Saturday, July 9, 2011

A Summer Ride To Millennium Park and The Art Institute (with kids on their bikes or as a passenger on yours)

Here is a Chicago classic for summer. A ride to  Millennium Park to jump in the fountain after a visit to the Art Institute. Alert! You'll need to pack some snacks, sunscreen and extra clothes or bathing suits and towels. It's so fun running in the shallow water at the Crown Fountain (the one with the giant faces spitting water) that no one can ever just get their feet wet.

The Art Institute
The Art Institute has new hours. No longer free on Thursday evenings, it is free the first and last Wednesdays of the month. Keep in mind the education center is always free. You don't have to enter the museum to do the free art projects on offer or to explore in the fun family library filled with blocks, giant pillows to build with, shelves of art books and excellent air conditioning. You can find it just to the left inside the entry into the Modern Wing on Monroe.

Our favorite bike parking when we come here is off Monroe behind the Museum on the east side (Columbus Ave.) of the Modern Wing. Pull up off the street and roll your bike along the ramp to the walkway that follows the giant windows on the North side. Turn just east at the corner and you will find four hidden terrific bike racks. I find there are rarely any bikes there so there is plenty of parking to be had for the three to four bikes I have when the guys ride their own. It's better for me to park there without anyone getting run over. Unlike most of the bike parking in the Loop these racks are tucked away from the busy streets. I can put the small guys down while I fumble with my locks and calmly get all the bikes secured.

Our summer secret to the Art Institute is go for about an hour and a half or so then make a break for the park. We choose one thing to totally enjoy if we go into the galleries, make some art and go. This summer the museum has free kid's art programming on Wednesdays and Fridays in addition to the weekend. The weekday programs are secretly usually very quiet.

The guys have always had their own favorite places inside the galleries. One likes the modern paintings. Everyone likes the Armor except me. Another is partial to the statues and stories of the gods in the Southeast Asian galleries. Our oldest recently read The Sixty- Eight Rooms, about the Thorne rooms in the basement. Before he could barely stand them, now he loves to visit and gaze in at the rooms. If you go on a Thursday it's magical to be on the top floor of the Modern Wing in the evening time as the sun goes low and the sky changes colors under the glass roofed galleries.

After a nice visit making art and checking out paintings, armor, Buddhas, tiny rooms or whatever is your favorite thing, take the elevator from the other free side of the Modern Wing to the top floor and get out at the long Nichols Bridge from the museum to Millenium Park. There's an observation deck and a fancy restaurant there with another bathroom. This long silvery bridge spans the distance from the museum into the center of the park. and it's got a view of the skyscrapers and gardens and a bit of lake. The long views into the city, over the park and to the lake please even the most blase kid. Taking the bridge is also good because you can skip trying to cross the street.
from the Millennium Park website, link is in the text above.

Millennium Park

This summer free Wiggle Worms, kids projects, amazing concerts and the Crown Fountain all beckon. The family festival in the park which runs until the 8th of August all week every day is not to be missed.  We find the Crown Fountain is most quiet in the morning during the week. It's hopping and packed all  day on the weekend but that happy crowd is part of the fun sometimes. Bring suits or extra clothes, and towels if you have a child with you that can walk! They will all want to go in the fountain.

The park is more than the fountain. There's the Bean too. Cloud Gate, whatever. Expensive hot dogs. Tourists on Segways.

Walking the Lurie Garden's summery tall flowery grasses to find the secret hiding places with benches tucked all around is mysterious. Obviously the wide green by the Pavillion is a perfect spot for a picnic.

There is a nice little playground (if you needed one) across the BP bridge in the Daley Bicentennial Park under Randolph St. Cross the BP bridge and just keep heading northeast. In winter there's a skating rink here that the crowds at Millennium Park ignore. It's shady in summer and there are bathrooms in the park building which is built into the side of the hill, when it's open.

Getting There:

Coming due North from Hyde Park, the Lake Front Path is your best bet. Get off at Monroe and walk / ride down to the Art Institute.

From the Near West Side we ride Peoria to Lake then sidewalk Lake with the guys on their bikes east over the bridge and onto the Riverwalk where they walk / ride with me if it's not rush or lunch hour to Wabash, cross over Wacker on Wabash and follow it to Monroe and walk down to the museum. We don't tend to sidewalk ride in the Loop if it's crowded as there are lots of older people on the sidewalk that get spooked by the bikes.

From Logan Square/ Wicker Park (on one of our school routes home) we haven't tended to let the guys ride the whole way on their own bikes. The bus down Milwaukee can hold two bikes easily and the train will let you take as many as you can handle if it isn't rush hour.  You could ride Milwaukee to Kinzie; get on the new lane on Kinzie to Wells then turn south onto Wells and cross to the Riverwalk. Ride / walk to Wabash and ride Wabash to Monroe. If we ride on the cargo bike it's Cortland to Racine to Belden to the Zoo and down through the park to State Parkway then in front of the Drake next to Lakeshore Drive and down.

From the North, it might be easiest to take the LFP if you can reach it easily from where you live, at least to the Gold Coast. We tend to split off and take Wabash from there when we travel through the Loop as it is fairly quiet and has stop signs or lights the whole ride through the shopping district north of Wacker.

We ride the quiet streets in the Gold Coast (like Belden) to N. Lakeshore Parkway (just west of the big Lakeshore Drive) and walk / ride to Oak; then walk / ride to the start of Wabash and continue on our bikes. The guys usually ride on our bikes on this route.

Traffic tends to be pretty busy once we leave State Parkway in the Gold Coast and continue south and we find it easier to take the LFP from here when the guys are on their own bikes.

Eating and Coffee
We tend to pack our lunches and snacks on these summer trips. It makes it easier to just eat when everyone gets suddenly famished. It is fun to eat on the grass in Millennium Park. In a pinch we stop at the Caffe Baci just across Michigan Ave. from Millennium Park. The cafe in the mezzanine in the Art Institute is very expensive as is the restaurant upstairs. The cafe in the courtyard and cafeteria (in the basement of the museum) have cheaper kid friendly pizza/burger type food, but they can get very crowded in the summer and are not great if you have a kid in melt down mode unable to wait for the line. Baci also has better pizza. For some reason the hot dogs in Millenium Park are incredibly expensive and they don't come with fries like they do at every other hole in the wall in the city. Save your Chicago hot dog experience for somewhere else.

Coffee is good at the Intelligentsia on Randolph just west of the Cultural Center. It's a treat but not the most kid friendly spot! The Baci has OK coffee and good gelato as well.

Bathrooms are easy to find in the family education center in the Art Institute, centrally and at the edges of Millennium Park, and at Daley Bicentennial Plaza just East of the park. Changing into suits or out of them near the fountain is fairly informal if you have really littles. If not, bathrooms are to be found just West and South of the fountain at the entrances to the park.

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