Cloud Gate – The Bean
The Bean, as locals call it is fun. Yes, it’s a relatively new landmark (2004-ish). No, visiting The Bean will not be life-changing for most. Is it fun? YOU BET! and should be on everyone’s To Do list when visiting the windy city.
Imagine standing under and around a gigantic mirror shaped in the form of a bean. Cloud Gate is a seamless mirror-like art sculpture that makes the Chicago skyline shine. It’s located in Millennium park.
Chicago doesn’t have a Central Park, instead lots of parks all pulled together to create a park much larger than NYC’s Central Park. Something you should understand, Chicago’s Parks & Recreation Department (Chicago Parks District) is the largest in the nation. They are responsible for almost 600 parks, many museums, beaches, and conservatories. Millennium Park is just one section of a much larger park that trumps New York’s Central Park. It’s large with multiple playing fields, fountains, museums, and our favorite the children’s play area. We could have spent four full days exploring this group of parks (Millennium, Maggie Daley, Grant, Hutchinson, Gold Star, Northerly Island, Burnham, Jackson, Morgan, YOU GET THE IDEA, and Museum Campus). These contiguous parks run along Lake Michigan and are simply delightful! For the sake of this article, I’m calling it Chicago’s “Central Park”. Judge if you must.
Our kids had the best time at Cloud Gate making faces and jumping up and down, making fun sounds while underneath. People were friendly and were willing to take our photo if we would take theirs. We’ve been told that there is an excellent cafe underneath Cloud Gate that sells great ice cream.
It only takes about 10 minutes to walk to Buckingham Fountain and another few minutes to Museum Campus. The Field Museum is located here, another one of our favorites.
Buckingham Fountain, one of the largest in the world, was built in the early 1900s and was inspired by the fountains of Versailles. The fountain is said to represent Lake Michigan itself and the states that surround it. Every hour the fountain wakes up and dances to lights and music for about 20 minutes. You can find out more about the schedule here. The fountain was named after Clarence F Buckingham who was a successful Chicago businessman that was involved with “the Corn Exchange National Bank and the Illinois Trust and Savings Company. He also served as president of the Northwestern Elevated Railroad Company, and was involved in insurance, steel and real estate.” –source. He was also very involved with art and help build public art collections for Chicago’s museums (assisted by Frank Lloyd Wright and others). You can read more about Buckingham here.
Maggie Daley Park
If you are traveling with kids, or young at heart then Maggie Daley Park is a hidden gem of amazingness. On the north end of Chicago’s “central park” is a play area for kids of all ages.
We discovered this late one evening on the way back to our hotel. When it came time to leave we literally had to pry our kids away from the slides. We frequent parks and our kids are no strangers to slides… this place was special and magical for them. Something was different here. Maybe it was the tall skyscrapers or the smell of Lake Michigan. Maybe it was just fun playing at a park late at night. They begged and begged to come back. It was clean. We felt safe even in the evening with all of the police on bikes. There were lots of kids but not overcrowded. You’ll just have to see for yourself. Did we go back? Yes, and the kids had more fun during the daytime. Mom and dad enjoyed the seating and the 3 acre Play Garden. There are huge climbing walls, picnic areas, tennis courts, and an ice skating track. The Play Garden is very large and was said to have been designed in the spirit of Alice in Wonderland and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. There’s an Enchanted Forest and a splash pad. Everything in the park is free except for the rock wall climbing and ice skate rentals. Check out MaggieDaleyPark.com for times and more details.
Also in the park area are amazing food vendors (Chicago-style Hot Dogs) and a world-class Art Museum. While we didn’t have time to visit the Art Institute during this trip I had heard someone comment that they had been to the Louvre in France and, according to them, this museum was more entertaining. That’s quite the compliment. Don’t forget about the Aquarium, the Field Museum or the Alder Planetarium (which, I believe was the first in the US).
Discounts for The Field Museum, Alder Planetarium, Shed Aquarium, Art Institute of Chicago, and others can be found through the Chicago CityPASS. It gives you options to visit five of the best attractions in Chicago (including our favorites). Most of the coupons allow you to skip the line with their “VIP Status”. This might help if you’re a bit busy. It’s a little pricy if you have a large family like us, but it’s a MUST! Other discounts? If you have a membership to a local science museum and they are members of the ASTC Passport program then you might be able to enjoy some of Chicago’s attractions for free. This is how Wesley Adventures enjoyed Chicago!
We hope you get a chance to enjoy the magic of Chicago’s “Central Park” and enjoy the all that Chicago has to offer! Check out our other Chicago Adventures.