Photo by Michelle Gan

East of the South Loop and just south of the Adler Planetarium sits a man-made island with a 119-acre park, a five-acre pond and a natural area teeming with prairie, savanna, and native plant life. It’s hard to believe that twenty years ago it was an airport – the site of Meigs Field, a small airstrip serving commuter planes and corporate jets. The story of Meigs, which was abruptly destroyed in 2003, its own saga. But in its place you can now find 12th Street Beach, a beautiful spot layered with brick and stone along the beachfront—the perfect spot to bring a date and picnic under a tree while red-winged blackbirds fly overhead and the waves crash onto the shore. Del Campos Tacos sits right behind the beach. Grab a bite, take a path, and see a variety of native wildlife, or by chance, see a sailing ship pass by on Lake Michigan. 

 The Northerly Island Visitor Center has many programs available, including tours, camping, fishing, boating, field trips for children, a music venue that holds concerts and events, and annual seasonal festivals that highlight the city’s natural life. There are also public artworks throughout the island that are worth the trip—like Denise Milan and Ary R. Perez’s America’s Courtyard, a spiral galaxy made of stone that represents an ancient celestial observatory, located just south of the city’s largest public telescope (behind Adler).

To get there, I got off the train at the Roosevelt stop and headed east. At the southern end of Grant Park, I found the Mississippi Blues Trail Marker #77, in honor of Muddy Waters and the many other blues musicians who came to Chicago. Further east, I passed the train tracks, and just before Columbus Drive, I took the Museum Park Roosevelt Underpass, which takes you directly to the Museum Campus and the lakefront trail. Walking through the Field Museum’s Ivy Garden was a trip through the past. Next, I made my way to the Shedd Aquarium, before heading south towards Solidarity Drive, which leads to Northerly Island. Burnham Harbor is a perfect location for a shot of the city’s skyline, named after the famous Chicago architect and planner Daniel H. Burnham, who designed the island. I made it to 12th Street Beach, sat below a tree, and watched the sunset. A perfect night.

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