The Run Down

This guide has the family walking through fields of wildflowers and exploring an island nature preserve on the South Side. But before that, you'll grab brunch and beignets at a French cafe and then head down the block to a basement bookshop where you'll find books to take along your nature walk. Here are the details.

1. French Breakfast @ Plein Air Cafe

2. Books @ 57th Street Books

3. Nature Walk @ Bobolink Meadow

1. Plein Air Cafe

Our day kicks off at Plein Air Cafe, a casual French-inspired eatery in the middle of the University of Chicago’s campus. It’s located on the first floor of a nondescript low-rise office building, and if you didn’t know any better, you could easily walk by, unaware this place even exists.

While a wooden sign lets you know you’re in the right place, the entrance is tucked away behind a grove of trees and bushes that conceal it from the sidewalk.

Eventually, you’ll find a small walking path that takes you to their open-air patio. It’s shaded by massive trees that act as a natural canopy.

Head on inside and order at the counter.

As you step toward the counter, you’ll notice an assortment of beignets, danishes, and croissants behind the glass.

I don’t know why, but seeing all these pastries in pile-form makes them much harder to resist. Don’t resist; eat that raspberry beignet. Aside from their pastries, they’ve got an excellent breakfast menu with items like this buttery croissant and egg sandwich.

Also, if you’re a fan of royal pies from Chicago’s Pleasant House Pub, the Plein Air teamed up with them on this spinach, egg, and cheddar breakfast version. Bon appetit.

2. 57th Street Books

After you finish up at Plein Air Cafe, make your around the corner to 57th Street Books and pick up some reading material for your upcoming nature walk.

As you shuffle down the steps of this basement bookstore, know that you aren’t just going to any random bookstore.

This place has been serving the neighborhood for nearly 40 years and was personally selected by Barak Obama, a frequent visitor during his time living in Hyde Park, as the site of his national signing event when he published “The Audacity of Hope.”

The rest of the space is split into five adjoining rooms, each taking you deeper and deeper into what feels like a literal literary cave.

Keep on going, and you’ll find an expansive kid’s and young adult section furnished with pillows and mats for your kids to lounge and read.


3. Bobolink Meadow

Now that your family has a nourished mind and stomach, it’s time to get a little physical activity to round out this whole experience. Your next stop is down the street to Jackson Park.

There are 170 acres of green space to explore, but we’ll focus our trip on an island and nature sanctuary right in the middle of it. Your nature walk starts at the Bobolink Meadow trail, and it will take you through this winding path of wildflowers.

From the trail, you can see across the lagoon to the “Wooded Island,” where you’ll eventually end up. Before we go any further, here’s a diagram of the route to put things into perspective. The whole course is about a 1.5-mile loop.

Keep following the trail, and you’ll eventually reach this bridge that takes you to the Wooded Island.

After crossing the bridge, you’ll walk about 1/2 mile through a wooded trail until you finally reach Osaka Garden. This Japanese garden dates back to 1893, when the garden and the park were constructed for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. Here’s a fun fact to leave you with as we end this guide. It’s called Osaka Garden because, in 1973, Chicago and Osaka officially became sister cities.