The South Shore neighborhood is a sprawling South Side community with an abundance of lakefront parks and beaches, an established commercial district, and a prominent cultural center that has been around since 1905. Today, the center is a prized public resource offering art programs, recreational activities, yoga and dance classes, event venues, and a favorite spot for special occasions and wedding ceremonies. In fact, President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle had their reception there over a decade ago.
This area was once an exclusive country club that catered to Chicago’s upper crust. It was built next door to the former site of the World Columbian Exposition of 1893 and still boasts a nine-hole golf course and architecture inspired by the fair’s faux-marble structures. Back in the day, the South Shore Country Club (now the South Shore Cultural Center) was a remote retreat where city dwellers could go to ride horses, play tennis, enjoy nature and sunbathe on the beach. The clubhouse was designed by architects Marshall and Fox (who were later responsible for the Drake Hotel and other luxury residential buildings in Chicago). They drastically remodeled and expanded the facilities in 1916, keeping only the original grand ballroom. The center has since been enlarged and renovated under the operation of the Chicago Park District. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975 and was designated a Chicago Landmark in 2004.
Much of the South Shore neighborhood’s recreation revolves around its expansive lakeside parkland. On a typical day, the entire shoreline is busy with bicyclists, joggers, inline skaters, dog walkers, stroller pushers, swimmers, boaters and various other leisure pursuits. Rainbow Beach Park is a popular hangout with its manicured walking paths, open green spaces, softball field, basketball and tennis courts, fitness center, indoor gym, 3 baseball diamonds, 2 playgrounds and communal garden. Family-friendly movies are screened there on select summer nights and special events, such as the annual Father’s Day Celebration, promote social gatherings and community togetherness. Local residents can also find a full schedule of recreational programs for all ages at Rainbow Beach Park, including day camps, inner city sports leagues and Junior Bear athletics.
The South Shore has an exciting culinary scene that ranges from fine-dining restaurants to fast-food chains. The main streets are lined with cafés, diners, coffeehouses, ice cream parlors, sandwich shops, pizzerias and ethnic food eateries. The Parrot Cage is a much talked-about South Shore restaurant that features an eclectic menu and unobstructed views of Lake Michigan from its dining room. The name is inspired by the local wildlife – an inexplicable tropical green bird called Monk Parakeets. These wild parrots actually live in the neighborhood and are storied to have originally escaped from a bird exhibit at the 1893 World’s Fair.
Situated about 10 miles from Chicago’s downtown Loop, the South Shore is accessible by car from Lake Shore Drive (which runs directly through the neighborhood) or the I-90 Chicago Skyway (although this is a toll road). With 5 stops in the neighborhood, the South Shore also enjoys a convenient public transportation option via the Metra commuter train. There’s even a station right across from the Cultural Center.