A Hidden Gem in Chicago's South SideAll the highlights from President Obama's former neighborhood.
Jessyca Dudley grew up on Chicago's northern shores in the leafy neighborhood of Lakeview before spending years away from her hometown.
Back in Chicago now, her days are full with friends, family and work as a public health researcher. But when she needs a "day away from the ordinary," she heads to Hyde Park on the city's South Side.
The neighborhood has much to recommend, with impressive architecture, lakefront access, hidden restaurants and, of course, the pedigree of being the place Barack Obama called home before he moved into the White House.
"Hyde Park is really beautiful," Dudley says. "But it can be hard to get to [on public transportation from the north end], so people forget about it."
Those who do make it to Hyde Park come with their kids to see the legendary Museum of Science and Industry. With its U-505 submarine, coal mine and other exhibits, it's the kind of place where people of all ages can explore and expect to learn something new.
For a more serene breakaway, the University of Chicago campus is one of Hyde Park's gems, particularly the Rockefeller Memorial Chapel. Built in 1926, the cathedral is lovely, with carillon bells and an organ that fills the space with music during services. Nearby is the park's Frank Lloyd Wright landmark, Robie House. Designed in 1908 and built in 1910, the house is now part of the University of Chicago campus and a prime example of Prairie-style architecture.
"Chicago has all the architecture that is so important. It gets a bad wrap as flyover country, but this is all the big-name architecture. And Robie House has all this craft glass. You really get to see Wright's vision," Dudley says.
In addition to significant buildings, Hyde Park offers natural beauty, like the tranquil charms of Jackson Park. Dudley enjoys traveling through the 540-acre park by bike, checking out the statues and structures placed there to commemorate the 1893 Chicago World's Fair. One favorite area is the Japanese-style Osaka Garden, located on the park's Wooded Island. Designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, it was a gift from Japan to the U.S. in the 1890s and offers a real hidden getaway within the city limits.
After all that touring, particularly on bike, places to stop and eat are essential. Luckily, Hyde Park is full of restaurants that cater to every appetite, whether you're looking for a sit-down dinner or late-night snack. Dudley is partial to Grounds of Being, a cafe inside the divinity school of the University of Chicago.
"It is unknown, except if you know about it," she quips. The cafe is popular thanks to its fair-trade coffee and laid-back ambiance.
Another favorite is the no-frills Valois cafeteria. It opens bright and early in the morning and is known for its great pancakes, which are said to be a favorite of President Obama. That's a travel recommendation from the top.