JUNE IS A GRAND MONTH TO VISIT Chicago. Everything is back in its proper place now that the showers of spring have washed away all traces of winter. In the miles and miles of parks along the lakefront (the reason Chicago’s nickname was once “Paris on the Prairie”), trees are dressed in their full-leaf finery and colorful, elegant beds of flowers are everywhere. All along the lakefront, towering masts of sailboats spike the clouds. Bicyclists and joggers (many with dogs in tow) appear in miniature against the majestic skyline of the city. The towering buildings washed by the bright summer sun look freshly scrubbed. In 1885, Chicago sported the world’s first skyscraper. Granted, it was only nine stories tall, but this city has set the standard for tall buildings ever since. Chicago is beautiful and fun. In 1997, the city council actually absolved Mrs. O’Leary’s cow of all blame for the great fire of 1871. Chicago is festive, too; it doesn’t simply flirt with food and music but carries on a deep and passionate love affair so intense it would make the moon blush. All summer long, Grant Park and Millennium Park serve up a tasty stew of music that feeds both the soul and the mind. The spirited Gospel Music Festival (June 2–4) and nothing-quite-like-it Blues Festival (June 8–11) will whet your appetite for more. And your appetite truly will be sparked—and sated, too—when you take in the great picnic in the park, Taste of Chicago, which starts June 30. June is a portal month in Chicago, a perfect doorway to a great season in one of the world’s greatest cities. It’s a cultural grand vista that goes on and on until millions of Italian lights are strung on the trees of Michigan Avenue just in time for Christmas.
Author Pat Bruno Photography Dave Lauridsen
DAY THREE / This morning, grab an outdoor table near your hotel at Pierrot Gourmet, on the ground floor of the posh Peninsula Chicago Hotel. Pause with your coffee and pain au cerise or brioche. The more-substantial Alsatian scrambled eggs are a delicious arrangement that includes potatoes, onions, ham, asparagus, and Brie.
After breakfast you’re off to Chicago’s magnificent Millennium Park. It’s a tribute to architecture (Frank Gehry’s swooping and billowing stainless-steel construction surrounding the Jay Pritzker Music Pavillion), sculpture (Anish Kapoor’s 66-foot-long and 33-foot-tall Cloud Gate, which Chicagoans fondly call “The
Bean”), and design (lush gardens, art, fountains, and reflecting pools). Millennium Park rivals any outdoor venue in the world. If you’re up for it, stop at the Millennium Park Bicycle Station to rent a bike and ride at your leisure (or join one of the guided tours). Wonderful bike paths lead south along the museum campus you’re visiting next and north, from beach to beach, with knock-your-socks-off skyline views.
Grant Park and Buckingham Fountain are on the way to your next stop, The Field Museum of Natural History. Incorporated in 1893 as the Columbian Museum of Chicago, it’s home to exhibits that include anthropology, archaeology, science, and history—some 20 million specimens in all. No visit should end without a stop to see Sue, the world’s most complete T-rex. Thirteen feet high at the hip and 42 feet long from head to tail, Sue has become Chicago’s most famous sweetheart. Your other don’t-miss exhibit is “Tutankhamen and the
Golden Age of the Pharaohs.” The exhibition consists of more than 120 priceless artifacts and treasures from the tomb of the Boy King.
Take a much-needed lunch break at the museum’s Corner Bakery. The chicken pesto sandwich is delicious. Your next stop, the Shedd Aquarium, is within walking distance. Part of the campus setting that includes The Field Museum and the Adler Planetarium, this is the world’s largest indoor aquarium. “Around the World in 80 Tanks” is the catch phrase here. Anemones, dolphins, whales, sharks, and some 300 species of fish are on display. Check out Shedd’s main attraction, “Wild Reef,” which allows you to go face to face with dozens of sharks.
Back at your hotel, get ready for a night on the town, complete with dinner and some hot jazz. Dinner is at Topolobampo, Chicago’s four-star, premier Mexican restaurant. Chef/owner Rick Bayless knows Mexican food like the Aztecs knew chocolate (see his Matter of Taste on page 42). The atmosphere is soothing, the service is outstanding, and the food is without peer. Try the ceviche; you’ll find none better. Ditto for the sopa Azteca, a rousing soup flavored with pasilla and deliciously rife with chicken, avocado, and Jack cheese. Next have the pan-roasted quail with a tomato-habanero sauce.
Just up the street a short block, it’s time to settle in at the Jazz Showcase. Jazz is to Chicago what Dixieland is to New Orleans. In 1922 Louis Armstrong, still living in New Orleans, received a telegram from his mentor, Joe Oliver, asking him to join his band, King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band, in Chicago. Satchmo headed north, joined the group, and the rest is jazz history. Today’s top quartets and trios are featured at this classy joint.
Later, look back on three days of perfect moments over cocktails in the lounge of your hotel. Toast the lights of Michigan Avenue that glitter below.
Pat Bruno is a longtime HEMISPHERES writer, Chicago Sun-Times restaurant critic, cookbook author, and dyed-in-the-wool son of Chicago.
Serve up our “Great Chicago Dining Guide” for a tempting taste of the city’s culinary classics—awesome steaks, deep-dish pizza, Italian beef sandwiches, and signature Chicago hot dogs. Just click Cyber Sidebar at hemispheresmagazine.com.
An extensive network of buses, subways, “L”s, and trains makes Chicago the city that moves. And yes, even hailing a cab is not cause for a migraine. Chicago is on a grid system, with major streets every half mile. State Street divides east and west addresses; Madison Avenue divides north and south addresses. The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) is the nation’s second-largest public transit system. Direct from O’Hare Airport, jump on the Blue Line and you will be downtown in about 30 minutes. From Midway Airport, it’s the Orange Line (20–30 minutes to downtown). Cost is $2.
Tel: 888-968-7282. Another option from either airport is the Airport Express. Buses depart every few minutes. Tel: 888-248-3826. Taxis are abundant around the city and at both airports.
For Chicago climatological details, click on Three Perfect Days in Chicago at hemispheresmagazine.com.
A Navy Pier (600 East Grand Avenue; Tel: 312-595-7437) and Chicago Children’s Museum (700 East Grand Avenue; Tel: 312-527-1000)
B Lincoln Park Zoo (2200 North Cannon Drive; Tel: 312-742-2000)
C Adler Planetarium (1300 South Lake Shore Drive; Tel: 312-939-2438). Celebrating 75 years, America’s first planetarium is still Earth’s only museum with two planetarium theaters. Though the Adler’s anniversary mission carries it beyond astronomy to celebrate and inspire space exploration, the cosmos comes in for exciting focus in many interactive exhibits.
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