Walking Chicago – well, a small part

We had the shortest time in Chicago, but the best of times. We visited the tiniest part from River North to Grant Park. It was all superlatives.

When you think about cities what comes to mind are roads full of cars, horn honking and ambulance sirens and there was all that. But the street crossings are kind to pedestrians with auto lights and drivers who pay attention even if jamming the intersection. And the city is all flat. Perfect for us walkers who don’t “do” hills. (I almost failed an Illinois driving test, when I couldn’t “imagine” a hill stop.)

Chi city rush

Chicago is a giant city – 2.7 million residents in 234 sq miles. For comparison: it would cover Marin to San Mateo covering the San Francisco peninsula and some of the bay. (For more comparisons, click maps) I once drove my son from north to south to show him how big Chicago is. Don’t remember how long it took, but we came across seven different street festivals – without even looking for them. This time Mike and I drove forever to get into the city and forever to get back out.

Chi street w el

Chicago has buses, subways, elevated trains (els) and trains. But we only had about 2 miles to cover so walking and a short cab ride was perfect.

The parts of our “one-day” trip:

Art Institute — Grant ParkDaley ParkMillennium ParkTribune TowerFood

Art Institute of Chicago

AI entrance

I lived in Chicago for five years and never went to the Art Institute. Don’t ask me how, but hey, now there are a couple of more buildings and more collections. It sits on the edge of Grant Park along Michigan Avenue. We arrived before opening time so we detoured through an art garden on the museum grounds. (We wandered over to a fountain/sculpture in Millennium Park. More on that later.)

AI garden

We returned. This lion glowed from the reflected light off a shiny building across the street.

AI glowing lion

Inside, we found our way to the Impressionists and Post-Imppressionists. (The museum has collection 300,000 works of art.)

AI Seurat
George Seurat – Sunday Afternoon
AI Degas
Edgar Degas – Yellow Dancers
AI Wheatstacks Monet
Claude Monet – Stacks of Wheat (Haystacks?)

Aside that has nothing to do with Monet’s paintings, which are gorgeous: The Institute titles these as Stacks of Wheat. Other sources including Wikipedia and Daily Mail call these Haystacks. A translation issue? I don’t have much farmer cred anymore, but Mike and I were wondering why would wheat be stacked this way?

AI The Bedroom - Van Gogh
Vincent VanGogh – The Bedroom (v2)

I liked the placement of these two paintings. On the left is Edward Hopper’s, Nighthawks, the epitome of lonely alienated people – and the lively Nightlife by Archibald Motley. I could see either scene in the Chicago I knew in the 70s.

AI nightlife Motley nighthawks Hopper
Nighthawks vs Nightlife
AI DeKoenig Excavation
Willem de Kooning – Excavation

We had lunch (3 restaurants to choose from), looked at some more art and visited the gift shop. Years ago the Marshall Fields department store, a few blocks away, used to sparkle this way.

AI Gift shop

Grant Park

The Art Institute is surrounded by Grant Park, so it was easy to access. However, areas were closed off for an upcoming marathon. But we passed this lush vegetable  garden, sponsored by Power of Produce. In the synchronisty of life, we saw a show about the program when we got home.

Grant Power of Produce

Mike had wanted to see the Buckingham Fountain. It would be spectacular. But it was shut down for the power washers to do their thing before winter repairs.

Grant fountain

Across a busy road we found the ocean-like Lake Michigan.

Grant coastGrant no diving

This Astroid Belt sign indicates one of several planetary walks around the Adler Planetarium just to the south.

Grant astroid

Here it was windy and chilly, so we headed inland to walk among the apple trees.

Grant path

Maggie Daley Park

Then we came across a park, that just opened in 2014. It includes a playground – full of children. Just over the rise of this hill was the Play Garden. Hmmm. Maybe the only hill in Chicago.Daley park

We sat on a bench to people watch. When we moved on, we discovered several large climbing walls (open Fri-Sun) and a skating ribbon for ice skating in the winter. For more information, click Daley Park.

Daley climb skate

Our next discovery was a great overpass to the Millennium Park. If all overpasses were like this, we would all love to travel that way. This sequence of parks made me appreciate the public spaces that can be created for people who want to enjoy both the outdoors and the interactions with other people and their city.

Daley to Mill

Mill path

Daley to Mill more Daley to Mill walk

Millennium Park

We wound up at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park. You could have one big concert or rally here. Many events are free. Over the stage is a structure designed by Frank Gehry – but I was incapable of finding a way to take a picture of it. See Pavilion for other people’s more successful attempts.

Mill arch

People are everywhere, but it is a good vibe, especially when a young girl shouted, “The bean, Mama. The bean!” And she was right. The plaza was crowded with people taking pictures of themselves in this highly reflective sculpture also known as Cloud Gate by Anish Kapoor.

Mill bean 1 Mill bean

Not sure if you can “read” this picture, but I was struck by the reflection of the bean shining through to the next garden without revealing it’s shape.

Mill Inner reflectNext to the “bean” are gardens and more sculptures.Mill more plantMill head

Now we had made a circle around the Art Institute – for we had found these fountains before entering the museum. Two huge blocks covered in mesh that sometimes dribble water over the top and sometimes strongly spits water out of the mouth of the face image on the block. The face changes as does the water. Called Crown Fountain by Jaume Plensa, it worth a patient study. And it provides another place to watch people.

Mill double fountain

Mill spitting fountain

Tribune Tower

We walked north on Michigan Ave crossing the Chicago River.

Wrigley Building
Wrigley Building
Chicago River
Chicago River

We stopped for coffee at a tea shop (Argo) in the Chicago Tribune Tower. While we were sitting there, we noticed a man going around taking pictures of the walls in the courtyard. Whatever was he doing? The building is neo-Gothic and a Nathan Hale statue stands guard.

Nathan Hale at Tribune Tower
Nathan Hale at Tribune Tower

What was in the wall were pieces of other buildings. Later I read that Colonel McCormick, founder to the Chicago Tribune, told reporters to bring home pieces of buildings.

Trib bldg b
Tower of Tears/Flodden Field
Trib bldg corner
Corner View
Trib bldg d
Great Pyramid
Trib build a
Turkey and Paris


We walked along the Magnificent Mile until E. Ohio Street where we turned off for our hotel. We were watching for a place to eat dinner. Some possibilities. Had to laugh at the Weber Grill restaurant. Really? Yes, really, backyard grill in a restaurant.

The one place that intrigued me was Eataly. We returned later. It has two floors of shops and restaurants. It was overwhelming with choices, but I persevered. We chose a pasta/pizza restaurant upstairs. The eating area was noisy and surrounded by pristine and untouched (?) shelves of jarred and bagged food. The waiter informed us if we split the order between pasta and pizza, they might not come at the same time. The wine he suggested did come quickly and was most tasty. The pasta followed soon. Very fresh and delicious. All a bit pricey. We went downstairs and had tons of gelato. The lively environment was filled with a variety of young people and families, but I think it’s best as a place for well-paid young professionals. Eataly is in New York and several locations in Italy (where I hear it is overwhelming and pricey). Classes and demonstrations are also available.

For breakfast, I thank TripAdvisor for choosing Brunch as the best place in the neighborhood. It was so good we returned the second morning and deeply wished we had one near us at home. The pastries looked good too though there was no way we had room after our gigantic breakfasts. Next time.

Last Thoughts

Turned out is was too short a visit, but we certainly packed it with places and activities. As I mentioned earlier, this is a huge city and there is so much more to see. Consider this an appetizer.

The part of the city we visited seemed to function. People were everywhere enjoying themselves. Streets were relatively trash-free. Imagine!

Following a few random pictures. The first is of bikes sponsored by a healthcare organization. A couple of women in Grant Park asked us for directions – we mentioned the bikes – they said they had tried them but it was too stressful having to turn them in every 30 minutes.

Chi bikes
Divvy/Blue Cross/Blue Shield Bike Share
Grant Train
Train line I used to take to work downtown. Some of line lost to Millennium Park.
AI patio
Beautiful plantings everywhere. These next to the Art Institute.

See you on the trail! Up next Wisconsin!

Words by Lynn Millar, Pictures by Lynn and Mike Millar (Available upon request.)

Published by Lynn Millar

Walker, reader, writer, traveller - see About Walking

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