Best of the South Side 2008: South Shore

South Shore has spent much of its history as a solidly middle-class neighborhood–which is not to say that the area has remained unchanged the entire time. Like many South Side neighborhoods, it saw an outburst of growth with the Columbian Exposition of 1893, and continued prosperity through the 1920s and ’30s, followed by white flight in the ’50s and an influx of lower income residents over the next few decades. Today, though, the area has rebounded from its economic hardship, with a middle- to upper-middle class African-American community fostering cafes, a cultural center, a beautiful beach and other locales and lively developments.

Best Beach
Rainbow Beach
Rainbow Beach extends from 75th to 79th Streets, making it one of the longest beaches on the South Side. The most obvious part of Rainbow Beach’s appeal is what it doesn’t have: traffic snarling in the background. Any spot on the beach affords a sweeping view of the entire downtown area, from Navy Pier to the Sears Tower and beyond. And Rainbow Beach isn’t just a pretty face; there’s soul there, too. As the area around the beach became gentrified in the early ’60s, black and white youths fought over the right to inhabit the beach, with the scuffles sometimes getting violent. The beach eventually became a site of a major protest against de facto segregation policies when the NAACP staged a “wade-in” to protest policies which were shifting the area’s population from black to white. 3111 E. 75th St. (Ben Oren)

Best Café
Exchange Cafe
Tucked away at the corner of 72nd Street and Exchange Avenue, this café serves good coffee and better than average sandwiches, as well as organic tea and cold drinks. The prices aren’t bad, either, and with a purchase you can use the store’s free Wi-Fi and fax machine/copier. They even rent out laptops. On Mondays, when everything else in South Shore is closed, the café gives out free coffee with any purchase from 7am to noon. Best of all, perhaps, is the view out the front window: the Metra trains majestically rushing by on Exchange Avenue. 7201 S. Exchange Ave. Monday-Friday, 7am-7pm; Sat, 8am-5pm. (773)336-8592 (Sam Feldman)