Things to do in Chicago
Architectural River Cruise
The city's "living museum" of architectural treasures is candidly and humorously uncovered during these lively boat cruises down the Chicago River. Led by certified docents of the Chicago Architecture Foundation, the 90-minute tours cover more than 50 significant structures, including the Tribune Tower, Leo Burnett Building, Chicago Mercantile Exchange, and Montgomery Ward Company Complex.
Art Institute of Chicago
This prestigious museum includes over 500,000 works in its permanent collection. Among the Monets, O'Keefes and Warhols are Grant Wood's American Gothic and Edward Hopper's Nighthawks. A new 264,000-square-foot, Renzo Piano-designed Modern Wing, devoted solely to 20th and 21st century paintings, sculptures, architecture, and photography opened in May 2009, making the museum the second largest in the U.S.
Center on Halsted
The first LEED-certified gay and lesbian community center in the US offers plenty of resources for the LGBT community – but all are welcome to shoot hoops in the Billie Jean King Recreation Hall, take in a play (or Sunday worship service) at the Hoover-Leppen Theater, or just admire the jaw-dropping skyline views from the rooftop garden.
Green City Market
Chicago takes a stab at local, sustainable agriculture with this bi-weekly farmer’s market (Wednesday and Saturday, 7am-1:30pm) where an impressive array of area vendors vaunt their finest produce while super chefs and foodies hobnob with the masses. Populist authors like Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation) occasionally pop in for a lecture.
This 1,200+ acre park hugs the eastern shoreline providing miles of bike trails, beaches, baseball diamonds and ample skyline sightings.
Da Mayor’s much-hyped vanity project has paid off in spades. Take in a free concert at Pritzker Pavilion, splash around in Crown Fountain, or marvel at Cloud Gate, aka “the Bean.”
Museum of Contemporary Art
Everybody admires the MCA’s serious commitment to cutting-edge art – including works by the likes of Lee Bontecou, Dan Flavin, and Jasper Johns. But just try and stop the hipsters from schmoozing and boozing at the insanely popular First Fridays, or working up a sweat while winning fabulous prizes during Bingo/Tango on the second Tuesday of the month.
No visit to Chicago is complete without sampling a thick, buttery slice of deep-dish pizza. Launched April 2010, Second City Pizza Tours' two and a half-hour trips visit Chicago's five most famous pizzerias (Gino's East, Giordano's, Uno, Quartino, and Castel Gandolfo). At every location, you'll sample a new pie style (stuffed, deep-dish, brick oven, and thin crust), each ready when your group arrives. Stops take about a 30 minutes and offer a healthy serving of architectural history in between. Admission is $36 for adults, $28 for children. Tours operate from April -- November, every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at 11:30 a.m.
Chicago’s famed temple of improv still cranks out satire and superstars. Steve Carrell, Stephen Colbert, and Tina Fey all cut their teeth here in recent years.
The largest aquarium in the world recreates the eco-system of the Great Lakes and dazzles with a living coral reef, but it’s whale- and dolphin-watching in the Oceanarium that brings in the crowds.
Steppenwolf Theatre Company
Located outside the city’s main downtown theater district, the renowned Steppenwolf Theatre Company – whose founding members include John Malkovich and Gary Sinise – has featured souch recent draws as Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, starring Tony-nominated Amy Morton and Pulitzer- and Tony-winning playwright Tracy Letts. Although ticket prices vary, many weekday and matinee performances cost less than $50.
The Green Mill
Al Capone is among the legendary patrons to have climbed into one of the giant curvy booths at this legendary jazz joint and speakeasy.
The Magnificent Mile
Although most famous for its retail offerings, the so-called Magnificent Mile mixes splashy shops like Niketown, American Girl Place, and the Apple Store with architectural landmarks like the Tribune Tower, a 40-story neo-gothic skyscraper speckled with pieces of the pyramids at Cairo; Westminster Abbey; and other famed sites representing all 50 states and dozens of nations. Conclude the shopping trail at Water Tower Place, a vertical mall with more than 100 stores and striking glass elevators. Or, explore the Historic Water Tower building, located one block south of the mall on Michigan Avenue; the limestone, castle-like structure is one of the few to survive the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, and admission is free.
The Chicago Cubs may never win the World Series, but spending an afternoon swilling beer in the bleachers at this ivy-covered neighborhood ballpark should be a compulsory part of every visitor’s experience.
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If you have an early flight, choose a hotel close to the airport the night before. Starting a trip on too little sleep is never fun.
Karen Dion Freelance Editor
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