The Chicago Architecture Blog’s 2014 Christmas Gift Guide


The number of shopping days until Christmas is dwindling and, if you're not careful, before you know it, you'll be at an IDOT oasis trying to figure out if little Suzie would rather have a pecan log or a fist full of scratch-off lottery tickets. Don't be that person.

Instead, here are ten ideas for Chicago-themed Christmas gifts that will make you seem smart, interesting, and urbane. And no, we didn't receive anything from any of these companies in exchange for mentioning them here.


Historic Chicago photographs — The Museum of Science and Industry recently cracked open its vaults and is selling prints of more than 250 Chicago scenes and objects from yesteryear. Prices start at $18. Linky

CTA stuff — You can't just pop into the Old Chicago Pumping Station gift shop and pick up CTA stuff anymore, but it's still available online. There's toy trains for the kids, iPhone cases for the ladies, and, for the man who has everything, the CTA subway map shower curtain. It makes my wife cringe every time I write to Santa about it. Prices start at $3. Linky

Ventra cards — Speaking of the CTA, every day 1.64 million people get on a CTA bus or train. So why buy them a gift card for The Gap or a frogurt shop when you can get them something they will actually use and need? Ventra cards are available at every CTA rail station and most drug stores, currency exchanges, and more. Cards cost $5, and you can add an amount equivalent to how much you like the gift recipient. Linky

Something Catholic — There are 2.4 million Roman Catholics in Chicago of varying levels of faith. If you know someone who would appreciate a nice rosary, a crucifix necklace, or a copy of Cardinal George's latest book, there are a number of city churches with gift shops. Sadly, the one at Holy Name Cathedral was closed by the fire a few years ago, but you can still find religious gifts at Saint Peter in the Loop (110 West Madison Street), the Pauline bookstore at 172 North Michigan Avenue, and local parishes across the city. Prices from $1. Check your neighborhood parish or head to the Loop.

Get on a boat — Be a tourist in your own city and buy someone an architecture cruise. The Chicago Architecture Foundation, a friend-of-the-blog, is one of several competing organizations that offer cruises on the river and the lakefront. For something a little more special, why not a day fishing on the lake? A lot of city-dwellers don't realize there are a bunch of companies that run fishing trips out of Chicago. Just Google "chicago fishing charter" and take your pick. Or, if you really want to splash out, Mayflower Tours in Downers Grove offers the ultimate Chicago cruise. It sails from Navy Pier and takes you all the way to Montreal, with a return trip by train. River tours start around $35, the cruise to Montreal runs $4,800-$7,800 Linky Linky Linky Linky

Beat your feet — Seasickness not your thing? How about a walking tour? There are lots of people that offer walking tours of Chicago, including our own Wendy Bright. Some are basic architecture tours. Others have themes like exploring the pedway, Frank Lloyd Wright, art deco, or haunted Chicago. Prices start around $20, depending on the tour. A quick Google search can help you find out what's available.

Get on a train — As much as we love Chicago, a change of scenery can do a person good. Buy them a train trip. Amtrak's Lincoln service to downtown Saint Louis costs $27 (the $21 business class upgrade on the way home is worth the cost after an exhausting day of exploring all of the FREE world class museums in Saint Louis). Amtrak's Hiawatha service to Milwaukee is $20 each way. If you're looking for something cheaper, the South Shore Electric Railway will take your gift-recipient to South Bend, Indiana, for $8.75 (the return trip is also $8.75). Linky Linky

Relive Marshall Field's — Did you know that you can still buy Marshall Field's merchandise? We found a selection of limited edition Marshall Field's tote bags recently in the basement of Macy's on North State Street. It turns out that Macy's makes a bunch of different Marshall Field's merchandise. What we saw in the basement in the Loop is probably long gone but that's OK because there's a much larger selection of Marshall Field's merchandise available on the Macy's web site. Just search for "marshall field's" at But do it soon because every time we check, there are fewer and fewer items left. Linky

Drink Wright — With more than a thousand building designs to his name, it's hard to believe that Frank Lloyd Wright had time to breathe, let alone take a drink. But if he did have the time to imbibe, Wright might have used a set of coasters from the Art Institute of Chicago that features stained glass window designs from homes he designed in Chicago and suburban Oak Park, Highland Park, and Riverside. $28 Linky

Author: Editor

Editor founded the Chicago Architecture Blog in 2003, after a long career in journalism. He can be reached at

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