Spring has sprung here in Chicago, but with COVID-related restrictions in place, breaking free from cabin fever isn’t very easy these days. Here’s a solution: Pick up a copy of 111 Places in Chicago That You Must Not Miss with Kids, by Amy Bizzarri, from your favorite local bookstore that offers shipping or curbside delivery and get ready for adventure! Many of the historic and wacky places featured in the book can be easily and safely seen from the comfort of your car to accommodate social distancing, and your kids just might think you’re slowly turning into Mrs. Frizzle from The Magic School Bus.
Giant, Green Hairy Monster at the Door
A big, hairy, green monster resides in on Racine Avenue in the West Loop: whenever he senses the smell of an approaching little kid, he heads straight to his massive front door and glares from behind the windowpane, hoping to scare any potential toy robbers away with his gruff, green hairy stare.
Chances are you or your kids have played with a toy that grew out of the minds of some of the non-monsters that work in this playful building: Big Monster Toys designs, engineers and prototypes toys and games for big names in the toy biz—Mattel, Moose, Fisher Price and Hasbro to name a few.
Founded in 1988 by three former partners of the legendary, Chicago-based toy design firm Marvin Glass & Associates, Big Monster Toys stands as one of the few remaining toy manufacturers operating in the city. Their unique door is a brilliant reminder of the unexpected, unrequited joy of toys.
Find it at: 21 S. Racine Ave., West Loop
Hebru Brantley Murals
Hebru Brantley's gallery is the city of Chicago. His iconic, superpower-charged characters pop up on unsuspecting walls across the city, from north to south, east to west.
“Flyboy,” a little boy with vintage aviator goggles always on the brink of flying into an adventure, appears often in Brantley's Work. Inspired by the Tuskegee Airmen, Brantley told DNAinfo in 2013 that he created the character "out of a need to have heroes of color, whether black, Asian, or White, European.”
Flyboy Uptown seems as if he's flying right on past the Uptown Broadway Building. A group of five fly kids explore the world beneath the bridge at 1800-1802 Pratt Blvd. A Flygirl with neon pink pigtails and bright, blue googles gazes towards the future from a mural at 1395 North Wood.
Born and raised in Bronzeville, Brantley's used art to keep himself focused, avoiding gang life. Today he's recognized nationally for his public works and solo shows. Icons like Chance the Rapper, Lenny Kravitz and George Lucas are fans of his work; Jay-Z bought one of his paintings on the spot at Art Basel, for $20,000.
See how many of his pop-art, comic-book style, grand-scale murals you can spot around town.
- 2001 S. Carpenter St.
- 1800-1802 W. Pratt Blvd.
- 1407 N. Milwaukee Ave.
- 151 N. Ogden Ave. (shown in featured photo)
Tip: Check out this interactive Chicago mural map to find all the amazing murals by Brantley and other large-scale mural artists.
Walt Disney's Birthplace
In 1891, a young couple—Elias Disney and his wife, Flora — moved from Florida to Chicago. Elias, a carpenter by trade, secured a job at the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893. The couple purchased an empty lot at 2156 N. Tripp Ave., in Chicago's Hermosa neighborhood, for $700. Flora designed the home of her dreams and Elias built the rectangular, frame home where they would add two more children to their family of four, with his own two hands. Roy Disney was born in 1893, soon after the family moved in. On December 5, 1901, Walter "Walt" Disney was born in the second-floor bedroom.
Few people realize that this modest home was the birthplace of an American cultural icon, and for years it stood sadly in a state of disrepair. No historical markers indicate that this was the birthplace of the Disney dream. It wasn't until the current owners, Brent Young and Dina Benadon, stepped in to save the day that the home began to breathe with new life The duo plans to slowly restore the home back to its early 20th-century glory and eventually transform it into a multimedia-rich museum as well as a center for early childhood creativity.
Tip: Elias Disney not only built the St. Paul Congregational Church (known as Iglesia Evangelica Bautista Betania today), the small church that stands at 2255 N. Keeler Ave., one block east and one block north of Walt Disney’s birthplace, but also named his son after the church's pastor, Walter Parr. Walt Disney was also baptized there.
Find it at: 2156 N. Tripp Ave., Hermosa
Pretty Cool Ice Cream
Celebrate your cool attitude with a rainbow of icy treats at Pretty Cool, a whimsical, colorful, playful and just plain cool ice cream shop that doesn't sell by the scoop. The bars and ice pops here are classified into five cool categories: Custard Bars are ice cream submerged in chocolate, with flavors ranging from the classic—vanilla, cookies and cream—to the exotic—peanut butter potato chip, coffee pretzel toffee. Truck pops transform the standard popsicle with inventive flavors such as litchi lemon tea and passion fruit hibiscus. Plant pops are vegan-friendly, creamy treats made with non-dairy milks. Magic Shell inspired Party Pops are cream cheese bars dipped into Pretty Cool’s proprietary shell blend and topped with sprinkles.
Pony pops are made with tiny appetites and little hands in mind: smaller in size, they're available in classic, kid-friendly flavors—vanilla custard, strawberry buttermilk, chocolate custard, grape pop and pink lemonade pop—and cost $2 each. Pretty Cool is now offering curbside popsicle pick up: just order from your phone and pull up to the curb to pick up your sweet, icy delights.
Find it at: 2353 N. California Ave., Logan Square, prettycoolicecream.com
Leaning Tower of Niles
You don't have to travel all the way to Italy to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
Niles, which directly borders Chicago’s far northwest side, is home to a half-size replica of the famed Torre Pendente di Pisa.
In 1934, industrialist Robert Ilg built a leaning tower of his very own here in Niles. It was just one part of a vast recreational complex for the employees of Ilg Hot Air Electric Ventilating Company, built to store water for the once onsite swimming pools. The 94-foot tower honors scientist Galileo Galilei, who tested his theory of gravity by dropping objects from the original tower in Pisa, with a plaque at its base.
Remember to open your car windows—if you’re lucky you just might hear the tower’s bronze bells mark the time. The bells at the tip-top of the tower, three of which were cast in 17th and 18th Century Italy, were just recently restored and tolls once again.
Tip: Grab a pizza to go from Pequod's Pizza via curbside pickup at 8520 Fernald Ave, Morton Grove (847) 470-9161; pequodspizza.com) and enjoy a Pisa-inspired dinner at home post-adventure. Pequod's specializes in Chicago Deep Dish Pizza with a caramelized crust.
Find it at: 6300 West Touhy Avenue, Niles, IL 60714
It takes a truckload of ingenuity to transform a troubling eyesore into a work of art. Chicago artist Jim Bachor has gone above and beyond: he patches up Chicago's most dastardly potholes and makes mosaics out of them. His thirty-plus pothole art masterpieces are reminders of the power of creativity to transform even the worst lemons into lemonade, making light of the bumps in the road of life by masking them with beauty. Bachor has even recently installed some COVID-19-inspired pothole art around town.
Bachor's self-proclaimed pothole revitalization initiative dates back to 2013, when he patched up a pothole in front of his home in the Mayfair neighborhood. He has transformed potholes into mosaiced Push-ups, daffodils, bluebirds; he's patched them with Burberry plaid and helpful This Is Not a Pothole reminders.
An interactive map at bachor.com details the exact locations, but it's best to be caught unaware by these ever-evolving installations.
Find it at: See bachor.com for an interactive map of Bachor's playful pothole installations.
Ancient Egyptian Temple (Reebie Storage and Moving Co.)
When you can’t jet off and away to Cairo, here’s a local, Egypt-inspired alternative that promises to amaze and inspire: When the Reebie Storage and Moving Co., owned by brothers John and William Reebie, was planning to construct a new building, they decided to make an unforgettable mark on Clark. John Reebie had visited Egypt at some time before 1921 and the brothers, inspired by Egyptian Revival architecture, decided to construct an ancient Egyptian temple of their very own, smack dab in the middle of the north side neighborhood of Lincoln Park. The building's design was based on two ancient Egyptian temples, Dendera and Edfu, erected about 200 BC by Pharaoh Ramses II.
Note the two statues of Ramses, representative of the two founding Reebie Brothers, that flank the entrance. See how many winged scarabs you can find on the facade. Scarabs, a.k.a. dung beetles were considered sacred in ancient Egypt, and stood as symbols of rebirth.
Find it at: 2325 N. Clark St., Lincoln Park
— Amy Bizzarri