The Run Down

This guide has you strolling through fields of wild flowers 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 grab a book to take along our 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 University of Chicago’s campus. It’s located on the first floor of a non-descript low-rise office building, and if you didn’t know any better, you could easily walk by unaware this place even exists.

While there’s a wooden sign that 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 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 towards the counter, you’ll notice an assortment of beignets, danishes, and croissants behind the glass.

I don’t know why it is, but seeing all these pastries in pile-form make them much harder to resist. Don’t resist, just eat that raspberry beignet. Aside from their pastries, they’ve got a wonderful 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 to accompany you on your upcoming nature walk.

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

This is a place that 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 5 different adjoining rooms, each taking you deeper and deeper into what feels like a literal literary cave.


3. Bobolink Meadow

With your new book in hand, head down the street to Jackson Park. There’s 170 acres of green space for us to explore but we’re going to focus our trip on an island and nature sanctuary right in the middle of all it.

Our nature walk starts at Bobolink Meadow trail and it takes us through this winding path of wild flowers.

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

Keep following the trail and you’ll eventually make it to this bridge that takes you over to the Wooded Island.

As you cross the bridge, you’ll walk about 1/2 mile through a wooded trail until you finally reach Osaka Garden, a  Japanese garden that 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.