Saturday, January 10, 2009

Staycation in Chicago

I've always wanted to do a staycation in Chicago. I'm thinking this summer I may take some time off since I have way more vacation days to use than The Husband. If you can come in the summer I highly recommend it. Chicago has gorgeous weather in the summer and a lot of outdoor activities to do. I always say that if Chicago had weather this great all year round it would be the best city in the world. Skip the winter. It's miserable. Even people who live here don't want to be here. It's very windy, frequently rainy or snow, and the sun is never out. Even worse after a lot of snow it is a slushie mess that requires rain boots to walk around the city. Here's some of my recommendations for activities. I'll do another post on restaurants.


Cubs game at Wrigley Field - highly recommended. Make sure to hang around the Wrigleyville neighborhood afterwards for some drinks. It's a great party atmosphere.

The beach - highly recommended if you are a midwesterner without access to water. I still think it's the coolest thing that there's a beach right downtown. Easy to get to by public transportation. Great outing if you have a bigger group. There's beach volleyball as well. There's also a nice path that you can walk, jog, rollerblade, or bike next to the lake/beach. It gets a little crowded on nice days so watch out that you don't run a kiddo over if you're on a bike.

Architectural boat tour - highly recommended. Do the one offered by the Chicago Architecture Foundation. They're the experts. The CAF also offers tons of different tours everyday if you're an architecture buff like myself. Walking tours, bus tours, lunchtime tours, happy hour tours, boat tours.

Chicago Greeter - highly recommended. The best part of this tour is you have a private tour guide. For free! I've never actually used this service but I used a similar one in Buenos Aires that was fabulous. So knowledgeable and passionate. We tried to get one in NYC but they were booked up way in advance so they must be good. I think I may sign the in-laws up for this when they come to visit though. They also offer some tours in Millenium Park that you don't need to sign up for in advance.

Hancock Building - highly recommended. But not the Observatory. Instead of paying $10+ to take an elevator up to the observatory, go to the Signature Lounge and get a $10 cocktail. Skip it if it's cloudy though. You won't be able to see a thing. Please don't be the tourist in a crappy t-shirt though. This place is classy. Alternatively, you could eat dinner at the Signature Lounge but since I've never eaten there I can't vouch for how good the food is.

Art Institute - recommended. Currently the city is awaiting the opening of the new modern wing of the museum by Renzo Piano. Expect large crowds this spring or early when it does happen. Currently the museum is free (except for special exhibits) on Thursday evenings. In the summer I think sometimes Friday evenings are included as well. If you can't make it on a free night the cost is currently $12.

Museum of Contemporary Art - recommended. I really like the MCA. Probably because I don't get as overwhelmed here as I do in other museums since it's a more manageable size. Admission is free on Tuesdays. Other days is a $12 entry fee but the museum is closed on Mondays.

Millenium Park/Grant Park/Buckingham Fountain - recommended. If you're going specifically to see the fountain go at night on the hour to see the light show. The fountain doesn't run in the colder months either. The parks have a lot of events. From ice skating in the winter to everything under the sun in the summer. There's concerts, festivals, a restaurant, the famous Bean (formally known as Cloud Gate). You can rent Segways or bikes or you can mini-golf.

Frank Lloyd Wright Tour - recommended. This is actually located in the suburb of Oak Park but it's easily accessible by the el (green line) from the Loop. Probably a must for serious architecture buffs, but enjoyable for everyone else. There's a couple different tours available, most being $12. Probably best to book in advance.

Field Museum - recommended. This is a great museum for people with kids. Lots of hands on stuff to do. There's a pirate exhibit coming up that could be especially fun. The Field Museum is located on museum campus along with the Shedd Aquarium and the Adler Planetarium. If it's nice you can walk from the loop (a mile or more). Or else you can take the bus, taxi, or there is parking available on site. Absolutely do not drive down there if there is a Bears game though. A bus is your best bet since a taxi will be expensive with all the traffic. Admission starts at $15 for adults. Free days follow some crazy schedule but are listed on the museum's website.

Lincoln Park Zoo - recommended. The Lincoln Park zoo isn't anything special in terms of zoos so I wouldn't go out of my way for it. But if you've got kids with you, are a huge animal love, or are just walking through the park it's a nice stop. The best part is the zoo is free!

Museum of Science and Industry - recommended. This is another great place for kids with lots to do (and adults as well!). It is kind of out of the way, about 6 miles south of downtown, so it's probably best to drive there. Tickets start at $13 for adults. Free days are random (and mostly in January and October), but check their website.

Shedd Aquarium - recommended. Right now the Oceanarium is closed and is due to reopen in June of 2009. To me this is one of the main reasons to come to the Shedd so check the aquarium's website for updates before arriving. The dolphin show is great and has an absolutely beautiful view of Lake Michigan. In the summer they have a great program called Jazz at the Shedd with jazz music and drinks after work on Thursdays. Entry for adults starts at $16. Free days don't include any of the cool exhibits like the Komodo Dragon or dolphins or penguins so I don't think it's worth going on those days.

Adler Planetarium - recommended. I've actually never been to the planetarium but I've heard it's pretty cool Ticket prices start at $10 for adults. They have a special thing called Far Out Fridays on Friday evenings. Free days are listed on the website but are generally on Tuesdays.

Chicago History Museum - recommended. I've actually never been here either but have been dying to go. Chicago history has always fascinated me even before I lived here so I can't wait to go. Admission is $14 but free on Mondays.

Hull House Museum - not recommended. I went here once last summer because I was able to walk there from my house, plus it's free. If you're a huge Jane Addams fan (and really who is?) then I'd attend. It's generally not convenient to where most tourists stay and there's so many other things to do in the city.

Navy Pier - not recommended. Skip skip skip. This place is full of tourists, extremely crowded, and very expensive for activities, food, and drinks.

Evening Attractions

Ravinia - recommended. Ravinia is an outdoor music venue north of the city in the suburbs. However if you take the Metra there is a stop right at the entrance. Ravinia offers concerts by all different kinds of artists. Bring a picnic and hop on the train. There's also restaurants available on-site.

Second City or other Improv - recommended. Chicago is known for it's improv comedy. Chris Farley, John Belushi, and Tiny Fey? All Second City Chicago Alumni. Second City tickets are $20 on weekdays and $25 on weekends. There are many other improv shows that are worth seeing as well in the city.

Theater District - recommended. Theatres are located down in the Loop area. Currently Wicked has been running for years and is the big "to-see" in Chicago but that will be shutting down in a month or so.

Blue Man Group - recommended. A unique theatre experience in the Lakeview neighborhood. Tickets start at $49.

Magnificent Mile - This is what everyone thinks of when they come to Chicago. There's a couple malls, a Nordstrom, Macys, and Bloomingdales. Most of the stores are ones you can find in any mall across America, just giant-sized.

State Street - located down in the Loop. This is where the original Marshall Fields, now turned to a Macys, is. There's also a lot of bargain stores such as TJ Maxx and Nordstrom Rack.

Oak Street - located on a side street off of Michigan Avenue, this is where you go if you're rolling in the dough. Here is where the big designers are located. Prada, Barneys, Hermes, and Yves Saint Laurent are located here along with some fancy bridal shops.

Southport corridor - right off the brown line el stop. This is one of the places to go in the city for boutique shopping. You won't find much of a tourist crowd here.

Armitage and Halsted streets - off the brown line Armitage stop. Also full of boutiques and some upscale stores. There's a Barneys, Lululemon, Benefit cosmetics, and a couple consignment stores full of some very nice clothes.

Bucktown - off the blue line Damen el stop. More boutiques. Bucktown has more of a hipster vibe than Southport or Armitage.


Chicago is home to the Cubs (baseball), White Sox (baseball), Bulls (basketball), Blackhawks (hockey), and Bears (football).

If you're able to get Cubs or Bears tickets don't miss those games. The rest aren't that exciting unless you're a huge fan plus they can get pretty pricey.

Useful Websites - The Chicago Transit Authority's website. This website is useful if you're going to be taking the bus or the el. It lists prices for tickets and also has a feature that will plan your route for you. Keep in mind bus drivers will not give you change, you must have the exact amount. - Especially helpful for restaurant reviews. However, stores, spas, hotels, and anything else you can think of are reviewed as well. - For anything I haven't included on here. - Hotel advice. Since I live here I can't really recommend many hotels. - I love this hotel. We stayed here on The Husband's company dime when we came to the city to look for apartments. My favorite part is the happy hour they host every day with tons of food - things like mozzarella, prosciutto, and delicious bread. They also have drinks, including their specialty, Amalfitinis.


Liz said...

These are some great suggestions! Since I grew up in SE Wisconsin, and now have friends living in Chicago, I have been there a lot. However, there are some things like the Architectural Boat Tour that I have never tried. I will be referring to this in the future!

Dunc said...

I love Chicago! We haven't done even close to everything you've listed, so now I have some great new ideas. Thanks for the post!

Liz said...

We had a great weekend in Chicago with friends-- they planned it, but we hit the Signature Lounge, Second City, and shopping the Watertower/ Oak Street.

If you haven't had breakfast at Wishbone near the Harpo Studios, check it out.

I love Chicago!