Historic Oak Park, just on the western border of Chicago, is a suburb that defies the very notion of suburbia. Settled in the 1830s, always with a history of easy transportation to Chicago, Oak Park touts being the birthplace of writer Ernest Hemingway, as well as the home to architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s studio. These are just two reasons to visit Oak Park while in Chicago. Here’s a low-stress itinerary to maximize a day trip to this urban forest.
Take the Metra or El
It’s a mere 20 minute ride from Chicago to Oak Park on the Metra’s Pacific Western line, all for 3.75 USD one-way. Or, you can take the more local route by hopping on the Chicago Transit Authority’s Green Line to the Harlem stop (2.25 USD), which takes a little longer but offers a different view. Either train will take you to the same stop, leading you to the heart of Oak Park’s cobblestone streets. Everything in this itinerary can be accessed on foot.
Breakfast at Delia’s Kitchen
Alighting from the train ride may have you hungry for breakfast. I recommend heading towards the main artery of Oak Park; Lake Street. Here you will find stores and restaurants, with Delia’s Kitchen being the most notable breakfast spot. The lemon-blueberry ricotta pancakes (9.95 USD) are not to be missed. Bottomless coffee served is a local favorite by Intelligentsia Coffee (2.50 USD).
A visit to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Studio
If you’re anything like me, and have managed to finish those pancakes, a walk is in order! Continue east on Lake Street to gather information at Oak Park’s Tourist Center. Then head on over to Forest Street to tour Frank Lloyd Wright’s home and studio, as well as see some of the historic homes that he designed. Tours are offered every twenty minutes, and run 60 minutes for 17 USD per adult. Children and seniors are 14 USD. At the tour, they will give you a map highlighting the other homes in the area designed by Wright, which is an advisable next-step following the tour.
Shopping on Lake Street
You might still have energy and calories to burn off, so head back to Lake Street for some shopping. Oak Park boasts independently owned boutiques and stores that you can feel good about supporting. Some highlights of the Oak Park downtown are The Book Table, a new and used bookstore; CarefulPeach Boutique, a high-end kitsch shop with everything from cards to fine wines; and Ten Thousand Villages, a fair-trade, volunteer-run store perfect for gifts.
A picnic at Mills Park
Mills Park, in the Pleasant Park District, is another historic Oak Park site. Pleasant Home, a prime example of one the earliest Prairie Style homes, sits on the 4.5 idyllic acres, about 1.8 hectares. Summertime offers an on-going sculpture walk. If you are looking for pre-made sandwiches, Prairie Bread Kitchen is on the way on Marion Street, and offers a variety of vegetarian and non-vegetarian sandwiches for a reasonable price.
A visit to Ernest Hemingway’s Birthplace and Museum
If you were able to catch a snooze in the park following your picnic, props to you. Now it’s time to get re-energized and return to learning about one of Oak Park’s iconic figures, Ernest Hemingway. At Hemingway’s Birthplace and Museum you can learn about the young author who went on to write such classics as Old Man and the Sea, A Farewell to Arms, and The Sun Also Rises. Hours vary throughout the week, but on Saturdays they are open from 10 am to 5 pm and Sunday from 1-5 pm, with a 15 USD charge for adults, and 13 USD for students and seniors. Bring cash, as the word on the streets is that they no longer accept cards.
Coffee and pastries at Sugar Fixé Pȃtisserie
By now, you’re probably worn out and need a bit of a rest. Point your toes to Marion Street for a coffee of your choosing, as well as a decadent sweet. Sugar Fixé Pȃtisserie is perfect for an afternoon pick-me-up, known for it’s unique dessert creations such as the Nutella Dome (yes, truly), traditional French macaroons, and the salted caramel chocolate bar. Getting that sugar fix will surely help you find your feet!
Street music on Thursday evenings
Every Thursday evening in the summer months, Oak Park hosts street musicians that liven up the village. Families flock to the shut-down thoroughfare of Marion Street for outdoor meals, relaxation, and dancing. The genre varies on the evening from everything between the blues to Romanian folk music. Even if you don’t partake in the 16 USD meal tickets that the village encourages, you can still sit and take in excellent music and people-watching.
Returning home to the Windy City
Whether you’ve made a complete day of seeing Oak Park by topping it off with dinner, or if you’re returning to Chicago for your last meal of the day, all of these activities should leave you feeling fulfilled. Of course there are still things left to see in Oak Park, such as the Saturday morning farmer’s market, or the botanical conservatory. But that will have to wait until the next visit. It’s only a train ride away, so be sure to return soon!
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