Want to know where the natives get away from it all? Come summertime, you’ll find them chilling on the lawn at Ravinia, the seasonal home of the highly regarded Chicago Symphony Orchestra in suburban Highland Park. In operation since 1904, Ravinia started off as an amusement park. The Martin Theatre—built in the Prairie style—still remains and is the only building still standing from the early days. Over the years, the festival has hosted an amazing array of performers, from Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, George Gershwin, and Ella Fitzgerald to Janis Joplin and Steven Sondheim. The season runs from mid-June to Labor Day and includes far more than classical concerts: You can also catch pop acts, dance performances, operatic arias, and blues concerts. Tickets are available for the covered pavilion, where you get a reserved seat and a view of the stage, but the real joy is sitting in the lawn, lazing under the stars and a canopy of leafy branches while listening to music and indulging in an elaborate picnic. (It’s a local tradition to try to outdo everyone else by bringing candelabras and fine china.)
Don’t let the distance from downtown discourage you from visiting, because Ravinia is served by an extremely convenient public-transportation system. On concert nights, you can take the Metra Union Pacific North Line (from Chicago to Kenosha), which stops right in front of the gate at the Ravinia Park stop (the Ravinia stop and the Braeside stop will also get you there). After the concert, trains wait right outside the gates to take commuters back to the city. The round-trip train fare is $7—a real bargain, considering that traffic around the park can be brutal.
Dining options at the park range from the fine-dining restaurant Mirabelle ([tel] 847/432-7550 for reservations) to prepacked picnic spreads, burgers, pizza, and ice cream sold around the park, or you can bring your own food and drinks, including alcohol. You can also bring your own blanket and chairs, or for $14, rent a pair of lawn chairs and a table from booths set up near the park entrance. If you’re wondering about the weather conditions at concert time, Ravinia’s weather page, www.crh.noaa.gov, provides updates.