Two lakefront parks, Grant and Millennium, form the front lawn of Chicago and represent the city’s progressive design streak from the 19th century to the 21st, respectively.
Begin your parks walk at the foot of (1) Millennium Park at North Michigan Avenue and East Randolph Street, which is “as much about spectacle as it is about contemporary landscape design.”—Blair Kamin, architecture critic, Chicago Tribune. Walk south along Michigan to the park walkway leading directly east to the (2) Jay Pritzker Pavilion, the Frank O. Gehry-designed stage framed in ribbons of metal. Look behind you for the crowds that gather around Anish Kapoor’s reflective, kidney-shaped sculpture (3) “Cloud Gate,” unofficially called “The Bean.” The reflections of the city skyline and the funhouse distortions make this a popular spot for photographers.
Resume walking east to the (4) BP Bridge, a snaking, steel-clad span also designed by Gehry that meanders over to the relatively tranquil (5) Daley Bicentennial Plaza, on the north end of (6) Grant Park (337 E. Randolph Street), first set aside in 1835 to protect it from commercial development and later extended with landfill from the debris produced by Chicago’s 1871 fire. In the early 1900s, city planner and architect Daniel H. Burnham—the man who once said, “Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men’s blood”—laid out plans for the park to include gardens and museums.
Follow the park paths south to the 1927 (7) Clarence Buckingham Memorial Fountain (East Congress Drive between Columbus and Lake Shore Drives), an ornate, sea-themed spout. From the fountain you can take in the Shedd Aquarium, Field Museum, and the Adler Planetarium arrayed around the edges of the park and collectively called Museum Campus. “One of my favorite spots to see Chicago is from Museum Campus. It offers a bird’s-eye view of Chicago’s skyline with all the shapes and sizes of the buildings.”—Lynn Osmond, president and CEO, Chicago Architecture Foundation.
Return to Michigan Avenue along East Congress Drive, and walk north on Michigan to Jackson Drive. Stop into the serene (8) South Stanley McCormick Court (Michigan Avenue at Jackson Street) on the south side of the Art Institute, a hidden, sun-dappled garden of cock-spur Hawthorne trees and a gurgling fountain. Continue walking north on Michigan past the Art Institute of Chicago, the 1893 landmark that deserves an afternoon all its own, while taking in (9) Michigan Avenue buildings (from Jackson Street north to Randolph Street). “The cliff-like wall of many very beautiful buildings, that speaks to the idea that architecture is a conversation of the generations.”—Blair Kamin.
Cross Monroe Street and reenter Millennium Park at its south end, home to (10) The Crown Fountain, a plaza framed by two 50-foot (15-meter) glass block towers that project images of Chicagoans on LED screens as water appears to cascade from their mouths, designed by Spanish artist Jaume Plensa. Feel free to wade in during warm months. Get off your feet at the (11) Park Grill (11 N. Michigan Avenue; www.parkgrillchicago.com), a popular café with a large outdoor seating area in season that allows you to admire the surrounding architecture passively. “Credited for doing real cooking despite captive audience.”—Phil Vettel, dining critic, Chicago Tribune.
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