Chicago - fun, shopping, must dos for a solo visitor
September 18, 2013 11:31 PM   Subscribe

Hello, I'll be in Chicago soon, alone, for a conference in a hotel near the Navy Pier. I'll have two half days on my own, so I wanted suggestions for cool things to do for an art, design, food, music and comics nerd that will work with my limited time.

I'm listening to Sufjan Stevens "Illinoise" to get in the mood for my upcoming trip!

I'm already planning to go to Quimby's Comics and the art museums but don't know what else to do.

I'm asking because I want to be realistic about how I use my time and I don't know what real travel times are like in Chicago. Planning on using public transit. Is it safe for a lady alone at night? Sorry if asking that question makes me sound like an old biddy. ;)

Also seeking:
-Best cup of coffee, best bakery
-Frank Llord Wright--visit the Rookery or Robie House?
-Quintessential Chicago things not to miss other than Pizza and Empty Bottle
-Cool record stores
-Places to find amazing dresses and shoes
-I know WBEZ is located near the navy pier too, is it somewhere I can visit?
-Good places to shop for zines other than Quimby's

Also planning on going to the Frango mint factory and climbing into the chocolate vat.
posted by dottiechang to Travel & Transportation around Chicago, IL (24 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
I'm a huge aquarium dork and love the Shedd aquarium.
posted by karlos at 12:09 AM on September 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

What are your exact dates? There's some neat stuff coming up. I'll think on this and write more later.
posted by Anwan at 12:13 AM on September 19, 2013

Response by poster: I'll be there from the 19th-22nd!
posted by dottiechang at 12:17 AM on September 19, 2013

The architectural boat tour was surprisingly interesting and a nice way to spend an afternoon.
posted by rmless at 1:17 AM on September 19, 2013 [6 favorites]

Very close to Quimbys is Akira, which is good shopping. (It's actually 3 stores within a block or two from each other - menswear, women's clothes, and shoes/accessories). Just north on Damen from there are a ton of designer stores (Marc Jacobs, etc).

As long as you have a general sense of big city safety, you will be just fine on pub trans.
posted by Fig at 2:34 AM on September 19, 2013

Safety is always a good thing to be aware of. Take taxis. Safe, and also a great way to maximize your time. Chicago has some other good public transit options, but most of them involve some sitting around and waiting.

WBEZ has a studio in Navy Pier, including a little broadcast booth along the public walkway - but I've never seen it used. They apparently offer tours on Tuesday at 10AM if you make arrangements with them. You have to walk pretty far out towards the Grand Ballroom, and it is just before the stained glass window museum. Which you should see if that interests you at all.

Chicago's ritzy Magnificent Mile is a mile away from Navy Pier. Shopping, food, etc.

The Shedd Aquarium, as karlos mentioned. The Art Institute of Chicago and Millennium Park. The Field Museum of Natural History and Buckingham Fountain, maybe.

I would suggest avoiding any destinations more than five or ten miles away. Chicago traffic and transportation can be tricky. You don't really want to be trying to move around during rush hour (6:30am-10am, 3:30pm-7:30pm) because it is a mess. There's plenty do do within a short distance of Navy Pier.
posted by jgreco at 3:13 AM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Chicago! What a lovely place. I was there just last month, it was my first time and I was travelling solo as well. I'd say it's a safe enough place, I encountered absolutely no problems, day or night.

It's definitely easy to get around by CTA, I was there for a week and put my weekly travelcard to good use... The loop going round downtown is fun but I actually preferred venturing into some of the other neighbourhoods, such as on the red and brown lines. Chicago has some neat little communities, it really does.

If you're into baseball, Wrigley Field in Wrigleyville is a must. (Or, depending on your preferences, the White Sox at Cellular Field.) Or has the season ended already..? You can tell I'm European and have no clue!

I second the architecture boat tour; in fact, I know locals who've gone on it more than once. Apparently the price recently increased by $10 to almost $35 but it's definitely worth it. Hopefully you'll get some dry and not too cold weather. Personally, I'd stay away as far away from the pier as possible; it's an overrun tourist trap and not very appealing.

However, only a little further north is my favourite neighbourhood, Lincoln Park. It has the free zoo, of course, and the Lincoln Park Conservatory right next to one of its entrances. Very beautiful. You say you're there 19-21, do you mean this month? Then you'd be there on a Saturday and could check out the green farmer's market in Lincoln Park, too. But either way, just walk around the neighbourhood, it is so great there.

For some of my stay I was staying near division and my host recommended I try the Lovely Cafe down the street. It was wonderful! In fact, I went back more than once. (It was never as busy as in those pictures btw.)

The Sears (Willis) Tower and John Hancock building are worth it for the view(s), however expect long queues (lines :)). I enjoyed the Art Institute immensly, and Anish Kapoor's The Bean right behind it is a must, of course. (The original reason Chicago caught my attention.) I loved Millenium Park and was very jealous of their Pritzker Pavillion. What a venue. A Tumblr friend of mine wrote a nice entry about it here. The same friend also sent me the following recommendations, which I hope she won't mind me sharing with you:

"1. Fancy Drinks: Aviary. It was just rated best bar in Chicago and they won the Beard award this year for best bar in the country. It is sort of a pain in the ass to get in….you have to email for reservations (it explains how on the website) - TOTALLY worth it. Go! Go! Go!
2. Take a walk through Millennium park and take a pic in the reflection of the bean. Sounds cheesy, but it is a blast! You will be right next to the Modern Art Wing at the Art Institute of Chicago, FYI.
3. Great Dinner Spots: Maude’s Liquor Bar (try to sit upstairs if you go here), Le Colonial, GT Fish & Oyster (LOOOOVE this place), Big Star, RPM (Guilliana & Bill own this place….it is a super hot-spot, very sceney. Pretty fantastic!)
4. Shopping: Skip Michigan Ave - instead walk just a few blocks off of the main drag, there is way cooler boutique shopping. I suggest turning off of Michigan and walking down oak, then making your way up and down Rush Street."

I enjoyed the (massive) Field Museum and the Shedd Aquarium but to be honest I got in free with my press pass and if you only have two days, I would probably do other stuff first and save myself the ~$40 each and possible waiting in line...depends what your interests are.

I wasn't very keen on the infamous Chicago deep dish pizza but I guess you might want to at least try it...places as to where this is best (a must-eat) differ but I'm sure a quick google search or asking other peeps will prove fruitful. (We had ours from Lou Malnatis.)

This should get you started but do let us know if there's anything else in particular you might be after!
posted by mrsh at 3:19 AM on September 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

Meat Vesuvio and shrimp dejonge are Chicago-Italian- American specialties.
posted by brujita at 3:28 AM on September 19, 2013

When I visited Chicago, I loved the Museum of Stained Glass Windows at Navy Pier. It's near where you are, it's free, and some are truly artistic and stunning. If you're short on time, just skip to the Tiffanys.
posted by pianissimo at 3:39 AM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Step 1, get the hell out of the Navy Pier area (well, you can do one day around Michigan Mile, etc).

Step 2, take the Brown Line North towards the Diversey stop (or beyond). I hear there is great shopping around Armitage (upscale boutiques). It gives you a great upward view of the city. Chicago's greatest strength is its neighborhoods, sadly most tourists don't ever get to see any of them. They are all sort of separate villages with commercial blocks, beautiful,underrated residential architecture, and friendly people who won't hesitate to give you pointers.

I wouldn't worry too much about safety, just like any big city. Public transport is pretty crowded at night, though as said, cabs are not that expensive ($14 with tip will get you within 4 miles of your hotel one way).
posted by sandmanwv at 5:11 AM on September 19, 2013 [4 favorites]

IMHO, the best coffee in town is at Star lounge cafe. But if you're just in town for a day, it might be a long hike just for coffee. You also might try Caffee Streets. Both are independent shops, and Star Lounge brews their own Dark Matter brand of roasted beans which they sell at this location. Also get the espresso at Caffee Streets, they have a ridiculously nice espresso machine.
posted by deathpanels at 5:39 AM on September 19, 2013

Seconding the Museum of Stained Glass Windows. Absolutely lovely. and Nthing the architectural boat tour - dress warm as it's going to be breezy, but definitely worth doing.

I'd take an early morning walk in Millennium Park (no crowds, and you get to enjoy the blissful sense of a city waking up) - it's a decent walk from the Navy Pier.
posted by darsh at 5:52 AM on September 19, 2013



The end.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 5:53 AM on September 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

The architecture boat tour mentioned above is awesomesauce. Everybody loves it, natives and tourists alike. On that same website, the CAF has walking tours and Segway tours which are generally shorter and hit different parts of the city. They do a really nice job and it's definitely worth doing architecture touristing while you're in Chicago. :)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:09 AM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

When I was there recently, I really liked Rotofugi, a store with really interesting figurines and zipper pulls and things. It's quite unique and really cool.
posted by marble at 6:43 AM on September 19, 2013

If you want to see the skyline, skip the lines and go have a drink at the Signature Room on the 95th floor of the John Hancock building.

BESTbest view of the city? The ladies' room there.
posted by hmo at 7:05 AM on September 19, 2013 [6 favorites]

Blues: Kingston Mines or Buddy Guy's Legends
Fancier mexican: El Cid
Italian: Filippo's
Drinks: Signature Room
Dogs: Hot Doug's
posted by turkeyphant at 7:19 AM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

When you go to Quimby's, which is a fantastic idea, take a side stroll north on Damen and check out the boutiques( especially P.45) and for coffee try the unfortunately named Buzz Killer Espresso. It is pretty antiseptic inside, and the most lively thing you are likely to see is someone having a work related meeting, but the coffee really is good. Even if you just order,like, a coffee, they brew it individually and it takes 5 minutes because they poor the water so slowly. If you are looking for lunch I recommend The Goddess and Grocer for sandwiches or Big Star for fancy yet cheap tacos. And make sure you walk a few blocks down Milwaukee for Myopic(used books) and Reckless Records(music, hysterical overheard conversation) and lots of vintage clothing shops.
posted by velebita at 7:28 AM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Also! I don't recommend the Robie house unless you are Frank Lloyd Wrights Biggest Fan, just because Hyde Park, while lovely, is a long haul from downtown. But if you do go, The Seminary Co-op Bookstore is the best academic bookstore In the country and right around the corner.
posted by velebita at 8:32 AM on September 19, 2013

I think the Chicago Cultural Center, right across Michigan Ave from the north end of Millenium Park, is an extremely underrated spot to check out. There's usually some interesting art exhibits in the lower floors, and the architecture in the upper halls is breathtaking. (Two stained glass domes!)

I tend to think the Field Museum is kinda overpriced/a pain to get to considering how close to the loop it is for the thing that it is, but YMMV.

I am not a comics person, but people I know who are liked Chicago Comics, near the Belmont Red Line stop.
posted by PMdixon at 9:16 AM on September 19, 2013

I am a single lady living alone in Chicago and do just fine at night. The Loop can be a bit deserted and creepy late at night but I wouldn't call it unsafe. Just be aware of your surroundings, don't wear headphones walking alone late etc. like you would in any big city. You'll want to get out of the area near Navy Pier and River North. That's where we keep our tourists and it will not give you a good "real" taste of Chicago.

I'll piggyback in the Chicago Cultural Center rec and give you a heads-up as a design nerd that Stefan Sagmeister's The Happy Show is on (and free) through September 23rd.

The MCA has Modern Cartoonist: The Art of Daniel Clowes on through October 13th (saw both of those this week). It was interesting if you like to see the original drawings of the comics. Tuesdays are free for Illinois residents.

A lot of people told me to see The Art Institute's Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity exhibit (on through the end of September). I love fashion and museums, art and drawing so I thought it was nice but not as amazing as a lot of people told me.
posted by Bunglegirl at 10:12 AM on September 19, 2013

I just remembered, If its relevant to your music tastes, that the jazz record mart is just up the street from navy pier. Totally worth a visit, if you like flipping through semi-organized but endless boxes of out of print LPs.
posted by velebita at 1:24 PM on September 19, 2013

I want to second the Museum of Contemporary Art. Every day it's a suggested donation, not a mandatory entrance fee. It doesn't have the depth of the the Art Institute, which can be a good thing -- it's also not as overwhelming as the Art Institute.
posted by garlic at 1:42 PM on September 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

The Rookery is a good choice for FLW fan. They also have a FLW gift shop there.

Try an Architectural Foundation Walking Tour. I found them to be far superior to the boat tour which seems kind of rushed and low on detail to me.

If you are a huge FLW fan then go to oak park and see his workshop rather than the robie house.
posted by srboisvert at 2:41 PM on September 22, 2013

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