Chicago simply shines in the late summer and early fall. On a sunny downtown day, every view competes for attention: from polished sky-high towers to live music on the streets. Driving into the city on Lake Shore Drive thrills newcomers and old-timers alike. Where else can a public lakefront relax so easily against a fine couch of urbanity – for miles, and miles, and miles? What better way to spend a balmy Chicago day than at the beach – for free?
Out-of-towners and south-siders alike agree: the 57th St. Beach is easy to access and enjoy. Located just south of Promontory Point and just east of the Museum of Science and Industry, this beach is a hidden-in-plain-sight treasure. No worries about walking for miles to get back to your car. On our recent visit, we parked at the lot just off 55th ($1/hour), and strolled under Lake Shore Drive. The wide, bright underpass features fresh mosaics and has room for bicyclists, strollers and pedestrians alike. Lush native plants rise up on the other side. Clean bathrooms provide a place to change, and some food’s available too, in season. Strollers and wheelchairs can roll down a firm walkway almost to the water.
The backdrop’s just as interesting as the lake. Looking southwest, green rules the view. To the west, the Museum’s giant domes shrink to a demure size behind the trees. In the northeast, the flat textured high-rises say “city,” but to the north, Promontory Point (designed by blow-you-away-brilliant landscape architect Alfred Caldwell – click here for a detailed PDF bio) says “forget your cares.” The excitement of Lake Shore Drive dissolves in the wind, and it’s very easy to forget the highway’s rush.
57th St. Beach provides a convenient gateway for exploring the Hyde Park neighborhood, a somewhat overlooked spot for day-trippers and over-nighters. Had enough beach-time? The Museum’s just a short walk away. Need to eat? Stroll over to Piccolo Mondo, home to tasty eggplant sandwiches, Pollo Limone, and San Pelligrino Aranciata (Italian orange soda), on the corner of 56th and Cornell. A playground’s just across the street. More dining districts are only a short walk or drive away: I’ll vouch for Seoul Corea on 53rd, Kikuya on 55th and Medici on 57th Street.
More Hyde Park attractions include fantastic bookstores (The Seminary Bookstore, 57th Street Books and O’Gara and Wilson, Ltd., just to name a few) and of course, the beautiful University of Chicago campus.
While you’re in the neighborhood, don’t miss the Frank Lloyd Wright Robey House. Those in the know may spot other architectural treats, such as these apartment buildings on 54th Street by Harry Weiss and I.M. Pei, and the classic Chicago Cottages across the way.
Here’s a simple overview map of the area. Happy exploring!
– Linda Gardner Phillips
Follow Linda on Twitter/Deerpathfarm