The stylish new Sophy Hyde Park hotel is well outside Chicago’s center, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t numerous compelling attractions nearby. For those who have visited the city before, the property is a fun alternative to staying downtown, affording easy access to important South Side attractions. And those who have never been to Chicago should consider staying both downtown and in Hyde Park, in order to experience the city center as well as a beautiful neighborhood.
This itinerary doesn’t include the South Side’s most famous attraction, the Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago, which can occupy the better part of a day all on its own. In the future, visitors to the neighborhood will also be able to visit the Obama Presidential Center, which will likely be built in Jackson Park.
Have breakfast at the Sophy Hyde Park’s restaurant, Mesler. Take the hotel’s complimentary shuttle to one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s most graceful residential structures, the Robie House. The interior lacks many of the original Wright-designed furnishings, but guides bring the house to vivid life. (Note, however, that the Robie House is closed to visitors until March 29, 2019. Once it opens again, book tickets for the 10 a.m. guided tour in advance on the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust’s website.) If you’re a hardy sort and determined to visit Chicago before April, walk instead to the Heller House at 5132 S. Woodlawn. This house is a private residence, but Frank Lloyd Wright’s pedigree is unmistakable from its exterior.
Walk west down East 58th Street into The University of Chicago’s main quadrangle, lined on all sides with beautiful neo-Gothic architecture.
Turn right at the quadrangle’s center and walk up to the Smart Museum of Art, a free and compact gallery with excellent rotating exhibitions. On our recent visit, we saw works by major names like Mark Rothko and Cindy Sherman, as well as numerous pieces by local South Side artists.
Lunch options near the university are limited; the best restaurant within an easy walk of the Smart Museum is Nella Pizza e Pasta, a block north on East 55th Street, which serves simple but satisfying Italian food.
After lunch, walk three blocks south down South University Avenue to The Oriental Institute. This museum, housed in a lovely art deco building, contains a small but superlative collection of Middle Eastern art and artifacts, most of which were discovered on archaeological digs conducted by the institute in the early 20th century. In addition to fascinating small pieces, such as an inscribed hexagonal prism from Assyria and a bowl of ancient Egyptian bread, the museum displays impressive large-format works, such as a panel of turquoise-blue glazed bricks from Babylon’s Processional Way, imposing carved-stone reliefs from the palace of King Sargon II in Khorsabad and a colossal bull’s head from Persepolis.
If time and energy permit, I recommend walking east along East 57th Street to Powell’s Books Chicago, a fantastic used bookstore from which I’ve never left empty-handed. Otherwise, return to the Sophy, either on foot, by taxi or with the hotel’s complimentary shuttle.
After taking a break and freshening up, head out to dinner at Virtue, just a block east on East 53rd Street. This chic new restaurant serves upscale soul food as well as expertly mixed cocktails. It’s my favorite new restaurant in Hyde Park, aside from the commendable Mesler.
After dinner, consider seeing a performance either at the Court Theatre, an intimate space that presents excellent professional productions of both musicals and straight plays, or at the Rockefeller Memorial Chapel, a magnificent neo-Gothic church that often hosts top-quality musicians.
Alternatively, walk farther east from Virtue under the rail viaduct to Bibliophile, a cozy, very Hyde Park restaurant lined with shelves of used books, all of which are for sale. The food is mediocre, but it’s a great place for a cocktail, a glass of wine from the creative list and/or a boozy dessert.