Amy Tara Koch | Instead of the Magnificent Mile, head to Hyde Park for a real sense of Chicago
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Instead of the Magnificent Mile, head to Hyde Park for a real sense of Chicago

Go Here, Not There: Magnificent Mile vs. Hyde Park

Shops surround the famed Water Tower on Michigan Avenue in Chicago. (Kim Karpeles/Alamy Stock Photo)


Chicago’s Magnificent Mile has blue chip shopping, museums, swanky steakhouses and Navy Pier, the popular tourist attraction. Eight miles south, Hyde Park offers an entirely different experience. Home to the University of Chicago, the wide, leafy boulevards speckled with mom and pop shops and time worn diners (one, Valois, said to be Barack Obama’s morning go-to)  can feel more village than big city neighborhood. There are jazz joints, old school book stores and eateries that mirror the racial diversity of the neighborhood. Another draw? Nature. You can visit the lakefront and Jackson Park, the grounds of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition and future site of Obama Presidential Center.


Historic Homes,  World’s Fair Remnants, Lush Parkland

South Woodlawn Avenue between 53rd Street and 57 Street brims with historic mansions, many designed by notable architects. Here, you’ll find Dwight Perkins Wiles House, Isadore Heller House (an early Frank Lloyd Wright edifice) and Wright’s masterpiece Robie House, the Prairie style mansion deemed a forerunner of modern architecture.  Up the street is the gothic revivalRockefeller Memorial Chapel, a key gathering spot at University of Chicago where luminaries like Dr. Martin Luther King and Elie Wiesel have spoken to crowds gathered beneath the building’s famed art deco mosaic ceiling. Jackson Park, seven minutes north, is home to the cutting edge Museum of Science and Industry , the only neoclassical surviving building from the World’s Fair (formerly the Palace of Fine Arts). There are two other World’s Fair remnants here: Midway Plaisance Park which, in 1893, housed the world’s first ferris wheel and Garden of Phoenix, a cherry tree lined zen garden (complete with moon bridge and shinto gate), the only evidence of Frederick Law Olmsted’s lush Wooded Island which housed the Japanese Pavillon in 1893. It’s worthwhile to pop into one of Hyde Park’s many book shops. 57 Street Books is the most iconic, it’s warren of subject-specific rooms with cozy reading nooks ooze local charm. 


Southern American Food, Nightlife and a New Hotel on 53rd Street
The just-opened Sophy, Hyde Park’s first luxury boutique hotel is a neighborhood game changer. Airy, art filled public spaces, already a bolthole for locals, feature thoughtful nods to South Side heritage: a sinuous metal chandelier inspired by improvisational jazz in the lobby, sly references to academia-beakers for wine pours and rocks glassware bearing sketches by Enrico Fermi, creator of first nuclear reactor (Chicago Pile-1-in the bar, Rooms (which cost a fraction of what you’ll pay in downtown Chicago) are stocked with books by local authors and old school record players (and vinyl) to heighten the local vibe.
In contrast to the progressive fare found at many of Chicago’s James Beard pedigreed restaurants, the newly opened Virtue offers an homage to the American South with feels-like-home warmth. Creatively interpreted dishes like Virginia ham with peppered jelly and pickled okra and chicken gumbo atop chewy Carolina Gold rice are served on flowery chintz plates in a room adorned with wooden tobacco baskets and local artwork. For music, The Promontory (also a restaurant) has nightly acts that range from DJs and jazz to Afro Fusion.

LOCATION: Hyde Park’s official boundaries are 51st Street/Hyde Park Boulevard on the north, the Midway Plaisance (between 59th and 60th streets) on the south, Washington Park on the west, and Lake Michigan on the east.

This article originally appeared in the Washington Post