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Staff picks for your Chicago summer

Chicago Tribune logo Chicago Tribune 6/18/2021 Chicago Tribune staff, Chicago Tribune
a plate of food: Rib tip and hot link combo at Honey 1 BBQ. © Nick Kindelsperger/Chicago Tribune Rib tip and hot link combo at Honey 1 BBQ.

Feeling stir-crazy after a year of shutdowns and restrictions? Summer is here and so is phase five of Illinois’ COVID-19 reopening plan. As the days get warmer and longer, here are our staff picks for where to eat and get active around Chicago this season.

Lakefront Trail

My favorite thing to do in summer in Chicago is traversing the Lakefront Trail. If you start at Ardmore, the northern end, you get to tour the city, all on a paved path that takes you through a series of neighborhoods. And the people are as different as the neighborhoods, even though it’s on the winding, beautiful shoreline jaunt. Lakeview is young folks bustle, Edgewater is serious runners, as folks kinda don’t go that far. Oak Street Beach in the summer is madness but amazing for people-watching, and once you get around 31st Street, it’s like a giant cookout. The recent rehab of the Lakefront Trail now means you don’t have to worry about potholes or any other stuff. You can just pedal and enjoy. If you don’t have your own wheels, rent yourself a Divvy. You can go as far as the amazing South Shore Cultural Center, and when you’re heading back, stop at Kim & Carlo’s (at the Museum Campus) for a Chicago-style dog. Yes, even veggie dogs. — Kevin Williams, news content editor

a tray of food: Shawn Michelle's Homemade Ice Cream in the Bronzeville neighborhood. © E. Jason Wambsgans/Chicago Tribune Shawn Michelle's Homemade Ice Cream in the Bronzeville neighborhood.

Miko’s Italian Ice

Know what’s swell after a bike ride (or a bike-dodging stroll) along the Bloomington Trail, aka The 606? A few blocks north of the trail, at 2236 N. Sacramento Ave., you’ll find Miko’s Italian Ice. And right around the corner, the shady, picnic-dotted Palmer Square awaits, if your kids need to run around or whatnot. I usually get the lime, medium, for the record. It’s the summer-est Chicago thing I know that comes in a cup, and there’s also a Miko’s at 4125 N. Kimball Ave. — Michael Phillips, film critic

a group of people sitting at a flower field: Becky Collings, left, and Kristin Pink, ecologists with the Forest Preserves of Cook County, visit restoration sites Sept. 10, 2020, at Palos Forest Preserves near Palos Park. © Zbigniew Bzdak/Chicago Tribune Becky Collings, left, and Kristin Pink, ecologists with the Forest Preserves of Cook County, visit restoration sites Sept. 10, 2020, at Palos Forest Preserves near Palos Park.

Humboldt Park boat rentals

A couple of years ago, Humboldt Park finally got what I’ve always wanted: boat rentals! These aren’t your average boats though — they’re swan boats and they couldn’t be more fun. You can rent them by the hour, and it feels like you have a bit of nature in the middle of the city. If being on the water isn’t your thing, you can always rent bicycles built for two or four or more! The rental company is next to the historic Instagram-worthy boathouse at the park. — Marianne Mather, visuals editor

Jackson Park Golf Course

Eighteen, walking, at Jackson Park Golf Course. To those who scorn golf as elitist or a waste of time, I present this South Side gem, on the site of the World’s Columbian Exposition since 1899. Play it now before the planned Tiger Woods supercourse takes over the layout, making it prettier, tougher, certainly more expensive and much less of a people’s haven. Jackson’s 18 holes wander alongside ball fields and busy streets — at two points you must wait for a light to cross — but the course itself is surprisingly idyllic, with mature trees everywhere. It’s not super-challenging, but it’s no pushover either. The price is right at just over $30 for a round (extra if you need to rent clubs), and you can — but, importantly, don’t have to — rent a cart. Courses designed for walking rather than riding — with short distances between the holes — are a rarity these days and should be celebrated. As for the “waste of time” concern? Well, yeah, that’s kind of the point. If you’ve got a stressful job, or kids clamoring for attention at home, 4½ hours to do nothing but chat with your buds as you walk in a well-tended park while occasionally attempting to make a ball go long and straight is a gift from the heavens. — Steve Johnson, reporter

a man standing in front of a store: A customer orders food March 1, 2021, at Calumet Fisheries on East 95th Street. © Erin Hooley A customer orders food March 1, 2021, at Calumet Fisheries on East 95th Street.

Mario’s Italian Lemonade, Chicago Park District, Calumet Fisheries

It’s not summer in Chicago for me without a lemon ice at Mario’s Italian Lemonade in Little Italy, by my high school St. Ignatius. Or a dinner that’s fully loaded elotes on a stick and mangonada for dessert at a seasonal Chicago Park District stand. Or smoked fish at Calumet Fisheries overlooking the Calumet River, where I’ll remember my dearly departed friends Carlos Rosas, its beloved manager, and Anthony Bourdain. — Louisa Chu, food critic

Palos Forest Preserves

The southwest suburban Palos Forest Preserves are not Yosemite. But then again, they don’t allow mountain biking in Yosemite. As many weekends as I can during the summer and into the fall, I make my way to Pulaski Woods (corner of Wolf Road and 95th Street near Willow Springs) and bike the trails around the area. Smooth gravel roads wind their way through the surrounding woods and prairies, and off to the sides are more challenging and treacherous dirt “single tracks” built and maintained by CAMBr, the Chicago Mountain Bike Riders club. Not far away is the flat John Husar I&M Canal Trail along the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal. On weekends, some of the parking lots get crowded, but once you’re off in the woods, you usually feel all by yourself amid the trees.

Before and après ride, a shoutout to two Willow Springs businesses: 2 Bici Bike Shop rents fully outfitted mountain bikes by the hour or day. And Ashbary Coffee House next door has great coffee and deserts. In the evenings it is more of a bar and has a great porch area.

a group of people riding on the back of a bicycle: Gabrielle Lott-Rogers, center, follows through on her swing June 8, 2020, as golf partners Nik Rokop, left, and David Baker make use of the great weather as the Jackson Park Golf Course reopens following weeks of closure due to the coronavirus pandemic. © Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune Gabrielle Lott-Rogers, center, follows through on her swing June 8, 2020, as golf partners Nik Rokop, left, and David Baker make use of the great weather as the Jackson Park Golf Course reopens following weeks of closure due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Another reason these Palos woods are not Yosemite: They’re radioactive. A little bit. The nuclear reactor that created the world’s first self-sustaining chain reaction as part of the Manhattan Project was relocated from the University of Chicago to these woods in 1943. Two granite monuments mark nearby Site A and Plot M. — Doug George, arts and entertainment editor

a group of people swimming in a body of water: Large, white swan-shaped pedal boats sit idle July 14, 2020, in Humboldt Park's lagoon. © Abel Uribe/Chicago Tribune Large, white swan-shaped pedal boats sit idle July 14, 2020, in Humboldt Park's lagoon.

Shawn Michelle’s, 26th Street Sugar Shack, Original Rainbow Cone

It’s not summer unless you’re regularly devouring towering mounds of ice cream packed into a sugar cone (or, if it’s particularly hot out, no shame in using a drip-proof bowl). While the Tribune’s list of 27 best ice cream shops can’t steer you wrong, I get a particular thrill any time I head to my three favorite South Side frozen treat institutions: Shawn Michelle’s (chocolately Melanin Magic and Strawberry Supreme are go-to orders); 26th Street Sugar Shack (be prepared for a line, but also for a tough choice between any number of ice cream confections that will satisfy any sugar-fueled craving. Funnel cake sundae, anyone?); and The Original Rainbow Cone (pro tip: If you buy one of the cheerful pink T-shirts, the alluring scent of fresh-baked waffle cones will linger for days). — Ariel Cheung, food editor

Honey 1 BBQ

Much of the best barbecue in Chicago comes from takeout-only spots on the South Side. That definitely includes Honey 1 BBQ, which pairs spicy hot links with juicy rib tips that are completely saturated with smoke. When it’s cold, I have to stuff myself silly in the car, desperately trying to keep barbecue sauce off the steering wheel. But when summer hits, I like to take my order straight east to the lake.

It’s hard to beat the vibe and view at 31st Street Beach because it has both a lot of space to relax by the lake and a huge playground for the kids. (My 7-year-old daughter is a big fan.) All you need to do is invite some friends, pick up a big barbecue order and then relax. — Nick Kindelsperger, food critic

a man riding a bicycle on the side of a road: People ride bikes along the Chicago lakefront at 39th Street on June 8, 2021, as the sun sets and fog blankets the downtown area. © Terrence Antonio James/Chicago Tribune People ride bikes along the Chicago lakefront at 39th Street on June 8, 2021, as the sun sets and fog blankets the downtown area. a close up of a piece of cake sitting on top of a building: Brothers Mike “Miko” and Rick Roombos opened the first Miko’s Italian Ice 21 summers ago in Bucktown. With a base of water, sugar and a little bit of alchemy, they capture the essence of ripe local fruit and suspend the season’s memories. © Louisa Chu/Chicago Tribune Brothers Mike “Miko” and Rick Roombos opened the first Miko’s Italian Ice 21 summers ago in Bucktown. With a base of water, sugar and a little bit of alchemy, they capture the essence of ripe local fruit and suspend the season’s memories.
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