As a child growing up in Chicago, I only thought of Hyde Park as where the Museum of Science and Industry lived. I'd go there on family trips or field trips, once or twice a year, always making sure to pay a visit to the baby chicks. On one memorable visit, my 8th-grade class ran into Davy Jones inside the Hall of Nobel Prize Winners.
But for all the times I traveled to Hyde Park, I never truly visited the neighborhood. As an adult with children of my own, I've made a point to get out and really explore our city. I often craft whole itineraries based on their geographic proximity to one or two key places. I'll pull up a map on my computer and my kids will peer over my shoulder shouting out requests (usually asking me to find the nearest ice cream place) and we'll embark on our trip, sometimes pulling over if something new catches our eye.
Here are some of our tried-and-true favorites in Hyde Park.
Smart Museum of Art: An intimate but robust museum, the Smart hosts monthly family drop-in activities that are perfect for slow winter days. Not only are they free, they’re very high-quality projects. On February 3, it'll be celebrating everything blue with a Family Day inspired by the artist Yves Klein. There's even a cafe in the lobby for the caffeine jolt you’ll need after all that exhausting art-making.
57th Street Books: We almost never come down to Hyde Park without a visit to this iconic bookstore. The labyrinth of connected rooms and low ceilings make the whole place feel like it sprang from an author's imagination. Their selection of children's books is nicely curated and it can special order anything that's out of stock.
Salonica Restaurant: Whether we are in the mood for standard breakfast fare like scrambled eggs and pancakes or Greek diner staples like gyros and moussaka, Salonica always has us covered. Their children's menu is a great value and service is excellent. Expect a wait on weekends.
Nichols Park: My kids are always up for a trip to a playground in any kind of weather. Even in the middle of winter, we keep our eyes peeled for new or special parks. Nichols Park playground was renovated in 2016 and is a great place to blow off steam when the weather is above freezing (and even sometimes when it's not).
Ice skating at Midway Plaisance: Rent skates or bring your own; this rink operated by the Chicago Park District is on the beautiful stretch of land that once hosted amusements for the World's Columbian Exposition including the original Ferris wheel. With the gothic architecture of the University of Chicago as a backdrop, this is one of my favorite vistas. Especially at dusk when the lights from the University buildings are twinkling.
The Bakery at Piccolo Mondo: "Can we get hot chocolate?" I hear this one a lot and you probably do, too. My kids always want something “fancier” than your typical Starbucks treat. This Argentinian bakery has one of the coolest versions I've seen: It's called the "Submarino" and you get a glass of steamed milk served with a dark chocolate bar for a DIY hot chocolate that you mix yourself. Needless to say, this one's a big hit.
Museum of Science and Industry: I've saved the best for last. Not much new can be said about this place except that you might not be aware of one of the city's best membership deals. At the annual fund level ($300) and above, you get invited to several special events throughout the year that really make it worthwhile. Our favorite is the annual Boo Bash with a buffet dinner, open bar, dessert station, and free admission to the coal mine and other special exhibits.