A week alone in Chicago.
March 15, 2010 2:43 PM   Subscribe

What's a girl to do alone all day in Chicago?

I’ll be visiting my best friend in Chicago, the last week of March. She will probably be working 'til 5 or 6 pm and we have things planned for the evenings, but I'll be spending most of the day by myself. Last year I was in Chicago with my husband, and we went to some of the museums (Field Museum, Science and Industry, Adler Planetarium, Shedd Aquarium) and I’m not really interested in going to those again unless there's an awesome exhibit in town.

I’ve never really traveled alone, and I’m a little “shy” of walking around a big city all alone (plus brrr, cold!), but I do want to take advantage of some me time and do fun stuff and see some interesting places like museums or fun stores (plus have a good lunch in or near those places). Any suggestions are welcome.

Some examples of what I already have in mind:
-I’ve never been in a Whole Foods store, and I’ve seen them on Top Chef and people here also talk about them so I’m planning to visit and cook a great meal for my friend for when she comes back from work.
-I loved walking around the three stories Crate and Barrel on Michigan Ave. last time. I’ve never been to an Ikea, is there one I could reach on the public transportation system?
-Apart from the museums I already went to, what others are a must?
-I may want to go shopping for some spring-summer clothes.
-I have another friend studying in Kellogg, how easy would it be to visit, and can I sneak in to any classes (big lecture-hall type places?) while I wait for her?

Bonus question: Where can I get one of those CTA cards worth for a week of rides? Last time we were there, a friend told us of one he got in the airport, with some special-fare sort of thing that was only available there. I'd like one of those. Anyone know about this? (My friend will pick me up after my flight, so I may have to go looking for the CTA thingy before leaving the airport....?)
posted by CrazyLemonade to Travel & Transportation around Chicago, IL (43 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
My wife and I took the train down to Oak Park to see Frank Lloyd Wright's home and studio. We had a great time. Had lunch and coffee/tea in the area before heading back.
posted by beowulf573 at 2:46 PM on March 15, 2010

Best answer: The Art Institute is a must-do if you're interested in another museum.
posted by craven_morhead at 2:48 PM on March 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

On the Miracle Mile there is a Lego Store that is fun to visit if you've never been to a Lego store before. In that same shopping complex there is Vosges Haut-Chocolat store thatwill sell you some very high end hot chocolate and chocolate truffles.

If you have any interest in Art then the aforementioned Art Institute is definitely worth your time. It is chalk full of some various large and famous works as well as a giant room of suits of armor and a room of miniature rooms.
posted by mmascolino at 2:55 PM on March 15, 2010

There are two IKEAs in the Chicago area, but they're both out in the suburbs and not accessible by public transportation. I'll second the Art Institute, you could easily spend an entire day there and not take in half the museum.

You can get CTA 7 day passes online or from a few locations in the city. The Northwestern Campus in Evanston isn't a very far walk at all from the CTA Purple line.
posted by borkencode at 2:56 PM on March 15, 2010

Best answer: IKEA is in the suburbs and although there may be some round about way of getting there via a Pace bus it would take a long time and be an ordeal. Not recommended.

Seconding The Art Institute. It is really impressive and a new modern wing has opened this year. I like the Mexican Art Museum down in Pilsen (off the pink line) but if you live in Mexico it might not be worth it to you.

Spring clothes are out in the stores, no problem.

You can get different CTA passes at the El station in O'Hare but its downstairs through a long tunnel and at least a 5 minute walk from arrivals. Some CTA stations sell the cards as well, check here. You can get 1,3 or 7-day passes (prices and info here).

If you've already done the Michigan Avenue thing why not explore some other neighborhoods? If you tell us what you like or what you fashion style is I'm sure we can help point you in the right direction.
posted by Bunglegirl at 2:57 PM on March 15, 2010

Are you afraid of heights? I hear there is some sort of tall building in the Chicago area, but i have my doubts...
posted by Mesach at 3:03 PM on March 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh, and if you're interested in tall buildings, skip the Sears Tower. For the same amount of money, you can get a drink at the bar at the Signature Lounge.
posted by craven_morhead at 3:12 PM on March 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

you can get to the schaumburg ikea this way: blue line from downtown to the rosemont stop; take pace bus 606 to woodfield mall, then take the woodfield trolley to ikea.

be a bit time consuming, but worth it if you really want to see an ikea. as indicated above, most people don't regard suburban buses as public transportation in chicagoland.
posted by lester at 3:19 PM on March 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

There's a Whole Foods in the Gold Coast neighborhood, which is a few blocks from Michigan Avenue, and therefore walkable. However, there are many others scattered here and there, and which may be closer and easier for where you happen to be.

I'd ask your friend at Kellogg if it's OK to visit, just for the logistics - there are two separate campuses, one in downtown, and one in Evanston.
posted by ZeusHumms at 3:20 PM on March 15, 2010

I always recommend the Museum
of Contemporary Photography. It's not huge, but it's free. It's on the Columbia College building at 600 S. Michigan, a few blocks from the Art Institute. I'm also a fan of the Museum of Contemporary Art, which is just off the Mag Mile.
posted by sugarfish at 3:23 PM on March 15, 2010

Best answer: You answers, in order:
1. Here is a listing of all the Whole Foods locations in Chicago. Since you've never been to one before, let me warn you: the food is not cheap.
2. The Ikeas are in two suburbs, Bolingbrook and Schaumburg. You can get there via public transportation, but it is a huge pain in the ass. I'm not sure how to get to the Bolingbrook one, but to get to the Schaumburg one, take the CTA to the Ogilvie Transportation Center (Green or Pink Line to Clinton or Brown/Orange/Pink/Purple to Washington & Wells) and get on the METRA Union Pacific Northwest Line. Travel to the Arlington Heights Metra Station, and hop on the Pace Bus 696, which will get you to Ikea. Yikes.
3. You may really enjoy the Art Institute or the Museum of Contemporary Art. I think for visitors, the Chicago History Museum is a can't-miss.
4. If you're planning to hit the Mag Mile and State Street shopping, and want spring/summer clothes, you'll hit an H&M, Zara, Forever 21, and various other cheap-chic clothing options in that area. For more local shops, you can't miss the radii around the Belmont (Red/Brown/Purple lines) or Damen (Blue line) stops on the CTA. For more upscale, try around the Armitage stop on the Brown line.
5. Kellogg is in Evanston, far north. You can access it by taking the red line to Howard, which is the nearest CTA stop. I can't tell you how likely it is that you'll be able to pop into a lecture, but the Northwestern campus itself is lovely, and you'll have no shortage of places to sit, drink some coffee, and read a newspaper.

You can get a 7-day CTA pass at the listed CTA stations in this link: CTA Passes.

If you have any other questions, don't hesitate to send me a MeFi Mail. Enjoy your trip!
posted by juniperesque at 3:23 PM on March 15, 2010 [3 favorites]

On the topic of whole foods -- the one in Lincoln Park is large and in charge. Haven't been to all the WFs in the city but i gotta think the Lincoln Park is the most impressive. It's certainly the newest.
posted by Hello, Revelers! I am Captain Lavender! at 3:33 PM on March 15, 2010

Some good neighborhoods to walk around might be Andersonville (those people live in big mansion houses, by the way), Boystown (if you don't mind passing places called things like Ram and Great Head), and Lincoln Park. Walking down Broadway from where it interects with Belmont is also fun.
I know you don't like walking around in the city, and neither do I (it's weird, alone). But these places are really neighborhood-like.
And it's never not cold in Chicago, from my understanding.
posted by lhude sing cuccu at 4:08 PM on March 15, 2010

Kellogg is in Evanston, far north. You can access it by taking the red line to Howard, which is the nearest CTA stop.

Er, nope. Kellogg is in Evanston, which is far north, but the nearest CTA stop is Noyes or Foster on the Purple Line (just a few minutes walk away from campus.) Switch to the Purple Line from the Red Line at Howard, or take a Purple Line express in from the Loop if you're heading there during rush hour.

And yeah, the Lincoln Park Whole Foods (get off at North and Clybourne on the Red Line) is ginormous.

Wandering around Wicker Park and Bucktown might be fun; it's a quickly gentrifying area, but there are some fun stores - Myopic, if you like used books, Quimby's, if you like zines, a Reckless Records if you like weird music, etc. Stuff that probably falls on the quirky/hipster spectrum, if you like that.
posted by ubersturm at 4:19 PM on March 15, 2010

As a graduate of Kellogg, I can say that there are some bigger classes in which you can sit either undetected or at least unbothered. Need to take the train to Evanston.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 4:19 PM on March 15, 2010

Response by poster: Wow, thanks for all the great answers so far.

-I've added the Art Institute to my plans, and took the Ikea out...unless my friend takes me in her car during the weekend.
-There's a Whole Foods on Canal St. which seems closest to my friend's apartment (she lives in West Madison ).
-For shopping, I think I'll stick to the Magnificent Mile and State Street; I'm getting angsty just thinking about wandering around some other places without a specific place to get to.
-I already did the whole Sears building thing, but a drink at the Signature Lounge seems like a fun thing to do with my friend.

Bunglegirl and juniperesque, special thanks for the extra long answers!
posted by CrazyLemonade at 4:32 PM on March 15, 2010

Chicago also has some awesome free public naturey places:
Lincoln Park Zoo & Conservatory
Garfield Park Conservatory

The Chicago History Museum mentioned earlier is also great, and near the Lincoln Park items.

If you time your visit to Evanston based on rush hour, the Purple Line Express train saves you a bundle of time. The NU campus is worth walking around in (consider a visit to Deering Library, right near one of the Kellogg buildings.)
posted by Wulfhere at 4:41 PM on March 15, 2010

If you're flying into O'Hare, you won't be all that far from the Schaumburg IKEA. Maybe you can convince your friend to take a detour after picking you up?
posted by SuperSquirrel at 4:46 PM on March 15, 2010

You might want to consider going to millennium park and checking out the bean.
posted by kylej at 4:51 PM on March 15, 2010

Response by poster: I checked out the bean last time. Walked into it, even. Ouch!
posted by CrazyLemonade at 4:56 PM on March 15, 2010

Whole Foods is fun but if you're interested in shopping for fine foods, try to get to Fox & Obel.
posted by BibiRose at 5:19 PM on March 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

For shopping beyond the Magnificent Mile:

If you take the red line up to the stop called Belmont, there are a lot of little shops there, though they are thrifty.

If you take the blue line to the Damen stop, you'll be in an area called Wicker Park with a lot of little boutiques.

If you take the brown line to Diversey and walk about 3-4 blocks, you'll hit a lot of little shops there.
posted by astapasta24 at 5:42 PM on March 15, 2010

If you at all like pizza, you really ought to get a Chicago-style while you're there. I'm eating one right now that I brought back from my trip last week :D My personal favorite is Gino's East, but Lou Malnatti's is also good. Giordano's is too cheesey to be really great IMO.

If you like coffee or hot cocoa, I highly recommend Intelligentsia Coffee. Truly superb, head and shoulders above the national chains and most local places.

I have heard that TeaGschwendner is a good tea place, but I have not been there yet.

Finally, I'll agree with Fox and Obel. My gf and I were floored when we went in while looking for a snack. The food is beautiful and the selection is excellent. Definitely the most impressive grocery store I've ever been in.
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 5:52 PM on March 15, 2010

Best answer: I’m a little “shy” of walking around a big city all alone

Would it help if you had headphones and a goal? I did some of these walking tours when I was alone in Chicago last summer, and enjoyed them. Yeah, you look like a total tourist standing on the sidewalk gawking, but so what? These ones are in the Loop, which will be busy and safe during the day (as far as I know, locals please correct me if I'm wrong).

There are more tours here, but I don't know how good they are.
posted by The corpse in the library at 6:05 PM on March 15, 2010

Spend a day in the Art Institute.

You could go see a movie at the Music Box Theatre. It's an old fashioned theater that shows foreign and art films. It has a curtain and an old organ and everything.

Take the Metra to Hyde Park. Get coffee at Istria, visit the University of Chicago campus, take a free tour of the Oriental Institute.

If you like shopping, walk up and down State Street in the loop from Jackson to Wacker. There are dozens of stores on either side of the street. Also, there is the Magnificent Mile, on Michigan Ave, north of the river (fancier stores are usually on Michigan). During daylight, it is safe (crawling with tourists and CPD), and in late March, you shouldn't be too cold as long as you wear a coat and sweater.
posted by chicago2penn at 6:13 PM on March 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Also, if you don't go on the Architecture Boat Tour, you need your money back.

I lived in Chicago for 5 years, and I still love going on that thing!
posted by chicago2penn at 6:15 PM on March 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Stop by Xoco for breakfast or lunch and say hi to Rick Bayless, winner of Top Chef Masters. (Or for a pricier meal, check out his Frontera Grill or Topolobampo... they're all in a row.) He's on Twitter and has said that if he's there all you have to do is ask for him and he'll come say hi.
posted by IndigoRain at 8:00 PM on March 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

The new Whole Foods in Lincoln Park is worth a visit. They have a bar and at least three restaurants inside the place. It's impressive, and it's right by a bunch of shops at the North/Clybourn intersection and red line stop.

The Chicago Office of Tourism's twitter feed is a great source for going on's in the city. Have fun!
posted by tenaciousd at 8:10 PM on March 15, 2010

Best answer: There's a Whole Foods on Canal St. which seems closest to my friend's apartment (she lives in West Madison )

I hear you, but seriously reconsider and make a trip to the "flagship" store. It is to a regular Whole Foods like the space shuttle is to a model airplane. If you're going to a Whole Foods for the first time for the purpose of going to Whole Foods, you really should go to this one.

(Not that ingredients for a nice meal there won't set you back an absurd amount of money, so maybe don't actually buy stuff there!)
posted by iknowizbirfmark at 8:11 PM on March 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

One of my favorite hidden gems in Chicago is the free stained glass museum on Navy Pier.

If you're going up north to Kellogg, you may want to go a few stops further north on the Purple Line to the Linden stop and check out the Baha'i temple, which is both gorgeous and fascinating (and one of only 7 in the world.)

Seconding The corpse in the library on the walking tours, and Earl the Polliwog on the pizza (except that Giordano's is truly great because it is so cheesey, of course!)
posted by EmilyClimbs at 9:27 PM on March 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

I came to recommend the Chicago Architecture Foundation if you're into history or architecture. Check out all their walking tours downtown--they seem to have a few every day. And as chicago2penn recommends, the boat tour is definitely worth it!
posted by nowmorethannever at 9:31 PM on March 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Go to Women and Children First. Check out Gapers Block (run by mefi's own me3dia), Time Out Chicago or Chicago Reader for stuff to do.
posted by brujita at 10:06 PM on March 15, 2010

Response by poster: I definetly want to go on one of the architecture bpat tours, but apparently they aren't available yet. If anyone knows of a tour I could take the last week of march, let me know!
posted by CrazyLemonade at 12:02 AM on March 16, 2010

Response by poster: By bpat I meant boat.
posted by CrazyLemonade at 12:05 AM on March 16, 2010

Just a small FYI, Garfield Park Conservatory is in a really bad neighborhood. If you're taking public transportation only, I wouldn't recommend it. I drove (with a friend and my son) and I was nervous. It is beautiful but small. You'll get through it in 20 min.

Go for Lincoln Park Zoo, walk around the town, there's the history museum nearby, great restaurants, and you never know if it's nice out, you could go to the beach (walk around).

Have fun.
posted by stormpooper at 6:26 AM on March 16, 2010

Just a small FYI, Garfield Park Conservatory is in a really bad neighborhood.

I was going to say... if she's nervous about being in the loop then lets not sent her to Garfield Park on the green line. Actually, the conservatory is less than a block from the CTA station and I'm sure she would be fine but there's plenty of other things for her to do. I rode my bike there on a summer weekday at noon and felt a little nervous. I thought it would be comparable to Humbolt Park but it felt much more sketchy.
posted by Bunglegirl at 8:59 AM on March 16, 2010

It sounds like you're planning on visiting the Art Institute. So you know, there is a big Matisse exhibition opening next week, so consider getting tickets before the day you want to go (there could be a line). Also, you could easily spend a day in there.

I also like the Peggy Notebaart Nature museum which is very close to the Lincoln Park Zoo.

Also: Hot Doug's. There will be a line.

Also: Drive down Lake Shore Drive at night.
posted by mike_bling at 9:08 AM on March 16, 2010

Response by poster: Ok mike-bling, I'll see about the tickets. Thanks.
posted by CrazyLemonade at 9:33 AM on March 16, 2010

Response by poster: Also, thanks Bunglegirl for looking out for me, heh. Last time I was in Chicago, we ended up getting lost after coming back from the Field Museum and had to walk around a neighborhood that gave us all the creeps (and there were four of us!) I'm not taking any chances with unknown places if I'm alone.
posted by CrazyLemonade at 9:49 AM on March 16, 2010

Last weekend of March you say? Come out and see some roller derby!
posted by eamondaly at 11:38 AM on March 16, 2010

Go to Devon Ave, it's the heart of the Indian and Pakistani community in Chicago. Walk around, shop, check out the restaurants, go to Tahoora Sweets and pick up some Indian desserts. The selection will be large, just ask them to recommend a few things.
posted by exhilaration at 12:39 PM on March 16, 2010

Roller derby is a really good idea.
posted by garlic at 3:04 PM on March 16, 2010

Response by poster: Leaving for Chicago tomorrow. I'll come back and update the thread so that someone else benefits later from the info.

Also, as a year-after update on this question, my friend managed to get tickets, so we're going to the show on saturday!
posted by CrazyLemonade at 8:30 AM on March 23, 2010

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