I’m uncomfortable with leisure but this summer I embraced it. I didn’t just bask in small town charm, I celebrated big city access. Having a world-class city at our doorstep makes a staycation something special. 

We made frequent trips downtown to play tourist. We also explored other neighborhoods, like walking the 606 Trail through Humboldt Park. We took the water taxi from Madison Street to Chinatown. After traveling a stretch of the Chicago River we had never seen before, we docked at Ping Tom Memorial Park, a short walk from the restaurant district. Dumplings anyone?

We also took the water taxi to the Riverwalk. It’s so pleasant to dine, while watching boats, cruise ships and kayaks glide by. The water taxi ends at the Riverwalk but Navy Pier is within walking distance.

The Pier has been greatly improved in every respect. The tacky shops are gone and the décor has been enhanced. Our favorite new feature is the Offshore Rooftop Bar. The views from the glass-enclosed bar are breathtaking. It sits three-stories above the lake, with sweeping views of the south and north shoreline. 

At 36,000 square feet, it is the largest rooftop venue in the US. The price of food and drink is not outrageous. You can even play bags, with a stunning backdrop of boats and water. It’s only a short distance from the Pier to Olive Park Beach. We were standing in the water on a 100-degree day, when the temperature suddenly dropped 30 degrees. Pure relief.

We also swam on the east side of the lake at Union Pier. The public beach is even tinier now, due to the lake’s record high levels but the water is so refreshing. Ten minutes after we arrive, we feel like we’ve been on vacation for a week. Some family members stayed there for the 4th of July but I hightailed it back to Forest Park.

I found a great seat close to the fireworks. The Forest Park fireworks have a special “in your face” feel that I have not found elsewhere. We didn’t miss going to Groovin’ in the Grove and seeing great bands like Our Gang. The Grove is only a short hike from our home.

When our grandkids visited, they wanted to cross the railroad tracks to the Grove. These tracks are seldom used and we ran into two other families cutting across. We were all transfixed by two male deer who stood unafraid, munching on grass. We see our share of wildlife, including some coyotes who hang out near the Blue Line.

Being close to the train is what facilitates our trips. We also took the Metra downtown with four grandkids and their moms. Even with four adults, it’s a challenge to control four boys, ages 1-7, as we traveled by train, boat and bus to see the sights. Don’t boys ever want to sit quietly, or calmly walk down the sidewalk? Apparently not.

Our grandsons love coming to Forest Park. They eat at the Junction Diner, bowl at Circle Lanes and top it off with ice cream from Brown Cow. I remember equating Forest Park with fun, when I was a kid, swimming at the old pool. They’re soaking in the same vibe at our aquatic center. 

As I said, though, I’m not completely comfortable with this degree of fun. I feel I should be working, regardless of how great the weather is. It’s important for me to change, though, because retirement is on the horizon. I have to become accustomed to rest, relaxation and enjoying each day. This summer has made that process painless.

John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries. Jrice1038@aol.com

John Rice is a columnist/novelist who has seen his family thrive in Forest Park. He has published two books set in the village: The Ghost of Cleopatra and The Doll with the Sad Face.