Chicago vacation tips?
November 8, 2005 5:39 AM   Subscribe

Chicago: I'm visiting Chicago for the first time in a couple of weeks. I'll be there for the weekend with a friend, staying at the Hotel Allegro, and I'm looking for suggestions regarding fun things to do. Where should I go and what should I see?

For example: Is the Museum of Contemporary Art worth the trip? Is the Navy Pier a waste? Is the train a convenient way to get around, or am I better off renting a car? What sort of attractions are within a reasonable distance of my hotel (located, I believe, in the Loop). That sort of thing.

I've already got tickets to the Second City.

Thanks in advance.
posted by gd779 to Travel & Transportation around Chicago, IL (28 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
the responses to my question earlier this year were pretty dang helpful.
posted by sluggo at 5:54 AM on November 8, 2005

The Allegro is right in the Loop and you're right near the trains, so you have lots of options. You're within blocks of shopping (State Street), theaters, and lots of mid to high end resteraunts and bars. Millenium Park is about a 5 minute walk. The Art Institue is about a 15 minute walk away. For loads of shopping Michigan Avenue (the Magnifcent Mile) is 15-20 minutes away on foot. It's all pretty touristy where you are, so it depends what you're into. I've never found anything fun about Navy Pier, but if you're looking for carnival food or overpriced t-shirts that's the place to go.

Check Gaper's Block (from MeFite Me3dia) for a look at some of the cooler things happening in the city while you're here. CitySearch and MetroMix have even more things to look at.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 5:56 AM on November 8, 2005

See also here
posted by einarorn at 5:58 AM on November 8, 2005

Just about any of the museums are a full-day visit, including the Art Institute.

If you are using public transportation, Argyle street and Devon make for pleasant international shopping and dining, low key and few crowds. (Red line north to Argyle. Devon is a bus trip.)

Public transportation in the central Chicago area is great unless you have plans to get into the surrounding suburbs.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:19 AM on November 8, 2005

If you're looking for bars and clubs and things that less touristy check out the Reader. The paper is free and can be found all over the city. It comes out on Thursday afternoons, and from the Allegro you can pick one up at Rock Records, which is exactly one block South on Washington (it's at about the same spot on that block as the Allegro is on Randolph). There are loads of ads and listings, so you should definitely be able to find something to do. TimeOut is also now in Chicago, and you can pick that up anywhere that sells magazines.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 6:19 AM on November 8, 2005

Oh, I love the Hotel Allegro. I put my maid of honor up there as a thank you when she came into town for my wedding.

I think you'll be absolutely fine with relying on the train/buses. If you need to get somewhere that's not really accessible for whatever reason, you'll be able to get a cab really easily.

I enjoyed going to Chinatown. You can take the Red Line south a few stops. It's not like San Fransisco or New York, but it's fun.
posted by sugarfish at 6:27 AM on November 8, 2005

The Pier is nice for an hour or so but it's primarilly food and drink. There's the Shakespeare Theatre there if you're so inclined, tho. In the summer Second City runs shows there as well - I saw The Trial of Friar Lawrence there and it was superb.

The aquarium is awesome too. I resisted going, having grown up in Miami and with no shortage of great aquatic displays, but went on my most recent visit and it was excellent. Beautiful, well laid-out and well worth the money. The perfomance shows are corny as such things always are, but still neat.

Presumably they're done screwing around with the bean so make sure you go see it. It seems like a moronic concept but it's impressive up close. And take a picture.
posted by phearlez at 6:35 AM on November 8, 2005

Whoops - I meant to suggest going to one of the Second City shows while you're there, too.
posted by phearlez at 6:35 AM on November 8, 2005

When I was in Chicago, I was pleasantly surprised that I could get a five day bus/train pass [not including the Metra] for $18. This was definitely the way to go for travelling. There were very few places that I couldn't get to this way, be sure to bookmark their trip planner.
posted by jessamyn at 6:36 AM on November 8, 2005

If you do decide you'd rather not take the Bus or trains, just take cabs. By the time you rent a car and pay for parking you'll come out close enough to even that it's worth it to pay for the convenience.
posted by Wallzatcha at 6:41 AM on November 8, 2005

If you'll be using public transportation, use this site or just call 836-7000 from any Chicago area code and they'll plan your trip for you (i.e. tell you where to get on, get off, and transfer).
posted by jtron at 7:11 AM on November 8, 2005

These may be a little too off the beaten path for your visit, but catching a show by The Neofuturists or browsing the stacks at Quimby's Bookstore will yield unexpected pleasures. If you opt to visit the more readily accessible Shedd Aquarium - may as well walk an extra block and catch the show at Adler Planetarium as well. Great views of the city from out there.
posted by tristero at 7:13 AM on November 8, 2005

The Art Institute of Chicago has one of the greatest Modern Art collections in the world. If you like art, don't miss it.
posted by scottr at 7:14 AM on November 8, 2005

I would recommend Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind

The historical society offers tours of the city via the brown and purple lines on Saturday and Sunday.

Navy Pier is not a waste if you would like to see an IMAX movie, eat at McDonalds, or buy something that says Chicago on it.

I think the art museum and the Shedd are great.
posted by srburns at 7:17 AM on November 8, 2005

The Allegro is great, the restaurant downstairs (320 Grille?) has the BEST scallops appetizer I have ever had.
There is a fondue restaurant on the north side called Geja's (I believe it's pronounced "yay-ya's"). It's a good time, celler-like environment, full 3 or 4 course meal. Make a night of it, and expect to spend $50-$75 a person. Also, Mambo Grill on Clark street has amazing latin food.
Don't rent a car- it's just too expensive. You can get everywhere you need to go by El or train.
Thumbs up on Art museum, thumbs down on Navy Pier, especially in cold weather.
The Field museum and Shedd Aquarium are both fun, and farther south The Museum of Science and Industry is amazing. If you are interested in Chicago history, the main building is what's left of what was built for the World's Fair in 1893. Check out "Devil in the White City"
posted by bradn at 7:18 AM on November 8, 2005

The Art Institute is worth seeing, even if the layout is infuriating for the modern works. I like to go there for two hour chunks with a clear idea of what I want to see, in order to avoid museum fatigue (though I can go longer, usually the people I'm with start to whine like babies in the face of all the art. Also, I'm not shy about skipping stuff I think is crap in order to sit for ten minutes in front of the Rothkos. Which you should do.)
The Museum of Contemporary Art is usually pretty solid, and can be done in an hour. The Contemporary Photography Museum is small, but absolutely fantastic with its rotating shows, and can also be done in an hour (and is an easy walk from the AI).

Aside from that, if you feel like trecking, you can visit the Brookfield Zoo. It's an excellent spot if you're either with kids or on drugs. Or both. Even if you're not, the Rainforest exhibit is worth seeing sooner or later, but I'd be hard pressed to make the trip from the loop that far out just to see it. The Museum of Science and Industry is OK, if you want to feel wistful for the great public works projects of yesteryear, and feel deeply frustrated with the screaming children that decend like locusts to break everything tangible around while their parents ignore them. Most of the really cool stuff is gone, and computer monitors have replaced a lot. Instead of having an emphasis on the sheer achievement and monumentalism that made Modernism so amazing, it's turning into just a large hands-on museum, and one cluttered with the garrish and transient. Though they do have a WWII sub as a last gasp grab towards The History Channel viewers. The Aquarium is top-notch (though I again recommend drugs to push the experience over the edge into truly fantastic), but can have an ungodly wait to get in, especially on the weekends and whichever day of the week is the cheap one. You should see it at least once in you life though, it's really great. My second favorite aquarium, next to the one in Monterey Bay, California (which is totally different in scale and emphasis-- the one in Chicago is just huge and gorgeous, but there's no interaction with the fish). Right next door is the under-rated Museum of Natural History, which I enjoy quite a bit. But I also enjoy looking at the giant rings of trees, dinosaur skeletons and old decrepit mummies, so your milage may vary.
For all of those places, you should endeavor to keep a few dollars with you for the plastic models that are die-cast right in front of you. They're probably toxic and cause cancer, but they're so damned cool. I'm working on a full set...
If you like music, you should look to Out of the Past records, a dusty anarchic set of vinyl (seriously, no order at all) that has so many hidden treasures that it should be declared on the national registry. It's near the Museum of Science and Industry. Dusty Groove is good too, if you've got some time to kill and are around Wrigleyville. Lots of out-of-print stuff. Totally easy to blow cash there. I dropped $50 like breathing, and I'm a cheapskate...
posted by klangklangston at 7:52 AM on November 8, 2005

Navy Pier will make your soul hurt for a couple of days hence. If you brave Michigan Ave. for shopping or the desire to get your toes stepped on, I'd recommend going to the top of the Hancock. It's a great view of the city and you can have a $12 martini.
posted by MarkAnd at 7:53 AM on November 8, 2005

If you get a chance, try an Ino's burrito-- you won't regret it. There's also a nice little thai place on Michigan Ave. right near the Art Institute that's surprisingly cheap and pretty tasty. Or there's the Chicago Diner, if you go for upper-middle-class vegetarian food.
posted by klangklangston at 7:53 AM on November 8, 2005

Oh, I second the Neo-futurists (or rather, I third it) - TMLMTBGB is the best! The architectural boat tour is one of my favorite things to do in the Chi - it's probably too cold for that, though, so maybe one of the walking tours sponsored by the architects? I know it sounds boring, but it's actually really interesting and fun and pretty. And please eat some pizza. Mmm, pizza. And also, don't get a car, you don't need one, and it would be a pain to park -- public transportation in Chicago rocks (and don't discount the buses, I love the bus system in Chicago). The bar at the top of the Hancock building has great views, too, if the weather is clear.
posted by echo0720 at 8:30 AM on November 8, 2005

As others have noted, if you care even a smidge about art The Art Institute is a must. It's my favorite art museum in the US. Do not miss its spectacular collection of Joseph Cornell's work--the largest one anywhere.

The Chicago Architecture Foundation offers a wide array of tours. If the weather is not abominable I highly recommend the river cruise.

Devon street was mentioned--this is a great place to eat Indian food. If you like German food, the Berghof is a classic and very popular at lunch. And much to my chagrin as someone who grew up on the West coast and has been eating MExican food all my life, my hands down favorite Mexican restaurants are in Chicago--Frontera Grill and Topolbampo.
posted by donovan at 10:01 AM on November 8, 2005

Oh yeah, lemme recommend TMLMTBGB as well. Excellent.
posted by klangklangston at 10:31 AM on November 8, 2005

Response by poster: These are all great suggestions, thanks!
posted by gd779 at 10:47 AM on November 8, 2005

Go to the Hideout. Best music in a city which abounds in beautiful noise.
posted by felix betachat at 11:36 AM on November 8, 2005


(Just in case the dates work, gd779.)
posted by felix betachat at 12:21 PM on November 8, 2005

Second the Hideout, definitely. Also second (third/fourth/whatever) the Art Institute, in particular the modern collection -- and the Joseph Cornell collection is, indeed, not to be missed.

As for restaurants, I always love going to Reza's when I'm back in Chicago -- the fessenjen (cornish hen in pomegranate sauce) is spectacular. On the fancy-schmancy end, if you're in the mood (and have the means!), Blackbird is stellar -- I had one of the greatest meals of my life there.
posted by scody at 12:26 PM on November 8, 2005

Check out Wicker Park starting with the intersection of Damen, North and Milwaukee. It's still a little piece of heaven in some respects. Record shops, coffee shops, thai food, noodle shops, the Double-Door and all sorts of assorted tomfoolery can be had. The Hideout isn't too far north of there either.

You'll be on Randolph street which has undergone a huge resurgence. All sorts of awesome stuff if you get on Randolph and head west.

Also, as touristy as it is, the area of Wells and Division has Second City and cool things to see.

For Blues, avoid Kingston Mines and the neck-high frat crowd and head over to Rosa's on West Armitage.

Of course you could always come to our meetup! ;)
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 12:39 PM on November 8, 2005

ON REVIEW: The Out of the Past record store is NOT near the Museum of Science and Industry, despite my visiting it on the same day and somehow believing that it was. Out of the Past is at 4407 W Madison St, Chicago, IL 60624. I still recommend you go there.
posted by klangklangston at 5:12 PM on November 8, 2005

I love the area around Clark and Belmont Ave...get off the El at Belmont, walk to Clark, turn left and walk up the street toward Wrigley Field. Lots of cool shops and things there.

You should also stop in the Marshall Fields flagship store on State Street. This is nothing like the Marshall Fields stores in the mall. It's a definite experience. Plus the Christmas windows will be done by then, so check those out. : )
posted by SisterHavana at 1:05 PM on November 10, 2005

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