Elizabeth Fernandez / AAA
Introduction“Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men's blood,” advised one of Chicago's leading architects nearly a century ago. Chicagoans listened. You can't visit the Windy City today and find much that's small about it.
Inspector 40 / AAA
Greg Weekes / AAA. Photo submitted by Greg Weekes
In DepthImagine walking through a park when a huge silver object appears before you. Surrounding it, curious onlookers stroke its gleaming surface as if mesmerized by someone—or something—inside.
It may seem as if you've stepped into a science-fiction thriller, but such a sight has become commonplace in Chicago's Millennium Park since the mammoth “Cloud Gate” sculpture was completed in 2006. Likened, not unkindly, to a big silver bean, it has become a city icon recognized around the world. People do indeed find it difficult not to touch its highly polished sides.
British artist Anish Kapoor designed “Cloud Gate” partly as a mirror to Chicago's extraordinary skyline, which explains why sightseers gaze into its shiny, light-bending contours as if it were a crystal ball. In a way, it is a crystal ball, only instead of the future, it is the past—represented by Chicago's brick, glass and steel towers—that is reflected in its surface. And no event looms larger in that past than one so catastrophic it's still notorious today: the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.
Although the story of Mrs. O'Leary's cow kicking over a lantern and starting the blaze has been discredited, and the exact cost still remains in question, one thing is certain: the fire was one of the worst disasters in U.S. history. It created a 2,000-acre swath of devastation that included the central business district and left 100,000 homeless.
Yet, within just 20 years of the conflagration, Chicago surpassed Philadelphia to become the nation's second largest city. The arrival of many talented architects during the post-fire building boom heralded an era of architectural innovation that distinguishes the city today. Chicago is even credited as the birthplace of the skyscraper.
One of those early innovators was Daniel Burnham, whose firm designed such Loop landmarks as the Rookery Building, Reliance Building/Hotel Burnham and the Marshall Field's flagship store, now Macy's. He also directed construction of the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893, which premiered the first Ferris wheel. Other top attractions owing some part of their existence to the 1893 World's Fair: the Museum of Science and Industry, The Field Museum and The Art Institute of Chicago.
One of Burnham's rivals was Louis Sullivan. With his partner Dankmar Adler, Sullivan designed Roosevelt University's Auditorium Theatre and the Old Chicago Stock Exchange (torn down in 1972).
If Sullivan's name isn't better known outside architectural circles, it's no fault of his apprentice, Frank Lloyd Wright. After launching his own firm, Wright perfected his Prairie style, so called because the low, horizontal profiles evoked the Midwestern landscape. To see a prime example of his style, visit the Frederick C. Robie House on The University of Chicago campus, or head to Oak Park, which has an entire district of Wright-designed houses, including the architect's own home and studio.
While Oak Park has a variety of walking tours, the diversity of architecture tours downtown is almost overwhelming. Boat, bus, bike, foot and even Segway tours are offered. And taking a high-speed elevator to the top of the Willis (formerly Sears) Tower or John Hancock Center is a Chicago must-do; exhibits at both explain how these landmarks were at the forefront of skyscraper design.
By CarThe primary route into Chicago from Milwaukee and other lakeside cities to the north is I-94. In the northern suburbs it divides; the eastern segment (Edens Expressway), still marked I-94, joins the John F. Kennedy Expressway, which enters downtown Chicago. The western leg, called the Tri-State Tollway, is numbered I-294; it forms a circumferential expressway around the city's west edge and ends at I-80.
From Madison and Rockford, I-90 (Jane Addams Memorial Tollway) is the main highway. In the northwestern suburbs it intersects I-290, which curves southeast and continues into Chicago as the Eisenhower Expressway. Near O'Hare International Airport, the Jane Addams Memorial Tollway intersects I-294, where it becomes the John F. Kennedy Expressway (I-90) as it heads into the city.
From the west direct access to Chicago from the Aurora area is via the Ronald Reagan Memorial Tollway (I-88). Once inside the I-294 belt it becomes the Eisenhower Expressway (I-290). I-55 comes from Bloomington and other points in central Illinois; in the Chicago area, it is called the Adlai Stevenson Expressway. A major transcontinental route, I-80 passes to the south of Chicago and provides several connections into the city via I-55, I-57, I-90 and I-94. I-355 (Veterans Memorial Tollway) runs through the southwestern and westerns suburbs and connects with I-80, I-55, I-88 and I-290.
The major routes from the south are I-94 (Bishop Ford Freeway), I-57 and I-90 (Chicago Skyway—toll). All three connect with the Dan Ryan Expressway (I-90/94), which leads into the city center. On the Indiana outskirts of Chicago, I-90 and I-80 form the Northern Indiana Toll Road, which is the main route to the city from the eastern seaboard; I-94 provides access to the city from Michigan.
Chicago's Loop, once defined as an area of the city encircled by the “L” elevated rapid transit line, now lends its name to the core downtown area.
Air TravelO'Hare International Airport (ORD), 17 miles northwest of the city proper, is one of the world's busiest, averaging some 103,000 passengers and 1,200 flights a day. The three domestic terminals service most major carriers and offer plenty of amenities for travelers as well. The international terminal is host to more than 40 airlines from around the world and is linked to the domestic terminals via the Airport Transit System. Allow yourself plenty of time to negotiate the airport.
The only highway exit is via I-190 E., which connects with I-90 (Kennedy Expressway) directly east of the airport. I-90 E., a southeasterly route into the city proper, intersects I-294 a short distance east of the I-190/90 junction. I-294 leads north to Wisconsin and south to Indiana. Another option for going downtown is the locals’ choice, which saves tolls but involves some highway number changes: I-90/I-94/I-94 E/I-90 E. Allow plenty of time for traffic, which is always a factor in getting around greater Chicago.
The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) provides 24-hour service between O'Hare and downtown on the Blue Line, a 45-minute ride via rapid rail. Departures occur approximately every 15 minutes from the lower pedestrian tunnel level of Terminal 2. The fare is $5. Purchase a Ventra Card or a 1-day or multiday unlimited-ride pass from the CTA vending machines; turnstiles do not accept cash. CTA also provides rapid rail service between O’Hare and Midway International airports (at the Clark/Lake stop, transfer for free to the Midway-bound Orange Line during its hours of operation); phone (312) 836-7000 for details.
Midway International Airport (MDW) is only 8 miles southwest of the downtown core. Five airlines offer low-fare, point-to-point service to several domestic and international cities. Midway's passenger terminal building, with its three concourses, offers a number of amenities for travelers.
Exit Midway via the airport roadway system, which intersects SR 50 (Cicero Avenue) along the airport's eastern edge. The most direct route downtown is on SR 50 north to I-55 north (Stevenson Expressway), then northeast to I-90/94 W. (Wisconsin) and east on Congress Parkway.
One of the most convenient ways to travel downtown Chicago is via rapid transit service on the CTA Orange Line. Elevated trains take travelers from Midway to the heart of the city in approximately 30 minutes. Visitors can board the train about every 15 minutes at the terminal just east of the airport building. The fare is $2.25. Ventra Cards and unlimited-ride multiday passes are available at station vending machines.
GO Airport Express, (888) 284-3826, provides buses to and from O’Hare and Midway to many downtown hotels, McCormick Place, Navy Pier and certain city and suburban neighborhoods. One-way fare from O’Hare to the Loop is $34; round-trip $62. One-way from Midway to downtown is $29; round-trip $52.
Airport trips from downtown are on average $32-$58 to O'Hare and $27-$48 to Midway. There's generally no charge for baggage or credit card use, and tipping, though optional, is appreciated for good service. Shared rides to downtown and McCormick Place are available with each passenger paying a flat fee. Wheelchair accessible vehicles also are available at Midway and O'Hare.
Street SystemIn driving around Chicago, as well as in approaching it, you should know where you are going and exactly how to get there. Plan your route in advance, particularly in regard to expressway interchanges, and be sure to keep a good street map handy.
Most Chicago streets follow an orderly grid running north-south and east-west. The few exceptions to this rule are outside the Loop—as downtown generally is known—and include N. Clark Street, N. Lincoln Avenue, Clybourn Avenue, Grand Avenue, Hyde Park Boulevard, Elston Avenue, I-90/94, N. Milwaukee Avenue, W. Ogden Avenue, S. Blue Island Avenue, S. Archer Avenue, S. Chicago Avenue and Lake Shore Drive.
State Street is the east-west bisector; Madison Street divides north from south. The intersection of State and Madison streets in the Loop is ground zero for the street numbering system; all addresses begin at this intersection. The uniform numbering system from this point is an added help in finding an address. Downtown street numbers increase by 100 every two blocks leading away from this central intersection; outside the Loop they increase by 100 every block. For example, 800 W. Madison St. would be 16 blocks west of State Street.
In the northern section of the city all streets are designated by name. In the south, beginning at 8th, most east-west streets are numbered consecutively, and only north-south streets are named.
Unless otherwise posted, the speed limit on most streets is 25 to 30 mph. U-turns are allowed only where indicated by a sign. Many downtown streets are one-way. Rush hours, from 6 to 10 a.m. and 3 to 7 p.m., should be avoided.
ParkingThe downtown Loop area has metered street parking but there is little open due to the heavy volume of determined drivers, and fines for parking violations are steep and towing, a real possibility. Instead, take advantage of the city's numerous lots and garages.
Some of the larger garages downtown are beneath Grant Park on N. Michigan and S. Michigan avenues and S. Columbus Drive near Monroe Street; beneath Millennium Park on S. Columbus Drive near Monroe; and on Museum Campus, north of Soldier Field on McFetridge Drive. Other Museum Campus garages and lots, all accessed via 18th Street and Lake Shore Drive, include one south of Adler Planetarium off Solidarity Drive (cash only); southeast of The Field Museum and south of it on Museum Campus Drive; and at Burnham Park Harbor at Waldron and Museum Campus drives. Rates range on average from $21-$30 for 1-2 hours to $39-$40 for 8-24 hours at Grant Park and from $26 for 1-3 hours to $30-$35 for 12-24 hours at Millennium Park. Full-day rates at Museum Campus average $22-$49. Rates may be higher during special events.
There are many other public and private garages and lots, both downtown and on the outskirts; rates can be as high as $40 a day.
TaxisExpect to pay for the privilege of taking a taxi within city limits. Cabs are metered, with a basic charge of $3.25 plus $2.25 for each additional mile. Further charges for waiting time, extra passengers, higher than normal gas prices and airport trips can add up. Taxi companies typically charge $1 for the first additional passenger ages 12-65, and 50c for each additional passenger after that. When gas prices rise, companies may include a fuel surcharge. Cab riders also pay tolls.
The largest cab company is Yellow, (312) 829-4222.
Public TransportationChicago has one of the nation's most convenient and accessible public transportation systems, serving the entire metro area. Metra commuter trains, augmented by Pace suburban buses and the Chicago Transit Authority's (CTA) extensive network of buses and subway/elevated “L” trains, connect suburbanites to the heart of the city. Stations are throughout the city; each has a color-coded map showing the system's myriad routes.
Rapid rail trains provide service around the city proper, north to Evanston, south to 95th Street and west to both airports. Routes are designated by colors and offer varying schedules. The Red and Blue lines (subway in the Loop) operate daily 24 hours. The Orange, Brown, Purple, Green, Pink and Yellow lines “L” all have different schedules, most beginning in the early morning hours and ending after midnight; not all lines stopping in the Loop operate on weekends. The trains operate every 5 to 12 minutes during weekday rush hours, every 8 to 20 minutes at other times. Schedules are posted in each station.
All CTA buses are accessible and provide service throughout the city and 35 surrounding suburbs. The route number, name and destination of each vehicle are clearly displayed on the windshield sign, and many bus shelters offer graphical maps highlighting the routes. Service is offered daily, with most schedules beginning in the early morning and ending around midnight; some buses run on a more limited schedule.
In general, the fare for all CTA vehicles is $2.25 when paying cash (no transfer allowed for cash fares); exact change is required on buses and at the train station Ventra Card vending machines. (Dollar bills and coins are accepted; credit and debit cards are accepted at select train stations.)
To pay for CTA fares, riders have the option of purchasing a reloadable Ventra Card, available at train stations, the Ventra Customer Service Center (165 N. Jefferson St.), select retail locations, online or by phone, (877) 669-8368; a $5 purchase fee is imposed. Ventra Cards permit an additional two rides (25c deducted on first bus-to-bus transfer, second transfer free), provided they occur within 2 hours and are not on the rider's original route. Children under 7 with a fare-paying adult ride free. For riders who do not purchase a reloadable Ventra Card, a single-use Ventra Ticket is available at train station Ventra Card vending machines for $3 (includes $2.25 full fare, $0.50 limited-use fee and $0.25 transfer fee).
CTA offers unlimited multiday passes good for a specified time period. A 1-day pass costs $10; a 3-day pass, $20; a 7-day pass, $28; a 7-day CTA/Pace pass, $33. Passes can be loaded onto Ventra Cards or purchased separately at vending machines at select locations, including the CTA train stations at O’Hare and Midway, and at select retail locations, the Ventra Customer Service Center, online or by phone.
For additional information phone CTA at 836-7000 from any of the local area codes (224, 312, 331, 630, 708, 773, 779, 815, 847, 872). The handy “Downtown Transit Sightseeing Guide” illustrating the CTA system is available at train stations and both airports, or phone (888) 968-7282. For information about the Ventra Card system phone 877-669-8368.
Note: As in any major city, it pays to be cautious when using public transportation. Know where you are going, which trains to take before boarding and avoid after-dark travel.
About the City
Sales TaxIllinois sales tax is 6.25 percent; cities and counties impose additional increments. The Chicago area has a lodging tax of 17.4 percent.
Whom To Call
HospitalsMercy Hospital & Medical Center, (312) 567-2000; Northwestern Memorial Hospital, (312) 926-2000; Resurrection Medical Center, (773) 774-8000; Saint Anthony Hospital, (773) 484-1000; The University of Chicago Medicine, (773) 702-1000; University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System, (866) 600-2273.
Where To Look and Listen
NewspapersThe two major dailies are the Tribune and the Sun-Times, both morning papers. These are supplemented by smaller journals and foreign-language papers.
Chicago Reader, a free weekly newspaper; Time Out Chicago; and Chicago, a monthly magazine, are helpful for visitors. Key—This Week in Chicago, Concierge Preferred and Where are available at most major hotels in the metropolitan area and provide entertainment and event information. The Choose Chicago Visitors Guide also is available at the majority of hotels.
RadioRadio station WBBM (780 AM) is an all-news/weather station; WLS (890 AM) is talk radio; WGN (720 AM) is news/talk radio and the voice of Chicago Cubs Baseball; WBEZ (91.5 FM) is a member of National Public Radio.
Visitor InformationVisitor Information Center Macy's State Street 111 N. State St. (lower level) CHICAGO, IL 60602. Phone:(312)781-1000
Air TravelO'Hare International Airport (ORD)—17 miles northwest of the city—is served by major domestic and foreign carriers. Midway International Airport (MDW), though smaller and serviced by far fewer carriers than O'Hare, is closer to the Loop—only 8 miles southwest of downtown.
Rental CarsChicago is served by major car rental agencies. Arrangements should be made before you leave on your trip; your local AAA club can provide this assistance or additional information. Hertz, (312) 372-7600 or (800) 654-3080, offers discounts to AAA members.
Rail ServiceChicago Union Station, 225 S. Canal St., is the city's main train depot and Amtrak's local hub. Trains run to both coasts and well into the South, with stops at most major cities along the routes; phone (800) 872-7245.
BusesGreyhound Lines Inc. has its station at 630 W. Harrison St.; phone (312) 408-5821 or (800) 231-2222.
TaxisTaxis are readily available in Chicago.
Public TransportationTransportation by train and bus is available in Chicago.
Bari D / flickr
EssentialsLet yourself be whisked 1,353 feet up the Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower) in a high-speed elevator to Skydeck Chicago (233 S. Wacker Dr.), where you can view the entire city spread out before you and, on a clear day, see four states.
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Savor a slice of Chicago-style pizza (also known as stuffed or deep-dish), but try not to draw too much attention to yourself when you make the yummy sound. Lou Malnati's Pizzeria (439 N. Wells St.) in the Near North district is known for its signature crispy crusts.
Ride the “L” (Chicago's ELevated mass transit trains) around the Loop and enjoy an up-close look at downtown Chicago's historic architecture that you can't get from the ground, or for another perspective, take a boat tour along the Chicago River and Lake Michigan shoreline.
Nick Harris / flickr
Experience live blues music at the free, 3-day Chicago Blues Festival in June in Grant Park at the lakefront or visit one of the blues clubs scattered about “Sweet Home Chicago.”
Limber up your shopping muscles and spend an afternoon hunting for that must-have item or tracking the latest styles along the Magnificent Mile, that boutique-crowded section of North Michigan Avenue between Oak Street and the Chicago River.
iStockphoto.com / ferrantraite
Snap a photo in front of Buckingham Memorial Fountain (Columbus Dr. & Congress Pkwy.) in Grant Park with either the Chicago skyline as a background or the lovely lakeshore, which during warm weather will no doubt be crowded with joggers, bikers and skaters.
Tour suburban Oak Park to see the groundbreaking work of Frank Lloyd Wright, often called America's greatest architect, whose home and studio stands amidst several of his Prairie-style masterpieces.
Dodge jets of water spewing from The Crown Fountain's twin video towers or photograph your warped reflection in the funhouse mirrorlike surface of “Cloud Gate” (aka The Bean), both in Millennium Park (N. Michigan Ave. & E. Randolph St.).
Ponder the lost-looking souls passing time in an all-night diner in Edward Hopper's masterpiece “Nighthawks” or imagine yourself strolling in a 19th-century park with the fashionable Parisians of Georges Seurat's Neo-impressionist painting “A Sunday on La Grande Jatte” during a visit to The Art Institute of Chicago (111 S. Michigan Ave.).
Watch chicks hatch, witness artificial lightning bolts arc through the air, descend into a re-created coal mine, and climb aboard a German submarine captured during World War II at the Museum of Science and Industry (5700 S. Lake Shore Dr.), a beautiful 1893 building packed with hundreds of entertaining and educational science exhibits.
Press your nose against the thick acrylic windows of the Wild Reef Exhibit and feel like you're swimming with the eels, lionfish and sharks inside or wander through a reproduction of an Amazon rainforest at the Shedd Aquarium (1200 S. Lake Shore Dr.).
Marcin Wichary / flickr
Top Picks for Kids
Under 13Forget about those wildlife shows on HD TV, the Brookfield Zoo (8400 W. 31st St.) lets kids watch real-life animal antics up close. See bears swimming at Great Bear Wilderness and dolphins leaping at Seven Seas. Cameras let the whole family spy on Mexican gray wolves, while another exhibit re-creates a tropical rain forest.
For child-friendly entertainment, go to the historic Navy Pier (600 E. Grand Ave.), within walking distance from the Loop. Chicago Children's Museum (700 E. Grand Ave.) engages young ones with an exhibit about the city's skyscrapers, a dinosaur dig site, a jungle gym that looks like a schooner and an art studio with activities for toddlers. Outside you have plenty to see and do as well, including the Centennial Wheel, a carousel and an IMAX theater.
Chicagoans rightfully boast about their city's theater scene, and kids aren't left out. Some companies with kid-friendly fare include: Emerald City Theatre (Apollo Theater, 2540 N. Lincoln Ave.); Adventure Stage Chicago (Vittum Theater, 1012 N. Noble St.); and Chicago Children's Theatre (Ruth Page Center for the Arts, 1016 N. Dearborn St.). Even Second City offers a family version of their comedic shows with Go, Improv, Go! (UP Comedy Club, 230 W. North Ave.).
Carl Wycoff / flickr
Brent HOfacker / 123RF.com
Even the most hard-to-impress adolescent daredevils will hesitate before boarding the extreme roller coasters at Six Flags Great America (542 SR 21N) in Gurnee, which includes X Flight, a coaster that suspends passengers on either side of the track and flies through five inversions.
All AgesImagine a photo of your family standing in a glass booth jutting out 1,353 feet above the streets of Chicago. It's a view brought to you by Skydeck Chicago (233 S. Wacker Dr.), the sky-high observation level at 110-story Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower).
Finicky eaters should have no problem finding something they like at Chicago's annual Taste of Chicago (S. Michigan Ave. & E. Monroe Dr.) in Grant Park . Held in mid-July, this mega-festival of food and summer fun features music acts and food tents from restaurants throughout the city. Younger kids will love the face painting, board games and hands-on activities at Taste's Family Village.
The echoing halls of The Field Museum (1400 S. Lake Shore Dr.), are liable to impress kids of all ages, especially because they are chock-full of leering, fossilized skulls of long-extinct monsters. There's even a program called “Dozin' with the Dinos” allowing kids ages 6-12 to spend the night in the museum's dinosaur exhibition.
Although the Museum of Science and Industry (5700 S. Lake Shore Dr.), first opened its doors in 1933, the hands-on science exhibits inside are strictly cutting edge. You'll see eye-popping, high-tech displays on everything from anatomy to the internet including working factory robots, an Apollo 11 training module and a swirling 40-foot tornado re-creation.
Ed Bierman / flickr
iStockphoto.com / funstock
Magnificent MileEven if you hate shopping and only set foot in a store when absolutely necessary, you owe it to yourself to stroll along the stretch of Michigan Avenue running from the Chicago River north to Oak Street in Chicago's Near North Side. This glass, steel and concrete canyon bears the august designation of “The Magnificent Mile,” a title that would seem like just another overwrought marketing gimmick cooked up by Chicago tourism boosters if it wasn't—in many senses—true.
And what's so magnificent about it? First, there's all the high-end merchandise available. Cartier, Chanel, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Saks Fifth Avenue, Tiffany & Co., Van Cleef & Arpels, Zara, the list goes on. It's a who's who of luxury retailers catering to people who aren't concerned with little things like budgets or price tags. If you're at all interested in how the other half lives, or if you are a member in good standing of that fortunate other half, then The Magnificent Mile certainly lives up to its name.
And speaking of malls, The Magnificent Mile has a few of those, too. Instead of sprawling across acres and acres as they do in the burbs, these big-city shopping centers occupy multiple levels in tall buildings. Among Chicago's signature vertical malls are The Shops at North Bridge (520 N. Michigan Ave.), anchored by Nordstrom; Water Tower Place (835 N. Michigan Ave.), anchored by Macy's and American Girl Place; and 900 North Michigan Shops (900 N. Michigan Ave.), anchored by Bloomingdale's.
As if this weren't enough, most of the side streets leading to Michigan Avenue are lined with even more stores. And once you've reached the northern end of the mile, you know you've arrived at Chicago's ritzy Gold Coast neighborhood when you turn the corner on Oak Street and see brownstones occupied by salons, spas and more upscale boutiques: Agent Provocateur, Hermès, Jimmy Choo and Kate Spade New York among them. Rush Street, which intersects with Oak, also has several specialty stores, including UGG Australia, lululemon and Intermix.
Beyond all the glitz, glamour and raw consumerism you can revel in along The Mag Mile, there are restaurants, mall food courts and hotels. You'll find more accommodations here in the Near North Side than just about any other neighborhood in Chicago, making the Mile as much a tourist district as Grant Park and the museums farther south.
You'll also come across some of Chicago's most recognizable buildings here including the castlelike Historic Water Tower (survivor of the Great Fire), the distinctive Chicago Tribune and Wrigley buildings and soaring John Hancock Center, as well as newer landmarks such as the five-story flagship Burberry store (633 N. Michigan Ave.), a black-glass box overlaid with a dark steel lattice in the classic Burberry tartan pattern. At night the lattice is backlit by LEDs with seriously eye-catching results.
And apparently believing that all the window-browsing and people-watching might not be enough to keep shoppers coming back, the local business association keeps things festive throughout the year by changing out elaborate seasonal garden displays in sidewalk planters: flowers in spring, lush tropical foliage in summer, twinkling lights in tree branches during fall and winter. Adding to this shopping mecca's charm: horse-drawn carriages for hire navigating the busy avenue.
Old Town/River North
iStockphoto.com / Cebas
In addition to some interesting independent clothing and accessory retailers, there are stores selling fudge, stationery, specialty olive oils and vinegars, tobacco and even one dedicated entirely to exotic spices. Enhancing the experience are sidewalk cafés, shade trees, a series of plaques describing Old Town's history and intricate wrought-iron gateways every few blocks bearing signs reminding you what neighborhood you're in.
Greenheart Shop (1714 N. Wells St.) is a gift store selling all sorts of handcrafted items from around the world—decorative pillows, rustic knickknacks, baskets, fabrics, jewelry—everything tastefully displayed. Greenheart wears its social and environmental consciousness on its sleeve: Everything they sell is eco-friendly and obtained through fair trade practices.
P.O.S.H. , in the Tree Studios building at 613 N. State St., is an eclectic shop in the River North neighborhood specializing in rare, one-of-a-kind gift items perfect for those who are hard to buy for. You'll come across interesting conversation pieces such as flea market finds, fine china and glassware, and vintage hotel silver.
Just a couple blocks south of P.O.S.H., After-Words New and Used Books (23 E. Illinois St.) is a rare bird in the era of online book buying and e-readers: an actual brick-and-mortar store boasting a huge collection of paper books displayed on two floors, including a large children's section. For those who enjoy physically handling their next favorite novel, After-Words is one of the few independent stores remaining in downtown Chicago.
Lincoln ParkAlthough it's the unrivaled centerpiece of the Chicago shopping experience, The Magnificent Mile isn't the only game in town. About 2 miles north in the affluent Lincoln Park neighborhood, several blocks west of its namesake park, is a shopping district with a far more intimate, low-profile character. Instead of skyscrapers and vertical malls, the buildings here are mostly beautifully ornamented Victorian row houses with fanciful turrets and three- and four-story brick commercial buildings. The easiest way to get there is to take the Brown Line train to Armitage Avenue. Shops are concentrated along Armitage east to Halsted Street, on Halsted north to Webster Avenue, and on Webster west of Halsted.
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Big-box stores and national chains such as Jos. A. Bank can be found along the Clybourn Corridor, a commercial district centered on and around Clybourn Avenue between Wrightwood Avenue in the north and Larrabee Street in the south.
A few blocks farther north, Rotofugi Designer Toy Store & Gallery (2780 N. Lincoln Ave.) is a worthwhile stop. You can acquire something refreshingly different for your kids (or yourself) at the shop, which contains a cornucopia of amusing vinyl goodies—there's some cool artwork, too.
Wicker Park/BucktownFor a funky alternative to Chicago's fancy boutiques, head to Wicker Park and the adjacent neighborhood known as Bucktown. The Blue Line's Damen Station is the most convenient, since shops are concentrated near where Damen, North and Milwaukee avenues come together. Far less gentrified than Old Town and Lincoln Park, the Wicker Park/Bucktown area is younger, edgier and more diverse, and the stores lining Damen north to Armitage, Milwaukee south to Division and Division west to Damen reflect that Bohemian character.
iStockphoto.com / Michael Czosnek
One local favorite is Una Mae's (1528 N. Milwaukee Ave.), a stylish boutique that's two stores in one. Upstairs it's a little like Urban Outfitters, with contemporary brands of men's and women's clothing, accessories, skincare products and household items. Downstairs, the basement is filled with carefully selected vintage clothing—the goods Una Mae's originally became famous for when it opened 20 years ago.
Just up the block stands another Milwaukee Avenue institution: Myopic Books (1564 N. Milwaukee Ave.). Don't try to step in for a quick survey of the merchandise. Myopic's narrow aisles lined with shelves jam-packed with used books are likely to lure you ever deeper inside, and you would not be the first customer to emerge hours later wondering where the time went.
One of Wicker Park's landmarks is the Flat Iron Arts Building nestled in the crook of North and Milwaukee avenues. Described as an “urban arts colony,” this three-story Greek Revival building constructed in 1913 now houses artist studios and intimate theaters, and its intriguing warren of creative work spaces are open to the public. Visit on the first Friday evening of the month, and artists will invite you into their studios with entertainment provided by dancers, musicians and acting troupes.
The LoopOf course, one of Chicago's most famous districts is its downtown core known as the Loop , named for the circle of elevated train tracks that mark its boundaries. Unfortunately, shopping in the Loop is not what it used to be. Marshall Field's and Carson Pirie Scott—the grand old department stores that once anchored the area—are gone, and tellingly it's now called the State Street Retail Historic District, stress on the historic.
But not all the Loop's retail glory is in the past. Macy's State Street (111 N. State St.) now occupies the historic Marshall Field's store, where the iconic clocks still tick away the hours at the building's northwest and southwest corners, and inside shoppers still crane their necks to view the beautiful 1907 Tiffany & Co. vaulted mosaic ceiling above the five-story atrium.
Across the street is the Block 37 (108 N. State St.) vertical mall with stores spanning the alphabet from Anthropologie to Zara. Nearby discount departments stores, suburban mall-type chains, book stores and souvenir shops are everywhere. Macy's and Block 37 are linked underground by the Chicago Pedway system, which connects more than 40 city blocks and dozens of buildings in the Loop, making shopping during the area's formidable winters a far more pleasant experience than it would be otherwise.
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spaetz / flickr
Near North SideIf you're staying at a hotel downtown, odds are good you're either in the Loop or the Near North Side where the lion's share of hotels are. Although they don't quite roll up the Loop's sidewalks after 5 p.m., your late-night entertainment options in Chicago's main business district are limited. Fortunately the Near North Side is just a short cab or train ride away.
One experience you shouldn't miss, especially if this is your first visit to the Windy City, is a dose of that particular flavor of blues music born here in the middle of the last century. In the Near North Side's River North district, Blue Chicago on Clark (536 N. Clark St.) specializes in just such an experience. Locals might complain how touristy these places are, but if you want a Chicago blues souvenir to take back home—say a poster, T-shirt or CD—you've come to the right place. More importantly, the music is great, with some of Chicago's best singers and musicians performing here (count on hearing “Sweet Home Chicago”). Phone (312) 661-0100 for Blue Chicago on Clark.
Nearby the Underground Wonder Bar (710 N. Clark St.) has been hosting jazz and blues jam sessions into the wee hours since singer/songwriter Lonie Walker opened the original location in 1989. The venue looms large in the River North music scene, and its history is documented in the posters and signed photos crammed onto the walls. While jazz and blues dominate the weekly schedule, don't be surprised to hear folk, funk and reggae in this casual night spot; phone (312) 266-7761. For more music memorabilia and fun, the Hard Rock Cafe is not far away at 63 W. Ontario St.
You can savor a well-mixed cocktail at the sophisticated Gilt Bar (230 W. Kinzie St.). Head downstairs Thursday through Saturday to the dimly lit “library,” reminiscent of the Gilded Age and an intimate space for dinner and drinks; phone (312) 464-9544. Journey to the South Pacific—at least the kitschy, idealized version that was all the rage in the 1950s—at Three Dots and a Dash (435 N. Clark St.), where the drinks are strong, mixed with fresh fruit juice, and served in festive mugs shaped like seashells, skulls and tiki gods. The décor is a blend of 21st-century chic and traditional 20th-century tiki bar, and although the crowds can be daunting, once you've made it inside, you'll be enchanted by the fun tiki atmosphere. You'll find the easy-to-miss entrance down an alley off Hubbard Street just east of Clark. Phone (312) 610-4220.
Specializing in bubbly, Pops for Champagne (601 N. State St.) offers a dizzying choice of champagnes and sparkling wines and live jazz Sunday through Tuesday in a stylish, modern setting complete with flat screen televisions, high-tech lighting and glossy tabletops made of glass, granite and marble. Downstairs from the street-level entrance is Watershed , a premium lounge where you can sample spirits and beers from the Great Lakes region while nibbling on wonderful pates, cheeses, small plates of comfort bar food and desserts. Phone (312) 266-7677.
A perfect place to meet friends and enjoy a glass of wine with dinner before exploring the Near North Side's other nightspots is Bandera American Cooking (535 N. Michigan Ave.), where tables bask beneath focused spotlights, creating a stage for delicious salads and gourmet takes on such homey staples as rotisserie chicken with skillet cornbread. Arrive before sunset and enjoy the second-floor views of bustling Michigan Avenue, and if you decide to linger on into the evening, you'll be treated to live jazz music. Phone (312) 644-3524.
An alternative to Bandera just a couple blocks away is Sable Kitchen & Bar (505 N. State St.) in the trendy Hotel Palomar. Serving a changing menu of craft cocktails with intriguing names like War of the Roses and Fools in Paradise, Sable also keeps things interesting with its small plates, which are created to accompany the one-of-a-kind libations. Pretzel bites with smoked cheese, Wisconsin fried cheese curds, and pork belly prepared in a variety of ways are some of Sable's most popular dishes. Phone (312) 755-9704.
Chicago's skyscrapers are among the highest in the world, and a trip up to the observation level at either the Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower) where you can step onto The Ledge or The Magnificent Mile's 360 CHICAGO (formerly the John Hancock Observatory) for a birds-eye view is an essential Chicago experience. Two nighttime twists on this include the Architect's Corner Café and Bar at 360 CHICAGO and The Signature Room at the 95th (875 N. Michigan Ave.). The Signature Room's Art Deco-style prints and murals are nice, the cocktails diverse and tasty (though expensive), but make no mistake, it's the sweeping vista that really draws the crowds. Because it's so popular, be prepared for a wait most evenings; phone (312) 787-9596.
Oenophiles can travel a couple of blocks east to DiSotto Enotecca (200 E. Chestnut St.), a wine bar tucked below street level. The small, cozy nook resembles a wine cellar and has inviting accents like rustic brick walls, a fireplace and leather club chairs—knowledgeable servers will help you navigate the list; phone (312) 482-8727.
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Other high-end hotels in the neighborhood have lounges with their own particular charms. The posh Four Seasons Hotel Chicago (120 E. Delaware Pl.) has the beautifully appointed Allium Bar , an intimate place filled with rich woods, freshly cut flowers and glimmering brass chandeliers. The seventh-floor setting is so sumptuous (although windowless), you might feel under-dressed no matter what you're wearing despite business casual being the general rule among bar patrons. Phone (312) 280-8800.
At the nearby Park Hyatt Chicago (800 N. Michigan Ave.) is the NoMI Garden an outdoor summer terrace on the seventh floor that's perfect for an early evening drink and a sushi appetizer. It's a pricey splurge (it is The Magnificent Mile after all) but enjoying the balmy weather surrounded by skyscrapers—the traffic noise muffled by the terrace's height—is worth it. Phone (312) 239-4030.
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Kingston Mines offers a kind of two-for-one deal by keeping two bands playing on two stages at the same time; phone (773) 477-4646. The cover at B.L.U.E.S. is usually cheaper, the setting a bit grittier and more intimate; phone (773) 528-1012. On Sundays, for either admission, you can go back and forth between the two clubs for the evening.
The Second City (1616 N. Wells St.), near the border of Lincoln Park and Old Town, has kept audiences in stitches since 1959. The troupe has catapulted an impressive array of comedic geniuses into the limelight, with a roster graced by such legends as John Belushi, Gilda Radner, Mike Myers, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Stephen Colbert. The venue continues to be a staging ground for fresh stand-up and improvisational talent, and if you like comedy, this is a not-to-be-missed Chicago experience (it's a tight squeeze, so prepare to be a little cramped). Phone (312) 337-3992.
Lincoln Park also has an excellent site for live performances, Lincoln Hall (2424 N. Lincoln Ave.), a converted movie theater built in 1912. Shows are varied and include less-mainstream pop and folk singers on the schedule. Phone (773) 525-2501.
In thoroughly gentrified Lincoln Park, Delilah's (2771 N. Lincoln Ave.) is a bit of an anomaly—dim, rough around the edges and specializing in blaring punk and metal rock music—which is why it's so popular. Add a fantastic selection of beers and an overwhelming menu of whiskeys, and you have two floors of authentic, gritty, urban hangout that's been a neighborhood favorite since it opened nearly 25 years ago. Phone (773) 472-2771.
Since screaming to be heard over hard-core punk rock might not make for the most romantic of evenings, then The Barrelhouse Flat (2624 N. Lincoln Ave.) offers an appealing date-night alternative with an upscale speakeasy ambience and a cocktail list that will impress even the most jaded connoisseur. The bartenders here are serious about their art, and if you appreciate the classics (think old fashioneds, mint juleps, Manhattans and whiskey sours), then The Barrelhouse Flat is the place to be. There's also a seasonal drink menu that changes every couple months. Phone (773) 857-0421.
Lakeview/BoystownAbout a mile up the road brings you into the Lakeview neighborhood and the gay enclave centered on Halsted Street known as Boystown. Several gay bars and dance clubs line Halsted, but one on Belmont Avenue has welcomed a diverse crowd of gays and straights since the 1980s. Virtually in the shadow of the Red Line's elevated tracks, Berlin (954 W. Belmont Ave.) is known for its first-rate sound system as well as its eclectic play lists, décor and patrons. Berlin's live-and-let-live style hearkens back to the anything-goes cabarets of Europe in the ‘20s but updated to appeal to 21st-century clubbers. Weekly theme nights are dedicated to electronica, alternative, pop and old school. Phone (773) 348-4975.
Combining an extensive menu of craft beers and cocktails with free vintage arcade video games and pinball machines, Headquarters Beercade Lakeview (2833 N. Sheffield Ave.) is a bar that lives up to its motto, emblazoned in pink neon inside: “Don't grow up it's a trap.” The spacious interior is a part retro fun house, part scrapyard DIY project complete with creatively reused gas pump nozzle light fixtures and a wall clad in Nintendo video game cartridges. Pop art murals, comic books repurposed as menus and posters celebrating 20th-century movies and TV shows complete the setting. More importantly, the beer choices are numerous and reasonably priced, and the video games are free. Phone (773) 665-5660.
WrigleyvilleJust north of the Boystown district in Lakeview is Wrigley Field, centerpiece of a sports bar-packed neighborhood unsurprisingly called Wrigleyville. Evenings here generally come in two flavors: game and non-game days. When Chicago's beloved Cubs are playing at home, the atmosphere in the area resembles a carnival with crowds of raucous fans living it up. On non-game days the mood can still be pretty festive but without the hordes.
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Gman Tavern (3740 N. Clark St.), across the alley from Metro and Smart Bar, offers a laid-back place for a beer and a game of pool with friends before the show starts next door. Film buffs might recognize Gman as one of the pool halls from the 1986 Tom Cruise/Paul Newman film, “The Color of Money.” Phone (773) 549-2050.
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Jazz aficionados make the trek to Jazz Showcase (806 S. Plymouth Ct.), highly touted for its acoustics. Top-name acts are typically on the roster, and the audience appreciates the open space, easygoing vibe and retro ambience. Get here early to snuggle on one of the comfy couches; phone (312) 360-0234.
If you like your jazz served with a well-made martini, then M Lounge (1520 S. Wabash Ave.) is your kind of place. This sleek, stylish bar is more of a neighborhood hangout than a tourist attraction, but its dimly lit, welcoming atmosphere attracts visitors from far and wide as well, and on weekends it can get crowded. M Lounge features live jazz Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and the martinis really are excellent. Phone (312) 447-0201.
Wicker Park/BucktownAlthough a little gritty in places, the melting pot neighborhood of Wicker Park/Bucktown sets the stage for Chicago's bohemian scene, complete with hipsters, trendy restaurants and chic boutiques. Nightlife haunts are mostly laid-back, with a myriad of options to choose from depending on your mood.
To linger and sip an artfully crafted cocktail, duck into The Violet Hour (1520 N. Damen Ave.). If a line hasn't yet formed at the otherwise inconspicuous entrance, look for the slightest hint of a door in a blank wall that sometimes features a mural; there is no sign. Master mixologists create one-of-a-kind concoctions with top-notch ingredients in this intimate speakeasy. Phone (773) 252-1500.
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For cabaret-style entertainment, head to the back room at Davenport's (1383 N. Milwaukee Ave.) for a varying line-up of performers. There's also a cozy piano bar featuring open mike night on Monday; phone (773) 278-1830. If you're more into rock and alternative sounds, the Double Door (1551 N. Damen Ave.) has plenty of energy and room enough to dance, but be prepared to stand. Music is crank-it-up loud, either in the form of a live band or punk tunes pumped out of the sound system. If you need to have a conversation, the pool room downstairs is a quieter spot; phone (773) 489-3160.
Need a caffeine jolt to see you through a night out at the clubs? Stop by The Wormhole Coffee (1462 N. Milwaukee Ave.), which stays open relatively late for a coffee house (11 p.m.). Known as the place with the DeLorean, The Wormhole takes its light-hearted 1980s sci-fi theme rather seriously: Star Wars collectibles, vintage movie posters, video games and a real DeLorean car tricked out à la the time machine from “Back to the Future.” Phone (773) 661-2468.
If the Wormhole has whetted your appetite for retro kicks, stroll down the street to Emporium Arcade Bar (1366 N. Milwaukee Ave.), which has a little something for everyone: classic arcade games, pinball machines, live music or DJs (depending on the night) and a great selection of draft beers as well as liquor drinks. Who knows? Emporium Arcade may be your best chance at finally mastering Space Invaders. Phone (773) 697-7922.
For an interesting twist, enjoy the international theme at The Map Room (1949 N. Hoyne Ave.). Not only does the craft beer selection represent points throughout the globe, but patrons can peruse the immense collection of wall-to-wall maps and travel magazines serving as bar décor. Daily specials keep the diverse crowd coming back; phone (773) 252-7636.
Blues devotees should venture to the Logan Square area just west of Bucktown for an evening to remember at Rosa's Lounge (3420 W. Armitage Ave.), a local pick rumored to be a favorite of President Barack Obama. The small, unpretentious club hosts both up-and-comers and established acts; seating is limited, so book ahead; phone (773) 342-0452.
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Performing ArtsChicago's world-class cultural amenities set trends as well as standards. The arts are showcased in numerous venues and often are the focus of area events.
The city's artistic contributions can be seen within a variety of media, including television. Between 1949 and 1955 the Chicago School of Television, as five locally produced NBC programs came to be known, was heralded for broadcasting original ideas and utilizing inventive production techniques.
Ballets, concerts and legitimate theater productions with big-name entertainers are presented at Chicago's largest indoor theater, the Arie Crown Theater, (312) 791-6190, in McCormick Place at 23rd Street and the lakefront. McCormick Place is reputed to be the largest exhibition and trade show facility in the Northern Hemisphere, featuring major shows throughout the year. Performances also are held at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University, (312) 341-2310, 50 E. Congress Pkwy.; The Chicago Theatre, (312) 462-6300, on State and Lake streets; and Rosemont Theatre, (847) 671-5100, at 5400 N. River Rd. in Rosemont.
Other cultural centers that offer lectures and present dance and classical concerts include the Chicago Cultural Center , (312) 744-3316, at Michigan Avenue and Randolph Street, and the Noyes Cultural Arts Center, (847) 448-8260, 927 Noyes St., in nearby Evanston. Consult the newspapers for complete information.
DanceSmall and large dance ensembles bring fluid expression and graceful moves to every corner of the city. Among venues presenting dance are the Athenaeum Theatre, (800) 982-2787 or (773) 935-6860, at 2936 N. Southport Ave.; the Harris Theater for Music and Dance, (312) 334-7777, at 205 E. Randolph Dr. in Millennium Park; Links Hall, (773) 281-0824, at 3111 N. Western Ave.; and the Museum of Contemporary Art, (312) 397-4010, at 220 E. Chicago Ave.
Specializing in classical dance, Ballet Chicago, (312) 251-8838, has a fondness for Balanchine pieces. American styles are the forte of the Hubbard Street Dance Chicago troupe, (312) 850-9744, whose eclectic—and electric—performances honor such greats as Bob Fosse and Twyla Tharp. The Joffrey Ballet, (312) 739-0120, melds classic tradition and contemporary ideas into a unique vision of American dance.
Professional modern dance concerts are featured at the Dance Center of Columbia College, (312) 369-8330, 1306 S. Michigan Ave., which sponsors a varied schedule featuring local and visiting dance companies.
FilmChicago was the original Tinseltown. Film pioneers of the early 1900s produced short “moving pictures” through such ventures as Essanay Studios, employer of the young Charlie Chaplin.
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Music Box Theatre is a large movie house at 3733 N. Southport Ave., (773) 871-6604, which offers acclaimed art films, documentaries and foreign films. The Gene Siskel Film Center at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago at 164 N. State St., (312) 846-2800, augments its dynamic schedule of independent efforts, revivals and retrospectives with lectures and classes. The Chicago International Film Festival, (312) 332-3456 or (800) 982-2787, in October, and the Chicago Latino Film Festival, (312) 431-1330, starting the first Friday after Easter, are screened at select locations each year.
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The Ravinia Music Festival in Highland Park, a northern suburb, features a 14-week summer program, composed of a variety of concerts, dance and popular events presented daily. Internationally known artists and conductors take part. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra is featured for 6 weeks. For prices and information phone (847) 266-5100.
Chicago Chamber Musicians, (847) 521-8506, performs and sponsors respected touring groups. Performances are given at Rudolph Ganz Hall, 430 S. Michigan Ave. at Roosevelt University, at Mary B. Galvin Recital Hall, 70 Arts Circle Dr. at Northwestern University in Evanston, and at the Chicago Cultural Center.
Chicago Chamber Orchestra, (312) 857-3094, The Chicago Ensemble, (773) 558-3448, and the Musicians Club of Women strike an eclectic note with classical and contemporary concerts at the Fourth Presbyterian Church, 126 E. Chestnut St. The Chicago Ensemble also performs at International House at The University of Chicago, and the Musicians Club of Women also performs at the Chicago Cultural Center, (312) 744-3316. Music school students and faculty perform a variety of chamber music quarterly at DePaul Concert Hall, 800 W. Belden Ave. on the DePaul University campus. Performing on and off campus, Contempo is a new-music collective and part of The University of Chicago Presents classic concert series, (773) 702-8068.
The Grant Park Symphony Orchestra and Chorus entertains thousands of picnickers with free classical concerts at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park on most Tuesdays through Saturdays, mid-June to mid-August; phone (312) 742-7638 for the administrative offices.
One of Symphony Center's most revered traditions is the Christmastime performance of Handel's Messiah by the Apollo Chorus of Chicago, the city's oldest choir. The group also reprises the Messiah at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance, and gives spring concerts at other venues; for information phone (312) 427-5620. Formed under the auspices of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1957, the Chicago Symphony Chorus, (312) 294-3000, since has come into its own; it performs classical and modern pieces by itself and with the symphony at Symphony Center.
Music of the Baroque, (312) 551-1414, and the Newberry Consort, (773) 669-7335, focus primarily on early music but have branched out into other periods from time to time. The repertoire of Chicago a cappella, (773) 281-7820, covers the 9th to 20th centuries, and Chicago Chamber Choir, (312) 409-6890, is culturally diverse and international in scope. The William Ferris Chorale, (773) 508-2940, specializes in modern composers. All perform throughout the year at various sites.
OperaThe city's premier company, Lyric Opera of Chicago performs classical and contemporary works at Civic Opera House, (312) 332-2244, 20 N. Wacker Dr.
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The Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University, 50 E. Congress Pkwy., was designed by Louis Sullivan and Dankmar Adler in the 1880s and continues to serve as an active theater; phone (312) 341-2310. The Chicago Shakespeare Theater presents plays by the bard year-round at Navy Pier; phone (312) 595-5600.
Cultural diversity is a common thread in Court Theatre efforts at The University of Chicago, 5535 S. Ellis Ave., although the company also mines the classics on occasion; phone (773) 753-4472. Other companies reflecting the city’s multicultural makeup include the following: Silk Road Rising, 77 W. Washington St. at The Historic Chicago Temple Building, (312) 857-1234, presenting productions by playwrights of Asian American and Middle Eastern American heritage; Black Ensemble Theater, 4450 N. Clark St., (773) 769-4451, featuring original musicals celebrating famous African-American musicians; and Teatro Vista, (773) 599-9280, presenting works by cutting-edge Latino playwrights at a variety of venues including the Victory Gardens Theater.
Summer has attractions of its own. The Chicago Park District offers a summer theater, Theater on the Lake, held at various park locations throughout the city. Evening shows take place Wednesday through Sunday, mid-June to mid-August. Phone (312) 742-7994 for show locations and performance times.
The First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre a 12,000-seat outdoor amphitheater at Ridgeland Avenue and Flossmoor Road in Tinley Park, offers concerts by top-name performers; phone (708) 614-1616.
Chicago also has many notable off-Loop theaters as well as several suburban playhouses that have been converted from abandoned warehouses, old ballrooms and garages. Since the flood of talent that swept through the city's North Side in the mid-1970s, the off-Loop theater circuit has become a launching pad for several Broadway shows.
Prominent off-Loop theaters include Apollo Theater, (773) 935-6100, 2540 N. Lincoln Ave., which hosts Emerald City Theatre’s popular family theater productions; Royal George Theatre Center, (312) 988-9000, 1641 N. Halsted St.; and Victory Gardens Theater, (773) 871-3000, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave.
The Steppenwolf Theatre Company conquered Broadway in 1990 with its Tony award-winning rendition of “The Grapes of Wrath” and an original play by ensemble member Tracy Letts, “August: Osage County,” in 2007. The ensemble, which performs at 1650 N. Halsted St., is noted for daring performances by such actors as John Mahoney, John Malkovich, Laurie Metcalf and Gary Sinise; phone (312) 335-1650.
Among the best known suburban theaters are the Drury Lane Theatre & Conference Center, (630) 530-0111, 100 Drury Ln. in Oakbrook Terrace, and The Marriott Theatre, (847) 634-0200, 10 Marriott Dr. in Lincolnshire. In addition several colleges offer a variety of productions.
For interactive theater try the Neo-Futurists/The Neo-Futurarium, 5153 N. Ashland Ave., where offerings veer sharply off the beaten path; phone (773) 878-4557. Kids can talk to the cast after each Adventure Stage Chicago production at the Vittum Theater, 1012 N. Noble St.; phone (773) 342-4141. At the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie, 9501 Skokie Blvd., (847) 673-6300, new plays by emerging writers are showcased by the troupe of the Northlight Theatre, (847) 673-6300.
Half-price tickets for most Chicago plays can be purchased the week of to the day of the performance at the Hot Tix outlets. Outlets are located outside the Chicago Cultural Center at 72 E. Randolph St., or inside the Chicago Water Works building at 163 E. Pearson St., and are open Tues.-Sat. 10-6, Sun. 11-4. The Hot Tix outlet at 108 N. State St. is open Mon.-Sat. 10-6, Sun. 11-5.
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Sports & Rec“Chicago” and “sports” go together as well as the pickle spear that graces the Windy City’s namesake hotdog—which you can find at a great many games in town. From the early days of the Bears’ gridiron glory to the 1990s reign of Air Jordan to the Cubs winning the 2016 World Series, just about every single sport is here. It’s a year round affair cheering the hometown teams to glory.
While there’s nothing quite as exciting as being in the stands and seeing the action for yourself, there’s a quite a bit of local coverage given to games—both professional and college teams. Find out who is playing where and when on local news sites.
It might be the Windy City but Chicagoans don’t let a little breeze stop them from getting outside—not even in the chill of winter. The beach along Lake Michigan is quite popular during the season for sunbathers and swimmers. And winter offers a range of chilly fun and excursions—ice skating, cross-country skiing and even snowshoeing. The surrounding area is full of parks and recreational facilities to keep residents and visitors active no matter what the season is.
Information and details about the large variety of recreational facilities available in the Greater Chicago area can be obtained from the Chicago Park District, 541 N. Fairbanks Ct., which distributes free brochures describing all its offerings, licensing requirements and access locations; phone (312) 742-7529.
In addition the Forest Preserves of Cook County distributes free brochures, maps and information detailing recreational opportunities, including fishing, canoeing, kayaking and horseback riding, at its headquarters, 536 N. Harlem Ave. in River Forest. For more specific information regarding activities on the Forest Preserves' more than 69,000 acres, phone (800) 870-3666.
Motorsports enthusiasts can enjoy stock car racing at Chicagoland Speedway in nearby Joliet during the race season (February to November). The track hosts the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series, NASCAR XFINITY Series, NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and ARCA Racing Series. Champions Park, located next to the grandstands, offers fan-interactive displays and plaques commemorating past winners of NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series races; phone (815) 722-5500.
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College hoops fans have plenty of teams to cheer. The Chicago State University Cougars (both men's and women's teams) play at Emil and Patricia A. Jones Convocation Center, (773) 995-2217; the DePaul Blue Demons Men's Team take the court at Allstate Arena, 6920 N. Mannheim Rd. in Rosemont, (773) 325-7526; the DePaul Blue Demons Women's Team play on campus at McGrath-Phillips Arena; the Loyola Ramblers can be seen at the Loyola University Joseph J. Gentile Center, (773) 508-2560; the home games of the Northeastern Illinois University Golden Eagles are at their Physical Education Complex at 3600 W. Foster Ave., (773) 442-4135; the Northwestern Wildcats (both men's and women's teams) defend their court at the Welsh-Ryan Arena, 1501 Central St. in Evanston, (847) 491-2287; and the University of Illinois at Chicago Flames (both men's and women's teams) meet their opponents at the UIC Pavilion, 1150 W. Harrison St., (312) 413-5700. Note: Welsh-Ryan Arena is temporarily closed for renovations and is expected to reopen fall 2018; phone for alternate locations.
FootballThe Chicago Bears boast a long and gloried history dating to 1921, the year the team moved to the Windy City. Fans clad in orange and blue still fill the bleachers of Soldier Field and not even the bitter cold or wintry winds can keep them away; phone (847) 615-2327 for ticket information.
Oddly enough, the ultimate football town claims only one representative in NCAA Division I football: The Northwestern Wildcats. They take to the gridiron at Ryan Field, (847) 491-2287.
HockeyAll that northern cold makes Chicago a perfect home for hockey. Body checks and flying pucks are cheered with equal enthusiasm during the icy matchups of the 2010 and 2015 Stanley Cup Winners, the Chicago Blackhawks at United Center, (800) 745-3000, and during Chicago Wolves games at Allstate Arena, (847) 724-4625.
Horse RacingChicago may not be the first place you think of for pounding hooves and adrenalin found at the horse track. The Thoroughbreds run at Arlington International Racecourse, 25 miles northwest of Chicago in Arlington Heights at Euclid Avenue and Wilke Road. Races are held early May through September; post times vary. General admission is $10, $4 (ages 4-17); phone (847) 385-7500. Cicero's Hawthorne Race Course, 3501 S. Laramie Ave., offers Thoroughbred contests in spring and late fall. For information on post times phone (708) 780-3700.
Note: Policies concerning admittance of children to pari-mutuel betting facilities vary. Phone for information.
BicyclingCyclists will appreciate the 18-mile path paralleling Lake Michigan from Lincoln Park south to Rainbow Beach. Keep an eye open for joggers, power walkers and inline skaters as it's just as popular for them too. Unsurprisingly the areas with the best views while pushing pedals are around the museums and landscaped walkways of Lincoln and Grant parks.
Paths for bicycling also have been designated along some 20 miles of lakefront on the east bank of the North Shore Channel, the south end of which starts at W. Argyle Street. These paths are not continuous, and bicyclists can bypass intervening thoroughfares via underpasses to the next trail. The path resumes on the west bank of the channel and continues north into the suburb of Skokie.
The Forest Preserves of Cook County maintains more than 100 miles of bicycle trails winding through Cook County's bucolic countryside. Bicyclists can ride continuously on the North Branch Class 1 Bicycle Trail from Caldwell and Devon to Lake County, about 20 miles north. The trail winds along the North Branch of the Chicago River, Skokie Lagoons and through the Chicago Botanic Garden. In addition there are 15 additional trail systems throughout the county, as well as more than 200 miles of multiuse trails that can be used for a myriad of activities, including hiking and horseback riding.
Traveling to the Windy City but left your bike at home? Equipment rentals are available from Wheel & Sprocket in Evanston at 1027 Davis St., (847) 864-7660; Bobby's Bike Hike at 540 N. Lake Shore Dr., (312) 245-9300; and at Bike and Roll Chicago's locations: Millennium Park and Navy Pier. Bike and Roll Chicago also offers tours of the city, free trail maps and Segway tours; phone (312) 729-1000.
Another option is Divvy, Chicago's bicycle-sharing system. Two-wheelers may be rented and returned at any number of self-service kiosks found throughout the city. A 24-hour pass costs $9.95, which includes unlimited trips of 30 minutes or less; an annual membership is available. Phone (855) 553-4889 for more information.
A free copy of the “Chicago Bike Map” is available from the Chicago Department of Transportation, (312) 742-2453. Other cycling information is available from the Active Transportation Alliance, (312) 427-3325.
FishingLocal waterways teem with varying combinations of smallmouth bass, carp, panfish, perch, brown trout, steelhead, walleye, salmon and catfish. Harbors, piers and jetties along the Lake Michigan shoreline are popular, as are the Chicago Park District's two dozen ponds and lagoons. An Illinois fishing license is required for fishing in any Illinois waters. Some local baits shops sell licenses; for information phone (800) 705-4164. For license, fishing and other area recreation information, phone the Illinois Department of Natural Resources at (217) 782-6302.
Besides designated Chicago piers on Lake Michigan—Montrose Harbor, 4400 N. Monrose Ave.; Belmont Harbor, 3600 N. Lake Shore Dr.; Diversey Harbor, 2700 N. Lake Shore Dr.; DuSable Harbor, 111 N. Lake Shore Dr.; 31st Street Pier, 3100 S. Lake Shore Dr.; Casino Pier (63rd Street Beach), 6400 S. Lake Shore Dr.; Calumet Park, 9600 S. Walton Dr.—lake fishing is permitted except where designated otherwise.
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Catch some coho, chinook salmon, steelhead and brown trout on Lake Michigan. Charter boats are available for such aspirations. Anglers must comply with state laws, and ages 16 and older must have a valid license. Residents need a season license or a 24-hour Lake Michigan license; nonresidents can purchase a 24-hour, a 3-day (consecutive) or annual license. The annual non-resident license is $31.50, 3-day $15.50, 24-hour $10.50, and the salmon and trout stamp is an additional $6.50 each.
GolfChicago's harsh winters leave golfers yearning for spring. Golf enthusiasts can choose from the one 18-hole and seven nine-hole courses of the Chicago Park District or from the 10 courses, four driving ranges and a miniature golf course owned by Forest Preserve Golf. Hours of operation and seasons vary. Generally, golf is possible from late March until November, depending upon weather and course conditions. Some courses may be open throughout winter; phone ahead.
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Reduced fees are offered by the Forest Preserve Golf after 3 p.m. Twilight golf is offered at Meadowlark, Highland Woods and Indian Boundary courses. Special discounts are available for activity card holders, residents over 62 and under 18. Forest Preserve golf cards cost $37 for Cook County residents and $42 for non-residents. Rates may vary; phone ahead. Clubs and pull carts can be rented at the concession shops. For information about fees and tee times or to use an automated 24-hour tee-time registration system phone (800) 460-0010.
HikingNature lovers can enjoy the more than 200 miles of scenic trails winding through the Forest Preserves of Cook County's prairie wilderness.
For hiking enthusiasts willing to travel outside Chicago proper, there are a few local parks and trails whose hiking trails feature stunning vistas: Moraine Hills State Park, 1510 S. River Rd. in McHenry, (815) 385-1624; Waterfall Glen Trail, a half mile south of exit 273A (S. Cass Ave.) off Northgate Rd. in Darien, (630) 933-7200; Tekakwitha Woods, 35W076 Villa Maria Rd. in St. Charles, (630) 232-5980.
Horseback RidingThe Forest Preserves of Cook County also maintains bridle paths winding through the Cook County landscape. A rider license and horse tag are required; annual packages, which include a rider's license and horse tag, are available through the preserve district, $35 for Cook County residents and $50 for non-residents. An Equestrian Day Pass is available if you only intend to go out riding for one day, $5 for both Cook County residents and non-residents. Phone (800) 870-3666 for information about trailer parking, horse stables with livery service, licenses and trail maps. Glen Grove Equestrian Center (9453 Harms Rd. in Morton Grove) has livery service at its stables located on Forest Preserves' property; phone (847) 966-8032.
Inline SkatingBicyclists and in-line skaters share the 18 miles of paths along Chicago's lakefront, both on the east and west banks of the North Shore Channel. There also are six Chicago Park District skate parks: Burnham Park, just south of 31st Street and Lake Shore Drive; Grant Park, Roosevelt Rd. just east of Michigan Ave.; Lincoln Park, Wilson Avenue and Lake Shore Drive; Logan Boulevard Skate Park, 2430 W. Logan Blvd. under the Kennedy Expressway I-90/94 overpass; Piotrowski Park, 4247 W. 37th St. and La Villita Park, 2800 S. Sacramento Ave.
Jogging and Walking
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TennisAs evidenced by the Chicago Park District's 565-plus courts, tennis is a favorite sport of Chicagoans. The season begins around the middle of April, when players throng municipal facilities daily. Public courts operate on a first-come, first-served basis. For details phone the district at (312) 742-7529.
McFetridge Sports Center (3843 N. California Ave.) houses six indoor courts. Court fees range from $18 to $28 depending upon the time of day and season. Reservations are recommended; phone (773) 478-2609. Maggie Daley Park, in the Loop at 337 E. Randolph St., is open to the public seasonally and features six lighted courts. There is no charge for walk-up use, but court reservations, available for a fee, are recommended; phone (312) 742-7651.
Water SportsWith nearly 26 miles of shoreline fronting Lake Michigan and easy access to the Des Plaines, Calumet and Chicago rivers, Chicago is an urban-dwelling, water enthusiast's paradise. The Great Lake is a favorite spot for boating, sailing, swimming, water skiing and windsurfing. Beachgoers frequent Oak Street Beach, Ohio Street Beach, North Avenue Beach, 31st Street Beach and Montrose Beach. Kathy Osterman Beach a little further north near Edgewater, is also considered one of the area's nicest beaches. Contact the Chicago Park District, (312) 742-3224, for details about water recreation opportunities and local boating policies.
Lakefront launching ramps for motorboats are at 95th Street, Burnham Harbor, Jackson Park at Inner Harbor and Diversey Harbor. Jet skis are permitted at Calumet and Diversey harbors. For more information about permits phone the Chicago Park District at (312) 742-8520.
Motorboats also are permitted on the Calumet, Chicago and Des Plaines rivers. The Little Calumet River boat dock is on the east side of Ashland Avenue, north of Jackson Avenue; the Beaubain Woods Boat Launch is near E. 132nd St. and Doty Ave. The Des Plaines Plank Road Meadow launch is near Ogden Ave. and First Ave. Other lakes and waterways do not permit motorboats; check with the Forest Preserves of Cook County. Phone (800) 870-3666.
Canoes, rowboats and sailboats may be used on the following Forest Preserves' waterways (electric motors only): Beck Lake, Big Bend Lake, Busse Lake, I&M Canal, Maple Lake, Powderhorn Lake, Saganashkee Slough, Skokie Lagoons and Tampier Lake. Contact district headquarters for boat rentals, restrictions and ramp locations. For canoeing and kayaking tours and Chicago River-related events as well as information on the McCormick Bridgehouse & Chicago River Museum , contact Friends of the Chicago River; phone (312) 939-0490, ext. 10.
Craft rentals are available through the Chicago Sailing Club in Lincoln Park's Belmont Harbor, (773) 871-7245, which also offers lessons to landlubbers; reservations are a good idea. Wateriders, 500 N. Kingsbury St. on the Riverwalk, offers kayak rentals and tours; phone (312) 953-9287.
Most major hotels have swimming pools, and the park district fills any gaps with more than 26 indoor and nearly 50 outdoor pools. For locations and hours of operation phone (773) 363-2225. Popular beaches are those along the Lake Michigan shore from 9600 South to 7600 North. They are open daily 11 a.m.-7 p.m., Memorial Day through Labor Day while lifeguards are on duty. If you find yourself outside the city proper, take advantage of the Forest Preserves of Cook County's Family Aquatic Centers: Cermak Family Aquatic Center, 7600 W. Ogden Ave. in Lyons, Whealan Pool at 6200 W. Devon Ave. in Chicago, and Green Lake Family Aquatic Center, at Torrence Avenue and 159th Street in Calumet City. Children under 12 must be accompanied by a responsible adult. Admission $7; $5 (ages 4-12). Season family pass (up to 4 members) $158.
Winter SportsChicago's recreation scene thrives even in the dead of winter. The season generally runs from December through March, but can be longer at either end.
Ice-skating is available at 10 Chicago Park District locations during the winter. One of the largest is the Midway Plaisance rink, 1130 Midway Plaisance North, in a mile-long depression between the double boulevards of the same name. Most rinks are open from late November to mid-March (weather permitting), admission is free and skate rentals are available. Admission to the indoor, year-round rink at McFetridge Sports Center, 3843 N. California Ave. in California Park, is $7-$12; skate rentals are available for $3. Another year-round indoor rink is Morgan Park, 115th St. and Western Ave. The 8,000-square-feet Rink at the Park is located in Wrigley Park, 3637 N. Clark St., and is open late Nov.-late Feb. Admission is $5; skate rental is $10.
The remaining Chicago Park District locations are in McKinley (2210 W. Pershing Rd.), Mt. Greenwood (3721 W. 111 St.), Riis (6100 W. Fullerton Ave.), Rowan (11546 S. Ave. L), Wentworth (5625 S. Mobile Ave.) and Warren (6601 N. Western Ave.) parks. The skating ribbon also is available at Maggie Daley Park, 337 E. Randolph St.; skate rentals are available.
Perhaps the most renowned Chicago location is McCormick Tribune Ice Rink in Millennium Park, which is one of the newest and most popular lakefront attractions. This rink occupies 16,000 square feet on Michigan Avenue between Monroe and Randolph streets. Open from mid-November to mid-March (weather permitting), the rink offers free admission and skate rentals are available.
Outside of Chicago the hardy can indulge in skating and ice fishing at designated Forest Preserves of Cook County sites. Skating is permitted (at your own risk) at Barrington Road Pond, Buffalo Woods Pond (groves #3 and #4), Busse Reservoir North Pool, Crawdad Slough, Deer Grove Lake and Hidden Pond. Ice fishing is allowed at Arrowhead Lake, Axehead Lake, E.J. Beck Lake, Belleau Lake, Big Bend Lake, Bode Lake South, Bullfrog Lake, Busse Lake (Main and South pools only), Flatfoot Lake, Green Lake, Horsetail Lake, Ida Lake, Maple Lake, Papoose Lake, Powderhorn Lake, Saganashkee Slough, Sag Quarry (West & East), Tampier Lake, Turtlehead Lake and Wampum Lake; phone (800) 870-3666 for information.
Snow skiing, while not available within the city limits, can be enjoyed at the Four Lakes Ski Area. For additional information contact the Chicago Metropolitan Ski Council.
Zach Dischner / flickr
The Forest Preserves maintains five snowmobiling areas and 10 sledding hills. There are five sledding and coasting hills throughout Cook County with lighting that are open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. (weather permitting). Snowmobiles are permitted at Miller Meadow, Morrill Meadow, Ned Brown Meadow, North Creek Meadow and Turtlehead Lake. Snowmobile areas are opened when a minimum 4-inch snow base exists on frozen turf. Snowmobiles must be registered with both the district and the state. The district charges a $50 licensing fee for Cook County residents and a $100 fee for non-residents.
Most Forest Preserves' winter activities are available daily dawn-dusk (weather permitting). For information, phone (800) 870-3666.
Inspector 40 / AAA
Bicycle and Segway ToursBike and Roll Chicago
Boat ToursBoat trips travel along the Chicago River, through the locks into Chicago Harbor and Lake Michigan.
Bus and Trolley ToursOne of the best ways to get oriented and view a multitude of sights in a short time is to take a bus tour. City orientation tours, including land and lake tours, are available at the Palmer House at 17 E. Monroe St. through American Sightseeing Tours, (312) 251-3100.
Driving ToursExploring the area's scenic bluffs and historic sites can be as simple as hopping in a car. Beginning in Illinois and ending in California, Route 66 served as an important link between the Midwest's rural communities and Chicago. The road now paves its way through America's cultural past, with an abundance of drive-in movie theaters, homey diners, vintage gas stations and other charming landmarks found along its course. Information and maps can be obtained from the Illinois Route 66 Scenic Byway; phone (217) 525-9308.
Food ToursChicago Food Planet Food Tours
Walking ToursThe Chicago Architecture Foundation Shop and Tour Center, 224 S. Michigan Ave., offers an array of walking tours as well as bus, boat, trolley, “L” train, Segway and bicycle tours.
One of Chicago's many architectural landmarks is the Merchandise Mart, on the north bank of the Chicago River between Wells and Orleans streets. Covering two city blocks, it is one of the world's largest commercial buildings. About 7.5 miles of corridors link hundreds of wholesale showrooms that display millions of dollars' worth of commercial and home furnishings. Shops on the first two floors are accessible to the public. A guided walking tour, however, is available; phone (312) 922-3432 for schedule and tickets.
Also departing from the Chicago Cultural Center are free visitor orientation tours. The Chicago Greeter program offers 2- to 4- hour walking tours of more than 25 neighborhoods or 40 special interest topics. Visitors are matched with local volunteer guides based on special interest and language. Visitors must register for tours at least 10 business days in advance; phone (312) 945-4231. Free 1-hour downtown walking tours departing from the InstaGreeter booth in the Cultural Center are offered on a first-come, first-served basis Fri.-Sat. 10-3, Sun. 11-2. InstaGreeter tours of Millennium Park also depart from the Cultural Center daily at 11:30 and 1, Memorial Day weekend through Columbus Day.
joevare / flickr
Suzanne Lemon / AAA
Chicago in 3 DaysThree days is barely enough time to get to know any major destination. But AAA travel editors suggest these activities to make the most of your time in Chicago.
By Frank Swanson
Day 1: MorningStart your first day in the Windy City by heading to the Near North Side, which is just north of the Loop and the Chicago River. With so many hotels in the vicinity, you're probably staying nearby, but if not, take the Red Line CTA train to the Grand Station or take the Orange, Brown, Pink or Green lines to the State/Lake “L” Station in the Loop. For breakfast, try the Atwood Café . It's a colorful take on modern American cuisine that will jump start your day. Can't decide? Go with the Atwood omelet, filled with bacon, caramelized onions and Gruyère and white cheddar cheese.
One of the best ways to get acquainted with Chicago is aboard a boat tour leaving from either Navy Pier , 600 E. Grand Ave., or the nearby Chicago Riverfront at Michigan Avenue and Wacker Drive. To get to Navy Pier, hop on the free Navy Pier Trolley. Just look for the “Navy Pier Trolley Stops” along Grand Avenue and Illinois Street.
Shoreline Sightseeing has a 75-minute architecture tour on the Chicago River that you don't have to be an architect to enjoy. As you float past some of the city's most famous buildings, an on-board guide shares entertaining stories and facts about Chicago's history, including the Great Fire of 1871 and the city's importance as birthplace of the skyscraper. Tours depart from the Ogden Slip dock near the Navy Pier's entrance. Shoreline offers other types of tours, including sunset and fireworks cruises, as well as water taxi service to locations along the lakefront. Wendella Boats & Chicago Water Taxi also offers 75-minute-long architecture tours that are informative without being dull. Their excursions depart from a prime location at the foot of the Wrigley Building beside the Michigan Avenue Bridge. Choose whichever cruise company is most convenient; you can't go wrong with either one.
Day 1: Afternoon
Harvey Barrison / flickr
To fuel your shopping spree, look no further than one of the plentiful corner coffee shops, chain restaurants or mall food courts. If you make it to the northern end of the district, however, treat yourself to lunch at Cafe Spiaggia on the second floor of the One Magnificent Mile Building at Michigan Avenue and Oak Street. Warm hues, a casual vibe and murals copied from Italian Renaissance originals will make you feel like you've slipped into a cozy Old World café, while the soaring windows provide a nice view of Lake Michigan and remind you you're in Chicago. Although the ambience is a feast in itself, you'll probably enjoy the fresh-tasting Italian cuisine even more.
Day 1: Evening
David Wilson / flickr
Day 2: MorningTake a cab or train to Millennium Park and spend the morning exploring this striking and relatively new public space in the heart of Chicago. The closest “L” station is Randolph/Wabash in the Loop. Once the site of an ugly parking lot and rail yard, Millennium Park opened in 2004 to wide acclaim and has become one of the city's most visited places. The centerpiece Pritzker Pavilion, an outdoor concert venue, was designed by Frank Gehry and displays the artfully folded stainless steel shapes the architect is known for. A cage of gracefully curving stainless steel pipes forms a rooflike structure above the seating area and the Great Lawn, which together can accommodate 11,000 music lovers.
Complementing the park buildings that look like sculptures are the sculptures that are as big as buildings. Getting a picture of yourself reflected in the mirrored surface of “Cloud Gate,” a 110-ton, kidney-bean-shaped arch, is something you shouldn't miss, and set aside a few minutes to sit and watch The Crown Fountain's 50-foot-high glass-brick video towers cycle through a succession of faces as they appear to spit water into a shallow basin. A thousand diverse Chicagoans contributed their likenesses to this dynamic artwork, which in summer attracts crowds of laughing, splashing children.
Among the park's other focal points are the Millennium Monument, a Greek-style colonnade; 1,500-seat Harris Theater; McCormick Tribune Plaza and Ice Rink; and the Lurie Garden. With so many lawns, shrubs and trees, you might find it hard to believe that most of Millennium Park sits atop a parking garage. The silvery, serpentine BP Bridge, also designed by Frank Gehry, spans Columbus Drive, connecting the park with Maggie Daley Park.
Day 2: AfternoonYou won't have to go far for lunch: the plaza surrounding “Cloud Gate” is actually the roof of Park Grill , an eatery serving salads and sandwiches including delicious hamburgers. In winter the restaurant's windows overlook the ice rink, which in summer becomes The Plaza at Park Grill, a coveted outdoor dining spot with frequent live entertainment. If the weather's especially nice and you really want to enjoy the park's lovely surroundings, phone in and order a picnic bag from the restaurant's Park Café.
Across Monroe Drive from Millennium Park is The Art Institute of Chicago , one of the world's great art museums. What could be better than whiling away an afternoon among priceless treasures from around the world? You can get a sense of how comprehensive the museum's collection is by just wandering from gallery to gallery, strolling past Medieval suits of armor, ancient Asian sculptures of Buddha and Impressionist and Postimpressionist paintings by the likes of Cézanne, Degas, Gauguin, van Gogh, Manet, Monet, Renoir, Seurat and Toulouse-Lautrec. Or you can pick a specific collection and focus your efforts on, say, modern American art or photography or textiles. To enrich your experience, rent the institute's MP3 audio tour; it provides an overview of the vast collection you can tailor to your interests.
Day 2: EveningAfter several hours spent savoring some of the world's greatest art, it's time to sink your teeth into artwork of a different sort: Chicago-style deep dish pizza. Lou Malnati's Pizzeria in the Near North neighborhood called River North serves some of the best pizza in town; the closest CTA station is the Red Line's Grand Station at Grand Avenue and State Street. The restaurant's combination of fresh, mouth-watering ingredients with crispy, buttery crusts are to pizza lovers as paintings by Monet or Degas are to art aficionados. If you like spinach, mushrooms and sliced tomatoes, order the “Lou,” a house specialty popular for its golden brown three-cheese topping of cheddar, mozzarella and Romano.
While you're in the River North area stop by Blue Chicago on Clark, 536 N. Clark St., and sample some Chicago-style blues. This popular venue opens at 8 p.m. and stays open until 2 a.m. Sunday-Friday, 3 on Saturdays. The cover charge is $10 Sunday-Thursday, $12 Friday-Saturday.
Day 3: MorningTake a cab or catch a Red Line Train to Roosevelt Station and walk toward the lakefront to reach the Museum Campus, home to the Shedd Aquarium , the Adler Planetarium and The Field Museum . With more than 25 million specimens and counting, the Field Museum's collection is so vast you'd need days to truly do it justice. You can, however, get a wonderful overview during the free docent-led highlights tour, which lasts about 45 minutes, or request a self-guiding highlights tour handout.
If you'd rather ramble on your own through this beautiful marble building's echoing halls, be sure to see the following exhibits: Inside Ancient Egypt, Ancient Americas, Lions of Tsavo and Evolving Planet. You'll see mummies and hieroglyphs; a full-sized replica of the intricate Aztec Sun Stone; two preserved lions that in 1898 killed 128 African railroad workers; and a huge hall of dinosaurs that'll make you glad the last of the big-boned, toothy monsters died out 65 million years ago.
Day 3: AfternoonLunch options are slim in the Museum Campus' immediate vicinity unless you're in the mood for fast food. You could head to The Phoenix Restaurant , which is just a couple miles away from the Museum Campus and a short walk from the Cermak-Chinatown Station, the very next Red Line stop south of the Roosevelt Station, and try the daily dim sum. Colorful paintings contribute to the festive mood as you sample from an array of more than 50 dim sum delicacies, and on top of that there's a regular menu offering traditional Peking duck, sweet and sour pork, lemon chicken and orange beef along with fresh seafood and vegetarian tofu dishes.
There's still plenty to see and do back at the Museum Campus. Spend the rest of the afternoon among rare and unusual sea creatures bathed in wavering blue-green light in the Shedd Aquarium or stroll next door and explore the far reaches of the solar system beautifully represented by scale models at the Adler Planetarium. Or if it's a nice day, you can ramble about the southern end of expansive Grant Park , known as Chicago's front yard.
Bordering the Museum Campus at the park's southwest corner is a somber art installation titled “Agora,” an array of 106 headless cast-iron figures standing 9 feet tall created by Polish artist Magdalena Abakanowicz. Find your way to Grant Park's centerpiece: Buckingham Memorial Fountain , a massive pink marble affair often seen on postcards with the distinctive Chicago skyline behind. You might recognize the fountain from the opening credits of the 1990s sitcom “Married with Children.”
Day 3: EveningWhile the stately marble museum temples surrounding Grant Park draw millions each year with their collections of paintings, sculpture, scientific exhibits and biological specimens, not all of Chicago's landmark institutions are so serious. Case in point, The Second City at 1616 N. Wells St. in Old Town near Lincoln Park. Since 1959 the performers at The Second City have been cracking audiences up with their sketch and improvisational comedy antics, and the theater's list of alumni reads like a who's who of movie and television stars: Alan Arkin, Fred Willard, John Belushi, Bill Murray, John Candy, Mike Myers, Chris Farley, Steve Carell, Amy Sedaris, Stephen Colbert and Tina Fey, among others.
For dinner either before or after a Second City show, try nearby Kamehachi , which specializes in sushi and fresh sashimi but serves such non-sushi entrées as salmon teriyaki and filet of beef as well. The high-ceilinged, first-floor dining room creates a sophisticated atmosphere with a variety of contemporary light fixtures, minimalist furniture and rustic Japanese decorations. A dining room on the second floor features additional seating.
AttractionsIn a city with dozens of attractions, you may have trouble deciding where to spend your time. Here are the highlights for this destination, as chosen by AAA editors. GEMs are “Great Experiences for Members.”
By Frank Swanson
Often called Chicago's front yard, Grant Park really does create that impression with its broad, tree-bordered lawns spread out like a green picnic blanket before a wall of downtown high-rises. There's no better place to kick off your sightseeing itinerary since most of Chicago's top attractions either adjoin or are within sight of the park. The park's centerpiece is Buckingham Memorial Fountain, a city icon since its 1927 installation. Within its wide pool, four stylized bronze seahorses spew water at three tiers of overflowing basins. At night the splashing water is synchronized to a light and music show.
Projecting above the leafy canopy along Michigan Avenue is the park's most impressive building and a definite must-see: The Art Institute of Chicago, a AAA GEM attraction. Pass between the huge bronze lions guarding the main entrance and into the museum's echoing skylighted halls, and you'll likely be surprised by how many familiar faces you meet. There's the dour farmer and his daughter from Grant Wood's “American Gothic” on view not far from the haunted-looking couple drinking coffee at an all-night diner in Edward Hopper's “Nighthawks.” You're liable to have many such déjà vu moments in the Beaux-Arts building thanks to mass-produced versions available at shopping malls everywhere. These, however, are the originals.
But you need not confine your appreciation of art to the indoors when just across Monroe Street, at the northwest corner of Grant Park, is Millennium Park, another AAA GEM attraction. Opened in 2004 on the site of a defunct rail yard, the park boasts stunning examples of alfresco modern art and architecture including the undulating stainless steel walls of the Pritzker Pavilion and BP Bridge, both designed by “starchitect” Frank Gehry. A photo of Anish Kapoor's “Cloud Gate” sculpture, which looks like a gigantic droplet of solidified mercury, is a must even for those connoisseurs who don't think much of it: You can capture an artfully distorted view of the Chicago skyline reflected in its mirror-shiny surface.
Of course, in a city noted for its architecture, a tour focusing on the topic is de rigueur. The Chicago Architecture Foundation and Tour Center, a AAA GEM attraction, is just across Michigan Avenue from Millennium Park. Here you can choose among more than 85 different tours that'll suit about any taste or interest. You can also select your mode of transportation: bus, boat, trolley, “L” train, bicycle, Segway or by foot.
If you want even more of a boat tour selection, head through the park and north along the lakeshore about a mile and a half to Navy Pier, a AAA GEM attraction from which a flotilla of sightseeing craft depart. Of course the pier, with its carnival-style rides, restaurants, shops, concert venues, Centennial Wheel, IMAX theater and a museum geared toward children under 12, is a worthwhile sightseeing destination by itself. You'll be able to take in a wide swath of Chicago's spectacular skyline from the pier's eastern end, and in summer the night sky explodes with color and light during weekly fireworks shows.
On the southern end of Grant Park lies Museum Campus Chicago, a lakefront expanse shared by no fewer than three AAA GEM attractions. Foremost among these stands The Field Museum , primarily known for its natural history exhibits but featuring anthropological specimens as well. A tyrannosaur named SUE, the most complete T. rex skeleton yet found, occupies pride of place in the museum's main entrance hall along with two preserved elephants, prominent museum residents since 1906.
What neighboring Shedd Aquarium lacks in tyrannosaur fossils, it more than makes up for with dramatic aquatic displays including a Caribbean reef exhibit at the center of a skylighted Beaux Arts rotunda and the Oceanarium, which replicates a Pacific Northwest Coast habitat for harbor seals, beluga whales and Pacific white-sided dolphins. Don't miss the Wild Reef exhibit where panoramic floor-to-ceiling windows will give you an eerie sense of floating among the aquarium's school of sharks.
In terms of subject matter, leaping from our world's oceans into the vastness of space is as easy as walking to nearby Adler Planetarium, where the sky takes center stage courtesy of a glass roof that permits daylight to flood the main exhibit area. A planetarium replicates a nighttime view of the heavens in addition to showing off colorful nebulas and spiral galaxies. Displays of antique astronomical instruments reveal the artistry involved in producing these early devices, and a motion simulator theater takes visitors on a virtual journey through the universe.
Although separated from Museum Campus Chicago by 6 miles of lakefront, the Museum of Science and Industry, AAA GEM attraction in the Hyde Park neighborhood, shares much with its downtown counterparts. Here again is a decades-old Beaux Arts palace crammed with an eclectic mix of exhibits—only in this case the theme is technology and engineering. The question isn't what will you see, but what won't you see inside these venerable walls. Don't be surprised to find a large portion of a 727 passenger jet, a 1936 streamlined locomotive with passenger cars and even a German U-boat captured during World War II.
While Chicago remains the birthplace of the skyscraper, the city can no longer claim to have the world's tallest building—a distinction it enjoyed most recently 1973-96 courtesy of the 1,450-foot-tall, 110-story Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower). While the building's rank has slipped a bit, its ability to wow visitors who ascend to Skydeck Chicago, a AAA GEM attraction, remains undiminished. On clear days views extend for 50 miles in every direction, a spectacular panorama that you also can enjoy from 360 CHICAGO (formerly the John Hancock Observatory) at John Hancock Center. While at a mere 1,000 feet, the observatory falls somewhat short of Skydeck Chicago at the top of the Willis Tower, you'll hardly notice the difference when you step onto the observatory's Skywalk for a thrilling, open-air view.
From your aerie atop the John Hancock Center you'll spy a narrow green patch along Lake Michigan north of downtown. A AAA GEM attraction, Lincoln Park started out as a small, makeshift cemetery in the 19th-century but now spreads out over more than 1,200 acres. In addition to monuments, playgrounds, beaches and recreation trails, the park's borders encompass a conservatory and Lincoln Park Zoo, where such endangered critters as black rhinos, snow leopards and western lowland gorillas make their home in enclosures scattered among the zoo's historic buildings.
At the beginning of his illustrious career more than a century ago, Architect Frank Lloyd Wright chose the western suburb of Oak Park as his home and ended up executing some of his most renowned designs for himself and his neighbors and in the process perfecting his distinctive Prairie style. Architectural Tours in Oak Park, a AAA GEM attraction, offers an extensive menu of tours that includes his home and studio and the exteriors of 15 Wright-designed buildings—the visionary Unity Temple among them.
In the shadow of John Hancock Center and just off Michigan Avenue stands an institution dedicated to visionary creativity: the Museum of Contemporary Art. Focusing on works created since 1945 in a wide range of media, the museum's collection is edgy, challenging and sometimes confounding, and the modern building's bright, airy galleries suit the exhibits to a T.
Although not focused exclusively on contemporary art, the AAA GEM-rated National Museum of Mexican Art (NMMA) in Chicago's Pilsen/Little Village neighborhood southwest of the Loop spotlights works that fall into that category as well as a host of other genres. The unifying theme here is the artistic expression of the Mexican experience on both sides of the border. In addition to artifacts created centuries ago by Mexico's indigenous peoples, you'll find paintings, sculptures, prints, drawings, textiles and photographs.
The focus narrows considerably at the National Veterans Art Museum, where veterans of all wars convey their personal experiences through a variety of media on display here. One particularly moving artwork is, “Above and Beyond,” a memorial sculpture made up of more than 58,000 dog tags suspended from the ceiling, each one imprinted with the name of a serviceman or woman who died in the Vietnam War. The memorial is currently on display at the Harold Washington Library Center (Chicago Public Library) .
When it comes to getting around Chicago, probably no option is more fun or informative than that offered by Chicago Trolley & Double Decker Co. Not only are tours aboard the company's double-decker buses and trolleys entertainingly narrated, but you can hop on and off at most of the city's top attractions, offering you a very convenient way to sightsee.
Venturing just a few miles out into that vast metro area known as Chicagoland yields even more tourist draws well worth your time. The Brookfield Zoo, a AAA GEM attraction in Brookfield just west of Chicago, treats animal lovers to a veritable Noah's Ark of exotic creatures too numerous to list, all housed in natural-looking enclosures. Dolphins splash about, gray wolves prowl around their lair and a troop of western lowland gorillas leisurely munch on fruits and leaves in some of the zoo's most popular exhibits.
If the zoo has whetted your appetite for the outdoors, then visit the Morton Arboretum, a AAA-GEM attraction in Lisle, 25 miles west of the Loop. Established in 1922 by the owner of the Morton Salt Co., the 1,700-acre arboretum offers a pleasing counterpoint to Chicago's asphalt-and-steel landscape. You can roam paths around wetlands and lakes and through formal gardens and oak forests, and when you get tired, there's an open-air tram that tours the grounds.
Or if back-to-nature serenity isn't your thing, explore the opposite extreme at Six Flags Great America, a AAA GEM theme park in Gurnee packed with enough roller coasters to keep your adrenaline levels high and, depending on your constitution, your stomach in knots all day. Motion simulators, carnival-style thrill rides and a Caribbean-themed water park round out the amusements on tap here.
See all the AAA recommended attractions for this destination.
RestaurantsOur favorites include some of this destination's best restaurants—from fine dining to simple fare.
By Inspector 40
as told to Frank Swanson
A Chicago mainstay for 90 years, The Italian Village continues to be one of the city's favorite Italian restaurants. Its second-floor location within the Loop features a long, narrow, dimly lit dining room with small nooks offering semi-private seating areas. With its large murals depicting the Italian countryside and strings of twinkle lights hanging overhead, the dining room has the feel of a small village street. Known for its variety of fresh pastas, the restaurant's other signature dishes include fine choices of veal, steak, fish and chicken. Try the excellent chicken Vesuvio with roasted potatoes, which is prepared in the traditional way. The experienced wait staff provides good overall service, but the tables are cramped in places, so beware if you're claustrophobic.
If this is your first visit to the Windy City, you're probably curious about the much-talked-about Chicago-style, deep-dish pizza. Well, the dish doesn't get any deeper than at Giordano's Famous Stuffed Pizza , which is known for pies so thick, they are basically two standard pizzas stacked one on top of the other. Giordano's has locations throughout Chicagoland, but you can find a convenient one right in the Loop. Just keep in mind that their pies are wildly popular, which often means long lines, and then once you're seated and have finally ordered, be prepared to wait an additional 30-45 minutes for your pizza to arrive.
Another Chicago-style pizza standout, Lou Malnati's Pizzeria is known for its crispy “buttercrust,” which blends beautifully with the supremely fresh mozzarella and tomatoes on each pie. The sausage pizza, an obvious star on the menu, comes loaded with small chunks of spicy Italian sausage mixed with the sauce and cheese. It literally melts in your mouth. The casual sports-themed restaurant in Chicago's Near North neighborhood is great for groups or families and offers plenty of TVs to keep folks entertained. The wait staff is very laid-back and dresses casually but is nonetheless efficient.
Also in the Loop, across from the historic Marshall Field's building (now Macy's), Atwood Café offers a bright, airy dining room lined on two sides with tall windows. Despite its location in the 1895 Reliance Building, the restaurant's recently renovated interior is all clean lines, neutral colors and contemporary light fixtures. A great spot for lunch or dinner, Atwood Café serves large salads and sandwiches as well as a seasonally varying menu that can include Alaskan scallops, sockeye salmon and hanger steaks.
Lakeshore East is a relatively new development in the Loop built on land that was once a defunct rail yard. In this posh setting of modern high rises surrounding an immaculately manicured park, III Forks serves mouthwatering bone-in-rib-eye, New York strip, prime rib and filet mignon. The upscale ambience makes III Forks a great choice for special occasions, and when the weather is nice, the patio lounge offers a perfect spot to sip a martini and enjoy park views.
With a prime location on Michigan Avenue, Bandera American Cooking makes the most of its second-floor vantage point overlooking Chicago's Magnificent Mile. Discrete spotlights and warmly glowing lamps create a cozy atmosphere enhanced by the polished wood table tops, artfully framed textiles and tastefully lit black-and-white prints. Live jazz played at a comfortable volume completes the stylish-but-not-stuffy ambience. Menu favorites include the iron skillet cornbread; macho salad with cornbread croutons, goat cheese, dates, almonds and roasted chicken; and the aged prime rib. The homemade Oreo ice cream sandwich alone is worth the trip. Be sure to make reservations because otherwise you may be left waiting for hours for a table.
Nearby on Michigan Avenue is The Purple Pig , which playfully describes itself as a place for “Cheese, Swine & Wine.” While some of the menu items might sound unusual, if not off-putting (it's not called The Purple Pig for nothing), such dishes as the fried pig's ear over kale are not only delicious but very popular. The roasted bone marrow spread is another palate-pleasing favorite. A nice wine selection and rich desserts that include a brioche filled with ricotta cheese and chocolate chips are other big pluses. The down side? The restaurant attracts big crowds and does not accept reservations, so be prepared to wait a while if you don't arrive early.
A Chicago institution catering to tourists but with a loyal local following as well, Portillo's is famous for their Chicago-style hot dogs, chili dogs and Maxwell Street style Polishes, but their burgers and Italian beef sandwiches have plenty of fans too. This quick-serve eatery might not be upscale, but the warehouse-like interior is fun and whimsical, packed as it is with 1930s-era relics along with a seemingly random collection of Chicago memorabilia. Since you're not here for health food, go for broke and order their decadent chocolate cake shake with your meal.
Just a few blocks south of Portillo's on Clark Street, Havana feels a lot less touristy than most places in the River North area. As you'd might expect from the name, Cuban cuisine is the specialty here, although Mexican, South American and Puerto Rican influences are reflected on the menu too. Such staples as ropa vieja and arroz con frijoles are excellent choices, but so are the pollo horneado con platano (chicken baked in plantain leaves served with sweet plantains) and the steak jibarito (marinated steak and cheese sandwiched between two flattened and fried plantains). Wash it all down with one of Havana's signature mojitos.
If you're in the mood for a culinary adventure, head to the trendy West Loop for an unforgettable evening at The Girl and the Goat . Celebrity chef Stephanie Izard has spent years perfecting an eclectic menu that's anything but dull. And, oh yeah, she's a big fan of meat. All kinds. So much so that it may not be the best place for vegetarians or anyone a tad bit squeamish about a plate of deliciously prepared animal flesh. In addition to goat liver mousse and goat empanadas, you'll find wood oven roasted pig face and grilled baby octopus on the menu. Is it good? Let's put it this way, in a foodie town forever in search of the next best thing, The Girl and the Goat's star has yet to fade, despite having opened way back in 2010. The initial excitement over its novel dishes has given way to consistently enthusiastic word of (salivating) mouth. So, yeah, it's good.
Another West Loop destination for meat lovers, The Publican sets itself apart from other restaurants with its distinctive dining room dominated by a long, rustic banquet table lit by an array of globe lights overhead. The menu is just as unusual and rustic (what you might find on a French farm in the 19th century), featuring spicy pork rinds, potted rillettes (similar to pâté), smoked pork shank, pork belly and a taste of three hams plate—when one ham is just not enough. Chicken and shellfish share space on the menu for those not in the mood for pork. So the gist: setting plus food equals unforgettable dining experience.
North of downtown, Lincoln Park's Café Ba-Ba-Reeba! draws large crowds with its tasty selection of tapas and pitchers of sangria in various flavors, most notably white peach and black raspberry. The popular seafood paella is served up in two-person portions loaded with shrimp, scallops and monkfish. Other top choices include spicy potatoes, mushrooms stuffed with spinach and Manchego cheese, and beef tenderloin with blue cheese. Try to make reservations, especially on weekends, and keep in mind that the restaurant's brick and wood walls don't do much to dampen the sounds of boisterous, sangria-fueled revelry.
In the Logan Square neighborhood, Longman & Eagle is one of those popular gastropubs that may require a bit of a wait to get a table, particularly because they don't take reservations. But the food! One glance at the seasonally changing menu is enough to tell you that you won't find simple fare here. Each dish lists several ingredients, and each ingredient sounds rare or foreign or both: crispy guanciale, pickled quince, foie gras torchon, sliced Calabrian chiles. You don't have to have a sophisticated palate to delight in L&E's complex dishes loaded with subtle flavors. Try the beef tartare small plate or the wild boar Sloppy Joe. The restaurant is also known for its lengthy list of whiskeys, and their beer selection isn't bad either.
See all the AAA Diamond Rated restaurants for this destination.
EventsIn addition to its many cultural and historic landmarks, this destination hosts a number of outstanding festivals and events that may coincide with your visit.
One of the main horticultural events on Chicago's calendar is the Chicago Flower & Garden Show , bursting with exhibits of earthy pursuits. The show takes place at Navy Pier in mid-March.
While unnaturally green river water might cause alarm in other cities, in Chicago it's merely a sign that it's St. Patrick's Day. Along with the decades-old tradition of dyeing the Chicago River a lovely shade of emerald, the city's St. Patrick's Day Parade and Festival celebrates with a lively procession—presided over by a queen riding in a horse-drawn carriage—along Columbus Drive through Grant Park . Generous quantities of beer are dyed green during the festival, too.
A few miles south of Grant Park in Chicago's Bronzeville neighborhood, the soulful sounds of gospel music resonate in late May or early June during the Chicago Gospel Music Festival . Performances held in Millennium Park celebrate both traditional and contemporary gospel styles, paying tribute to performers and others who have shaped gospel music.
Hosting festival after festival, Grant Park certainly earns its reputation as the city's front yard. Early June brings the Chicago Blues Festival , the city's largest musical event which attracts hundreds of thousands of blues fans to Grant Park for 3 days of Delta-style music. During the event, living blues legends from around the nation honor the memories of such blues icons as Robert Johnson, Bessie Smith and Muddy Waters.
For 5 days in early July, Grant Park is transformed into one giant al fresco dining area for Taste of Chicago when dozens of Chicago restaurants dish out mouth-watering sample fare from tents arrayed along Columbus and Jackson drives. Whether you're in the mood for hamburgers or haute cuisine, you'll find something delicious to satisfy. Cooking demonstrations, street performers and a handful of carnival-style rides round out Taste of Chicago's schedule, which draws millions of people each year.
Another event drawing huge crowds to the waterfront is the Chicago Air and Water Show in August, which may feature thrilling aerobatic performances by the U.S. Navy Blue Angels and the U.S. Army Golden Knights. The 2-day show is crowded with performances that include stunt flying, ski shows and high-flying displays of state-of-the-art jet fighters and helicopters. Festivities center around North Avenue Beach, but other spots around the lakeshore offer vantage points as well.
The music returns to Millennium Park on Labor Day weekend—this time swinging to a jazz beat—during the Chicago Jazz Festival , which celebrates the city's role in music history with 4 days of performances by world-class musicians. You can listen to jazz in all its varieties—New Orleans, bebop, fusion and of course, Chicago—then stroll around the park and sip a glass of your preferred vino in the wine garden.
Participating in the early October Bank of America Chicago Marathon is a thorough, if strenuous, way to see the city, although just watching the 26.2-mile race can be exhausting. The contest begins and ends in the Loop at Columbus Drive in Grant Park, running through various neighborhoods along the way.
On the Saturday before Thanksgiving, Chicagoans slip into sweaters and coats and stroll to Michigan Avenue to kick off the holiday season with the Magnificent Mile Lights . For one weekend, choirs, carolers, ice-carving demonstrations and kid-friendly stage shows create an especially festive mood in Chicago's upscale shopping mecca. What's more, you can enjoy the brilliantly lit trees and extravagantly decked out store windows unveiled this weekend through the end of the year.
From Michigan Avenue, the holiday celebration moves to State Street for the McDonald's Thanksgiving Parade . Colorful floats, marching bands, equestrian units, gigantic balloons in the shapes of cartoon characters and roving theater groups performing samples of their latest shows draw hundreds of thousands of spectators despite the chilly temperatures.
Beginning in early December, Navy Pier's Festival Hall is transformed into a family-friendly indoor holiday wonderland during Winter WonderFest at Navy Pier . This monthlong event features rides, games, twinkling lights, decorated trees and an ice-skating rink.
See all the AAA recommended events for this destination.
Eric Lanning / flickr
Attraction PassesChicago CityPASS offers savings on admission to many Chicago attractions. The pass covers admission to The Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium, Skydeck Chicago (Fast Pass), either the Adler Planetarium or The Art Institute of Chicago, and either the Museum of Science and Industry or 360 CHICAGO (formerly the John Hancock Observatory) (Fast Pass).
Valid for 9 days once the first attraction is visited, the pass saves visitors 53 percent off the combined cost of purchasing individual tickets. CityPASS is available from participating attractions; phone (208) 787-4300, or (888) 330-5008.
Go Chicago Card is an all-access pass offering admission to more than 25 Chicago tours, attractions and museums. The card, which is purchased by the day (1, 2, 3 or 5 consecutive calendar days), includes admission to such popular tourist attractions as the Architecture River Cruise, Big Bus Tours Chicago, The Field Museum, Navy Pier, Shedd Aquarium and Skydeck Chicago. Go Chicago Card can save the holder up to 55 percent compared to gate prices. It is available online or over the phone. For more information about the Go Chicago Card, phone (800) 887-9103.
The Columbian ExpositionBy Frank Swanson
In 1890, Chicagoans scored a surprising coup when they beat out New York, St. Louis and Washington, D.C., for the privilege of hosting the World's Columbian Exposition. With this honor, citizens of this still-young city stepped into the global spotlight and accepted the challenge of organizing a world's fair that would outdo the immensely successful Paris Exposition of 1889, which premiered the Eiffel Tower among other modern wonders. At stake was not only Chicago's reputation, but that of the entire nation.
Envisioned as a celebration of the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus's voyages, the exposition was set to open in 1892, giving the fair's organizer's barely two years to turn swampy Jackson Park on Lake Michigan into a vast showplace for international commerce, culture, science and technology. The fair's Director of Works Daniel Burnham, architect of some of Chicago's first skyscrapers, enlisted a who's who of American architects and planners, including Frederick Law Olmstead, designer of New York's Central Park. Together they and an army of laborers and craftspeople transformed a desolate lakefront into a Beaux Arts wonderland of soaring columns, classical statuary and majestic domes.
The cavernous Manufacturers and Liberal Arts building, crowded with the latest products of an industrial society, was at the time the largest building ever constructed. Electric boats glided across a lagoon encircling a bucolic wooded island, and at night, a dazzling array of electric lights outlined each building and illuminated the grounds, a sight unlike anything most fairgoers—accustomed to kerosene lamps and natural gas flames—had ever encountered.
In contrast to the monumental architecture and edifying exhibits of the main fairgrounds, the exposition's Midway Plaisance was packed with amusements, including concessions designed to look like villages from exotic lands along with America's answer to the Eiffel Tower—the world's first Ferris wheel, an awesome, 260-foot-tall steel contraption with 36 cars, each one large enough to carry 60 passengers.
Today, few signs of the great fair remain. Most of its marvels were temporary steel-framed structures with wooden exteriors coated in staff, an easily molded stuccolike material. What's more, a period of labor unrest following the fair coincided with a suspicious fire that destroyed many of the fair's grandest buildings. Even the Ferris wheel's novelty faded, and it was eventually dynamited and sold for scrap.
The only major exposition building left behind in Jackson Park, the Palace of Fine Arts, now houses the Museum of Science and Industry . Olmstead's lagoon and wooded island remain, though somewhat altered, along with a one-third scale replica of “The Republic,” the 65-foot-tall gilded statue of a woman in robes and armor that presided over the exposition and came to symbolize its grandeur.
But the fair's legacy extends far beyond its scarce physical remnants. The Field Museum , then called the Columbian Museum of Chicago, was established to house the exposition's biological and anthropological exhibits, and the current Beaux Arts home of The Art Institute of Chicago in Grant Park was built for the exposition's scholarly meetings.
The exposition's influence can be seen in everything from electricity delivered via alternating current to modern theme parks. American companies debuted such now-familiar products as Cracker Jack, Cream of Wheat and Juicy Fruit gum at the fair. And what carnival would be complete today without a Ferris wheel or a ride-packed midway, a word that entered English courtesy of the exposition's Midway Plaisance?
With the fair's success, Chicago elevated itself among the world's great cities and thumbed its figurative nose at Eastern naysayers. The city pays tribute to this historic event within its municipal flag; of the four red stars prominently arrayed across the flag's center, one represents the World's Columbian Exposition.
Travel TipsChicago weather is rarely boring. Summer is muggy, spring is damp and cool, and winter is downright challenging.
Temperatures can peak in the 90s in July and August, the heat exacerbated by humidity. Lake Michigan breezes bring a hint of relief. In winter the breezes become chilling winds that combine with frigid temperatures to produce wind-chill factors that can drop to 20 below zero. Precipitation levels are highest April through September, but winter snow is a given. December and January are snowiest, but flakes may pile up into March.
A light casual look is appropriate in summer; add layers during the spring and fall. A heavy coat and winter boots are a must from late November through March; a light jacket is advisable even in summer. An evening at a world-class restaurant or cultural institution is an occasion for finer fashion.
Chicago's NeighborhoodsWhile you're visiting Chicago, you'll see evidence everywhere of the immigrants who poured into the city to find work in factories or to help build its railroads and canals. Many neighborhoods are ethnically diverse, and there are a few interesting pockets to explore that are in close proximity to the downtown area.
Chinatown: You'll find dim sum and other authentic culinary fare in this area adjacent to the South Loop, centered in the vicinity of Wentworth Avenue and Cermak Road. This is the site of the Chinese Lunar New Year Parade, a flurry of color and activity punctuated by marching bands, vibrant floats, lion dances and menacing dragons. The area's shops entice souvenir hunters with an eclectic assortment of bric-a-brac, including lanterns, teas, herbs and traditional clothing.
Greektown: This nook in the West Loop neighborhood is primarily situated along Halsted Street between Van Buren and Washington. If you're craving some Greek food, this is the place to go—you'll come across a cluster of bakeries, gyro stands and reasonably priced restaurants. During the summer, the streets come alive with the Taste of Greektown, a culinary celebration enhanced by belly dancing, Greek music and other entertainment.
Little Italy: Head to this small enclave along Taylor Street just southwest of Greektown to satisfy your appetite at Italian restaurants running the gamut from pizza and sub shops to fine dining establishments. You can also visit the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame, which showcases the impressive careers of such greats as Mario Andretti, Charles Atlas and Vince Lombardi. Stroll over to Piazza DiMaggio, graced by a sculpture of “Yankee Clipper” Joe DiMaggio, or visit Arrigo Park to view a statue of Christopher Columbus.
Pilsen: The epicenter of this sizable Mexican-American community is at Halsted and 18th streets. You'll discover a plethora of art galleries and shops interspersed with bakeries and casual Mexican eateries. Peruse art and cultural exhibits at the neighborhood's National Museum of Mexican Art, also the location of concerts and special events. A couple of miles west at Little Village, marked by the “Bienvenidos” arch at Albany and 26th, you'll encounter more taquerias and restaurants along with stores touting traditional goods—a parade here in September celebrates Mexican Independence Day.
Polish Triangle: In the West Town neighborhood, this district is defined by the junction of Milwaukee Avenue, Division Street and Ashland Avenue. You'll see sites paying tribute to Polish heritage and culture, such as Division Street's Chopin Theatre and Milwaukee Avenue's Polish Museum of America, showcasing art exhibits and featuring occasional lectures and concerts. Traveling north to the Avondale area, you'll find a strong concentration of Polish groceries, bakeries, shops and restaurants near the intersection of Milwaukee and Belmont.
Ukrainian Village: Just west of the downtown core, this area has served as a hub of Ukrainian life since the early 1900s. This rich culture is reflected in restaurants, shops, youth centers and churches, including the handsomely spired St. Volodymyr Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral and the gold-domed Sts. Volodymyr & Olha Ukrainian Catholic Church. In addition to housing an archive and library, the Ukrainian National Museum displays more than a thousand items relating to folk art, music and agriculture.
Magnificent ArchitectureBy Suzanne Lemon
Another reason to take at least an afternoon to explore The Magnificent Mile, one that even those averse to shopping can appreciate: four of Chicago's great architectural landmarks.
Creating a kind of grand gateway to The Magnificent Mile along the Chicago River are the Tribune Tower and Wrigley Building, symbols of pre-Depression prosperity and emblems of the city itself. The stunning neo-Gothic Tribune Tower boasts a base implanted with bricks and rocks from world-renowned structures, samples of which include the Great Wall of China, the White House and the Taj Mahal. And the Wrigley Building, with its glazed terra cotta tiles and stately clock tower, presents a nighttime light display that makes an everlasting impression in Chicago's soaring skyline.
Then several blocks north there's the Gothic Revival-style Water Tower, a famous survivor of the Great Fire of 1871 and monument to Chicago's endurance with a pumping station that's still operational. Decorative battlements and a rough-hewn façade may remind observers of a theme park, which in a way, The Mag Mile is—if lavish spending can be considered a theme. You can step inside the beloved tower to obtain visitor information or to peruse free photography exhibitions at City Galley. Directly opposite is the 100-story John Hancock Center with its iconic X-shaped exterior bracing and a broad below-ground plaza with shops and restaurants, landscaped planters and a large curtain waterfall. Here you can see phenomenal 360-degree panoramas of downtown, the lakefront and even surrounding states from 360 CHICAGO (formerly the John Hancock Observatory) and a vertigo-inducing open-air Skywalk and the TILT enclosed glass platform.
Places in Vicinity