Since it opened in 2004, Millennium Park has become Chicago’s 2nd most visited tourist attraction. That’s probably because it rather continuously offers many free events and exhibits. Ruth & I always admired but didn’t investigate it thoroughly until we had to walk through it to get to Aqua recently. It’s truly a $490 million city asset.
I remember parking close to Lake Michigan in Grant Park many years ago and walking across the pedestrian bridge over some ugly railroad tracks to Michigan Avenue. Grant Park has been around since 1835, and 24 acre Millennium Park now occupies its northwest section. The big tourist draw in Grant has historically been the Buckingham Fountain. Millennium Park, which is opened to the public from 6 am until 11 pm, was built to replace these tracks, and underneath it now is a parking garage. Mayor Richard Daley was the man behind the dream to build a park to honor the 2nd millennium. It was created with private funds, using no tax dollars.
Millennium Park’s most watched attraction is the giant oblong rectangle that projects oversized, anonymous faces as part of the Crown Fountain. In the evening, anyone walking along Michigan Avenue, and we are legion, can see it from both sides of the street. It’s one of those brightly animated objects that humans are compelled to stare at, like car accidents, while asking themselves why. But the most enjoyed attraction in Millennium Park has to be Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate, a huge reflective polished, stainless steel sculpture that locals lovingly call The Bean. It must be the location for more selfies than any other place in the world.
Most Park attractions are inside rectangles with trees on all 4 sides. They include Jaume Plensa’s Crown Fountain, an ice skating rink, the Goose Island Beer Garden, the Lurie Garden that honors Chicago’s motto “Urbs in Horto” (city in a garden), etc. One of the bigger draws is the Jay Pritzker Pavilion designed by Frank Gehry. This large outdoor theater offers a summer film series, music events, performances by the Grant Park Symphony Orchestra, etc. It can accommodate 11,000.
The best way to experience Millennium Park is to join the free guided tour that leaves from the Chicago Cultural Center Lobby at 77 East Randolph Street, at least for now. Check before assuming it will be available and that fewer than 10 people have shown up for it. This year tours began on May 17 and will continue until October 9. Taking about an hour, they are limited to 10 walkers on a first-come-first-served basis.