Chicago Hot Spots for Summer Travelers

BY SANDRA GUY

Mask-free at last, it’s time to enjoy Chicago’s amazing lakefront, architecture, ballparks, playgrounds and ethnically diverse neighborhoods.

The list is endless, but if you’re traveling to the Windy City, especially for the first time, these are essential stops:

  • The Art Institute of Chicago: Truly a world-class experience, whether you prefer the classics or modern art. Don’t miss the much-loved Thorne miniature rooms on the lower level — shoebox-size, intricate recreations of tiny home and church interiors. Take note that it is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and be sure to study the website [https://www.artic.edu/] before you go.  
https://travel.usnews.com/Chicago_IL/Things_To_Do/Art_Institute_of_Chicago_52761/
  • Historic Prairie Avenue and the South Loop: Visitors need only walk or take a quick train ride from the McCormick Place campus to experience engineering and architectural history.

Just three blocks from McCormick Place is Chicago’s historic Prairie Avenue, bounded by Cullerton Avenue (2000 South) on the south and 18th Street on the north (1800 South), and home to the Glessner House and Clarke House museums.

The Glessner House, https://www.glessnerhouse.org/ a National Historic Landmark, is known for its unique design by Henry Hobson Richardson, but engineers will note that it housed the Human Engineering Laboratory of the Armour Institute of Technology — predecessor to the Illinois Institute of Technology — for about a decade, starting in 1937. The Clarke House is Chicago’s oldest house, circa 1836, famous for its Greek Revival style.

Just two blocks to the west, at 1936 S. Michigan Ave., the Second Presbyterian Church, circa 1874, reflects its splendor with stained-glass windows designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany, Healy and Millet, and Sir Edward Burne-Jones, and its design by architect James Renwick, who designed St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City.

  • Soldier Field and the lakefront campus: For a far-less-heralded architectural milestone, head back east three blocks to Calumet Street, cross the pedway toward Lake Michigan, and greet Soldier Field, home of the Chicago Bears football team. The 1920s-era stadium, heralded for its Greco-Roman architectural tradition, got topped off in 2003 with what critics likened to a space ship. Depending on one’s opinion, the renovation by architect Benjamin T. Wood is remarkable or outrageous for its stadium bowl rising above and hanging over the stately Greek style columns of the original. Soldier Field echoes historic moments such as the 1927 second heavyweight championship fight between Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney, and a Chicago Freedom Movement rally in July 1966 led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and featuring Mahalia Jackson, Stevie Wonder and Peter, Paul and Mary.
  • The Museum Campus: Soldier Field serves as a gateway to the Museum Campus, a 57-acre lakefront park that surrounds the Field Museum of Natural History, the Shedd Aquarium, and the Adler Planetarium. These historic, internationally renowned museums offer scientifically and technically minded visitors hours upon hours of exhibits, shows and architectural details.
  • The Loop, the River, the Bridges and the Trains: Turn south and east to head to Millennium Park, famous for its Jay Pritzker Pavilion bandshell designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry. The park, which opened in 2004 and is bounded by Michigan Avenue, Randolph Street, Columbus Drive, and East Monroe Drive, includes the much-heralded Cloud Gate sculpture, nicknamed “The Bean,” as well as wall-like water fountains lit up in varying colors and people’s faces, and the BP Pedestrian Bridge that winds its way in a serpentine fashion across Columbus Drive. Walk down the bridge to Maggie Daley Park https://maggiedaleypark.com/ and let the children burn off energy at mini-golf, the climbing wall, the play garden and an area for roller blades, rollerskates and non-motorized scooters.

Next, look up and down: Above are the elevated Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) trains, whose tracks form a Loop around the downtown. These “L” trains, which started passenger service in November 1893, began life as a private enterprise with a colorful history influenced by bribe-taking politicians and ruthless business opportunists.

The CTA trains also include an underground subway, whose construction started in 1938 with funding from then-President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s public works projects initiative.

Running through the center of Chicago is the Chicago River, spanned by movable bridges that have been cited as one of the great wonders of the world.

  • The Museum of Science and Industry: Rent a car and travel south on Lake Shore Drive to this museum, showcasing more than 35,000 artifacts and a variety of hands-on exhibits meant to inspire creativity. The museum sits at 5700 S. Lake Shore Drive in the 14-acre former Palace of Fine Arts, which hosted the famous World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893.
  • Lincoln Park Zoo: Drive back north to the Lincoln Park Zoo, home to dozens of species, such as zebras, sloths and hippos. Visitors can view the zoo’s furry (or scaly) friends in their natural habitats.
  • The neighborhoods: Chinatown, Pilsen, Little Italy, Hyde Park — the list goes on. Do your homework and prepare to visit the Chinese American Museum, the National Museum of Mexican Art, and the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, among others.
  • Baseball parks: Whether your allegiance is to the White Sox or the Cubs, enjoy fun times at Guaranteed Rate Field or the historic Wrigley Field. Even better, plan your trip around the Crosstown Classic and watch the teams play each other.

Most of all, eat. Chicago is home to world-renowned pizza, Italian ice, ethnic cuisine and unique food experiences. Dive in and power up.

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