Guest Post: Family Living in Hyde Park

Guest Post: Family Living in Hyde Park


Hey look — it’s another installment in the Wee Windy City Neighborhood Spotlight Series — this time about Hyde Park! Please welcome guest blogger Liz LaCroix. Liz is a part-time music teacher and full-time mom of two, which adds up to
more hours than there are in the week. Check out her blog SuLaLi to read more about her experience raising a family in the city. Liz told me that she was grateful to have the chance to write this post because it reminded me how much she truly loves living in Chicago after 8 years – both Southside and Northside, and everything in between. Read on for Liz’s insider take on raising kiddos in Hyde Park.

I Heart Hyde Park

I am a recent
transplant to the Northside (we moved up here to cut down on the commute to
preschool, she says with some measure of
), and while I’ve been enjoying all the new places and people I’ve
encountered in the last 6 months, my heart still belongs to Hyde Park.

Moving there as a
childless couple for my husband’s grad program, we weren’t overly impressed by
the amenities.  If we ever went out, we
went OUT (of HP.)  Once we had children, though,
we found it to be a wonderful little enclave of activities and nature.  Every season holds something special for
families in Hyde Park, and I am going to share all my favorites.  I will also include every possible place to
find a decent cup of coffee, because I firmly believe coffee makes every outing


Let’s start at the obvious destination:  the  Museum of Science and Industry.  Located at 57th and Lakeshore, it
is super easy to get to by car, and by Metra and bus, it’s probably even
easier.  Not only does it have two enclosed
play areas for little ones, it now has the permanent exhibit, Science
Storms.  A good friend curated this
exhibit, and I’m not sure if it was his enthusiasm that rubbed off, or that it
just happens to be a really cool exhibit, but my I and my girls (then 4 &
2) LOVED it!  There is a little booth you
can get into that whips up a wind up to 80mph (if I remember correctly – it was
fast, at least), and a light exhibit that was absolutely beautiful.  I think they even learned something,
too.  After watching the avalanche movie,
my 4 year old told me the next morning as we were pouring oatmeal into a bowl,
“Hey, that’s just like an Avalanche!”   FREE DAYS!


The MSI, one of the only remaining structures
from the 1893 World’s Columbian Exhibition, is flanked by Jackson Park, which
includes the peaceful  Osaka Japanese Garden, another remainder from the
world’s fair.  It’s a lovely spot for a
picnic or a walk with the little ones. 
If you haven’t already, I highly recommend reading ‘Devil in a White City’.  Although I thought I’d be more interested in
the serial killer part of the book, I found myself even more fascinated with
the story of the construction of the epic fair in my neighborhood.  I’m pretty sure the first Ferris Wheel ever
built stood where the ice-skating rink now lives in the middle of the Midway
Plaisance.  Pretty cool to imagine


I have no idea if it even has a name, but in the
middle of Cornell and Stony Island, directly across from Jackson Park, there is
a sunken garden that I like to take my girls to in the summer.  It’s a grassy area surrounded by a stone wall
with all types of flowers, bushes and trees, and the perfect place to let them
run and do cartwheels without losing sight of them.  A huge, outdoor playpen, if you will.  Another great place to let them run free is
in the Midway.  After school and during
the weekends, you can usually see people playing soccer, but during the
daytime, it’s like an empty tub, full of grass, and a fun place to get their
energy out.  The tall sides keep them
from the traffic, and the expanse will make them forget the tiny walls of their
Chicago apartment.  (If you ever drive by
and see a naked little girl spinning, that would be mine!)


Almost to Ellis Avenue along the Midway is the Midway Ice Rink , which is FREE!  ($6 skate rental. $2 for Hot Chocolate.)  We’ve been enjoying the ice this winter, but
hurry, there are only a few weeks left until it closes for the season.  (Does that mean Winter is almost over???)


To continue our walking tour (did I mention, I
love to walk?  I guess it makes up for
not having time to go to the gym), the Midway is sandwiched between 59th Street
and 60th Street, and both streets have lovely gardens to enjoy.  The Spring is my absolute favorite, when all
the trees are in bloom and smelling glorious. 
But the Summer and Fall have their own richness and I highly recommend
strolling through these paths, and letting your kids run up and down, (and up
and down, and up and down,) the grassy little hills. 


On Saturdays during the growing season, the 61st Street Farmers Market is a great
place to go and buy some flowers or veggies, hear some impromptu drum music,
and talk to the farmers.  Sadly, one of
our favorite cafes recently closed, which was tucked in behind the market area,
and our neighboring community garden was plowed under, but the market is still
a vibrant place to drop by if you are in the neighborhood on a Saturday
morning.  (Things change, I know, but I
have a hard time letting go…)


57th Street is another favorite of mine.  If you like bookstores, there are three
independent booksellers between Kimbark and LakePark, and one that has story
time for kids every Wednesday at 10:30,  
57th Street Books.  Within three blocks, you can grab a coffee
and yummy sandwich  Z&H Market Café, (ask and they’ll give you
samples of cheese and meat before you buy. 
We usually end up grabbing a baguette and some Mahon and taking it to
the playground.),  or a delicious pastry
at  Medici
, (they also have a restaurant next door that is super family
friendly.  Your kids can carve their
names in the table if they want to.), and a bit farther east is Salonica (a
homey little Greek diner), and finally,  Café 57 (formerly Istria Café), right under the
Metra tracks.  Owned by one of our
favorite baristas, Belinda, (my girls adore her so much they have started
mailing her their hieroglyphs since moving to the Northside), this is a
friendly little spot of the world that serves a good cup of Intelligentsia
coffee.  If you listen to the
conversations around you, you realize you are in the midst of the real
intelligentsia of our time. 


Why go to 57th Street to drink
coffee?  Well, because there is a
wonderful, enclosed playground, referred to as Bixler, that sits in between all
the coffee shops.  This was the only
playground we ever went to, and boy, was I surprised when I visited other
playgrounds where we had to bring our own
sandbox toys!!
  It’s sort of this
crazy, land of the broken toys repository, where children can make the 3
wheeled Flinstone Car that someone left on their way out of town go as fast as
Lightening McQueen.  The playground has a
splash-in water fountain , a sandbox, a big and little kids side, and easy
viewing of both sides if you have multiples to keep an eye on.


During the warmer months, it’s lovely to walk
through quads at the University of Chicago campus.  We often spend time at Botany Pond (just
through the archway off 57th Street, between Ellis and University.)  It’s home to ducks, fish, turtles and
beautiful plants and flowers.  Spring is
our favorite time to go so we can count all the newly hatched ducklings.  Other fun things to do on campus: 


SMART Museum – Perfect for a 15 minute
walkthrough to refresh and inspire your adult brain when your child sleepy
enough to remain in the stroller.  Follow
it with a cappuccino and snack in their cafe. 

Court Theatre – One of the best professional
theaters in Chicago.  Keep this in mind
for date night.  It’s intimate auditorium
ensures that every seat is close to the action, it has free parking, and it’s
only a 10 minute drive from downtown. 
The best part?  Their work is
consistently excellent.  


Oriental Institute – Remember Harrison Ford in
Raider’s of the Lost Ark?  Well, this was
where he worked at his day job.  A
wonderful place to bring your budding archeologist.


Rockefeller Chapel – When the weather is nice,
bring a blanket and relax in the grass in front of this beautiful structure and
listen to the carillon. 
Carillon recitals are given
at 12 noon and 6 pm every weekday, with tower tours half -an-hour prior, while
the University is in session.


Ida Noyes Hall – set in from the corner of
Woodlawn on 59th Street, Ida Noyes is one of the most beautiful buildings,
outside and in, that is inspiration
for Blue Balliett’s children’s mystery, Chasing Vermeer.  Her characters lived on Harper Avenue (the
street flanking the Metra tracks, just a few blocks down) which is a draw for
thousands of neighborhood kids on Halloween night because of it’s eclectic (and
spooky!) houses.  Back at Ida Noyes, the 2011
Folk Festival happens February 11-13th this year.  Any kind of folk music you can imagine fills
the auditoriums, classrooms, halls, and even the landings on the beautiful main
staircase during this event. Last year, I camped out on the steps for an hour
with a sleeping 2 year old in my arms and thoroughly enjoyed a pick-up group of
fiddle, banjo, guitar and harmonica.  The
old men never stopped!  Simultaneously,
my older daughter had fun learning to square dance in the ballroom with a live
caller and band.


One more
gem of Hyde Park, and then I’ll stop. 
The  Hyde
Park Art Center
, which moved into a beautiful new space within the
last few years is located at 50th and Cornell.  Second Sundays are a hit with our
family.  We head there after church, grab
a grilled cheese sandwich, some gelato and a cappuccino in their adjoining café,  then
head through the galleries to participate in 2 or 3 guided kids arts and
crafts.  We’ve made maracas, punched-tin
ornaments, rubber-carved stamps for cards, paper lanterns, mosaics, and learned
to make and paint with non-toxic egg paint, to name just a few.  The activities are guided by art center staff
and volunteers, and are FREE!  They also
have complimentary music with a Wiggleworms instructor when your kids need to
get out of their chair and move.


 This is just a sampling of what’s available
(mostly for free!) in Hyde Park.  Every
season boasts something unique.  Check
out the beach at 57th Street and The Point (just north of the beach) in the
Spring and Summer, the  Hyde Park Jazz
Festival in the Fall, and ice-skating in the Winter.  I have included the activities we have
enjoyed with our children, but I’m sure there are things that I have neglected.  If you have a favorite Hyde Park activity
that is family-friendly,
tell us about it in the comments!


Leave a comment
  • Describing Hyde Park as a "little enclave" is true indeed.

    Stray out of that "little enclave" you're liable to get shot.

  • In reply to gwill:

    OMG, black people! You need to get out more.

  • In reply to WestLooper:

    Why you gotta bring race into this?

  • In reply to gwill:

    "stray out of that little enclave and you're liable to get shot" is an absolutely ridiculous statement!! Race is the only explanation I can think of for the above statement.

  • In reply to ijslsb:

    There's a lot of gun violence in the surrounding area. I hope you're not trying to deny this. Being close-minded, you use race as your explanation. A more reasonable explanation is the easy access to guns. Hope you enjoy living in your white/black world.

  • In reply to gwill:

    Yes, Hyde Park abuts some neighborhoods where gun violence is relatively high compared to Hyde Park. But the way you put it smacks of a kind of insularity I was trying to poke fun at. (Tone is impossible enough on e-mail, let alone on a comment.)

  • In reply to gwill:

    Great article. I am moving there soon and this article really helped give me ideas for things to do.

Leave a comment