On the surface, Chicago is brimming with tourist spots, foodie haunts, architectural wonders, and more culture than you can shake a stick at. But never mind those well-trodden tourist paths. Below, we shed some light on the city’s lesser known attractions. Check them out on your next trip...
Let’s not get into the New York pizza vs. Chicago-style pizza debate. Instead, let’s focus on Chicago pies, and dig into the lesser known, but wholly unappreciated little sister of deep dish pizza – Chicago-style thin crust. Unlike New York pizza, Chicago’s has an impossibly crisp crunch – not to mention the right sauce-to-topping ratio and a square, “party-style” cut. Something to chew on, Jon Stewart. Check out the pies from Godfather’s (start at $9.20) and Vito & Nick’s ($12.75 and up).
If you're looking for local flavor, diligently seek out the Tamale Guy. He is a veritable Chicago celebrity, slinging fresh, handmade tamales from his red cooler at the city’s dives, bars, and clubs. He’s usually found hawking his wares near hip Wicker Park and Bucktown late at night, while the crowdsourced Twitter account @TamaleTracker keeps a beady eye on the Tamale Guy’s whereabouts.
The U.S.’s only nonprofit organization dedicated to outsider art, the Intuit Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art (admission: $5) houses 1,100 intriguing works. “Outsider art” is the label for art created outside the boundaries of standard culture, whether made by artists with no formal art education, or by other underrepresented groups such as children and prisoners. The jewel of Intuit’s permanent collection is the replica of Henry Darger’s room. Darger was a Chicago artist who died in obscurity as a janitor but whose tiny apartment housed a massive (and impressive) body of work.
The Pritzker Military Library was founded in 2003 and is home to 45,000 books, artifacts, videos, and photographs that focus on telling America’s history through the study of the citizen soldier. Located in the city’s Loop, it’s only $5 for admission, though that cost is waved for visitors with active military I.D.. Permanent exhibits include one honoring those who have received a Medal of Honor, along with one highlighting the women’s groups that served during World War II.
Touring the city’s cemeteries is not as ghastly as it sounds. These fascinating grounds are the final restring place of some of the city’s most prominent movers and shakers. Graceland Cemetery is the final resting place of Louis Sullivan, one of Chicago's most influential architects and considered father of the modern skyscraper, and Daniel Burnham, the chief of construction for the legendary 1883 Columbian Exposition. At the Oak Woods Cemetery, Harold Washington, Chicago's first African-American mayor is laid to rest. Both are free to enter.
Afraid of Chicago’s infamous cold weather knifing your face? Fret not! The city’s extensive underground Pedway, located within the downtown Loop corridor, keeps you out of the elements. This comfortable warren of heated passageways run underground, with points of interest for curious tourists and travelers. Check out Chicago Detours’ free downloadable map if you want to explore on your own.