B. O'Kane / Alamy
Amy Tara Koch
August 21, 2014

Many know Hyde Park as the homebase for University of Chicago’s 15,000-strong student body. But this South Side neighborhood, only six miles from the Chicago Loop, is so much more than a campus quad. Since the turn of the century, Hyde Park has been the city’s cultural hub. Remnants of the 1893 World’s Columbia Exposition can still still be found here, offset by the shady arbors of the 1,055-acre lakefront park, the Midway Plaisance. Inland, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie School masterpiece, Robie House, can be found among the Victorian mansions that flank the wide boulevards. Then, of course, there is the First Family’s Kenwood home. View this vibrant neighborhood by foot, starting with a stroll down 57 Street for street art under the viaduct and a cold-brewed coffee. As you tour Hyde Park’s most coveted sights and boutique storefronts, listen for the distinct call of the tropical, electric-green monk parakeets that call Hyde Park home.

Plein Air

With it’s prime location adjacent to historic Robie House, this unassuming but decidedly au courant café is the ideal spot for lunch or mid-day craft coffee pick-me-up. A European inspired menu puts a Midwestern spin on classic tartines, sandwiches and hearty grain bowls. Make sure to check out the revolving artist series.

57 Street Bookstore

Ducking into this indie, bibliophile paradise is like being transported to a secret chamber in a Medieval castle. New releases and classics are thoughtfully arranged on the floor-to-ceiling shelves, but it’s the notable selection of specialty magazines and sci-fi that has earned 57th Street Books its cult following. Cozy reading nooks fill the subteranean space, and are occupied by voracious students and visitors. 

Osaka Gardens

This garden oasis, once the site of the Japanese Pavillion during the 1893 World’s Columbia Exposition, is now a prized urban retreat. Reach this hard-to-find spot by turning onto Science Drive, and enter through the iconic torii gate—like the entrance to an ancient shrine. Your search will be rewarded with an afternoon of zen amongst the bubbling carp pools and flowering cherry trees.

Robie House, Frank Lloyd Wright

Take a tour of the Hyde Park-home that revolutionized American architecture. Where once there were only formal, European-inspired living spaces (small, separate rooms; crown molding; gabled roofs) there were suddenly open floor plans and endless panes of windows that let the outside in. Visionary designer Frank Lloyd Wright took inspiration from the Midwestern plains and evolving, laidback lifestyles of his fellow Chicagoans. 

The Museum of Science and Industry

You can’t miss the palatial, 14-acre museum overlooking the serene Columbian basin. Home to attractions such as original costumes from Pirates of the Caribbean and the famous high-speed Zephyr train, The Museum of Science and Industry is revered for its innovative hands-on exhibits. Bring the family along on a virtual ocean odyssey or tour a full-size replica of a coal mine. 

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