My kids are great fans of the movie Ferris Bueller's Day Off, the greatest Chicago travelogue ever made, in my opinion. What Ferris (Matthew Broderick) and his two pals do in Chicago while playing hooky from their nice North Shore high school is our dream itinerary for a day in the Windy City: a Cubs game, a parade -- and a stroll through the Art Institute of Chicago. If it was fun enough for Ferris, my kids figured, it would be fun enough for them.
Of course we were compelled to begin, like Ferris, with the immense pointillist canvas by Georges Seurat, Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. Like every other visitor there, we alternated standing up close to see the individual dots, then standing way back until the dots blur into a busy panorama of springtime in the park. After La Grande Jatte, we wandered dreamily through the rest of the Impressionists, a collection so rich in Renoirs and Monets that we almost felt a sugar high; we hunted down the van Gogh self-portrait and then Picasso's blue-period The Old Guitarist and felt very satisfied.
Going from the hazy Impressionists to sharply detailed 20th-century American paintings was a bracing contrast. We homed in on two masterpieces: the iconic American Gothic, by Grant Wood, which they've seen spoofed so often, and Edward Hopper's evocative late-night diner scene Nighthawks. Then off we went to my favorite nook in the museum: the reconstructed turn-of-the-century Chicago Stock Exchange Trading Room, a dazzling Louis Sullivan showpiece with art-glass insets and stenciled decorations and molded plaster capitals -- a perfect expression of Gilded Age tycoonery.
From there, we zigzagged back to the Thorne Miniature Rooms, filled with tiny reproductions of furnished interiors from European and American history (heaven for my dollhouse-loving daughter), and then rewarded the boys for their patience with a browse through the great hall of European arms and armor, where more than 1,500 objects range from horse armor to maces to poleaxes.
We missed the world-famous collection of glass paperweights; we missed the splendid Japanese wood block prints -- who cared? We didn't even worry about plotting a logical course through the museum, since scuttling back and forth allowed us to pass Marc Chagall's jewel-toned stained-glass windows more than once, always a good thing.
Nearest Airport: O'Hare International, 15 miles. Midway International, 12 miles.
Where to Stay: $$ Homewood Suites by Hilton, 40 E. Grand Ave. (tel. 800/CALL-HOME [225-5466] or 312/644-2222; www.homewoodsuiteschicago.com). $$ Hotel Allegro Chicago, 171 W. Randolph St. (tel. 800/643-1500 or 312/236-0123; www.allegrochicago.com).