A little-known fact about Hyde Park is that it was once popular as a weekend getaway for northsiders. The Shoreland, Windermere, and Flamingo buildings (among several others that have been razed) were once cushy resorts that attracted tourists looking to spend a few days lounging on a quiet beach. These resorts, as we all know, have been transformed into apartment buildings and, ironically, there remain few hotels in the neighborhood, but Hyde Park still possesses a little hint of its beach town past.
Many Hyde Park locals have the luxury of living in these one-time resorts, or in other similar buildings that are literally only steps from the water. Lakefront property south of the Loop-- for better or worse--is drastically cheaper than on the north side, which means that even average Janes like me can afford to live right on the water.
Within the boundaries of Hyde Park, the shores of the lake are clean and quiet, without industrialization or the eyesore parking lots, concrete blocks, imported palm trees, and gravel-y sand found along the lake's north-side shores. 57th Street Beach is admittedly tiny and completely under the radar of non-Hyde Parkers, but it is--probably because it's so unknown-- one of the nicest, calmest beaches I've been to in the city. It can get a little crowded on hot weekend days, but at its worst it is still waaay more low-key than any of the other city beaches I've been to. Another nice thing about it is that Promontory Point juts out into the water and essentially cuts it off from the rest of the lake, which seems to block the gravel, trash, and seaweed that so often washes ashore at huge, wide-open beaches like Montrose Beach. There's also a cute little snack shop on the beach where you can get ice cream and cold drinks.
As much as I love the beach, I know we still have at least a month or so before we will truly be able to enjoy it. In the mean time, the weather is perfect for taking advantage of the lake path. The south side portion of the trail is way less crowded than the north side--so you're not constantly having to elbow your way through crowds of joggers--but you still get the same views of the lake and a better view of the city skyline. You also get to pass some pretty nifty stuff along the way. My favorite spots along the lake are, in no particular order:
- Promontory Point: (Locals bear with me...) A man-made stone peninsula that juts out into the water, offering the hands-down best views of the city you can get anywhere. It's a great place to barbecue-- they even have firepits! [Thanks to PhotoTravel1, aka Jim Watkins for the beautiful photo!]
- The Promontory Point Field House: A field house that looks pretty much like a small medieval castle, which is made even cooler by the fact that it sits on a stony peninsula in the lake. FYI, this is a great, cheap place to have a wedding or other fancy reception. (Almost had mine there!) [Thanks to TonytheTiger for the photo]
- 63rd Street Beach House: A cool old beach pavilion with national landmark status, complete with pretty (and fun-to-play-in) water fountains, balconies, and, again, striking views of the city. I never would have thought of it myself, but look at these AMAZING pictures of a wedding that was held here last year. [Thanks to TonytheTiger for the photo]
- The Model Yacht Basin, aka "Boat Pool": Ok, so this is not technically on the lake, but I'm including it since it's right on the other side of Lake Shore Drive and visible from the lake trail. Located at the north end of Harold Washington Park, the "boat pool" is a shallow reflection pool, with a sculpture by Italian sculptor Virginio Ferrari at its center. The pool/pond/whatever-it-is is pretty nice to look at, particularly at night, and-- on the off chance that you own a toy sail boat-- you can take it there for a sail. [Thanks to PhotoTravel1, aka Jim Watkins for the beautiful photo below!] Also, check out this photostream by Mojosmom for more images of the pond.
Hyde Parkers, would you have anything else to add to this list?