You may think you know Chicago: a hard-working, no-nonsense city where bratwurst-toting football fans cheer on "Da Bears" despite bone-chilling winter winds. Guess again. This Midwestern metropolis has reinvented itself as a truly cosmopolitan destination.
International visitors flock to the city's world-class museums while snapping shots of the skyline (modern architecture was born here, after all).
High-maintenance fashionistas hit the big designer names and shops on Michigan Avenue before heading to more cutting-edge, off-the-beaten-track boutiques in Bucktown. And those in search of eye candy can take in the buff young professionals biking, running and skating their way along the Lake Michigan shoreline -- or, better yet, hit the bike path themselves.
Despite the city's new coat of veneer, the low-key, not-easily-impressed Chicago spirit has survived intact. Although the city has something for everyone -- from families in search of a thrill at the Navy Pier Ferris wheel to couples strolling hand-in-hand along Oak Street Beach -- it doesn't rest on its laurels. Chicago is still eager to please, anxious to convince visitors that it deserves more than its "Second City" status. Come to the city with an open mind, and you'll be pleasantly surprised.
The Best of Chicago
As the cultural and commercial center of the Midwest, Chicago attracts both leisure and business travelers, and has attractions to fit pretty much any interest. At the top of any visitor's must-see list are the city's top museums, many of which are internationally renowned. The Art Institute of Chicago is known particularly for its collection of French Impressionist masterpieces, although you'll also spot some iconic works of modern art as you wander the halls (Edward Hopper's Nighthawks; Grant Wood's American Gothic).
The Field Museum of Natural History and the Shedd Aquarium (within walking distance of each other on the city's Museum Campus) can each easily fill a day, while the massive Museum of Science and Industry in the south side neighborhood of Hyde Park is heaven for children who like their exhibits flashy, fun, and interactive.
Chicago's architecture is another draw. A walk through downtown is a mini-tour through the history of the high-rise office skyscraper, from the 1890s-era Reliance Building (now The Hotel Burnham) to the stark lines of the mid-20th-century International Style, epitomized by the Sears Tower and John Hancock Center.
But some of Chicago's greatest attractions are natural rather than man-made. The shores of Lake Michigan, lined by miles of public parks, are Chicago's summer playground, the site of everything from family picnics to pickup beach volleyball games to weekend 5-kilometer runs. From Grant Park and Millennium Park downtown to Lincoln Park further north, Chicagoans fill these outdoors spaces come spring, summer, and fall, eager to take advantage of every sunny day. To truly experience the spirit of the city, you should spend time hanging out there, too.
Fast Facts & Information
Fast Facts & Information
Geography and landscape: Chicago is located at the northeastern tip of the state of Illinois, along the southwestern curve of Lake Michigan. The Chicago River runs through the heart of downtown, splitting into a North Branch and South Branch at Wacker Drive. The Chicago metropolitan area, and capital of Cook County, is home to about 8 million people, and its suburbs spread for miles to the north, south, and west.
Like most of the Midwest, Chicago's topography is flat. You won't be climbing any hills during your visit. That makes walking relatively easy; indeed, it's the best way to get a feel for the city while you're here.
General orientation: The heart of Chicago's downtown business district is The Loop, named for the elevated train tracks ("the El") that circle overhead through the area. Michigan Avenue is the city's best-known thoroughfare; the one-mile stretch between the Chicago River and Oak Street Beach, known as The Magnificent Mile, is downtown's most popular shopping destination.
To the north of downtown are the residential neighborhoods of the Gold Coast, Old Town, Lincoln Park, Lakeview, and Wrigleyville. To the west of downtown, the West Loop is a newly gentrified area of rehabbed loft apartments and trendy restaurants. Also booming is the South Loop, site of many recent residential construction projects.
Aside from the neighborhoods surrounding downtown, Chicago is a network of distinct neighborhoods, some named for parks (Wicker Park, Humboldt Park, and Albany Park to the west, Rogers Park to the north) while other areas are named for the immigrants who settled there, such as Ukrainian Village, Greektown, Little Italy, Chinatown. That said, Chicago is a diverse city, considered home to the many who settle here in search of the American Dream.
All Chicago address numbers originate at the corner of State and Madison streets in The Loop (the city's "point zero"). Each increment of 400 in an address translates to a half-mile (800 W Madison St, therefore, is one mile west of State Street). While the city's grid system is fairly simple to follow and the downtown skyline and Lake Michigan that lines the eastern edge of the city can help re-orient you if you get lost, there are a few major streets that run at a northwest angle (Lincoln, Milwaukee, Clybourn, Elston) and can cause confusion if you're not sure what direction you're headed.
Safety: Although crime is rare in Chicago's busy downtown, visitors should use the same precautions they would in any other large city. Purses, cameras, and other valuables, in particular, can be easy targets for pickpockets. Downtown neighborhoods with busy bar and restaurant scenes -- such as The Loop, River North, and The Magnificent Mile -- are safe well into the evening hours.
Although some unsafe neighborhoods are off the usual tourist path, drivers should exercise precautions when driving through unfamiliar parts of the city and map out their route before driving. As in other major cities, it's safer to stay in well-populated areas and keep from venturing into unfamiliar neighborhoods and dimly-lit parks at night.
Climate/weather: Don't like the weather when you arrive in town? Wait an hour -- it will probably change. Chicago runs the gamut of temperatures, from frigid winters to steamy summers, but the most predictable aspect of Chicago's weather is its unpredictability. Whenever you visit, come prepared to dress in layers. That said, there are some general guidelines: winter high temperatures are usually in the 20s or 30s (Fahrenheit), with gusty winds off the lakefront (the phrase "cooler by the lake" is something you'll hear repeatedly).
Summers can be scorching, with temperatures in the 80s and 90s (Fahrenheit) and high humidity, although heat waves are usually broken up by periods of pleasant, less-sticky weather. Spring is unpredictable: it could be 70 degrees and sunny or 40 degrees and raining, so be prepared for extremes. The most consistently pleasant weather is in the fall, with low humidity, ample sunshine, and temperatures in the 60s and low 70s.
Finding your way around Chicago is easy enough, considering how large the city is. Keep reading to learn about getting around Chicago via rental car, taxi, or public transportation.
Getting In, Getting Around Chicago
Navigating Chicago might seem daunting, but visitors will find that they have many options. The public transportation system includes a network of trains and buses, and driving in Chicago is relatively straightforward.
From the Airport
Chicago has two airports -- sprawling O'Hare International Airport on the northwest edge of the city and smaller Midway Airport southwest of downtown.
Rental car: All the major rental-car companies are represented at both O'Hare and Midway. At O'Hare, customer-service counters are located in the baggage claim areas of all three terminals. Shuttle buses, which stop directly outside baggage claim, carry customers to off-site parking lots, about a five-minute ride away.
At Midway, agencies also have customer-service counters adjacent to baggage claim. To get to your car, you'll have to walk to Level 2 of the attached Parking Garage.
Taxi: You'll have no problem hailing a cab at either O'Hare or Midway, both of which have designated taxi stands outside the baggage claim areas. There are no flat rates. You'll be charged the standard Chicago taxi rate of $2.25 for the first mile and $1.80 for each additional mile. Expect to spend about $25 to $30 for a cab from Midway to downtown and about $35 to $40 to get downtown from O'Hare. If you're going to a central location and would like to save money, taxi dispatchers on-site will help you arrange a shared ride.
Public transportation: The "El" system is a network of color-coded train lines that connect downtown to surrounding residential neighborhoods and both airports. The Blue Line runs from O'Hare and the Orange Line from Midway. The trip from O'Hare takes about 40 minutes, while the ride from Midway runs about half-hour. The El costs $2 per ride, and you can buy fare cards from vending machines at the front of each station.
Continental Airport Express runs shuttle buses on regular schedules from both airports. A ride from O'Hare to downtown costs $24, and $20 from Midway. Shuttle buses pick up passengers directly outside the baggage claim areas at both airports.
Rush hour: Whether you rent a car from the airport or drive in to Chicago on your own, navigating the city is fairly straightforward, thanks to a series of major highways that lead into downtown from the north, south, and west. That said, be prepared for frustrating delays on those highways at rush hour times, basically 7 am to 9 am and from 4 pm to 7 pm weekdays. Plan your arrival for a weekend or mid-day to avoid some of the worst traffic jams during the week.
If you have extra time, take the scenic way into downtown by mapping a route along State Road 41, which will bring you into the city via Lake Shore Drive, and you'll have a view of Lake Michigan on one side and the city skyline on the other.
Rules of the road: Driving in Chicago can be competitive, so be prepared to get cut off on highways and major streets by aggressive drivers in a hurry (taxis can be especially unpredictable). Local drivers tend to speed up to get through yellow lights, so make sure you're not being followed too closely as you slow down at intersections. Making a right turn on a red light is legal in this city, unless otherwise posted. Drivers in left turn lanes tend to take liberties even after the light has turned red, so beware of impatient drivers who don't like to wait for the next chance to turn.
Public transportation/fares: Chicago's grid of north-south and east-west streets and logical system of address numbers makes finding your way around fairly easy The only complication: The occasional diagonal avenue that cuts through the grid of horizontal and vertical streets. Chicagoans often give directions by telling you to head north or south, which can be confusing to out-of-towners. The key is to always keep track of which direction Lake Michigan is, which will help you keep your bearings. (If the Lake is to your right, you're heading north, and if it's to your left, you're heading south.)
Public transportation in Chicago is reliable and extensive, including trains and buses that cover most of downtown. The El train system is a network of color-coded train lines (some elevated and some underground) that connects The Loop with surrounding residential neighborhoods. Check train schedules for hours of operation since not all lines run 24 hours. Some lines are undergoing renovation so service may be down or certain stops may be closed. Time Out Chicago has an up-to-date bulletin on El schedules and routes, and also includes detailed public transportation directions to attractions, restaurants and nightlife throughout the city.
Buses run regularly throughout downtown (the stops are marked with blue-and-white signs). Commuter trains provide a quick, pleasant ride to the surrounding suburbs. The fare on trains and buses is $2 each way; buses will not give change, so be prepared to pay the exact amount. Visit the Chicago Transit Authority Web site for maps and route information.
Taxis, on foot, or by bike: As in other big cities, taxis are helpful (and readily available) if you need to drag heavy luggage to your hotel or get across town relatively quickly at night.
You can flag down a taxi relatively easily throughout downtown Chicago. If you have trouble spotting one, you should head for a major thoroughfare such as Michigan Avenue or State Street. Taxis charge $2.25 for the first mile and $1.80 for each additional mile.
If you're staying downtown and visiting the city's main museums, you can get around quite easily by walking. Many of the best museums and restaurants are within walking distance of The Loop and Michigan Avenue.
Biking is a popular summer hobby along the lakefront bike paths. Bike Chicago has rental stands at North Avenue Beach, Navy Pier, and Millennium Park if you feel like pedaling as you enjoy the view.
Personal or rental car: If you decide to rent a car to get around during your stay or drive in to the city, be aware that day time and overnight parking rates in the downtown area can be high, although many hotels offer discounted rates to guests. Be sure to check street parking signs especially if you opt for on-street parking overnight and even during the day. There are many intricate parking regulations, such as no parking on major streets if there is more than two inches of snow; no parking on the south side of major streets from 7:00 to 9:00 a.m. and on the north side from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m.; street cleaning from 9:00 to 3:00 p.m. once a month.
Also, be sure to carry a roll of quarters for metered parking. Although not easy to find, especially downtown, you can save a bundle over garage parking rates, but beware that most metered parking spots have a two-hour limit. The City has an aggressive parking violation patrol, and taking chances is just not worth the excessive fines if you break a rule and get caught. Also, be very cautious not to park in private parking lots that have "Violators Will Be Towed" signs, yellow tow zones or near fire hydrants. It takes only a few minutes for a tow truck to be dispatched, and the fines to get the car out of impound are upwards of $100, plus you may also have to pay a parking ticket.
You'll find no shortage of special events in Chicago, including the Taste of Chicago, the Blues Festival, and the Jazz Festival. On the next page, learn about Chicago's many summer festivals and its world-class attractions.
Chicago Special Events & Attractions
Summer is prime time for Chicago festivals. It seems like every weekend from Memorial Day to Labor Day is booked up with some kind of outdoor celebration, whether it's the free outdoor concerts in Grant Park that make up the Chicago Blues Festival in June or the roaring of jet engines overhead during the Air & Water Show in August.
But Chicago has something to offer even during less balmy weather. While visitors might be wary of heading to town during the winter, Chicago's many museums (in addition to being well heated) are far less crowded than during prime tourist season. (Another bonus: you'll save big on hotel rates.)
The city's St. Patrick's Day celebration in March is another huge draw: not only does a large parade, featuring our proudly Irish mayor, snake through downtown, but the Chicago River is dyed green for the occasion. And fall has its share of special events, too, from the Chicago Marathon in October to November's Humanities Festival, which attracts well-known writers and performers from around the world.
Insider's Guide: The Best of Special Events & Attractions in Chicago
Insider's Guide: The Best of Special Events & Attractions in Chicago
To get the full Chicago experience, plan on a mix of indoor attractions and outdoor relaxation. The grand downtown museums welcome plenty of tourists, but special exhibits and blockbuster shows at the Art Institute of Chicago (111 S Michigan Ave) and the Field Museum of Natural History (1400 S Lake Shore Dr) attract flocks of locals, too. A visit to Chicago wouldn't be complete without stopping at one of these world-renowned institutions.
The Loop is bounded on the west and north by the Chicago River, on the east by Lake Michigan, and on the south by Roosevelt Road. Locals call it the historical center of downtown Chicago or the heart of Chicago's business district. A walk around its bustling streets on a weekday is guaranteed to give you a true big-city rush.
Between The Loop and Lake Michigan lies Grant Park (331 E Randolph St, stretching from Randolph St to McFetridge Dr), a miles-long stretch of green space where you can walk at a more leisurely pace. Set within the northwest corner of Grant Park is Millennium Park (east of Michigan Avenue, between Randolph and Monroe sts), a showcase for public art and the setting -- during the summer -- of free classical music concerts.
To really get a feel for the city, though, you'll have to venture out of downtown. Chicago's residential neighborhoods all have their own look and atmosphere -- from the sophisticated Gold Coast to low-key Lakeview, or the boisterous Wrigleyville-- home of Wrigley Field. Old Town (site of the some of the city's oldest homes), Bucktown/Wicker Park, and the Armitage Avenue area all make good daytime strolls, with ample shops, cafes, and restaurants for when you want to take a break.
Lincoln Park (200 N Stockton Dr), which stretches along Lake Michigan for miles, turns into Chicago's own beach resort come summertime. The pretty people pose at Oak Street Beach and play volleyball at North Avenue Beach, while throngs of bikers, skaters, and walkers vie for space on the paved lakefront paths. Don't count on swimming while you're here (the water is usually freezing, even in August), but no matter what the weather, a stroll along the lake is the perfect wind-down after a busy day.
Families should take a detour to the Lincoln Park Zoo (2200 N Cannon Dr), notable not just for its picture-perfect location, but for its accessibility: not only is it open every day of the year, it's also free. That makes it a favorite of local parents and kids, whom you'll see smiling at the playful chimps in the Regenstein Center for African Apes or scrambling on board a giant John Deere truck inside the Farm in the Zoo.
Buckingham Fountain (Columbus Drive and Congress Parkway in Grant Park) features 133 jets spraying 14,000 gallons of water as high as 150 feet every minute. Every hour on the hour, there's a 20-minute water display accompanied by lights and music at dusk. You might recognize Kate Buckingham's creation from the opening credits of the popular 1990s TV sitcom, "Married With Children."
Of course, you can't talk about Chicago without at least mentioning sports. No matter what your passion, you'll find a pro team here to satisfy it: Chicago Bears football at Soldier Field (1410 S Museum Campus Dr), Chicago Bulls basketball at the United Center (1901 W Madison St), Chicago Blackhawks hockey at the United Center, and two baseball teams, the Cubs at Wrigley Field (1060 W Addison St) and the White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field (333 W 35th St).
Despite their decades-long losing streak, the Cubs sell out almost every game, unlike the much-more-talented White Sox. Why? Because they play at Wrigley Field, an old-time ballpark far more charming than the White Sox's sterile U.S. Cellular Field. The scene around Wrigley at game time is worth checking out for any sports fans. Just avoid driving to Wrigley; parking is limited because the ballpark is wedged into a bustling neighborhood and you'll be towed if you don't have a residential permit sticker. Instead, pay $5 to board the double decker bus at Hilton Chicago (720 S Michigan Ave), Tribune Tower (435 N Michigan Ave), and the Old Water Tower (806 N Michigan Ave). You can also get to the ball park on a number of El lines or CTA buses.
Cub fans of all ages swarm the blocks around the ballpark hoping to catch a stray ball, while souvenir vendors hawk the latest Cubs-related gear; the revved-up atmosphere is infectious. If you don't have tickets, you can watch the game on big-screen TVs at the traditional neighborhood tap of John Barleycorn's (3524 N Clark St) or plasma screens in the 4 am joint called Big City Tap (1010 W Belmont St), which both serve good food and manage to avoid the frat-party vibe of other taverns in the area. The Cubby Bear (1059 W Addison St) is a famous landmark across the street from the ballpark and is "the place" for Cubs post-game parties, and Trader Todd's (3216 N Sheffield) offers drink specials to Cubs fans who bring their ticket stubs on game day.
White Sox fans usually get to "The Cell" (which replaced Comiskey Park -- a name referred to still fervently by many locals, be they Sox fans or not) early because a bunch of activities, like running the bases in the 15,000-square-foot FUNdamentals area or getting a great view of the field from the Fan Deck, are offered for the young and young-at-heart.
Others tailgate grilling burgers and brats for two hours before the game in Lots A through F surrounding the stadium. If you need a beer or good food after the game, head to Schaller's Pump (3714 S Halsted St) for corned beef and cabbage and an assortment of whiskeys or Punchinello's (234 W 31st St), which has two indoor bars, six wide-screen TVs, and a spacious beer garden that holds about 70. First Base (3201 S Normal Ave) is a cozy neighborhood bar northwest of the park and good place to rub elbows with fans.
Chicago is a great place to see fine art at museums such as the Art Institute of Chicago. The city's performing arts scene -- including the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Lyric Opera, and the Steppenwolf Theatre Company -- also can't be beat. Keep reading to learn more about arts and culture in Chicago.
Chicago Arts & Culture
Chicago's range of cultural offerings is what impresses visitors most, from high (the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Lyric Opera) to low (the many low-budget theaters that perform for passion rather than profit). The city's thriving gallery scene, concentrated in the River North neighborhood, has made the city a national center for contemporary art.
No matter what your cultural interests, you'll find a museum to suit your tastes. The Art Institute of Chicago is the city's reigning grand dame of fine art, while the newer Museum of Contemporary Art gives up-and-coming artists a chance to shine. The massive Field Museum of Natural History has entire galleries devoted to African and Asian art, many of them designed to teach visitors about an area's culture as well as its artifacts.
Insider's Guide: The Best of Arts & Culture in Chicago
Insider's Guide: The Best of Arts & Culture in Chicago
You could spend your whole visit to Chicago just visiting the city's museums (and, come winter, that doesn't sound like a bad prospect). The Art Institute of Chicago
(111 S Michigan Ave) is the acknowledged heavyweight when it comes to art, with a wide-ranging collection (300,000-plus works of art) and a busy schedule of tours and lectures. Its exhibits include Asian, African, Amerindian, and American art; European decorative pieces, and photography.
Although the Art Institute does include some modern works, the smaller Museum of Contemporary Art (220 E Chicago Ave) has given contemporary artists a much-needed showcase. The museum also supports more avant-garde works through its performing arts programs, which include everything from experimental film to cutting-edge modern music.
Chicago's modern art scene took off in the 1970s, as former factories and industrial warehouses in the River North area were converted into galleries. More recently, a wave of gentrification in the West Loop has nurtured a second gallery district.
There's no better way to check out the local art scene than to stop by a gallery opening, which are open to the public. Openings usually take place on Friday evenings from 5 to 8 pm.
When it comes to live arts and entertainment, the city's most prestigious venues are Symphony Hall, home of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (220 S Michigan Ave) and the Civic Opera House, which houses Lyric Opera of Chicago (20 N Wacker Dr). The Lyric Opera, in particular, is a hometown favorite, with almost every show selling out. If you want to get tickets, your best bet is to call the box office the morning of a performance, when tickets returned by subscribers are re-sold.
The Harris Theater for Music and Dance, (205 E Randolph St), located in Millennium Park, hosts dance performances throughout the year by local and touring companies.
Chicago's theater scene is especially lively, running the gamut of touring Broadway shows to small, independent troupes in which the people on stage often outnumber the audience. Some of the city's best theater companies -- where you can be almost assured an evening of thought-provoking, well-produced entertainment -- include the Goodman Theatre (170 N Dearborn St), considered a breeding ground for up-and-coming actors and productions.
The Steppenwolf Theatre Company (1650 N Halsted St) is known for its stunning sets, original material, strong acting, and being the home of some rising stars like Gary Sinise, Laurie Metcalf, John Malkovich, Joan Allen, and John Mahoney. The Lookingglass Theater (821 N Michigan Ave) is known for offering dynamic, physical and intellectual performances since 1989, and the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre (800 E. Grand Ave) is known for its consistently high production values and seven-story, glass curtain-walled building housed at Navy Pier.
From skyscrapers to bungalows, Chicago's architecture is as distinctive as it is attractive. Go to the next section to learn about the unusual and innovative architecture and landmarks you can find only in Chicago.
Chicago Architecture & Landmarks
Faced with miles of ruined city after the Great Fire of 1871, Chicagoans didn't waste much time bemoaning their fate. Instead, they embarked on a massive rebuilding program. The urgent need for office space -- combined with technical innovations in cast iron construction and elevator safety -- inspired architects such as Louis Sullivan to create the country's first skyscrapers.
Later, thanks in large part to architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, the city became known as a Center of the International Style, characterized by stark, rectangular, glass-enclosed buildings free of ornamentation (the Sears Tower and the John Hancock Center are two famous examples). Today, Chicago remains a center of contemporary architecture, with new buildings by star architects such as Santiago Calatrava and Renzo Piano taking shape alongside classic buildings of the past.
But Chicago's great architecture isn't limited to office buildings. This is also the place that Frank Lloyd Wright developed his distinctive "Prairie style" homes, which took inspiration from the flat, wide-open Midwest landscape. A visit to at least one Wright home is de rigueur for visiting architecture buffs.
Insider's Guide: The Best of Architecture & Landmarks in Chicago
Insider's Guide: The Best of Architecture & Landmarks in Chicago
To see the highlights of Chicago's architecture in a limited time, head to the Chicago Architecture Foundation (224 S Michigan Ave), where you can pick from a number of daily tours. The Historic Skyscrapers Tour (offered daily at 10 am) and the Modern Skyscrapers Tour (daily at 1pm) are the most popular and give an excellent overview of what makes each building significant. You'll even check out some cool building lobbies that most visitors pass right by. The foundation also offers walking tours of various Chicago neighborhoods, history-themed excursions, and bus and boat tours.
World-renowned architects Louis Sullivan and Dankmar Adler designed The Auditorium Theatre (50 E Congress Parkway), and the Auditorium Building (430 S Michigan Ave), known for its iron framing, breathtaking ornamentation, and near-perfect acoustics.
The Cadillac-Palace Theater (151 W Randolph St) was inspired by the decadence of the Palace at Versailles in France, and boasts a lobby with huge decorative mirrors and breche violet and white marble, and gold leaf and wood decorations on the hallway walls. Macy's, the former home of Marshall Field's for years (111 N State St), features a six-story rotunda topped by a Tiffany dome made of 1.6 million pieces of glass.
The Chicago Loop Synagogue (16 S Clark St) was built in 1957 and its eastern wall is a unique example of contemporary stained glass depicting ancient Hebraic symbols whirling through the cosmos. The Chicago Temple (77 W Washington St) is the highest church spire in the city, at 568 feet from street level to its Gothic tower.
Holy Name Cathedral (735 N State St) is a good example of Gothic Revival architecture. The 1875 building features bronze doors, Stations of the Cross cast in bronze and framed in red Rocco Alicante marble, a six-ton tabletop altar made of granite, and a 5,558-pipe organ. And, the tasseled hats of deceased cardinals are hung from the highest point of the semicircular domed cathedral apse.
Marina City (300 N State St) is a unique condominium and commercial complex with marina and boat storage and two 550-foot-tall cylindrical buildings. The Rookery Building (209 S LaSalle St) is one of the oldest steel-skeleton skyscrapers in the world, with a glass-encased, sky-lit lobby that Frank Lloyd Wright remodeled in 1905.
The Wrigley Building (410 N Michigan Ave) has a triangular shape patterned after the Seville Cathedral's Giralda Tower in Spain, and its ornamental design is an adaptation of French Renaissance style. The outside of the building is clad with more than 250,000 glazed terra-cotta tiles that shine at night with the help of floodlights.
The Monadnock Building (53 W Jackson Blvd) was constructed in 1889-1891 and, at that time, was the highest wall-bearing building in Chicago. It includes 6-foot-thick walls to support the tower's 17 stories.
Architecture fans also should plan on taking a day trip to Oak Park to visit the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio (951 Chicago Ave). This western suburb is where Wright began his career and developed his influential Prairie Style homes. Seeing Wright's low-slung, unassuming houses alongside the grand Victorian homes that also line the streets of Oak Park make vividly clear how revolutionary his work was at the time. In Chicago's South Side neighborhood of Hyde Park is Robie House (5757 S Woodlawn Ave), one of Frank Lloyd Wright's most significant residential buildings, especially notable for its stained-glass door and windows.
When you think about shopping in Chicago, you probably focus on the Magnificent Mile, a stretch of Michigan Avenue where you'll find shops for all the big-name upscale retailers. But there's more to Chicago shopping than the Mag Mile, as you'll discover in the next section.
Michigan Avenue -- specifically the stretch between the Chicago River and Oak Street Beach known as The Magnificent Mile -- is pretty much synonymous with Chicago shopping. Along this 14-block promenade you'll find all the major names in upscale retail (Tiffany & Co., Ralph Lauren, Louis Vuitton, etc.), along with more mass-market stores such as The Gap, Pottery Barn, and Crate & Barrel. High-rise indoor malls, including Water Tower Place (835 N Michigan Ave), Chicago Place (700 N Michigan Ave), and 900 North Michigan, expand the shopping possibilities and make good stop-offs during chilly and/or rainy weather.
But to see the best of what Chicago has to offer, you'll have to move beyond this tourist-clogged thoroughfare. You should head to Armitage Avenue in Lincoln Park or Bucktown to see where the best-dressed locals do their shopping. Chinatown on the city's South Side is a great place to find antiques, jewelry, art, and other quality goods.
Insider's Guide: The Best of Shopping in Chicago
The boutiques on Armitage Avenue between Halsted Street and Damen Avenue attract stylish young professionals with a mix of home decor, beauty products, and trendy-but-not-too-edgy fashion. Lori's Designer Shoes (824 Armitage Ave) has 5,000 square feet filled with shoes ranging from summer sandals to knee-high leather boots. Accessories like handbags, scarves, hats, and hosiery can also be bought, and you'll find them all reduced more than 50 percent at end-of-the-season sales. Your best bet is to go on weekdays, when crowds are more subdued.
If you're looking for something more cutting-edge, head to Bucktown, specifically the shops that line Damen Avenue north of North Avenue. Here you'll find a range of independent clothing stores specializing in new, up-and-coming designers, as well as boutiques that stock one-of-a-kind home accessories and gifts. If you're shopping for little ones, be sure to visit The Red Balloon (2060 N Damen Ave), a friendly mid- to upscale kids clothing, toys and book shop.
Head south on Damen Avenue to reach the newest burgeoning retail district at West Division Street (west of the Division L train stop on the Blue Line). Here, drawn by the relatively low rents, independent boutiques are springing up, offering an eclectic selection of clothes and gifts. For more eclectic boutiques, record stores and book stores, head southeast along Milwaukee Avenue for stores like Reckless Records, American Apparel, and John Fluevog Shoes.
Home decorating fans should also take time for a stroll through River North, with its dense concentration of design stores. Within a few blocks, you'll find everything from slick European contemporary furniture to Asian antiques to affordable reproductions of classic modern pieces.
900 North Michigan Shops (900 N Michigan Ave) has more than 70 shops, including Bloomingdale's and Gucci, surrounding a marble atrium. Crate & Barrel (646 N Michigan Ave) is a flagship store on Michigan Avenue toting housewares and home furnishings. Niketown (669 N Michigan Ave) is a five-story sports store that not only sells shoes, but includes a museum, video theater, and a display of athletic gear worn by Chicago Bulls legend Michael Jordan.
At Water Tower Place (835 N Michigan Ave), you'll find a wide range of men's and women's clothing as stores such as Lord & Taylor, Victoria's Secret, Lacoste, and French Connection.
Chicago Place (700 N Michigan Ave) is an eight-story vertical mall with more than 45 stores, including Ann Taylor Petites, Talbots, Abby & Yanni Fine Furs, and Tall Girl, and seven restaurants, including Little Tokoyo Express and Chicago Dog & Grill.
Chinatown (Cermak Road and Wentworth Ave) features more than 20 gift shops, herbal and tea stores, bakeries and 40 restaurants in its 11-block radius. Chinatown Bazaar (2221 S Wentworth) sells oriental gifts, fashion, jewelry, and antiques, and Oriental Art Imports Ltd (2239 S Wentworth) houses bone carvings, teapots, crystal, ceramics, and European canvases.
Bustling Navy Pier (600 E Grand Ave) is a good place to pick up souvenirs, including Chicago Police Department and Fire Department-themed hats and T-shirts, gourmet snacks and the usual postcards, magnets, and coffee mugs. You'll also find Sitara, which sells Indian-style clothing and handmade crafts from Bali, and TransPIERency, where you can buy stained-glass items like windows and key chains.
If you're looking for entertainment in Chicago, you'll easily find something to do. The choices are varied, ranging from the great blues clubs, the famous Second City comedy troupe, and the family-friendly ESPN Zone. Keep reading to learn more about Chicago's entertainment and nightlife.
Chicago Nightlife & Entertainment
As befits a major city, Chicago doesn't shut down when the sun sets. But what sets Chicago apart is its lack of pretension: although the city has its share of see-and-be-seen spots, you won't be judged uncool if you avoid the velvet ropes. The quintessential Chicago nighttime hangout is the neighborhood tavern, where locals go to hang out and catch up without worrying about VIP lists.
Chicago's late-night entertainment options are especially rich; on any given night, you can catch live performances of dance, opera, and a wide range of music. The city is nationally known as a center for live theater, with a number of hometown troupes that perform everything from musicals to political dramas.
The city is also the home of Second City, the country's best-known Improv comedy troupe. Although Chicago is known as a hotspot of the blues, it's also boasts a rich tradition of independent rock acts, with plenty of smaller clubs where you can catch a show by the next big thing.
Insider's Guide: The Best of Nightlife & Entertainment in Chicago
Insider's Guide: The Best of Nightlife & Entertainment in Chicago
While Chicago's blues bars attract a fair share of tourists in search of the city's "authentic" music scene, genuine blues star and guitarist Buddy Guy owns one of the hottest places in town, Buddy Guy's Legends (754 S Wabash Ave). The roadhouse decor makes you feel like you've stumbled upon an authentic, down-home hideaway, and Guy's occasional onstage appearances draw huge crowds.
The Note (1565 N Milwaukee Ave) features live rock, funk, jazz, blues, Latin, and Big Band performers, and its incredible jukebox is an appropriate backup. Two bars serve any drink you can imagine, and pool tables are located behind the stage. For a real treat, stop by on Thursday nights when the Chicago Samba School performs. Across the street is the Double Door, which features mostly up-and-coming local rock bands and non-arena rock bands.
Funky Buddha Lounge (728 W Grand Ave) is a premier dance lounge with leopard-skin sofas, lots of candles, and antique light fixtures salvaged from an old church. The DJs will get you moving on the nice-sized dance floor with hip hop, soul, underground house, and popular dance tunes. If you want a pre-club cocktail or just a taste of one of Chicago's many charming "old man bars," jaunt across Grand Avenue to Richard's Bar, where you'll get friendly service from a staff of legendary bartenders.
Crobar (1543 N Kingsbury St) is an enormous warehouse that can hold 800 people with DJs playing any mix of music imaginable. The dance floor and raised platforms are the place to see-and-be-seen with an incredible surround sound and light system. Specialty stations throughout the room serve as backups for the four main bars.
Le Passage (One Oak Place) has patrons entering through an alley, past a beautiful blond hostess, and descend the stairs into a 10,000-square-foot subterranean speakeasy. You can dance the night away to talented DJs or hang out at two bars or Yow Bar, a comfy VIP area.
Narcisse (710 N Clark St) has an upstairs bar area draped in velvet and gold with French-Victorian/Roman-Greco decor and another bar downstairs complete with a full-size bed. The list of champagnes, high-end scotches, cognacs, and ports are impressive.
Although Second City gets most of the national press, Improv Olympic (3541 N Clark St) is another topnotch troupe with equally impressive alumni (Mike Meyers, Amy Poehler) and a not-as-touristy clientele. If you've got the stamina to keep going into the late hours, the longest-running show in Chicago is the quirky "Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind" by the Neo-Futurists, a plucky, low-budget ensemble on the far North Side. The show may sound gimmicky -- the group performs 30 super-short plays in 60 minutes, choosing the order based on audience suggestions -- but the performances end up being both funny and emotionally affecting. Performances start at 11:30 pm Friday and Saturday nights.
Improv Kitchen (3419 N Clark St) is an interactive and surreal dinner theater spot, where improvisation comedy is delivered through plasma TVs at each table.
The Red Lion Pub (2446 N Lincoln Ave) is a little bit of London transported to Chicago. This British pub serves a wide selection of domestic and imported scotch, ales, lagers, cider, and Guinness. Local writers recite literary readings in the second-floor living room area on Monday nights.
ESPN Zone (43 E Ohio St) is the place to go to enjoy good food and watch a sports event. The first-floor restaurant has a big-screen TV, but if you don't want to watch that game, you can have a sound feed piped to your table that corresponds to one of the many different TVs elsewhere in the room. The second floor has a games and amusement center offering virtual golf, video bowling, indoor rock climbing, pinball, or car and motorcycle racing video machines.
Webster's Wine Bar (1480 W Webster Ave) is an intimate, largely-candlelit bar serving an extensive list of wines and a light menu of pates and cheeses. Its two floors are filled with tables and overstuffed coaches, and an outdoor patio is available during summer. Rotating exhibits of local artists grace the walls.
If you're determined to hang out with the beautiful people while you're here, the current VIP stop of choice is Reserve (858 W Lake St), a lounge in the burgeoning West Loop. But come prepared to pay up: to get a table, you'll have to order pricey bottle service rather than individual drinks. The upside? This place offers the occasional glimpse of a celebrity who's swinging through town and a crowd that revels in its status as eye candy. Rockit Bar at 22 W. Hubbard also gets its fair share of celebrity sightings.
The Gene Siskel Film Center (164 N State St) is a modern screening room that shows international films in monthly themed series, and it's also a good place to catch up with little-seen classic films that aren't available on video. The Music Box Theater in Lakeview and Facets Multi-Media also feature independent, classic and foreign films and are a must-visit for film enthusiasts.
Chicago might strike you as a hard-working city, but that doesn't mean you can't kick back and relax while visiting this city's lakefront park system, botanical gardens, and upscale spas. Keep reading to learn more about relaxing and unwinding in Chicago.
Relaxing & Unwinding in Chicago
Although Chicago may bill itself as "the city that works," Chicagoans relish their leisure time. Maybe it's a result of the long, gray winters, but locals take advantage of every second of sunshine by walking, biking, or simply hanging out at the lakefront. Although the bike paths may be crammed with runners and bikers, there are ample grassy spots for lounging, picnicking, and simply contemplating the tranquil waters of Lake Michigan.
The city's many cafes are also places to relax and let loose from the rush of city life. Although Chicago can keep visitors busy with a non-stop schedule of must-see sites, sometimes the best way to experience it is from the sidelines, sipping a cappuccino.
Insider's Guide: The Best of Relaxing & Unwinding in Chicago
Insider's Guide: The Best of Relaxing & Unwinding in Chicago
While North Avenue Beach and Oak Street Beach are the lively centerpieces of the Lake Michigan shoreline, locals know to head farther north when they want to relax. The stretch of lakefront between Fullerton Avenue and Addison Street is full of grassy stretches to lie out and spend an afternoon reading or simply daydreaming. Another contemplative spot is Olive Park, located just north of bustling Navy Pier; it's a good place to look back on the city skyline in peace and quiet.
If you're here in the summer, try to take advantage of the city's stellar classical-music lineup, offered in tranquil outdoor settings. The Grant Park Symphony and Chorus presents free concerts at the Pritzker Music Pavilion in Millennium Park (Michigan Avenue and Randolph St), with the dramatic city skyline as a backdrop.
In the northern suburbs, the Ravinia Festival (400 Iris Lane, Highland Park) presents a stellar lineup of classical music (including the Chicago Symphony Orchestra), pop groups, folk singers, and Broadway musical stars, all in a secluded, wooded, and very romantic park. Metra's Union Pacific North Line will drop you off right at the Festival's West Gate. Another option is to ride the Ravinia Special round-trip train that leaves the Madison and Canal station and makes six stops before reaching Ravinia Park for only $5.
To really get away from it all, plan a day trip to north suburban Glencoe to stroll the Chicago Botanic Garden (1000 Lake Cook Rd). The acres of themed landscapes -- from a walled English garden to an island of native prairie plantings -- provide ample space to escape crowds and take sustenance from nature.
Osaka Garden (6401 S Stony Island Ave in Jackson Park) features a tranquil strolling garden, moon bridge, Shinto gate, and typical Japanese foliage. It was created in 1934 as a thank you to Japan for a building given to Chicago for the 1893 World Columbian Exposition.
The closest golf courses to downtown are the 9-hole Sydney Marovitz Golf Course (3600 N Lake Shore Dr) in Lincoln Park, and the 18-hole Jackson Park Golf Course (63rd St and Stony Island Avenue) near Hyde Park. Sydney Marovitz gets crowded on weekends and attracts a lot of beginners, so be prepared for a slow round; Jackson Park usually moves faster. To practice your swing, head to the Diversey Driving Range (141 W Diversey Pkwy) in Lincoln Park or the Green at Grant Park (352 E Monroe St), an 18-hole putting course in Grant Park downtown.
During a Michigan Avenue stroll, stop off at the plaza surrounding the historic Water Tower (between Pearson St and Chicago Ave) for prime people-watching. You'll be surrounded by tourists from around the globe, local office workers on a break, and groups of wide-eyed students all taking in the busy scene.
In the summer, Oak Street Beach (near Michigan Ave and Oak St) is the perfect vantage point for checking out the beautiful people running and biking by. Oak Street Beachstro is a warm-weather-only beachfront cafe literally on the sands of the popular beach and a prime spot to enjoy fresh seafood, sandwiches, pasta, and beer while watching the world go by.
And the Crown Fountain in Millennium Park (Michigan Ave and Randolph St) attracts Chicagoans of all ages and ethnicities, splashing in the shallow water and taking in the giant faces projected on the massive surrounding video screens.
Chicago is a major city with an awful lot of things to see. If you'd rather not strike out on your own in the City with Big Shoulders, keep reading for our guide to Chicago organized tours.
Chicago Organized Tours Overview
If you have time for only one tour while you're here (and prefer to hear insider scoop rather than canned tourist lectures), stop by the Chicago Architecture Foundation (224 S Michigan Ave). You can pick a trip to suit your style: a river cruise that highlights modern landmarks; a walking tour of The Loop's early skyscrapers; a bus tour of Frank Lloyd Wright homes in the suburb of Oak Park. The foundation offers tours daily throughout the year, lead by volunteer docents who are passionate about their subject matter.
The city's Department of Cultural Affairs (77 E Randolph St) offers bus tours of neighborhoods throughout the city, organized by theme (Polish Chicago, the Great Chicago Fire, etc). It's a good way to get out of downtown and see how real Chicagoans live.
For sightseeing with a sense of humor, there's Untouchable Tours (600 N Clark St), a bus tour of gangster hotspots from the 1920s and 1930s when Chicago was synonymous with Al Capone. But note that the focus is more on entertainment than serious history lessons.
Wendella Boat Tours (400 N Michigan Ave) offer one-hour and two-hour tours of Lake Michigan and the Chicago River. The Spirit of Chicago Cruises (455 E Illinois St) offer year-round cruises of Lake Michigan leaving from Navy Pier. You can also enjoy dinner on the boat of leisurely sit on the deck.
Chicago has more world-class hotels than you can shake a stick at. Not sure where to stay while you're in town? Keep reading for our guide to Chicago hotels and lodgings.
Chicago Hotels Guide
While Chicago is full of cookie-cutter hotels catering primarily to business travelers, there's no shortage of luxurious hideaways.
Mobil's Five-Star Ritz-Carlton, A Four Seasons Hotel (160 E Pearson St), Mobil's Four-Star Park Hyatt Chicago (800 N Michigan Ave) and Mobil's Five-Star The Peninsula Chicago (108 E Superior St) are all located within blocks of each other and offer every conceivable amenity and top-notch service at vertigo-inducing prices.
If you prefer a more lively stay, Mobil's Three-Star W Chicago City Center (172 West Adams St) features a busy nighttime scene, with both the lobby bar and top-floor Whiskey Sky rocking into the wee hours. For a glimpse back into Chicago's past, try one of the city's historic hotels: Mobil's Three-Star Drake Hotel Chicago (140 E Walton Place), where you should request a room with a Lake Michigan view.
Hotel rates are lowest in the winter (from January through March), but hotels often offer weekend discounts throughout the year. Rates skyrocket when big trade shows are in town, such as the Housewares Show in March and the National Restaurant Association Show in May. For exact dates, check the Convention Calendar. Be sure to include taxes in your lodging estimates: City taxes are 14.9 percent and overnight parking can cost as much as $40.
Chicago has some of the finest dining in the world, but you can't visit the city without trying its deep-dish pizza and hotdogs. On the next page, you'll find our guide to Chicago restaurants.
Chicago Restaurants Guide
Let's get the stereotypes out of the way first. Yes, deep-dish pizza is a Chicago specialty, and if you've never had this heart-stopping, deeply satisfying, high-calorie treat, head to Gino's East (633 N Wells St) or Lou Malnati's (439 N Wells St) for the real thing. Just make sure you've worked up an appetite before you arrive.
For a classic Chicago hotdog (topped with chopped onions, green relish, yellow mustard, pickle spears, fresh tomato, and celery salt), head to Gold Coast Dogs (159 N Wabash Ave). The dogs are either char-grilled or steamed.
It looks like your basic dive (and has very few places to sit), but Mr. Beef (666 N Orleans St) is the best place in town to taste a genuine Chicago-style Italian beef sandwich, topped with sweet or hot peppers.
Many hail the Billy Goat Tavern (430 N Michigan Ave) as the best cheeseburgers in town. As you eat your "cheezeborger," you can check out the walls, which are filled with photos and articles that are a virtual museum of Chicago history.
For the best polish sausage, head over to Jim's Original (1250 S Union St). The grilled sausages are big and juicy, with a big scoop of grilled onions on top, and the recipe hasn't changed in 60 years. Jim's opened for business on Maxwell Street in 1939, but moved when the market was relocated in the late 1990s.
Chef Rick Bayless is widely credited with bringing authentic South-of-the-Border cooking to the United States, so it's no surprise that his Mobil's Three-Star restaurant Frontera Grill (445 N Clark St) is regularly hailed as one of the best Mexican restaurants in the country. To get an idea of Bayless' range, try the sopas surtidos appetizer, a mix of corn tortillas filled with tasty combinations such as chicken with red mole sauce or black beans with homemade chorizo sausage.
Chicago's original celebrity chef, Charlie Trotter, doesn't rely on high-concept gimmicks. His namesake restaurant, Mobil's Five-Star Charlie Trotter's (816 W Armitage Ave) has built an international reputation on his use of flavorful, mostly organic ingredients mixed in non-traditional combinations.
Chicago's history as a magnet for immigrants has given the city a rich variety of ethnic restaurants. On Taylor Street in Little Italy is Mobil's Two-Star Rosebud, (1500 W Taylor St), where regulars go for heaping portions of perfect rigantoni alla vodka.
Greektown, just west of The Loop, is home to a number of excellent Greek restaurants. At Pegasus (130 S Halsted St), you'll enjoy gorgeous views of downtown from the rooftop deck. You should try the shrimp baked with traditional pasta or the boneless lamb with rosa marina pasta.
For a wide range of authentic Latin dishes, try Mobil's Three-Star Nacional 27 (325 W Huron St), an elegant-but-not-stuffy restaurant that features specialties from Argentina, Brazil, Peru, and other Latin American countries; the ceviches and empanadas -- which change seasonally -- are a good way to sample different flavors. The dining room, which has the airy, glamorous feel of a 1930s-era nightclub, transforms into a dance floor on Friday and Saturday nights, with a live DJ spinning Latin pop tunes.
Tango Sur (3763 N Southport Ave) is an Argentine steakhouse with a simple decor but romantic, cozy atmosphere. Start off with plump empanadas (baked turnovers stuffed with ham and cheese or spinach and cheese), followed by a main dish of grilled meats with vegetables.
The real news on the Chicago restaurant scene is its growing sophistication. Even hard-to-please New York restaurant critics now write admiringly about our top chefs, some of whom are literally reinventing how to eat. At Mobil's Five-Star Alinea (1723 N Halsted St), chef Grant Achatz serves dishes on lavender-scented pillows pricked with tiny holes, so delicate aromas envelop diners as they eat. Try the duck confit and poached quince served on a mace-scented pillow.
Indian and Latin American flavors mesh on the menu at River North's Vermilion (10 W Hubbard St). Must-try dishes include chicken tikka masala, blackened tamarind ribs, or lobster with coconut-curry gravy.
No matter where you choose to dine, the average tipping rate in Chicago is between 15 and 20 percent.
You've just read about more Chicago attractions than you could fit into a month-long vacation. To make sure you hit all the highlights, go to the next page to read our suggested itineraries for visiting Chicago.
Suggested Itineraries for Visiting Chicago
We've told you about all the things to do in Chicago. But how will you fit them all into your trip? We've created these suggested itineraries that will help you hit on the highlights in your areas of interest -- including special events and attractions, arts and culture, architecture and landmarks, shopping, nightlife and entertainment, and relaxing and unwinding.
1-, 2-, and 3-Day Suggested Itineraries for Special Events & Attractions in Chicago
1-, 2-, and 3-Day Suggested Itineraries for Special Events & Attractions in Chicago
What visit to Chicago is complete without a trip to the Sears Tower? Or Wrigley Field? Here are some suggested itineraries that will ensure that you get to the must-see attractions in Chicago:
1 day: If you've only got one day to see Chicago, you'll want to concentrate on the major downtown sites. You can't beat the Art Institute of Chicago (111 S Michigan Ave) for its impressive collection of art, from Renaissance Italian to French Impressionism to modern American. And it's not just for art snobs: The museum caters to families with a wide array of hands-on activities. If you go on a Tuesday, note that while admission is free, this draws large crowds.
When you're ready for some fresh air, head one block north to Millennium Park (east of Michigan Avenue, between Randolph and Monroe), where you can admire architect Frank Gehry's signature ribbons of steel above the Pritzker Music Pavilion and see the skyline brilliantly reflected in sculptor Anish Kapoor's Cloud Gate (known locally as "The Bean," for its distinctive kidney-bean shape).
At some point, you'll want to admire the city from one of its highest vantage points: either the Sears Tower Skydeck (233 S Wacker Dr) or the John Hancock Observatory (875 N Michigan Ave). Although the Sears Tower is the most famous, views from the Hancock are just as good, and it's located near more shops and restaurants.
Weather permitting, you can get active by renting a bike at the park for a jaunt along the lakefront, or simply walk along the waterfront (pausing for photo ops, of course). From the Shedd Aquarium, Shoreline Marine Company runs 30-minute boat tours to Navy Pier. The boats are a perfect way to see a new perspective on the city.
2 days: Start your day at the Museum Campus, where the Shedd Aquarium (1200 S Lake Shore Drive) and the Field Museum of Natural History (1400 S Lake Shore Dr) are within walking distance of each other. At the Shedd, you'll want to catch a show at the Oceanarium, where huge floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the lake make you feel like you're sitting outside. Must-see exhibits at the Field Museum of Natural History include Sue, the largest T. rex skeleton ever found, and the Man Eaters of Tsavo, a pair of lions who terrorized British railroad workers in East Africa in the late 1800s.
Spend the rest of your time on a Michigan Avenue stroll. Stop at the Michigan Avenue Bridge (at the Chicago River between Michigan and Wabash) for excellent skyline photos, then swing by the Chicago Tribune Tower (435 N Michigan Ave) and check out the mismatched stones embedded in its walls. They're all pieces of world-famous buildings, from the Parthenon to the Alamo.
Then join the throngs of mostly suburbanites and tourists at Navy Pier (600 E Grand Ave), an old naval station renovated in the 1990s that has become an urban playground offering rides, stores, museums, and a movie theater. Its most visible attraction is a 150-foot Ferris wheel, which offers an attractive view of the lake and skyline. You can also watch a movie at the IMAX theater, tour a stained-glass museum or children's museum, or window shop at the dozens of stores ranging from specialty boutiques to kiosks. You can also listen to a free outdoor concert or grab a one-hour cruise from the pier. On Saturday night at 10 pm, you can watch a fireworks show, with synchronized music, lit from a boat on the lake.
3 days: Head north to Lincoln Park (2400 N Stockton Dr). Start your day at the Lincoln Park Zoo (2200 N Cannon Dr), making sure to stop at the Regenstein Center for African Apes and the African Journey exhibit (which recreates various African ecosystems, from dusty desert to humid jungle). Stroll east along Fullerton Avenue when you're ready for a break; you can either chill out on the shady grass, taking in the tranquil lakefront view, or dip your toes into the frigid Lake Michigan water at the northern edge of North Avenue Beach.
Later, get some background on what made the city great at the Chicago History Museum (1601 N Clark St), where interactive exhibits arranged by theme take both adults and children through the city's fascinating past. You can also learn the real story behind the Great Chicago Fire. End up with a walk along Wells Street in Old Town or Armitage Avenue further west, both vibrant neighborhoods with lots of restaurants and fun shops for browsing. One good restaurant to try is Mobil Two-Star Sushi Samba Rio (504 N.Wells St), which serves a wild fusion menu of Japanese and Brazilian dishes, like chicken teriyaki with Peruvian mashed potatoes, and cocktails to match. Or you can stop in at Mobil Two-Star Tizi Melloul (531 N Wells St), which serves coriander-roasted duck or grilled octopus as part of its Mediterranean menu. If you stop in on Sunday evening, you can watch a belly dancing show with your meal.
1-, 2-, and 3-Day Suggested Itineraries for Arts & Culture in Chicago
1-, 2-, and 3-Day Suggested Itineraries for Arts & Culture in Chicago
With its fine arts and fine performances, Chicago has plenty to keep you busy during your stay. Here are some suggested itineraries for those who want to see the best of Chicago's arts and culture:
1 day: Begin at the Art Institute of Chicago (111 S Michigan Ave), where you could easily spend a day admiring the wide range of works, from medieval to modern. The museum's gift shop is a good place to pick up gifts for culture-vulture friends.
After stopping to admire the public art in Millennium Park (Michigan Ave and Randolph St), including the Crown Fountain and the bean-shaped "Cloud Gate" sculpture, stop by the Chicago Cultural Center (78 E Washington St), a gorgeous Beaux-Arts mansion that was once the city's public library. The Tiffany dome on the upper floor is said to be the largest in the world. While you're there, pick up a copy of the "Loop Sculpture Guide", a booklet that maps out the city's collection of public art.
Then, stroll through The Loop to admire the sculptures that dot the downtown business district. An untitled work by Picasso (called simply "The Picasso" by locals) sits in the Richard J. Daley Center and Plaza (50 W Washington Blvd), and Miro's Chicago, a 39-foot-tall steel, wire mesh, concrete, bronze, and ceramic tile sculpture, can be found on Washington Street only a few blocks away. The Four Seasons, a 3,000-square-foot mosaic designed by Marc Chagall, stands at First National Plaza (Monroe and Dearborn Sts).
2 days: Start the day at the Museum of Contemporary Art (220 E Chicago Ave), a building that looks like an uninviting fortress from the outside, but is filled with light and open space once you get inside. Look for pieces from the Chicago Imagists, a local art movement from the 1960s, as well as national touring shows. If you time it right, you can catch the free tour offered at 1 pm daily except Mondays (tours are given more often on weekends); admission to the museum is free on Tuesdays.
Then you should head to the River North Gallery District (loosely bordered by the Chicago River, Orleans Street, Chicago Avenue, and State Street), which features galleries specializing in contemporary glasswork, sculpture from Latin America and Africa, experimental photography and pretty much everything in between. The neighborhood is also home to a number of contemporary furniture and home-decor showrooms; you'll find an especially creative, intriguing mix at Orange Skin (223 W Erie St).
3 days: Chicago is known for its vibrant theater scene, and you can't leave town without catching at least one show. Research your options before you arrive through the League of Chicago Theatres Web site, or start the day at Hot Tix, a ticket service that sells same-day theater tickets for half price (offices are located at the Water Works Visitor's Center, 163 E Pearson St, and in The Loop at 72 E Randolph St).
For a glimpse at an off-the-beaten-path art scene, stop by Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art (756 N Milwaukee Ave). Chicago has a number of well-known collectors of so-called "outsider art," produced by independent-minded artists with no formal training or ties to the professional art world. (Note: Intuit is only open Wednesday through Saturday). Then check out some of the newest art galleries in the West Loop.
The Douglas Dawson Gallery (400 N Morgan St), specializing in African and Asian art, and the Donald Young Gallery (933 W Washington St) are two of the most impressive spaces.
Spend the evening at the concert or play of your choice. If you're here in the fall, winter, or spring, you can catch a performance by the world-renowned Chicago Symphony Orchestra (220 S Michigan Ave). In the summer, the Grant Park Symphony and Chorus gives free concerts in Millennium Park (Michigan Ave and Randolph St).
1-, 2-, and 3-Day Suggested Itineraries for Architecture & Landmarks in Chicago
1-, 2-, and 3-Day Suggested Itineraries for Architecture & Landmarks in Chicago
Chicago is the home of the skyscraper. In this city of architectural innovation, you'll find buildings by designers as wildly different as Frank Lloyd Wright and Frank Gehry. Follow these suggested itineraries for viewing Chicago's architecture and landmarks.
1 day: Spend the morning taking the Chicago Architecture Foundation's Historic Skyscrapers Tour, which will give you an overview of why the city's architecture was so revolutionary. Among the landmarks you'll visit: the massive, hulking Auditorium Theatre building (430 S Michigan Ave), the Reliance Building (now the Hotel Burnham at 1 W Washington St), and the Monadnock Building (53 W Jackson Blvd), where you can see the 6-foot-thick walls that were necessary to support the tower's 17 stories.
Mobil Two-Star Atwood Cafe, inside the Hotel Burnham (1 W Washington St) makes a good stop for lunch; the elegant, velvet-curtained dining room makes you feel like you've stepped back in time, although the menu gives traditional American comfort foods a modern twist. The chef got her start as a pastry cook, so save room for dessert, such as the lusciously decadent white chocolate-banana bread pudding.
In the afternoon, get a bird's-eye view of the city by visiting the Sears Tower Skydeck (233 S Wacker Dr). Afterward, stroll over to Millennium Park (east of Michigan Avenue, between Randolph and Monroe Sts) to admire the Pritzker Music Pavilion, topped by massive curved ribbons of steel designed by Frank Gehry. He also designed the adjacent serpentine bridge over Columbus Avenue.
2 days: Spend most of the day exploring the South Side neighborhood of Hyde Park, home to the University of Chicago. The university's campus, where Gothic stone buildings surround wide grassy quads, recalls the classic look of Oxford and Cambridge. Hyde Park is also the site of Robie House (5757 S Woodlawn Ave), one of Frank Lloyd Wright's most significant residential buildings, especially notable for its stained-glass door and windows. Visits are by guided tour only, which are scheduled daily between 11 am and 3 pm.
Finish up the day with a drink at the Signature Lounge on the 96th floor of the John Hancock Center (875 N Michigan Ave). Sure, the cocktails are overpriced, but you're really paying for the view, which is especially impressive as the sun sets and the city lights start to sparkle.
3 days: Follow the footsteps of Frank Lloyd Wright with a day trip to Oak Park (you can catch the Green Line L train from downtown west to Harlem Avenue, or sign up for a bus tour run by the Chicago Architecture Foundation). Start your visit at the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio (951 Chicago Ave), where the guided tours give a good overview of Wright's life and historical significance.
Afterward, stock up on architecture-related gifts and souvenirs at the Gingko Tree Bookshop next door (951 Chicago Ave, Oak Park), then break for lunch or a sundae at Peterson's (1100 Chicago Ave), a restaurant and ice-cream parlor that's been in business since 1919. The turtle sundae, topped with chocolate, caramel and roasted pecans, is a popular house specialty.
In the afternoon, visit Oak Park's Unity Temple (875 Lake St), another Wright landmark. The interior's cube-like design was a radical departure from traditional church architecture, and today it's acknowledged as an important milestone in the development of modern architecture.
1-, 2-, and 3-Day Suggested Itineraries for Shopping in Chicago
Shopping in Chicago ranges from upscale and expensive to unusual and off-the-wall. If you follow these suggested itineraries, you'll get to all of the shopping hotspots.
1 day: Yes, it's touristy, and yes, it's crowded, but you can't come to Chicago and not window-shop along Michigan Avenue. Whether you're coveting designer duds at Chanel and Giorgio Armani -- or picking up cheap knockoffs of designer looks at H&M -- Michigan Avenue has the most concentrated number of shops in the city, including the Apple Store -- pick up the newest iPod or accessories for your Mac.
If you're traveling here with a girl younger than 12, it's pretty much mandatory to take a detour to American Girl Place (111 E Chicago Ave), where dolls even get their own seats at the in-store cafe.
When you're ready for a break, head up to the 6th floor of the 900 North Michigan Avenue Shops high-rise mall, where cozy Oak Tree offers an eclectic menu of lunch items (everything from fajitas to omelets) at reasonable prices. If you're lucky, you can snag a table overlooking the Michigan Avenue throngs.
Macy's (111 N State St) is a block-long Loop flagship store worth a visit. The grand central atrium -- topped by a gorgeous Tiffany mosaic dome -- recalls the days when shopping downtown was a special occasion. One small reminder of the building's former owner -- Marshall Field's -- remains: the store's signature dark-green boxes of Frango Mints. The creamy mix of chocolate and mint makes these a great gift, but make sure to buy at least one box for yourself!
2 days: For a glimpse of upscale-but-not-stuffy Lincoln Park shopping, head north to Armitage Avenue. The shops here appeal to the neighborhood's mix of single professionals and well-off young families. Lori's Designer Shoes (824 W Armitage Ave) offers big-name footwear at substantially discounted prices; it's a regular stop for local fashionistas, despite the rather ramshackle interior, strewn with half-opened shoeboxes.
At 1154 Lill (904 W Armitage Ave), you can design your own purse or tote bag using the store's vast selection of fun fabrics (although bags take a few weeks to make, they can be shipped to your home after you leave town). If you like to discover unexpected treasures, don't miss Art Effect (934 W Armitage Ave), which stocks a wonderfully eclectic mix of clothing, housewares, jewelry, and gift items.
When you're ready to devour some good food, stop at Tartino's (1112 W Armitage Ave) for contemporary American and Italian inspired cuisine, like farfalle with smoked chicken, tomatoes, and spinach or duck breast with roasted butternut squash and lentils. You can even people-watch by enjoying your food at a table in the restaurant's sidewalk garden.
3 days: To see where Chicago's top style-setters shop, spend the day in the Bucktown and Wicker Park areas, with a mix of designer stores and hip clothing boutiques. For the really fashion forward, p.45 (1643 N Damen Ave) is the top spot to discover little-known designers (be forewarned, though: sizes here tend toward the small). If you like your clothes pretty rather than edgy, Tangerine (1719 N Damen Ave) and Jolie Joli (1623 N Damen Ave) stock outfits eminently wearable (if a tad expensive).
For clothing with a sense of humor, don't miss The T-Shirt Deli (1739 N Damen Ave), where you can "order" a custom T-shirt by browsing through thick notebooks of vintage decals (your completed T-shirt is then wrapped in a brown paper bag with a bag of potato chips, deli-style). For one-of-a-kind, cleverly designed gift items, Stitch (1723 N Damen Ave) is a favorite of local designers and stylists.
1-, 2-, and 3-Day Suggested Itineraries for Nightlife & Entertainment in Chicago
1-, 2-, and 3-Day Suggested Itineraries for Nightlife & Entertainment in Chicago
From blues joints and ritzy clubs to the Chicago Symphony and the old ballpark, Chicago has something for everyone. Here are some ways to organize your entertainment options:
1 day: If you're here in the summer, there is no more quintessential Chicago experience than a Chicago Cubs baseball game at historic Wrigley Field (1060 W Addison St). Most games tend to sell out in advance, but if you show up early, you can usually find someone trying to sell off their tickets out front. Head for the bleachers if you want loud and rowdy; the rest of the park is relatively restrained (as long as you root for the Cubbies).
After the game, grab a drink and relive the game's highlights at the traditional neighborhood tap of John Barleycorn's (3524 N Clark St) or Cubby Bear (1059 W Addison St), where many fans go for live music, watch sports, or eat at the Cubby Cafe. For a complete change of pace, you could also stop by The Holiday Club (4000 N Sheridan Rd) for swinging jukebox music with a martini or beer and rich comfort foods like meatloaf and mashed potatoes.
In the evening, hang out at one of the city's historic music clubs, the Green Mill (4802 N Broadway), in the North Side neighborhood of Uptown. The nightly jazz lineup features top-notch local talent, but the real draw is its vintage look; in the 1920s, it was a speakeasy frequented by Al Capone.
2 days: Catch a matinee at one of Chicago's independent movie theaters. The Gene Siskel Film Center (164 N State St), located in the heart of The Loop, is a modern screening room that shows international films in monthly themed series. The Music Box Theatre (3733 N Southport Ave) is a vintage gem where twinkling "stars" sparkle on the ceiling and faux Italianate building facades surround the seats. Shows include a mix of independent films and re-released classics.
At night, pick from among the many concerts in town, whether it's blues at Buddy Guy's Legends (754 S Wabash Ave), the latest up-and-coming rock band at Metro (3730 N Clark St) or a singer-songwriter at intimate Schubas Tavern (3159 N Southport Ave).
3 days: Begin the day with lunch at Goose Island Brewery (1800 N Clybourn Ave), home of the city's best hometown brew. Sure, you can get a taste of Goose Island's beers that change each season, but the food is also surprisingly good. And, during the day, the dining room is also kid-friendly, with groups of local families catching up over drinks and the restaurant's addictive homemade soft pretzels. The burger topped with Stilton cheese is hearty and satisfying -- the perfect accompaniment to a cool pint of Goose Island ale.
In the afternoon, let loose with a few rounds at 10pin (330 N State St), a retro-cool bowling alley with a menu of cool cocktails and upscale snacks.
Round off the day with dinner at Mobil's Three-Star Gibson's Steakhouse (1028 N Rush St), where the people-watching is as much a part of the experience as the monstrous steaks and super-size martinis. Cap things off with drinks and dancing at Le Passage (1 Oak Place), the reigning late-night hangout for the city's beautiful people.
1-, 2-, and 3-Day Suggested Itineraries for Relaxing & Unwinding in Chicago
1-, 2-, and 3-Day Suggested Itineraries for Relaxing & Unwinding in Chicago
Where better to kick back and take it easy than in a town with so many parks, beaches, and gardens? These suggested itineraries will help you relax and unwind while visiting Chicago.
1 day: Begin the day with an architectural river cruise offered by the Chicago Architecture Foundation (224 S Michigan Ave) or Shoreline Marine Company (474 N Lake Shore Dr). Sailing past the city's majestic buildings is the perfect way to explore the city without getting tired out. Lunch at Le Colonial (937 N Rush St), a Vietnamese restaurant that invokes the style of 1920s Saigon; the overall feel is cozy, secluded, and unrushed. The shrimp grilled on sugar cane skewers is good, and so is the filet mignon diced into small pieces and stir-fried with yams and green beans.
Spend the rest of the day doing as the locals do: reading a book or newspaper or simply dozing near the lakefront. Avoid crowded Oak Street Beach and head instead for the tranquil area along Cannon Drive just north of Fullerton Avenue. This semi-wooded, lush park area will truly make you feel you've left the city behind. You can finish up the day with dinner at one of the city's finest restaurants, Mobil Three-Star North Pond Restaurant (2610 N Cannon Dr), which is tucked into a former warming hut for ice skaters. The upscale American menu focuses on creative combinations of impeccably fresh local ingredients, such as honey-glazed pork chops or horseradish-crusted strip steak.
2 days: Enjoy the outdoors while staying just slightly active with low-key outdoor activities. In Lincoln Park, the Diversey Driving Range (141 W Diversey Pkwy.) is an affordably priced driving range where you'll be surrounded by a mix of low-handicap experts and complete beginners (so don't worry if your game isn't exactly Tiger Woods-worthy). Downtown, the Green at Grant Park (352 E Monroe St) is an 18-hole putting course steps from the lake, where you can practice your short game in a low-pressure setting. If you're in town during the winter, the nearby McCormick Tribune Ice Rink in Millennium Park (Michigan Avenue and Randolph St) offers a quintessential cold-weather experience: bundled-up, red-cheeked skaters gliding past the downtown skyline.
Recover from all that not-so-hard work with a pampering session at Kiva (196 E Pearson St), an extensive spa in the Water Tower shopping center. Whatever your preference -- an age-defying facial, hot stone therapy, or a simple massage -- you'll find it at this tranquil oasis, which somehow manages to block out the bustling city outside.
3 days: Spend the day at Navy Pier (600 E Grand Ave), a visitor-friendly destination that offers something for the whole family. Start with a ride on the 150-foot Ferris wheel, where you'll get panoramic views over the whole city. If you're traveling with kids, you'll want to stop by the nearby carousel, or try the 18-hole miniature golf course (each hole has a Chicago theme).
Then, escape the crowds by taking off for a ride on The Windy, a four-mastered schooner that takes visitors on 90-minute lake cruises. Finish up your Navy Pier visit with a walk to the very end of the pier, from where you'll enjoy photo-worthy views of the skyline.
At night, indulge yourself by splurging at one of the city's finest restaurants, where the trade-off for sky-high prices is impeccable service, award-winning food, and a meal that can linger on for hours. Mobil's Three-Star Spiaggia (980 N Michigan Ave), considered one of the best Italian restaurants in the country, looks out over Oak Street Beach from its second-floor windows. The prix-fixe menus will introduce you to an Italian cuisine far beyond spaghetti and meatballs (if you have a chance to try the truffle risotto, grab it).
Another special-occasion dining spot is Mobil's Four-Star Everest (440 S LaSalle St), perched on the 40th floor of a Loop office building. This French restaurant, specializing in dishes from chef Jean Joho's native Alsace, features stunning views across the city, along with elegant, beautifully prepared food.
Whether you call it the Windy City, the City with Big Shoulders or the Second City, Chicago is brimming with things to see and do. Visitors to the city will find no shortage of attractions and diversions, from fine arts at the Art Institute of Chicago to a baseball game at Wrigley Field. Chicago might be the city that works, but it knows how to play hard, too. Once you visit Chicago, you'll be calling it your kind of town.
© Publications International, Ltd.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Chicago-based writer and editor Elizabeth Blackwell is the author of Frommer's Chicago Guidebook, as well as The Irreverent Guide to Chicago and Memorable Walks in Chicago. She also contributes regularly to publications such as The Wall Street Journal and Chicago Magazine.