What's good, Chicago?
June 13, 2016 6:52 PM   Subscribe

We're hitting up Chicago this week, from Wednesday through Sunday, for a wedding on Saturday. Looking for tips on what not to miss.

We have some downtime so we're looking for stuff on Thursday and Friday during the day. We're staying near Magnificent Mile/Michigan Ave & Ohio St. I haven't been in years, and was only there for a day, so aware of things like Millennium Park and Navy Pier, but looking for specific attractions or off the beaten path fun, in addition to solid restaurant choices that are doable without a reservation months in advance.

Likewise, museums, cool photo spots, or anything else we shouldn't miss.

We don't mind spending some money for a good time, either.

Thanks in advance!
posted by disillusioned to Travel & Transportation around Chicago, IL (20 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

The aquarium and museum of science and industry are my two favorite ON the beaten path attractions. If you don't have these near you, they are so worth checking out. Wear comfy shoes.
posted by Kalmya at 7:30 PM on June 13, 2016

The Museum of Science and Industry is so, so cool. Get a map because it is ENORMOUS. While you're in that neighborhood, check out Hyde Park's independent bookstores. Make sure that you do not wander out of Hyde Park proper, and be aware of your surroundings after dark --- and have fun!
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 7:41 PM on June 13, 2016

Oh, and if you're already in Hyde Park, Valois is a unique restaurant, and a bit of a trip -- the food is not particularly good, but it's an experience not to be missed (if you are already within a few blocks of it)(and have cash, because it is cash-only).

See your food!
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 7:44 PM on June 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

Brickworld, a major Lego convention, is happening in a Chicago suburb this weekend. The exhibition hall is open to the public on Saturday and Sunday; admission is $8.
posted by not that girl at 7:48 PM on June 13, 2016

The #10 goes directly to the Museum of Science and Industry. It also stops at the Museum Campus (Museum of Natural HIstory and the Aquarium).

If you go to Hyde Park, the indie bookstores to check out are Powell's (57th st.), 57th St. Books (er, on 57th St.), and 57th St. Books' parent store, the Seminary Co-op (5751 South Woodlawn). The U of C has some fun Gothic architecture to look at. Additional nearby dining options include the Medici, which is a local stalwart.

Art Institute of Chicago!

Restaurants in Greektown are generally affordable and not stuffed to the gills for dinner. I'm a fan of Giordano's for Chicago-style deep dish (several locations, most of which will be packed at peak lunch and dinner hours).
posted by thomas j wise at 8:02 PM on June 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

(and have cash, because it is cash-only)

They have an ATM inside!

Hyde Park is a little sleepy, but Seminary Co-op and 57th Street Books are in fact fantastic. Personally, I prefer the Field Museum to the Museum of Science and Industry or the Shedd Aquarium. The Field is much better at organizing and writing exhibits.

Joy Yee in Chinatown to get a delicious fresh fruit bubble tea smoothie with whatever combo of things you want in it. There's a fun "Asian" candy store in the same area if you don't do that sort of thing often.

avec is absolutely, hands down, my favorite restaurant in the city. Delicious and you don't need a reservation, though it might be busy during peak dining times (and there is some communal seating). Staropolska or Smak Tak (my fave is Smak Tak) for a cheaper Polish meal. Bohemian House for interesting Eastern European, also.
posted by stoneandstar at 8:05 PM on June 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

In and around the Loop (downtown) area:
Will nth the Museum of Science and Industry. Closer to the Magnificent Mile area: the Art Institute is excellent, and Maggie Daley Park is delightful no matter how old you are. If you have any interest in libraries, the Harold Washington Library downtown is gorgeous - definitely go all the way up to the winter garden. The Chicago Cultural Center is similarly beautiful, and runs guided tours at 1:15 PM on Thursdays/Fridays.
I've not done it myself (yet), but have heard excellent things about the Chicago Architecture Foundation's boat tour.
You'll find plenty of excellent restaurants in West Loop. Both Girl & the Goat (dinner only) and Au Cheval (lunch & dinner) are doable without reservations, particularly if you plan on eating early.
Chinatown is also nice - check out the Chinatown Square, maybe grab a bun from Saint Anna's bakery. I highly recommend Yan Bang Cai or Lao Szechuan (both BYOB).

If you feel like venturing into the neighborhoods:
- Pilsen has a ton of galleries, public art, and cheap/delicious food. The National Museum of Mexican Art near 18th & Ashland is doable in 1-2 hours. Eat at Birrieria Zaragoza (go directly for the birria/goat plate; don't bother with the quesadillas, etc.), or Dusek's for a fancier meal.
- Folks usually enjoy walking around Wicker Park (take the Blue line to the Damen/Milwaukee station, then walk southeast down Milwaukee, which has tons of thrift stores, record stores, and Myopic Books. Eat at Dove's Luncheonette, Hot Chocolate (absolutely get a hot chocolate; brunch is pretty solid too), or Antique Taco
- Both the Lincoln Park Zoo and Conservatory are free. Also along the Red Line, consider stopping at Argyle for a huge selection of Vietnamese Food - try pho at Tank Noodle or Uptown Pho, and /or banh mi and a huge selection of Vietnamese desserts at Ba Le.
posted by staraling at 8:40 PM on June 13, 2016

There is a free concert in Millennium Park Thursday night - you can bring food and booze. If the weather is nice it is a lovely and relaxing way to spend an evening.

"PHOX + Gina Chavez

PHOX is from Baraboo, Wisconsin. The seven best friends who make up the ensemble happen to be blessed with madness, illusions of grandeur and the inability to do the same thing twice. They also play music.

Gina Chavez is a bilingual Latin-folk singer-songwriter from Austin, Texas who expertly blends the sounds of the Americas with tension and grace. Her most recent album Up.Rooted has won critical acclaim from NPR, USA Today and more.

Taste of Randolph is this coming weekend as well.

If you like second hand furniture shops, restaurants, beer and a slight twee-ness I recommend Andersonville as a nice neighborhood to stroll through and I love Hopleaf for both their food and incredible beer selection. Plus there is an insane curio store whose name escapes me that has oddball taxidermy, shark teeth, trepanning kits, and anything else you could never imagine.
posted by srboisvert at 9:07 PM on June 13, 2016

Yeah, IDK if the Museum of Science of Industry is the best museum qua museum, but it really encapsulates what I love about Chicago:

--At a bizarre scale compared to the nearby buildings, in a way that makes it seem designed by aliens who read about "human cities" in a book
--Fascinating architecture---not necessarily the best architecture, but compelling and strange
--Embodies a deep and intense feeling of hope for a better tomorrow...that obviously peaked at least 30 years ago or earlier
--Doing its best, unpretentiously, with an odd set of resources
--Big and everything inside of it is big (there is a three story tall vortex, because there is)
--Frankenstein of different eras; it escaped a complete "urban renewal"-type overhaul so there are bits and pieces of every era of design scattered randomly throughout, including exhibits from 30, 40 years ago, still intact and working (or "working")
--Sponsored by big corporations, who seem to love "sponsoring" grungy and weird Chicago things in a very dystopian way

In a lot of ways, Chicago is sort of like...when people complain about NYC being "Disney World" they don't realize that they're not missing NYC circa 1980, they're missing Chicago circa right now. And to me, the Museum of Science and Industry really captures that. The museum is not terrible by any means -- it's beautiful, very flawed, and very human.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 10:08 PM on June 13, 2016 [3 favorites]

The Gold Coast Art Fair will be in Grant Park on Saturday and Sunday and is one of the premier art fairs in the country.
posted by DrGail at 4:42 AM on June 14, 2016

The Chicago Athletic Association is a hotel with a bunch of cool bars and restaurants, including a Game Room with bocce ball and other games and stuff. Cindy's is the rooftop bar. I just had dinner at Cherry Circle Room last weekend and it was phenomenal. The crowd can be a little yuppy douchebag but I've heard it's better on weeknights than weekends. Right now there's a popup "Yacht Club" bar which is weird and charming; I guess they are leaning in to the crowd they're attracting?

Absolutely do the architecture boat tour if you haven't before. And the free Millenium Park concerts are so lovely. Another fun thing is renting from Chicago Electric Boat Company and tooling around the river yourself!

Purple Pig is pretty good eats too, although I'm not sure what the reservation/wait time situation is.

Not Downtown:
Longman & Eagle and/or their OSB (Out Side Bar) in Logan Square
Big Star in Wicker Park
Hopleaf in Andersonville
The intersection of Augusta and California in Humboldt Park has some cute restaurants and going north on California there are a few vintage/eclectic home goods shops that are really charming and cute. Bullhead Cantina at North and California has seriously cheap and good tacos/beer/etc.
The Publican and/or Little Goat in Fulton Market/Near west side
posted by misskaz at 5:26 AM on June 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

bah sorry this is so long; apparently I have a lot of Chicago opinions:

Downtown: I am a huge transit and infrastructure nerd and maybe you're not, but if you are even a little bit, you should wander around the Pedway and some of the multi-level streets and take the L train around the Loop for some uniquely Chicago experiences.

Museums: nth-ing the Museum of Science and Industry. It's one of my favorite museums in the world. thomas j wise is correct about what to do in Hyde Park (Medici + Powell's + Sem Co-Op + wander around the beautiful campus); listen to him. If you want to see a really unusual museum collection, you could also visit the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago. I would recommend avoiding the downtown museum campus altogether (Shedd is a ripoff, Field is cool but needs updating, Adler is fine but there are better things to do).

International cuisine: Maybe I'm biased because I'm Greek-American, but I don't recommend Greektown - it all seemed like tourist traps to me when I was there a few years ago and I can't imagine it's gotten any better. Devon is full of excellent Indian/South Asian restaurants. Chinatown is also great - I specifically remember liking Three Happiness (dim sum), Premium Seafood (hot pot), and Chiu Quon (bakery). And my favorite Chicago restaurant is Shokran (Moroccan) - see if they can seat you in the back room which is done up in traditional Moroccan style and is really cool.

Other touristy things: Don't bother with the long lines for the Sears/Willis/Whatever tower - The Hancock Tower is much better if you want to see the city from above; go to the cocktail bar and you don't have to buy a ticket or wait in line. But as others mentioned, the best way to see the skyline is via Chicago river cruise and this one is considered the best (the twilight cruise in particular. It's magical).

Chicago food: New York Bagel & Bialy if you don't mind the hike to get there. My dad grew up in Skokie and this was a family favorite. I like Giordano's best for deep dish, but the purists in my family will tell you that it is stuffed pizza which is a different thing and thus you should go to Lou Malnati's. I will leave it up to you, but either way, neither has the lines and waits like Uno/Due. Also, Chicago is a beer town and Revolution is a great way to experience that.

Other neighborhoods: Belmont and Wicker Park have lots of great little shops and cafes and at least when I was last there they still had a funky bohemian vibe - not yet 100% gentrified. Avoid Wrigleyville at all costs unless you love partying with dudebros.
posted by capricorn at 7:52 AM on June 14, 2016 [3 favorites]

If you go to Chinatown, take the River Taxi, which drops you in Ping Tom Memorial Park. Just basically find some way to ride the river--whether the electric boat rental misskaz suggests, the tourist (and local!) favorite architecture tour or the river taxi.

Saturday is the Philharmonic Society community play day which makes it a good day to take the river taxi to Ping Tom.
posted by crush-onastick at 7:57 AM on June 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

If you visit the Oriental Museum, see if you can find all of the double-entendré/that-can't-be real donor names on the various rooms --- I can recall at least three that will make you do a double-take.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 8:10 AM on June 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

The MSI. We affectionately drop the science (just as they have) and just call it the Museum of Industry*. That's neatly explains what it's true mission has always been, and why so many corporations love it so. internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 describes a vision of it as grungy and monstrous. I would argue that it's the embodiment of the dream of industry.

That unbounded optimism that's a bit faded like an old postcard? The scale and resources? The Museum of Industry has created it's own reality. They are getting better about providing context but often it's just here's a big/important industrial/science thing. Like a Boeing 727 just bolted onto a walkway for you to browse. It was fully functional when it arrived and was worth about 15 million back in 80's when it was donated. It was once a jewel piece of the museum. And the whole museum is like that. Old jewels and new jewels. And both. Like the German WWII sub, which is hands down my favorite part of the whole place. It's 9$ extra and worth it. The coal mine is the oldest exhibit and is pure propaganda. You will know everything you need to know about "American Industry" with a tour through the coal industry's very best effort to put the very best story of itself to the public. The mine is also an extra $9. And it's true the layout of some exhibits is a hassle - the space stuff is way out there.

You just need to have a plan for things you're interested in. Locals will try to convince you that you need to see all the oddities and charming dreamlike bits that make up the marginalia of the museum (I'm partial to the machines that squish pennies. You'll need two quarters and a shiny penny.) I do suggest focusing on one or two subjects, and plan around those.

It's not just a mishmash of stuff- for example it has a massive transportation exhibit that outside of some race cars largely skips personal vehicles. These exhibits are nation building scale items. Big solutions for big problems. Trophies. So you will just pass by under one of the two remaining German Junkers "Stuka" planes. That played a key component of the blitzkrieg attack which revolutionized warfare during WWII. And then go on to the basement where there's kids crawling all over a John Deere combine (or harvester as the locals prefer). I'd love it if they expanded the Ag exhibits but I think they don't want to be labeled "provincial". And lots then lots of trains from back when the US had the fastest. And over there: Space. GO SEE THE SPACE STUFF. Like THE Apollo 8 module.

*It was originally called Rosenwald Industrial Museum. The science actually isn't so bad, but mostly aimed at kids.
posted by zenon at 9:10 AM on June 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

Get a Citypass

For $100, you get admission to five different attractions:
1. Shedd Aquarium - VIP ENTRY
2. Skydeck Chicago - FAST PASS
3. The Field Museum - VIP ENTRY
4. Museum of Science and Industry - VIP ENTRY OR 360 CHICAGO - EXPRESS ENTRY
5. Adler Planetarium - VIP ENTRY OR Art Institute of Chicago - FAST PASS

And you don't have to wait in line to buy tickets anywhere. They'll have a separate line for you to use the City Pass to get tickets and it's a ton faster, especially at Willis Tower (that we didn't have to wait in line was about the only reason we did it). And, having bought a City Pass in San Francisco as well, I would buy a City Pass in any city I vacation in that offers one. It's always been an outstanding value.

I'd also recommend an architecture boat tour. I didn't think I'd enjoy it all that much but it ended up being one of the most enjoyable things we did in Chicago. Just be forewarned that there are multiple tour companies in more than one location and it's really easy to go to the wrong one, get directions to the correct one which are also wrong, and then miss your scheduled tour and catch the next one instead (ask me how I know!). Make sure you map out where the tour company departs from, is what I'm saying.
posted by VTX at 12:56 PM on June 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Two cool exhibits on now: Kerry James Marshall at the Museum of Contemporary Art (Near North, spitting distance from Water Tower) and Terracotta Warriors at the Field Museum (long but pleasant walk from the Loop & Grant Park).
posted by chimpsonfilm at 3:12 PM on June 14, 2016

If you get to Hyde Park, do consider a tour of Robie House. It's quite lovely.
posted by savetheclocktower at 9:28 PM on June 14, 2016

These are all phenomenal answers (and that other thread is helpful too) so thank you all so much!
posted by disillusioned at 1:22 AM on June 15, 2016

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