With all that in mind, I recently took a stroll in one of Oak Park's shopping areas, stopped for lunch and a mani-pedi. Oh, yeah, and found a trove of presents for some of the toughest cases on my gift list. (See photos here.)
Shops: The cheery team of Takara Beathea-Gudell and her daughter Miya Beathea keep me coming back to their two (soon to be three) Marion Street shops. Takara (123 N. Marion St.; 708 445-7511; shoptakara.com) is great for jewelry, accessories and clothing especially suited for curvy women. Owner Beathea-Gudell carries her own designs (up to 3X by special order) and lots of dreamy sweaters, scarves and the like, some by local designers. Meet her daughter Miya Beathea, who helps oversee Shoe Soko down the street (111 N. Marion St.; 708-848-7656) and Friday, will open Croix, a boutique where all fashions are less than $99, at 131 N. Marion St. (708-524-9200).
For gifts you won't find elsewhere, try Oak Park Antiques (125 N. Marion St.; 708-386-9640). There are more than a dozen vendors with one-of-a-kind offerings from fine jewelry and Bakelite (The Gold Hatpin) to old Wrigley Field and Comiskey Park photos (vendor No. 8) to vintage Jackie O. sunglasses (vendor No. 51).
Eats: Aripo's, a Venezuelan restaurant and sandwich shop (118 N. Marion St.; 708-386-1313; aripos.com), is a frugal delight specializing in arepas, a doughy cornmeal concoction stuffed with chicken, beef, eggs — you name it. East Coast import Five Guys Burgers and Fries has a fanatic following (especially the fries), and there's one at 1115 W. Lake St. (708-358-0856; fiveguys.com). You can always hit the Cozy Corner ("the Cozy" to locals) for traditional coffee shop fare, including breakfast all day (138 N. Marion St.; 708-383-1750). But my favorite is watching the chefs cook my meal — sushi, too — at Szechwan Beijing (1107 South Blvd.; 708-386-8889; szechwanbeijing.com).
Insider tips: We all know what a problem it is for a weary shopper to find a tidy, welcoming restroom, but you'll find one (and maps and gifts galore, especially Frank Lloyd Wright stuff) at the Oak Park Visitor Center (1010 W. Lake St.; 708-383-4145; downtownoakpark.net). For a lengthier respite, try a mani-pedi ($35) at Polished (1036 W. Lake St.; 708-763-0292; polishednailsandtan.com), where service is fast and delightful. For fun events, music, sales and discounts, check visitoakpark.com.
Worth a side trip: Yearning for more? Try nearby Oak Park Avenue at Lake Street (the CTA's Green Line Oak Park stop), and check out the clothing and accessories at Sanem's (134 N. Oak Park Ave.; 708-524-5450; sanems.com). There's also the Oak Park Arts District (oak parkartsdistrict.com), Harrison Street west of Austin Boulevard. You're always welcome at Buzz Cafe (905 S. Lombard Ave.; 708-524-2899; thebuzzcafe.com). And if you want to try your hand at DIY gifting, the staff at Bead in Hand makes it easy and fun (145 W. Harrison St.; 708-848-1761; beadinhand.com).