Chicago is known for its famous hot dogs, stuffed pizza, windy politicians and the Sears Tower (once the tallest building in the world, thank you very much). And now the Second City’s got another jewel to add to its long list of celebrated accomplishments: Millennium Park.

Millennium Park Crown Fountain

Crown Fountain was designed so the constantly changing video faces would resemble water-spouting, modern-day gargoyles. For kids, though, it’s just plain fun!

Photo Credit: Sarah Landicho

Millennium Park Bean

You may not get a lot of fiber from this “Bean,” but you’ll catch some amazing reflections at every angle!

Photo Credit: Jenny Hooks

Millennium Park Pritzker Pavillion

Not only does the Jay Pritzker Pavilion look cool, its sound system will blow you away!

Photo Credit: Sarah Landicho

Millennium Park Lurie Garden wildflowers

Need a rest? Visit the Lurie Garden, where an ocean of calm wildflowers awaits.

Photo Credit: Sarah Landicho

Millennium Park Lurie Garden plants

The plants in the Lurie Garden seem to reach almost as tall their neighboring skyscrapers!

Photo Credit: Sarah Landicho

There are a lot of cool things about this 24½-acre “playground” in downtown Chicago. Probably the neatest part about it is the fact that much of the park sits on top of an underground parking garage – making Millennium Park one large rooftop garden!

On its south end sits “face fountain.” Well, that’s what my kids call it, anyway – it’s officially named the Crown Fountain. Two 50-foot-tall glass block “screens” on opposite ends of a reflecting pool project videotaped faces of about 1,000 Chicagoans, who appear on each screen one at a time. And from mid-spring to mid-fall, water spouts from the mouths of these images, drenching excited kids (and grown-ups). It’s a great way to cool off on those hot and humid days, and it sure is entertaining watching everyone horse around in all that water.

The park’s north end features the Wrigley Square and Millennium Monument. If you want a quiet spot to sit and watch the world race by, this is the place for you. (It’s also where you want to go if you’re interested in learning who helped bring this amazing park to life.)

Sandwiched in the middle of these corners is the park’s Welcome Center. Grab a snack or lunch in the restaurant and dine alfresco. In winter, the dining/bar area becomes a fantastic skating rink, so the park really offers something to see and do year-round.

Resting just above the Welcome Center is one of the city’s newest and favorite sculptures: While officially titled “Cloud Gate,” we Chicagoans lovingly refer to it as “The Bean.” Throughout the year, you can find visitors checking their own reflections all around and under this humongous kidney-bean-shaped, seamless metallic sculpture – and the reflection of the city’s skyline is really something else!

If you can tear yourself away from The Bean, be sure to turn around for a look at one amazing outdoor amphitheatre, the Jay Pritzker Pavilion. Designed by architect Frank Gehry, it’s truly a work of art. Billows of stainless steel “ribbons” frame the stage, and an expansive metal framework covers the entire seating area – lawn and all – to re-create the sound system of an indoor theatre. The Pavilion is simply an amazing place to take in one of the city’s many free concerts – from kid’s music to classical. (It’s also got some of the cleanest public restrooms that I’ve ever seen in the city!)

Just south of the stage is one of my favorite places to relax: the Lurie Garden. This 2½-acre space is an ocean of calm in an otherwise chaotic city. It’s sheltered by two large hedges, designed to represent the “shoulders” from Carl Sandburg’s famous description of Chicago as being the City of Big Shoulders. As you enter, you’ll find that the city’s hectic pace just fades into the background. A shallow “river” flows through the garden, and wildflowers abound. Plants grow as tall – or taller than – people. Look for signs pointing out what’s in bloom, or just relax and take a rest before tackling the rest of what the park has to offer.

While the garden is gorgeous to look at, it’s got quite a history to it, too. It was designed by well-known players in the world of landscape architecture, Gustafson Guthrie Nichols Ltd., Piet Oudolf and Robert Israel. And the thought they put into this garden will make your jaw drop. In fact, the garden’s designed to tell a great story to anyone willing to listen. (There’s a really neat tour you can take, and you can download it from the park’s Website, too).

So if you’re headed to Chicago, be sure to check out this amazing park. (Chances are, if you’re arriving by car, you’ll park right below it!) Grab a slice of stuffed pizza or one of our world-famous hot dogs and enjoy an outdoor lunch. Dip your tootsies in the water at “face fountain,” and search for butterflies in Lurie Garden. Catch a concert at the Pritzker Pavilion, and marvel at the fact that it’s all sitting on top of a parking garage. You’ll soon realize why Millennium Park may just be the crown jewel of Chicago’s lakefront.