337 E. Randolph St.
It’s Chicago’s premier park and the host of two world-class museums, an aquarium and a planetarium. With a vista of the lake and a watery gem—Buckingham Fountain—at its center, Grant Park stands as one of Chicago’s biggest and best public parks. More recently, Millennium Park—a park within Grant Park—has added even more artistic beauty and fun.
I like exploring Grant Park by bicycle, but some prefer roller blades or even Segway. It’s 320 acres big, so you’ll need some form of friendly wheels to get you around (City Segway Tours offers a great Segway tour dedicated to Grant Park). If you’ve got kids with you, they’ll definitely need to be rolled around in a buggy; my 10-year-old loves spinning around Grant Park on his Razor scooter (also a good idea since it folds up and can be easily stored in a museum locker or brought onto public transportation). Any city dweller will tell you the same: don’t drive to Grant Park. It’s not worth the hassle nor the outrageous cost. Instead, take the El, take a bus, or if you’re coming from the suburbs, take the train in and taxi it on down. If you do choose to drive, park at the Millennium Garages (entrances on Michigan Ave., below Millennium Park).
Crossing the Cloud Gate
Start your tour at Millennium Park’s Cloud Gate sculpture – a.k.a. “The Bean”. Snap a picture of your distorted self in the mirrored bean, and note the lovely city skyline framed within. Take off your shoes and cool your feet in the Crown Fountain. When I’m with my husband on a date night, we like to sit at the on-site, open-air Park Place Café for drinks. When I’m just with the kids, we grab a Chicago-style hot dog from the hot dog cart (located between Park Place Café and the Crown Fountain) and sit down to eat at one of the many benches surrounding Crown Fountain. It’s the perfect spot for people watching; seeing all the children waiting for the faces that smile and wink on the giant video installations to spit out water on them is sure to bring out lots of giggles (and soaking wet kids).
Cross the Nichols Bridge, which will lead you to the third floor of the Art Institute of Chicago’s newly inaugurated Modern Wing. Don’t have time to explore the museum? At least check out Terzo Piano, an Italian-inspired restaurant with outstanding views, located within the Modern Wing.
Next head to the center of it all, Buckingham Fountain. This Rococo fountain, dedicated in 1927, is one of the largest in the world and is said to represent mighty Lake Michigan.
The Museum Campus
On the far South end of Grant Park you’ll find the Museum Campus, which contains the Field Museum of Natural History, the Shedd Aquarium, and the Adler Planetarium. Each is worth a full day or at least full afternoon visit. Consider purchasing a CityPASS, which will give you a great deal on admission for all three.
Wine & Dine
I adore Mercat a la Planxa (638 South Michigan Avenue), where sidewalk seating, fruity sangria, and tasty tapas transport me to Spain without having to board a plane at O’Hare. When it’s cooler outside, I always appreciate the pub-like coziness and comfort food at The Gage (24 South Michigan Avenue), where everyone—both the kids and the adults—likes the Gage’s take on classic fish and chips. But the number one dining spot at Grant Park is by far on your own blanket with food served from your own picnic basket. There is nothing that says summer more to me than taking in a concert at Grant Park while lying on a blanket and nibbling picnic snacks!
Grant Park Top Five To-Do List
Enjoy an afternoon cocktail at Terzo Piano, in the Art Institute’s Modern Wing.
Take a picture of yourself as reflected in the Cloud Gate Sculpture, a.k.a. “The Bean.”
Make a wish as you throw a coin into Buckingham Fountain.
Have a picnic in the park: bring a ball for the kids to toss around.
Catch some music: from Lollapalooza to the Grant Park Music Festival, you’ll find music for your ears. Check out www.chicagofestivals.net for upcoming concerts in the park.