Chicago, Illinois, USA
Chicago must have something pretty special to draw visitors from all over the world, not to mention keep the three million plus who call the city ‘home’ in place. Chicago’s special something isn’t that mysterious, though; the secret is having a little bit of everything. There’s plenty of shopping, there are sports, famous buildings, local cuisine as well as fine dining, and samples from many different cultures; there are plenty of historical landmarks, museums, theaters, and famous people (Oprah!); and there is even decent natural scenery. The city’s jack-of-all-trades atmosphere is what keeps it interesting. It bears mentioning that this very trait is responsible for most of Chicago’s negative traits as well. When you can do a lot of things pretty well, you often lose out on doing any one or two things very well.
If you’re in town for the first time, you might want to check out the places and things Chicago is best known for. This list is definitely not for the tourist phobic, but can give you a good idea of the broad range of things to do and see.
The Sears Tower
Location: 233 S. Wacker Drive
Phone: (312) 875-9696
Open: Mar-Sept: 9am-11pm; Oct-Feb: 9am-10pm
Cost: $9.95 Adults
It’s not just a tall building, it’s a really tall building, so tall it held the world record for height for a good long time after it was built. While that particular honor has since been obscured, the view from 103 stories above Chicago’s city streets is nothing to scoff at. After waiting in line for what could be a long, long time and coughing up your $10, you’ll watch a video before shooting up to the top in elevators lined with flat-screen TVs and footage from NASA, apparently an effort to make you feel like you’re leaving the planet. It’s a worthwhile view, but if you’re going to give up time and money to take a look, be absolutely sure to ask an employee whether it’s clear at the top. Even when the streets are fine, there could be thick haze, and all you’ll end up with is a long elevator ride.
Location: 50 acres on Lake Michigan
Open: Year round
Navy Pier is kind of hard to explain. Imagine horrific conglomerations of money-wasting tourist traps that together create a garish blot on the face of the city and you’re pretty close. Basically, Navy Pier is a large area in which shops, restaurants, a giant ferris wheel, ice skating in the winter, IMAX theaters and street performers thrive on squeezing the huge throngs of people constantly churning in and out of the scene for their sightseeing money. Maybe I’m being unfair; Navy Pier is definitely a well-known Chicago landmark. If you don’t mind crowds and mind-numbingly high prices for stuff you don’t need, be my guest.
The Art Institute of Chicago
Location: 111 South Michigan Avenue
Phone: (312) 443-3600
Open: Mon & Wed-Fri: 10:30am-4:30am; Sat: 10am-5pm; Sun: 12am-5pm
Cost: Free on Tuesdays, $12 every other day.
Best known for its collection of Impressionist artwork (think Seurat and Monet), this museum is everything an art museum should be. The other collections include everything from ancient world art to contemporary art. Well worth the $12, but if you can get there on Tuesday, even better. The floor plan is a little confusing, but there are plenty of maps. Tip: don’t bother with the cafeteria food, it’s overpriced.
The Field Museum
Location: 1400 S. Lake Shore Drive
Phone: (312) 922-9410
Open: 9am – 5pm, open every day but Christmas. Closes early on some holidays.
Cost: To gain access to all the cool stuff, the regular price is $17 adults and $14 students. Discount Days (most Mondays and Tuesdays in Jan/Feb and Nov/Dec) are a better deal: $7 adults/students.
The Field Museum was founded on four basic departments: Anthropology, Botany, Zoology and Geology. Exhibits follow these themes and change regularly. It would be very, very difficult to go through this museum thoroughly in just one day, so give yourself plenty of time and be prepared to leave with a profound admiration for life.
Location: 1200 S. Lake Shore Dr.
Phone: (312) 939-2438
Open: May-Sept: daily 9am-6pm; Sept-May: Mon-Fri 9am-5pm; closed Christmas & New Year’s
Cost: $23 a pop for the whole thing, but a partial tour can cost as little as $8. Also a participant in Discount Days, during which the price plummets to $9.
The aquarium is on the museum campus with the Field Museum and the Adler Planetarium. It’s the largest indoor aquarium in the world, and it definitely does the job an aquarium should do. Stay a few hours or all day, and if you’re into marine life behind glass or in tanks, you’ll love it.
The Magnificent Mile
Location: Michigan Ave. between the Chicago River (south) and Lake Shore Dr. (north).
Why is this mile so magnificent? Think upscale: exclusive eating, shopping, and sleeping. There are plenty of less hoity toity restaurants and brand name stores as well, but if you have an aversion to designer anything, stay away. On the mile, there are a few Chicago landmarks, like the Historic Water Tower and the John Hancock building (home to another fantastic view of the city), and a lot to look at, like street art and performances. Even if you don’t care to shop, you might want to take a stroll; many consider this stretch of road the heart of Chicago.
Location: 1060 W. Addison Street
Phone: (773) 404-CUBS
It’s famous, it’s neat-looking, and the Cubs play there.
The Lyric Opera of Chicago
Location: Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Dr
Phone: (312) 332-2244
This world renowned opera has been entertaining for almost 50 years. The Civic Opera House has also undergone major renovations; English translations of all operas are available.
Buddy Guy’s Legends
Location: 745 Wabash Avenue
Phone: (312) 427-0333
Jazz. It’s one of Chicago’s biggest claims to fame. This restaurant/pool hall/club is a great place to take in great music, sometimes even from musician and owner Buddy Guy.