-owned coffee companies in the US, this coffeehouse has a four-pronged mission they refer to as their SEED: Social Impact, Economic Development, Environmental Responsibility, and Direct Relations. From how they source their coffee to who they hire, everything Back Of The Yards Coffee does is guided by this mission.
More than just a coffee shop, Everybody’s Coffee opened their cafe “to be a place of welcome for everybody and to provide a space of connection and creativity.”
Created by a racially diverse group of founders, Everybody’s Coffee is committed to supporting their community, actively fighting racism and inequity, and has partnered with Cornerstone Community Outreach — an organization that helps feed + house families experiencing homelessness in Chicago.
Neighborhoods: Wicker Park, Bucktown, Hyde Park, North Loop, Downtown (Millennium Park), Fulton Market, River North, and Bell Works
Fairgrounds Coffee and Tea is an aesthetically pleasing cafe with a range of espresso, matcha, tea, elixirs, and of course: coffee. A play on words, Fairgrounds is both a reflection of the cafe’s commitment to fair business practices and embracing the youthful adventure of a fairground.
Neighborhoods: Old Town, Wicker Park, Logan Square, South Loop, Lakeview, and Downtown (by Millennium Park)
Intelligentsia is a Chicago-based roaster and coffee shop chain that purchases their coffee beans direct from their growers. (No middlemen means more money in the pockets of the coffee bean farmers.)
USDA organic and Fair Trade certified, Metropolis Coffee Company is dedicated to serving ethical, sustainable and high-quality coffee! Their café in Edgewater is super cozy, and often filled with students from nearby Loyola University (my alma mater!). Metropolis also sells their coffee in many other cafés and restaurants around the city that you can find here.
Neighborhood: West Loop
A small coffee shop of the renowned barista and latte art expert Hiroshi Sawada. Order yourself a matcha or an espresso drinks with beautiful latte art. They have plenty of vegan milk options.
Outdoor Things To Do and Places to Go in Chicago
Urban vacations don’t usually correlate with outdoor activities, but with more than 8,300 acres of green space, nearly 600 parks, 70 nature and bird sanctuaries, and 29 beaches, there’s certainly plenty to do outside in Chicago!
Green City Market
Chicago’s year-round farmer’s market Green City Market lifts up Midwestern farmers and growers, promotes ecological stewardship, and offers a bustling market for local and sustainably sourced food in Chicago.
The Nature Museum
Of course we can’t have sustainable travel guide to Chicago without the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum! The family-friendly museum is open all 7 days of the week 10am – 4pm. Check out their events calendar too for plenty of educational activities and workshops.
Green Spaces & Parks
As one of the top 10 tourist destinations in the United States, you’ve likely heard about and seen photos of this iconic park. But trust me, it’s still worth a visit! I’ve been there upwards of 30-40 times and still find it’s beauty breathtaking. (Just be advised that there will be large crowds on the weekends, so try to plan to check it out Monday – Thursday if possible.)
Just a few steps away from Millennium Park, you’ll find another gorgeous–and slightly less crowded—green space, Grant Park. This is a really lovely spot to explore during the spring and summer when the flowers have bloomed!
Set along an abandoned rail line, the 606 is newly restored and renovated park with nearly 3 miles of recreational trail and open green space.
This area encompasses nearly 7 miles of lakeshore and includes the Lincoln Park Cultural Center and the Lincoln Park Conservatory, which is a beautiful (and completely free) space filled with exotic plants. There are also paths for walking and biking in the area.
This spot includes 2 acres of green space under glass and 10 acres outside. They also host eco-centered events such as a beekeeper demonstration and composting workshop.
Lake Michigan Beaches
Despite being known more for its blizzards than beaches, Chicago is actually a great city for laying on the sand.
There are 29 beaches along Lake Michigan to choose from in the city. Some popular beaches with amenities (like restrooms, kayak rentals, beachside bars, etc.) are Oak Street Beach, North Avenue Beach, Montrose Beach, and Ohio Street Beach. For a more quiet, out of the way spot, Loyola Beach is worth checking out.
The Chicago Riverwalk is my favorite place to walk along after work or place to hang out on the weekends. The mile-long path along the Chicago River has restaurants, bars, boat tours and kayak rentals. I highly recommend City Winery for enjoying a glass of wine by the water.
Concerts in the Park
One of the best parts of being in the city during the summer (besides the rooftop bars) is the Grant Park Music Festival – a FREE series of outdoor concerts June through August. And these aren’t just any old concerts, they feature leading classical vocalists and instrumentalists in the city. (Including my Aunt who’s a singer with the Chicago Symphony Chorus!)
Getting Around with Cleaner Transportation in Chicago
Great! So we have all of these fun things to do, stores to shop in, and restaurants to eat at… but how do we get to them? Here are three sustainable ways of getting around in the city.
Chicago has a reliable and affordable public transit system with hundreds of bus routes and numerous L lines. “L” is the nickname for elevated trains—they run on tracks over the city like the photo above. You can buy an unlimited one-day pass for $10 and a one-week pass for $28 through the Ventra vending machines available at the various train stops. (Note: These passes are NOT sold on the buses.)
You can find schedules and transit times here on Chicago Transit Authority’s website. Google Maps also generally has pretty accurate times and navigation for getting around on Chicago buses and trains.
And Chicago is one of the few American cities with a convenient train system from the airports. If you’re getting in from Midway Airport, take the orange line, and if you’re getting in from O’Hare International Airport, take the blue line. It’s only $5 to get anywhere you want to go in the city from the airports, and just $2.50 to get anywhere from the city to the airports.
With 303 miles of bike lanes in the city, Chicago is also pretty biker-friendly. But no need to haul your bike over, there’s a popular rental system throughout the city, called Divvy. Bike rentals are $3 for a trip or $15 for a day. While you may be a bit nervous to ride through a city you’re unfamiliar with, there are 19 miles of bike path right along Lake Michigan.
And of course, if it’s nice weather, Chicago is a beautiful city to walk through. I still discover little gems when I decide to take the “long route” and walk instead of riding the train or bus.
Do you have any questions about your trip to Chicago? Any places you’ve been that you think should be added in the list? Let me know in a comment below or DM me on Instagram!