Lake Shore Drive in Chicago is the most beautiful extended stretch of urban parkway in America. Bordered for most of its 15-plus miles on the east by green space and Lake Michigan (and its beaches) and on the west by a mix of parkland, skyscrapers and luxury apartments, this expressway-with-some-stoplights is where Chicagoans bring new visitors who, until they get here, imagine the city as just another old, gray Midwestern concrete and steel metropolis. The best way to experience Lake Shore Drive is by driving south to north.
The Lakefront Trail
Lakefront Trail gets a little congested, especially on good-weather weekends when bikers compete for space with joggers, walkers, pram pushers, skaters and gawkers. But the view makes it all worth it; the paved pathway hugs the Lake Michigan shoreline (in Chicago, the lake is always east) and for the strong of leg and flat of stomach, there's no better way to enjoy the route. Rather than fight it, just go with the flow.
The Museum of Science and Industry
Near the southern extreme of Lake Shore Drive is Jackson Park, home to the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition and its most famous remnant, the Museum of Science and Industry. Explore a German sub, descend into a coal mine, watch chicks peck out of eggshells, gaze in wonder at the model railroad you still wish you had, then catch a movie at the Omnimax.
The Soldier Field
The outer structure with its landmark colonnades dates to 1924; American boxer Jack Dempsey lost to Gene Tunney here in 1927 when the place held 100,000-plus in various degrees of discomfort. In 2003, with the NFL Bears as its primary tenant, a new bowl opened within the old walls, drawing praise from patrons and gasps from architecture critics. (One decried, "Like the Starship Enterprise crash-landed atop the Parthenon!"). If you want to add your educated opinion, and peek into a locker room, take a tour.
The Museum Campus
The Drive was reconfigured in 1998 to create a sort of island home for 3 long-established venues: The Field Museum, Adler Planetarium and Shedd Aquarium. The aquarium, with its dolphin and whale shows, has become Chicago's most visited cultural institution. The Field's big draw is Sue, a skeletal monster T. rex; also here are the storied Tsavo lions of Kenya, which once stuffed themselves with humans, but are now stuffed themselves. The planetarium has the usual sky shows -- but because of where it is, it also offers perhaps the best free view of the Chicago skyline. Combo passes are a deal.
From mid-October into April, the fountain serves as just a monumental dry birdbath. But the rest of the year, it's a magnificent bubbly thing with a central water plume that rises 150 feet into the air, wind-conditions permitting. At night, colored lights delight everybody and provide the quintessential, obligatory Chicago postcard since 1927. Locals are satisfied that slow traffic on this stretch of the Drive gives us a chance to refresh our sense of wonder.
It's been a port, warehouse, a University of Illinois campus and part of it is still a children's museum. For most visitors today, it's a promenade with restaurants, theaters (live and Imax), tour boats and land-based rides, one of them visible from Lake Shore Drive: a Ferris wheel that's an homage to the world's first, created for the 1893 fair.
From Oak Street north to Fullerton Avenue (there are more beaches further north), most beaches can be seen from the Drive. Oak Street Beach, because of its proximity to high-end Michigan Avenue and the high-end Gold Coast residential district, is considered prime ogling territory. North Avenue Beach lures a cross-section of the city. Volleyball players congregate up to Fullerton Beach, which -- being near Lincoln Park Zoo -- is family-friendliest.
Situated on both sides of Lake Shore Drive from North Avenue almost to the north end of the road, its 1,200 acres are home to Lincoln Park Zoo, beaches, a golf course, soccer fields, bird sanctuaries, a nature museum, picnic grounds, boat harbors and a tomb from 1857, a silent reminder that some of Lincoln Park was a cemetery. Also within the park is North Pond, one of the city's most honored restaurants.
Award-winning travel writer Alan Solomon was born, raised, went to college in and still lives in Chicago. He worked for both surviving Chicago newspapers and likes both the Cubs and the White Sox.