What to do in Chicago?
May 8, 2006 4:37 PM   Subscribe

I'm visiting Chicago for the first time for the week leading up to, and including, the Memorial Day weekend. Advice? Transit tips? Cheap eats? Interesting events that week? I plan on visiting the Art Institute, but what else do I need to complete my visit and get the full Windy City experience?

FWIW I'll be staying at the Reinaissance Hotel (at State and Wacker) and will be sans automobile, and exploring the city alone for the first half of the week.
posted by Robot Johnny to Travel & Transportation around Chicago, IL (25 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Did you check out the previous Chicago threads? Here, here, here, and here.

Also, don't waste your money on the Sears Tower Skydeck. You can get an equal (if not better) view from the Signature Room at the John Hancock Building - just for the price of a drink.

Email me if you have any questions in particular. I live about three blocks away from your hotel so I know the neighborhood well.
posted by MeetMegan at 4:54 PM on May 8, 2006 [1 favorite]

Finally, a subject on which I can claim a tiny amount of expertise...

I have several specific suggestions, but my number one piece of general advice is this: get out into the neighborhoods. Downtown is nice and all, but unless your main goal is shopping, it's just not all that interesting. The suggestions below will definitely get you out and about.

Anyway, here are a few specific ideas in all your categories:


I have no idea what constitutes "cheap" in your book, but these are all pretty reasonable.

* Sure, Chicago is known for its hot dogs, and you should be sure and stop in at a Gold Coast Dogs or Wiener's Circle while you're here. (And remember: in Chicago, no ketchup. But the most interesting hot dog place is Hot Doug's, run by culinary school graduate Doug Sohn. Go on Friday for duck fat fries.

* Hands down my favorite restaurant in Chicago is Lula. It's interesting and wonderful, and not expensive at all.

* The best Indian food in the city is at Hema's, up on Devon Avenue. (Avoid their second location in Lincoln Park.)

* A great and unusual breakfast place is Victory's Banner. Sure, it's run by a yoga cult, but the oat pancakes are the best in town.

* If you live in a deli-deprived town, visit Manny's for a giant corned beef sandwich and a Cel-Ray.

Places to visit

* The Art Institute is great, as is the Museum of Contemporary Art, but if you like art museums, you should also hit the Smart Gallery in Hyde Park. (And while you're there, you can walk around the University of Chicago campus and see the Robie House.

* Another great museum off the beaten track is the Mexican Fine Arts Museum in Pilsen.

* You'll be downtown, so you'll see Grant Park and Millenium Park, but it's worth taking the Green Line out west and visiting the Garfield Park Conservatory.


Be glad you won't have a car. It would just annoy you trying to park. Visit the CTA web site, and you can use the trip planner to figure out how to get where you're going. Assuming you're flying in, you'll see machines that sell special visitor's passes in the el stations at the airports.

Good luck! If you're looking for a type of food or other kind of attraction specifically, add it to the thread.
posted by j-dawg at 5:09 PM on May 8, 2006

You might want to try hitting the Museum of Contemporary Art, since you're in an art frame of mind. Really nice collection there.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:11 PM on May 8, 2006 [1 favorite]

Chicago is so huge and full of awesomeness that it's really hard to suggest best things for one week. A few highlights in my ever so humble opinion:

I actually enjoyed the Sears Tower Skydeck last time I was there. Don't get me wrong - $12 for a movie and an elevator ride is kind of a ripoff no matter what, but as a touristy fun thing to do I still felt it to be worth it. The view is amazing, especially at night (though some prefer day better, I like the lights -- oo shiny!)

As far as transportation, I'd recommend looking at transitchicago.com for information on weekend passes, etc.

You should definitely see the Art Institute, and if you're up for other "edutainment", I love the Museum of Science and Industry.

If you want to see a cool, quirky show one night, get thee to the neofuturarium for Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind. It's awesome! Just be sure to get there early-ish (at least 1/2 hour before doors open). There's great food in the immediate vicinity.

For transportation help (directions to places including what trains/busses to take where) - use the RTA Trip Planner and enter in your two locations. This will tell you where to walk, where to pick up each bus/train, etc between your two locations - it's like mapquest but using public transportation!

If you're into live music, I'd recommend checking out Chicago Reader Early Warnings for info on what concerts are going on. If you want to know about what venues are nice vs. not so nice, drop me an email.

If you like Pizza (which incidentally I hate!) - don't miss either Gino's East or Lou Malnati's - two major Chicago staples.

You'll probably end up at Navy Pier at some point, because you've never been here before. Chicagoans will probably tell you it's lame and touristy and whatever. It is, but as a tourist, it's something fun to do. Go see the fireworks one night - they're neat. navypier.com for more info.

If you're into sports, we've got the Cubs and White Sox for baseball, of course. Unfortunately, our soccer team isn't in town that week, so if that's your flavor, there's no game going on.

You should absolutely check out millenium park (yay shiny bean!) and other nearby sights such as buckingham fountain (yay colors at night!), too. Touristy? Sure. But still awesome and fun (and free!).

Of course if shopping is your thing, you'll have to walk the magnificent mile.

For nightlife, info on restaurants, theater, art shows, concerts etc that are going on, I'd recommend MetroMix. It's not perfect, but it's pretty helpful.

I'd say that's a good start. Enjoy Chicago! I freakin' love this city.. if you have questions, drop me a line.
posted by twiggy at 5:12 PM on May 8, 2006

Oh, I nearly forgot zoos! The Lincoln Park Zoo is free and pretty good. The Brookfield Zoo is not free, but is better than the LP one in my opinion. It's only $10, which isn't so bad.
posted by twiggy at 5:15 PM on May 8, 2006

The other threads pretty much have it covered. The architecture boat tours are totally worth it. Cafe Iberico (State/Chicago I think) has pretty good tapas.
posted by minkll at 5:16 PM on May 8, 2006

I would second the Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind suggestion, and now I feel dumb for not including the classic Chicago theatre experience: Second City.
posted by j-dawg at 5:18 PM on May 8, 2006

The Chicago Pass is a multipass to many museums in the city.

Take the train to other neigborhoods besides downtown. Wicker Park (at the Damen stop on the O'Hare Blue Line) has plenty of great little cafes and restaurants. It is a little played out, but has several great record and book stores. Santullo's right around the corner from the big intersection has great sub sandwiches and thin crust pizza.

The Garfield Park Conservatory is really beautiful and the Architecture Boat tour is great. There is a great theatre scene here. Check the local weeklies and metromix.com for show times.

You are in luck because the Chagall Windows are open again at Art Institute. As well, a Andy Warhol exhibit is open at the MCA. King Tut is coming to Field Museum the weekend you arrive (Good luck getting tickets!).

Have fun!
posted by rabbitsnake at 5:23 PM on May 8, 2006

What kinds of food do you like?
posted by cajo at 5:24 PM on May 8, 2006

Allow me to second the Cubs suggestion. I'm an out-of-towner who had his first Wrigley experience last summer, and, holy smokes, was it fun. Even if I weren't a rabid baseball fan, I would have enjoyed it -- it's an enormous party, and everyone's invited, no matter whom you root for. Talk about the quintessential Chicago experience. Have fun!
posted by shallowcenter at 6:14 PM on May 8, 2006

Billy Goat (under Michigan Ave at the river). Near the Wrigley building, which you can tell is the Wrigley because it's old and is totally white, except for the bright green window trim. Mmmmmm, doublemint.

Gold Coast Dogs, Cubs, Mag Mile, Museums (esp MCA, Art Institute, and Field Museum), Lake, etc. etc. as suggested above. Stick a fork in it, this thread is done.
posted by zpousman at 6:18 PM on May 8, 2006

As far as something fun going on now...the Museum of Science and Industry has their Leonardo DaVinci exhibit open now. It focuses on his inventions as opposed to his paintings.

It's also just a flat-out cool museum. They have a German U-Boat on display and tons of other cool stuff. And the building was part of the Columbian Exposition. Oh, and if it's a nice day, the Osaka Garden is nearby on the Wooded Island (the island was also created for the Columbian Exposition).
posted by awegz at 6:47 PM on May 8, 2006

I second the Billygoat...Cheesebugah cheesebugah pepsi pepsi chips - no coke...Easily combined with the Miracle Mile.
posted by Gungho at 7:08 PM on May 8, 2006

You know something, I have never heard Michigan Avenue referred to as the Miracle Mile until I started frequenting Metafiler. I always heard it as the Magnificent Mile. And I have lived in Chicago all my life...weird. Perhaps I have just lead a sheltered life.

RobotJohnny, do yourself a favor, and map out all the locations you want to go to. For instance, if you want to do Hyde Park, the Robie House, and the Museum of Science and Industry, you can do all that in one day. However, trying to do the Sears Tower, Frank Lloyd Wright in Oak Park, and then the MSI, that is likely way too much in one day, because of the travel involved - especially if you are at the mercy of public transportation.

twiggy's link to the CTA will help you immensely - and it works nicely even if you don't have the address for the landmark you're visiting.

And...if you're visiting the Billy Goat, expect to be slightly disappointed. Like many famous kitsch places, the food isn't that great. Cheezeborger, cheezeborger; no fries, chips; no Coke, Pepsi.

If you're interested in Chicago-style deep dish pizza, I recommend Lou Malnati's. It's been voted best in Chicago in a number of different contests. Uno's - now an awful chain restaurant - is the original (and Lou Malnati worked at Uno's before founding his namesake restaurant), but Lou's is the best. Please, please, please stay away from Uno's and Giordano's. Uno's (and Due, its successor), have been so commercialized and chain-restaurant-ized that they are no longer worth the visit and the wait. Lou Malnati's is actually a bit closer to your hotel, anyways.
posted by MeetMegan at 7:18 PM on May 8, 2006

Chicago is the best. You'll have a great time.

I'll second the Billy Goat Tavern (the location under Michigan Ave.); go there on a Saturday at lunch for the full experience. I also second Too Much Light; it's first-come first-serve, so get there early.

Lincoln Park Zoo is free, and that's great because you don't feel guilty for going there just to see the gorillas.

A few that haven't been mentioned:

Go to the Green Mill, which is the world's oldest continuously running jazz club. It's a former speakeasy and hangout of Al Capone, and you'll feel like you've stepped into the 1930s. During your trip, I'd recommend going Wednesday night to see Swing Gitan, an awesome gypsy-jazz band.

The Chicago Architecture Foundation has fantastic, inexpensive walking tours. It's a great way to get an expert's view on the city, and it's not overly touristy.

Walking along the lake from downtown to Montrose Harbor is a great way to spend an afternoon.

Lou Malnati's has the best deep-dish pizza in town, and it's quite possibly the world's greatest food.

If you want a taste of the local "street" cuisine beyond hot dogs, try an overlooked local delicacy, the Italian beef sandwich. My favorite italian beef is at Portillo's, which is at Clark and Ontario, across the street from the garish McDonalds in the River North neighborhood, a couple blocks north of (and across the river from) your hotel.

If you like jazz and/or blues music, don't miss the Jazz Record Mart, which is just north of your hotel, across the river. It claims to be the world's largest jazz and blues record store. Great selection.

Pick up a Reader to see what's happening around town during your visit.

Enjoy your stay!
posted by adrian_h at 7:37 PM on May 8, 2006

Lou Malnati's is good, by My Pie (Damen and Armitage) is better.
Also, if you like Ice Cream, don't miss Margies.
posted by rbs at 7:44 PM on May 8, 2006

If you're going to see Too Much Light etc., the Hopleaf is right around the corner. So much good beer.

Cafe Iberico is on LaSalle, about 2 doors south of Chicago, to correct the directions above. I'm a (mostly vegan) vegetarian, so the food is kinda "meh" for me, but it is notable for $13 pitchers (huge!) of sangria.

I second Lula's, the food is amazing. For veggies and non alike. And pretty cheap. Especially for what you're getting.

If you want to see some music and hipsters, the Empty Bottle has free shows on Mondays. There are a million other shows pretty much every night, but that's free, at least.

The Art Institute is free on Tuesdays. I think the MCA is free Tuesday evenings (? Could be Monday).

If you're hitting up Wicker Park, Quimby's is a bookstore full of zines! If you're into that kind of thing. Down the street, Sultan's Market has great falafel and great everything else.

And check the Reader for events/shows, as others have mentioned.
posted by ruby.aftermath at 7:45 PM on May 8, 2006

Oh, if you go to Lula, beware that it is small and they do not take reservations. Plan to wait about a half hour. They have a bar you can wait at.
posted by ruby.aftermath at 7:46 PM on May 8, 2006

Consider getting around on the river bus. It is a reasonable fare and on a good day gives you a unique ride through the city.
posted by JJ86 at 7:52 PM on May 8, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks folks! All your suggestions are fantastic. I think I'm in for a great trip -- I just wish I had more time now!
posted by Robot Johnny at 7:53 PM on May 8, 2006

You really must go to the Shedd Aquarium. It's one of the most fantastic aquariums in the world. Also, I don't know if you're a vegetarian, but Chicago Diner in Boys' Town has incredible veggie comfort food and tasty vegan shakes. And I second the architecture tours. Chicago is an amazing architecture town, and the tours are a good vallue.
posted by lunalaguna at 9:14 PM on May 8, 2006

Some of my highlights from recent visits: Devon Avenue and Second City. I can't wait to get out to Oak Park to see the Frank Lloyd Wright houses.
posted by kdern at 6:54 AM on May 9, 2006

You know something, I have never heard Michigan Avenue referred to as the Miracle Mile until I started frequenting Metafiler.

It is called The Magnificent Mile. However, I suspect a lot of Mefites have been transplanted to/from LA, where The Miracle Mile is located. There was also a movie by the same name.
posted by o0o0o at 12:12 PM on May 9, 2006

The Smart Museum link (way at the top) is wrong. It goes to some online store.
posted by nimsey lou at 6:59 AM on May 10, 2006

Check Gapers Block for event listings, too.
posted by me3dia at 12:09 PM on May 15, 2006

« Older ..and I'm feelin' blue.   |   She needs to cycle or she goes crazy Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.