Chicago Gift Guide 2016: 10 Local Gifts

Chicago Gift Guide 2016

This Chicago Gift Guide 2016 is your one-stop list for finding cool Chicago presents this holiday season. With all my love of Chicago, I know I’d be tickled to receive a locally-made gift! And it’s even better if it’s specifically Chicago-themed, tied to either Chicago history or architecture. By the way, you can explore Chicago’s holiday season history and traditions on our annual Holiday Tour of Drinks, Daleys and Dead Guys.

So consider this Chicago gift guide as us pointing you in the right direction for gift ideas for those Chicagoans who are interested in the city’s history, architecture, and culture.

chicago gift guide 2016 paperish mess pendants necklace jewelry
The local jewelry from Paperish Mess leads off our Chicago Gift Guide 2016. Image via Paperish Mess.

1. Pendants and Necklaces from Paperish Mess

Our first suggestion in the Chicago Gift Guide 2016 is Paperish Mess. Located at Damen and Chicago in Ukrainian Village, this cute little shop has original artwork, handmade goods and wares by independent artists.

We love the pendants, ornaments, and necklaces designed by the proprietors. They hand paint them. They’re a far cry from the rote jewelry and decor you might find at bigger retailers and can add an individual flair to your decor. And of course, I particularly like the necklaces that circle the word “Chicago.”

2. Chicago Architecture Miniskirts on RedBubble

RedBubble is an online retailer of clothing and art created by a global community of artists and designers. We found a ton of cool stuff on there, but my absolute favorites are the Chicago and University of Chicago miniskirts. They have printed actual photographic images of Chicago architecture, like the Rockefeller Chapel, right on the skirts.

What Chicagoan wouldn’t love to have the iconic Art Deco facade of the Board of Trade straddling their waist? Or maybe an outfit that lets potential study buddies know that you like to JSTOR and Chill? Just, uh, make sure you know what that phrase means before making that particular purchase. It’s like a new fashion in clothing. We could call it “geek chic.”

3. Art for Less Than $500 from Vertical Gallery

Vertical Gallery, which is also located in Ukrainian Village, is an art gallery founded in 2013 and “committed to exhibiting and promoting urban, contemporary and street art.” They have a special “Holiday Show” opening on Saturday, December 12th.

They have dozens of works of art listed at $500 and lower. The options include works by Chicago-based artists, many of whom have contributed murals and other forms of street art to our cityscape. Street art is huge right now, but there’s a history to it, too! If your recipient is new to the art scene, then just grab a copy of the Chicago Street Art Book.

If you want to experience street art for yourself, keep your eyes peeled for our Pilsen Tour in 2017 (or we get a little bit of it on our Chicago Neighborhoods Tour for private groups, which is available now).

chicago gift guide 2016 shedd aquarium adopt an animal penguins
Who wouldn’t want to adopt one of the Shedd’s penguins? They’re adorable! Image via Wikimedia

4. Adopt an Animal at the Shedd Aquarium

If you’re reading this blog, then the Shedd Aquarium should need no introduction. Everyone knows this Chicago museum is awesome. Its fabulous architecture and enrapturing exhibits are always worth a visit.

What you might not know of is their Adopt-an-Animal Program. You can donate $25, $50, or $75 to support one of the Shedd’s penguins, dolphins, otters, sharks, or Beluga whales. Your gift recipient will get a plush animal, a photo of the living critter being supported, and a certificate. The donation is partially tax deductible, too.

5. Graham Foundation Bookshop

Got a Chicago architecture nut on your gift list, but you know they’ve read all the major works? Swing by the Graham Foundation’s bookshop is the perfect gift stop for some unique writing and perspectives on architecture.

The bookshop is located in the foundation’s HQ in the Gold Coast. It exclusively features works written by the foundation’s grantees, who create more creative and intellectually charged projects in architecture. And a visit there means you get to step into the elegant architecture of a Prairie-Style Gold Coast mansion.

The foundation has worked for over 50 years “to foster the development and exchange of diverse and challenging ideas about architecture and its role in the arts, culture, and society.” Knowing that, it seems like a safe bet that they’ll have a book that will scratch the Chicago architectural itch.

6. Wrightwood Furniture Industrial Collection

Wrightwood Furniture is a father-and-son shop specializing in colorful, unique furniture that is ecofriendly. The owners pride themselves on importing quality furniture from around the world without relying on middlemen.

I’m particularly fond of their Industrial Furnishings collection. The minimalist aesthetic of these pieces recalls the stripped-down efficiency of the Chicago factories or the “less is more” high Modernist structures of Mies van der Rohe. And they even have a bunch of Chicago flag swag.

chicago gift guide 2016 bucketfeet 'l' shoes
Make your feet into a pair of conversation pieces with these kicks featuring the ‘L’ trains. Image via Bucketfeet.

7. Artistic Shoes from Bucketfeet

I’ll admit that the idea of “artistic shoes” threw me for a loop when I first heard about. It was my normcore showing. But the footwear that Bucketfeet produces are wonderfully unique and eye-catching.

The company, which has studios in Block 37 and Bucktown, relies on a global network of artists to create shoes that make a statement. Jason Peterson’s has designed a shoe that shows the movement of Chicago’s ‘L’ trains with a black and white photo. Personally, I will rarely even wear red, but designs like the Polarized Lace Up are dazzling.

8. Chicago Cubs History Tree Print

Did the Cubs megafan in your fam already deck themselves out in World Series Champions gear? If so, the delightful Chicago Cubs History Tree print may be exactly what you’re looking for.

Sold online, this unframed 32″ X 24″ print gives a chronological representation of the Cubbies’ history. Big moments, like World Series wins or Hall of Fame players, are bigger than the “lovable losers” foliage. Just be sure your recipient doesn’t burn down the tree in celebration of the Curse of the Billy Goat‘s demise.

9. iPhone Cases from the Chicago Park District

We all know someone who heads to the beach or the park and then doesn’t peel away from their phones while under the summertime sun. The Chicago Park District has cooked up the perfect gift for them! They are offfering iPhone cases using imagery from iconic parks posters and signs.

The newer ones, like the “Curb Your Dog” case, will be familiar to anyone who has taken a stroll in Chicago. For my money, though, I like the retro art deco posters for park attractions like Buckingham Fountain. I’d buy one for myself, but I’m a Samsung user!

10. Chicago Detours Gift Card

Chicago Gift Guide 2016 Chicago Detours Gift CardA little self-promotion never hurt anyone! The last entry in the Chicago Gift Guide 2016 is a Chicago Detours gift card. You can give your loved ones an exploratory experience of Chicago’s history, architecture, and culture.

Gift cards can be purchased in increments of $25, $35, $50, $75, $100, and $200. They can be used towards any of our regularly-scheduled public walking tours. Outings like the Historic Chicago Walking Bar Tour or Loop Interior Architecture Tour stay mostly indoors, so they can use the gift card year-round.

No matter what you Chicago gift you may choose, I hope that the suggestions in our Chicago Gift Guide 2016 will help you knock a few names off your list. And as a small business, we thank you for shopping small and local!

– Alex Bean, Content Manager and Tour Guide


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Private Tour Coordinator and Tour Guide

There is no shortage of things to discover in Chicago—I love being an urban explorer and uncovering its hidden places. I have an MA in Public History from Loyola University Chicago, and I have worked as a museum educator and kindergarten teacher. My desire to learn new things fuels my passion for educating others, which I get to experience every day as a Chicago tour guide. I live in the northern neighborhood of Rogers Park.

“Our guide Ellen was exceptional and gifted with a great personal touch.”


Tour Guide

Whether you are a first-time visitor or a lifelong resident, the vibrant history and modern majesty of Chicago never ceases to amaze. I’m a graduate of Columbia College with an M.A. in Interdisciplinary Art. I’ve worked for many years as an educator at City Colleges of Chicago. As tour guide at Chicago Detours, I integrate my enthusiasm for culture and architecture with my passion as an educator. West Town/Noble Square area is home for me.

“Jen was a perfect storyteller and kept us spellbound for hours.”


Tour Guide

With our Chicago neighborhoods, vibrant cultural institutions and nearly two centuries of larger-than-life stories, there’s never a dull moment here! I’m a fifth generation Chicagoan and a graduate of Washington University in St. Louis. In addition to guiding tours, I’m a creative writer and amateur genealogist. I also enjoy the city’s dynamic theater scene. You can also read overlooked stories from 19th-century newspapers on my “Second Glance History” blog. I live in River North.


Tour Guide

Chicago is unique as it always evolves into the future while holding on to the past. I’m fascinated by how people latch on to old architecture but happily pave over others. My background is in theater and performance and I’ve been a tour guide here for more than 10 years. Currently I’m finishing my Master’s in Public History at Loyola University because I love to teach the history of this scrappy city. I’m in the Edgewater neighborhood.


Operations Coordinator and Tour Guide

Chicago’s history is so fascinating, you could spend a lifetime uncovering its secrets…I’m willing to give it a try! I have an M.A. in US History from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas and then pursued doctoral studies in Urban History at the University of Illinois at Chicago. I love to learn new aspects of Chicago’s rich history and then share my knowledge as a tour guide with Chicago Detours. I live in Ravenswood.

“Marie was a bubbling fountain of information and contagious enthusiasm.”


Operations Coordinator and Tour Guide

As a fourth generation Chicagoan, I have been living and loving Chicago by bike, on foot, public transit or automobile. I am a graduate of UIC where through the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs, began my eagerness to understand the nature, history and impacts of urban planning and development. It is incredibly rewarding to give back to this wonderful city by helping out in the office of Chicago Detours. I live in the incredibly diverse neighborhood of Albany Park.
“Sonny was extremely knowledgeable about all things Chi-town.”
Wade K


Content Manager and Tour Guide

Chicago has so many neighborhoods, buildings, and by-ways that it’s hard to go long without seeing something new, or something familiar from a new angle. I studied Cinema History for my M.A. from the University of Chicago. I’ve worked as a culture writer for various publications and as an educator of the humanities at the City Colleges of Chicago. I’m thrilled to share my love of this city’s busy past and unique architectural spaces with Chicago Detours. I live in the Chicago neighborhood of Lincoln Park.

“Alex was fascinating to listen to. He clearly knows his history and it shows.”
Katie K

Amanda Scotese

Executive Director and Tour Guide

I’m an interpreter of personal stories from the past and the city’s landscape. I love to imagine what originally happened inside old unmarked buildings, and what forces have shaped their design. I studied Chicago history, architectural history, and anything Chicago-related through my M.A. in the Humanities at the University of Chicago. My love for stories was enriched by my B.A. in Literature from the University of Michigan. I’ve written travel articles for publications like Rick Steves’ Italy best-selling travel guides, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, and The Chicago Food Encyclopedia. I live in the Chicago neighborhood of West Avondale.
“You can TELL Amanda is hyper-passionate about doing the research and getting the story that nobody’s heard before.”
Shelby F

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