Bookish Tourist Chicon Guide

Whenever I travel, I like to play tourist mostly by checking out the bookstores and cafes. Since loads of speculative-fiction types are coming for this year’s Worldcon, I thought a book-focused tour guide of Chicago might be in order.

This is an extremely partial and subjective list, there’s loads of bookstores and other writerly/readerly attractions I left off here for brevity’s sake! But, if you’re looking for an excuse to check out a neighborhood or two while you’re in town, I hope this gives you some ideas.

Note on getting around Chicago: While it’s far from perfect, public transit is probably my single favorite thing about Chicago. The CTA includes trains and buses: I suggest just getting a day pass if you’re going to be using it at all, as you can use it for both without worrying about the cost. Note that the Metra regional rail is separate from the CTA; it’s inexpensive and fast, but often not as convenient in terms of schedule or station placement (the Hyatt is just a few blocks from Millennium Park station, however). Also note that not all CTA train stations are wheelchair-accessible, though the majority are.

If you’re driving around Chicago, it’s pretty chill, except for the Loop itself (and the 90/94/290 in rush hours). There’s generally street parking available somewhere—again, except for the Loop. Taxis and rideshares are also a quick option for many trips.

If you’re a cyclist, Chicago is good but not great for infrastructure; the Hyatt gives you easy access to the Lakefront trail for car-less north-south travel and great views of the lake. Divvy bikes are cheap omnipresent options if you’re a reasonably comfortable cyclist and want to make some quick trips or touristy rides.

Here’s a Google Map with all these locations (and the Hyatt!) marked:

And away we go:

American Writers Museum

180 North Michigan Ave, in the Loop
A museum dedicated to writers & writing! A very cool space, and with a special Ray Bradbury exhibit they’re keeping up special for Chicon. There are two Fringe outings planned to the AWM, and it’s close enough for an impromptu visit if you’re interested.

  • How to Get There: It’s a 2-block walk from the Hyatt.
  • While You’re in the Area: You’re right next to the Loop and all its cool downtown stuff—if you’re needing more museum, I highly recommend the free & amazing Chicago Cultural Center just a few blocks away. Or, head north across the river for a walking tour of the Magnificent Mile—check out after-words & Volumes bookstores while you’re up there!

Harold Washington Library

400 S. State St, in the Loop

Chicago has 81 public library branches, and the Harold Washington is their towering flagship. Well worth a visit for the real book-nerds among you. If you need a quiet but breathtaking place to hang out for a while, the Winter Garden (an enclosed, beautiful courtyard on the ninth floor) is a treat.

  • How to Get There: It’s about a mile from the convention, with multiple bus & train options (the #6 bus will take you basically door to door, and a good chunk of the train lines stop right by it).
  • While You’re in the Area: Check out the gorgeous and understated architecture in the area, and go inside for a coffee or a quick bite—the Monadnock Building and the Chicago Board of Trade are two personal faves. You should definitely check out Exile in Bookville, one of the coolest and most beautiful bookstores in Chicago, just a couple blocks away. Don’t miss the Calder statue in Federal Plaza, and for a fantastic lunch spot that’s a tour of Chicago eateries in one building, I highly recommend Revival Food Hall (closed Saturday & Sunday, though). There’s some good eats and nice sights just south of the library on Printer’s Row, as well, and you might stop by Sandmeyer’s Bookstore while you’re there.

Bucket O’Blood

3182 N. Elston Ave, in Avondale
If there’s one bookstore that Worldcon visitors need to go to in Chicago, it’s this one—used and new, specializing in science fiction, fantasy, and horror. They’re also a record store (with a complimentary focus on metal) and have loads of cool merch. Very cool and friendly store. They're hosting a horror reading event on Sunday, 9/4.

  • How to Get There: If you’re driving, there’s street parking nearby. By public transit, Blue Line to Belmont or California bus should take ~30-40 minutes if you catch it right.
  • While You’re in the Area: Grab a coffee & a snack at Caravanserai, one of Dark Matter’s locations. Or check out the lovely Metropolis/Metropolitan Roasterie/Brewery campus right by the river. DMen Tap is a D&D inspired pub with great food & drinks (with nice vegan options), and Kuma’s Corner is a good burger joint.

57th Street Books

1301 E. 57th Street, in Hyde Park

Fantastic labyrinth of a bookstore, highly recommended; 57th & the Sem Co-op are pillars of the literary scene here. If you're in town early enough, they're hosting an event with Naseem Jamnia & August Clarke on Tuesday, 8/30.

  • How to Get There: Hyde Park’s a bit of a hike, but there’s transit options (#6 bus or Green Line to #55; it’s also a great excuse to take the Metra Electric line). It’s a 15/20 minute drive if you’re driving, and street parking is theoretically available.
  • While You’re in the Area: You’re right by Powell’s Used Books (did you know they had a Chicago branch?) and it’s honestly worth your time to check out the Seminary Co-Op, which is the slightly more serious sister to 57th Street Books—even if you don’t need any more books, it’s worth it for the coffee and light fare at Plein Air Cafe. Medici’s is also a great lunch or dinner spot. You’re right by great museums, including the DuSable Black History Museum, the Oriental Institute, and the Museum of Science and Industry, or you could just take a walk through lovely & expansive Jackson Park.

Pilsen Community Books

1102 W. 18th St., in Pilsen

A worker-owned used & new bookstore with a great social justice focus, and possibly the best tote bag.

  • How to Get There: Several transit options, and a short drive. If you’re up for a 1ish mile walking tour of Pilsen, you can take the Pink line to the 18th St. stop and walk down to the bookstore.
  • While You’re in the Area: Yet more books available at Open Books, a literacy nonprofit who run great used bookstores. Pilsen (& neighboring…neighborhoods) has great street art and loads of great eating options (bump this up your list if you’re looking for a good Mexican restaurant or 5). You’re right next door to the Chicago Arts district, which has more than 30 galleries (many open to the public at various times), as well as the superb (and free!) National Museum of Mexican Art.

Madison Street Books

1127 W. Madison Street, in the West Loop

A fun indie bookstore with lots of great finds.

  • How to Get There: Pretty easy transit by bus or the Green Line. If driving, you can probably find street parking nearby.
  • While You’re in the Area: The West Loop & Fulton Market are hubs for higher-end dining (with plenty of affordable options in the mix); it’s honestly hard to narrow it down. Sawada Coffee is a cool joint, and, if you can get in, High Five Ramen is one of the best ramen joints around. The Haymarket Pub & Brewery might be a good option for a group outing. You’re near the WNDR Museum if that looks up your alley!

Myopic Books

1564 N. Milwaukee, in Wicker Park

Legendary used bookstore, 3+ floors of awesome stuff. (Be aware that there are no elevators, though.) Head to the basement for a gigantic and frequently-rotating SFF selection.

  • How to Get There: Super-easy shot up the Blue Line. Also an easy drive, but you may need to hunt for parking depending on when you go.
  • While You’re in the Area: Wicker Park is loaded with cool shops; definitely check out Quimby’s for indie comics, zines, and more, and the original Wormhole location (a cafe with SFF/horror/pop culture stylings) should probably be on your list. Tons of great food & drinks in the area, with lots of good veg options. Falafel & Grill is my favorite fast/cheap/really good bite in the city. Even more good options down on Division Street, and check out Semicolon Books while you’re down there.

City Lit Books

2523 N. Kedzie Blvd., in Logan Square

One of the coolest indies in the city, if I do say so myself—full disclosure, I work here! Small, but packed with well-curated books, including a great speculative fiction section. They're hosting an author event on Thursday 9/1 with Meg Elison, Victor Manibo, and Nino Cipri.

  • How to Get There: Super-easy shot up the Blue Line (just make sure you get off at the Kedzie side of the stop). Easy drive, and there’s parking around.
  • While You’re in the Area: Logan Square is another walkable commercial hub, with lots of shops and restaurants. Wolfbait & B-Girls is a great stop for Chicago-crafted souvenirs/gifts. Unusually high density of good cafes around here—if you’re driving or don’t mind a half-mile walk (or quick hop on the bus), horror-themed The Brewed & Bric-a-Brac Records & Collectibles are worth a stop. I recommend Lula for light-but-fancy fare, Reno for pizza & salad (& great breakfast/brunch actually), Same Day for sandwiches, or head down to the Chicago Diner for awesome vegetarian comfort food. If you’re here on Sunday, there’s a good farmer’s market on the boulevard from 9-3.

Unabridged Books

3251 N. Broadway, in Northalsted

Distressingly well-stocked indie bookstore, with great SFF options; they also have excellent LGBTQ+ selections and a sizable sale room. Of all the bookstores in Chicago, this is the one I have the hardest time leaving without buying something.

  • How to Get There: Pretty easy bus ride, or take the Brown Line (the best line!) and walk a half-mile from the Belmont Stop. Also an easy drive, and there’s street parking, but you might have to hunt around a little for it.
  • While You’re in the Area: The Gallery used bookstore (right by the Belmont stop) has some eclectic deep cuts in their surprisingly large SF section. Lots of good eating/drinking options in this neighborhood, including the original Chicago Diner & Intelligentsia Coffee locations. For scenic views of the lake and some fresh air, you’re just a block or two from the Lakefront Trail.

Women & Children First

5233 N. Clark St., in Andersonville

Feminist indie bookstore with a great children’s section, frequent stop for SFF authors.

  • How to Get There: Bit of a haul by bus, but doable; 15-20 minute drive, and parking should be findable.
  • While You’re in the Area: Uncharted Books, a very cool/quirky used place, is right nearby, as is AlleyCat Comics. If you’re there before they sell out, Lost Larson is a must for bakery treats. Belgian brewpub Hopleaf is an unusually good place for a conversation, and there’s tons of other good bars and restaurants in the area, including good Ethiopian options on Broadway. Rosehill Cemetery is a relaxing, beautiful place to walk around. You’re also not far from Dice Dojo, which I think is Chicago’s largest tabletop game store.

Underground Bookstore

Indie bookstore focused on Black, African, and Diasporan authors.

1727 E. 87th St., in Stoney Island Park

  • How to Get There: About an hour by bus, or a half-hour drive.
  • While You’re in the Area: You’re not far from the Bronzeville Children’s Museum, and not too far further to the Pullman/Porter site & museum. If you’re driving down this way & need a meal, consider Soul Veg City on 75th, probably my favorite restaurant in Chicago.

Bookends & Beginnings

1712 Sherman Ave, Evanston IL

Indie bookstore in a very cool space, just north of Chicago proper. Nice SFF selection, and a lot of cool finds.

  • How to Get There: Around an hour by transit, but pretty easy—time your Purple Line transit right and it’s not too bad; way faster by Metra if the schedules align. Easy/scenic drive.
  • While You’re in the Area: Evanston’s pretty fancy, with some great eating & drinking options. Check out the rare books at Amaranth if you’re interested, or swing by Comix Revolution. For coffee, I’d suggest the Coffee Lab (with awesome Asian pastries) or the Dollop + Hoosier Mama Pie place. The lakefront is very scenic up here, with good views of the skyline from Northwestern University; you’re also near the astonishing Bahá'í House of Worship. Head west towards Skokie for good bagel options, including New York Bagel & Bialy and Kaufmann’s Deli.

The Book Table

1045 Lake St, Oak Park IL

Sizable indie bookstore just west of the city.

  • How to Get There: Surprisingly easy trip by the Green Line (about 40 minutes), real quick Metra if the schedules happen to align, or a 20-30 minute drive on the 290 depending on traffic. Parking should be doable.
  • While You’re in the Area: Check out Centuries & Sleuths, a mystery/history bookshop, Afriware Books for a Black author focus, & Los Amigos for Spanish/bilingual children’s books. Oak Park is a treasure for building buffs, with stunning works by Frank Lloyd Wright & others. Going to Oak Park from downtown by train or car, you’ll pass right by the Garfield Park Conservatory, an absolute gem, and free to visit—ideal if you need some quiet restorative plant time.


  1. Couple more:
    - Semicolon:
    - OpenBooks Westloop:

    1. Oh I see you already linked to Semicolon 👍 (it's just not in the maps listing at the top of the page)

  2. Oh and if anyone's going as far as Women & Children First then they might as well also check out this lovely spot relatively nearby there: The Book Cellar