City offers Pilsen, other neighborhoods

With travel no longer an option, Hinsdale family finds new adventures close to home

Series: Best summer time ever | Story 6

My mid-summer, after several months of quarantine, the Konieska family of Hinsdale was ready for a change of scenery. With travel out of the question, Stephanie Konieska turned to the internet for inspiration. She found she didn't have to go far to find new sights.

Konieska discovered a list of ideas for safe outdoor activities to educate and entertain. Inspired by the list, she and her 10-year-old son, Camden, set out one day in early July to discover the art and culture of Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood.

"It's a two-hour trip door to door," Konieska said. Yet what she and Camden explored was a part of the world far different from their own neighborhood.

"It's a cool neighborhood of the city," said Konieska, who despite being a longtime resident of the Chicago area had never been to Pilsen before their day trip.

Forbes agrees with Konieska, having named Pilsen one of the "12 Coolest Neighborhoods Around the World" in 2018. Identified alongside places like Amsterdam Noords and Barcelona's Sants area, the list calls the neighborhood on Chicago's lower west side "a nest of cutting-edge culture and art."

With the art galleries closed, Stephanie and Camden spent their visit taking in the beauty and diversity of the neighborhood's outdoor murals. Because of the heat of the day, many of the murals along the train line were admired from the comfort of the Konieskas' air conditioned car. They saw some well-planned, professional-looking works along with more amateur paintings covering the walls of the buildings' exteriors.

"It was all mixed together in kind of a beautiful way," Konieska said.

Having enjoyed the Wynwood Walls in Miami on a spring break trip, Konieska said she was confident her son would enjoy the murals closer to home, too. And she was right.

A baseball fan, Camden particularly liked the Cubs mural, while Konieska favored the works that featured peoples' faces.

"You could see a lot of expression," she said.

Because of the pandemic, Konieska said they didn't stop to enjoy the neighborhood's many highly-recommended restaurants. But having enjoyed their introduction to Pilsen, they plan to return post-pandemic to take in the parts they missed the first time around.

Another quarantine-friendly adventure for the Konieskas was the ChiTogether drive-in movie. Held in the Soldier Field parking lot, Konieska, husband Mark, Camden and daughter Jamie, 13, enjoyed a view of the Chicago skyline while watching "Boss Baby" on the big screen.

With three screens playing the movie simultaneously, everyone had a clear view, Konieska said.

Konieska said the experience left both children with a desire to explore more parts of the city. Their curiosity sent them to Lincoln Park in early August, where they found a hidden treasure in the form of an off-the-beaten-path doughnut shop. They enjoyed finding a skate park south of Soldier Field and driving by some of the places Konieska once lived. They plan to return for a visit to Jefferson Park, home of many summer festivals and Eastern European eateries.

Konieska said these small but treasured outings to places just outside their door might not have taken place if not for the need to stay home this summer. Without sports and activities filling up their schedules, the family has had time to explore the world around them.

"That's kind of the silver lining for us," she said.

Author Bio

Sandy Illian Bosch is a contributing writer to The Hinsdalean