Want to hang out near Barack Obama’s house? Visit the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago, 7 miles south of the Loop on the shores of Lake Michigan. There’s culture, history, dining and more in this eclectic and sylvan neighborhood, where the University of Chicago was established and Mary Todd Lincoln lived in 1865. Here’s what to do in Hyde Park, Chicago.
1. Visit the Midway Plaisance and Jackson Park
This 1-mile-long park was originally the midway point of the World Columbia Exposition. It is today a lovely urban green space with views of the Midway buildings, an ice-skating rink and expansive gardens.
At more than 540 acres, Jackson Park was designed after the World Columbian Exposition and, at the time, boasted a golf course. Today, you can see the Golden Lady sculpture and the Statue of the Republic, both remains of the fair. Stroll through the 17th-century-style Osaka Garden, with its arching moon bridge and peaceful lagoons, and keep watch for the park’s more than 200 bird species. The Garden of the Phoenix is a particularly serene spot with swimming koi, stone lanterns and a wooden, open-air pagoda. Every April or May, the cherry trees flower in a mesmerizing pink and white display.
2. Spend a Day at the Museum of Science and Industry.
Spend a day, or even two, exploring the Museum of Science and Industry, one of the world’s largest science museums. During the World Columbia Exposition, the building was known as the Palace of Fine Arts and housed the Field Museum, which as since been relocated. See the Apollo 8 spacecraft, the Pioneer Zephyr (the first diesel-fueled passenger train), a 3,500-squre-foot model train and a German submarine captured during World War II. There’s a lagoon outside, if you need some fresh air – go around the south side of the building, past the caryatids, or walk northeast to the path under US-41 that leads to Lake Michigan.
3. Relax at Promontory Point.
Picnic and play in Burnham Park, where you can make your way to Promontory Point for its incredible city skyline views. This man-made peninsula juts out into Lake Michigan. Access it along the Lakeshore Trail through a tunnel that passes under Lake Shore Drive at the end of 55th Street. If you’re lucky, there will an outdoor movie or music performance taking place.
4. Browse The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.
Go back in time as you immerse yourself in archaeological treasures of the ancient Near East, Egypt, Anatolia, Mesopotamia and Iran. Among the many art and historical objects, you’ll find clay tablets and scrolls. There are more than 300,000 incredible objects on display.
5. Admire Art at the Smart Museum.
The University of Chicago’s Smart Museum of Art showcases a collection of ancient and modern American, European and Asian art. Look for paintings, ceramics and sculptures in a variety of historical styles.
6. Tour the Frederick C. Robie House.
Visitors may tour the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Frederick C. Robie House in Hyde Park, a national historic landmark. Designed and built between 1908 and 1910, it’s an excellent example of Wright’s contemporary prairie-style work. Your tour will include private spaces not usually available to the public at this national landmark site, part of the University of Chicago’s heritage campus.
7. See Obama’s Home.
Walk the same sidewalks Barack Obama did when he lived at 5429 Harper Avenue after graduating Harvard Law. Check out the nearby Hyde Park Hair Salon, which he frequented, and 57th Street Books, another favorite.
8. See a Show at the Court Theatre.
Another University of Washington gem, the Court Theatre offers a great lineup of innovative and classic plays – five per season. The Wall Street Journal has named the award-winning theater the most consistently excellent theater company in America. The restored Harper Theater shows first-run films and boasts a café with a variety of favorites from Chicago-based bakeries, restaurants and coffee shops.
9. Dine at Valois Restaurant.
If all the Hyde Park sightseeing has left you hungry, make your way to the Valois cafeteria, an Obama family-recommended restaurant. Choose from American comfort food, including huge omelets and delicious beef specialties. A sign in front will point out the former President’s usual orders when he comes to dine. Notice the walls of murals celebrating the neighborhood.
10. Explore the University of Chicago Campus.
You could easily spend a day on the campus of this esteemed university. Pop into chapels, art galleries and museums, see a concert or just hang out on the lawn. The campus is divided into northern and southern sections by the Midway Plaisance park, which was created for the World’s Expo in 1893. The campus as a whole stretches from Hyde Park to the Woodlawn neighborhood. Stroll through and enjoy the neo-Gothic-style exteriors, lush landscaping and botanical garden.
11. Relax on the Waterfront or Go to the Beach.
Like much of Chicago, Hyde Park enjoys Lake Michigan waterfront. Take advantage of it by walking or biking the Lakefront Trail, more than 17 miles of recreational trail that is part of the University of Chicago campus and stretches from the South Shore Cultural Center on 71st Street to Navy Pier. From the Lakefront Trail, you can pop over to the 57th Street Beach, across from the Museum of Science and Industry.
12. Visit the DuSable Museum of African American History.
Spend a few insightful hours at the DuSable Museum of African American History, named after the Haitian Jean Baptiste Point du Sable. See more than 15,000 pieces of memorabilia and art focused on the achievements and contributions of the African-American people.
13. Indulge at Medici.
In-the-know foodies in Hyde Park know all about the Medici Bakery. Stop in for a cinnamon-raisin croissant roll, freshly made sandwich, ice cream or coffee. If you need more sustenance, have breakfast, lunch or dinner at the Medici restaurant, two doors down.