Chicago is a fast-paced city. There is so much to see and do. The city is vibrant and full of energy. Everywhere people are hustling and heading somewhere. Sometimes you just want to slow down, but still use your valuable vacation time to see experience something new. I found a great destination, minutes from downtown, but worlds apart to your sensibilities. It is a visit to the suburb of Oak Park. Known as a village, Oak Park lies just 10 miles west of downtown Chicago. It is easily accessible via car on the expressway, or even more conveniently by the Green Line El train, just a 20 minute ride to the Oak Park or Harlem stops. In other words it takes less time to get to Oak Park from downtown than to actually find a parking space in the city.
Oak Park is one of the more affluent addresses around the Chicago area, filled with large, beautiful Victorian mansions, Prairie School structures and Art Deco buildings from the 1930’s. And Frank Lloyd Wright-designed homes. That’s right, Frank Lloyd Wright.
This is one of the attractions of Oak Park. It is home to the Frank Lloyd Wright home, studio and museum. Frank Lloyd Wright lived and worked in Oak Park from 1889 to 1909, the first 20 years of his career. Self-guided audio tours of the neighborhood, which is strewn with Wright-designed buildings, are available, as well as guided walking tours on the weekends of the Historic District. There are 25 Wright-designed buildings in the neighborhood surrounding the home and studio, including the famous Unity Temple, a National Historic Landmark. Wright was commissioned to design this in 1905, his first public commission. A must see, since it is not only beautiful and complex, but also because it is his only surviving public building from his Prairie period. Self-guided tours are available during the week and guided tours are available on weekends for the Unity Temple as well.
If that wasn’t enough reason to visit Oak Park, it is also the proud home of Ernest Hemingway’s birth home and, just a block away, the Ernest Hemingway Museum. Eight bucks gets you into both, so that’s a good deal. In the museum you get to see some early writing of Hemingway, including his childhood diaries, and other memorabilia. A must for any fan of Papa.
These were two unexpected treats I discovered on my trip to Oak Park. But, even if they weren’t here, the village still has vast appeal. Just driving around Oak Park is like viewing a life-size museum of Victorian architecture. The homes are beautiful and the streets perfectly tree-lined. There is a perfect little downtown area, complete with a restored Art Deco movie theater and lots of boutique shopping, as well as some national stores. The area also features such attractions as Pleasant Home, a 30-room mansion designed by George W. Maher, another Prairie School architect and a children’s museum called Wonder Works.
My favorite part about Oak Park had to be the walking tours provided by the Frank Lloyd Wright Museum. Not only did I get a lesson in architecture, but within just blocks I got to see fantastic home after fantastic home, whether they were Wright’s or not. The area is like an outdoor museum. You can start at the Oak Park Visitors Center on Forest Ave. for maps, books and souvenirs.