River cruises and the little-known in Chicago.
June 3, 2007 9:56 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for a gift for some new Chicagoans and think they would enjoy one of the river architecture tours. Is there any appreciable difference between the competing operators? Bonus points for any inexpensive (~$10 per person) and little known/unusual Chicago experiences I can bundle in to the gift.

They've both visited the city many times and have done all of the major touristy things (like zoos, ballparks, the main museums, and elevator rides, though not an architecture cruise). What they haven't done are a lot of the things that only "real" Chicagoans would know about. I'd like to help fill some of their spare afternoons with some bits of Chicago you wouldn't get on a package tour. These extra things don't need to tie in to the cruise at all. And feel free to offer alternatives if you found the river cruises lame. Ultra-bonus points for proximity to Lincoln Park.
posted by the christopher hundreds to Travel & Transportation around Chicago, IL (9 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
They might enjoy a kayak tour (if they're at least a bit active) for something a little more personal and with less of the tourist vibe/stigma.
posted by kyleg at 10:36 PM on June 3, 2007

I've never been, but I've heard great things about the river tours offered by the Chicago Architecture Foundation.

Other ideas:
A subscription to Time Out Chicago or Chicago Magazine.
Chicago's Best Dive Bars
Chicago Neighborhood Map
gift certificates for Ravinia, Lyric Opera or the CSO

I wouldn't worry too much about sending them out of their neighborhood. If there's anything that the inhabitants of Lincoln Park need (besides a parking space), it's to get out and see more of the city.
posted by hydrophonic at 10:46 PM on June 3, 2007

The river tours are alright but definitely a tourist-y look at the city's architecture. If they're not particularly interested in architecture it's likely to be a nice primer into why they should appreciate the city's structures. I did Wendella a long time ago, and it was good but never found a need to go back or try others. The Chicago Architecture Foundation might be an alternative if they'd like a more detailed or land-oriented experience.

I've said it before and i'll say it again, but the lakefront really is Chicago's great treasure. Maybe if they don't have bikes you could facilitate the renting of them so that they could see all that the lake and its parks have to offer. I believe there are even bike tours these days.

In close proximity to Lincoln Park, a concert at the Old Town School of Folk Music could be fun.

There's a number of great, little casual eateries in the Lincoln Park area that can be easily overlooked: I'd recommend Aloha Grill, Pasta Bowl or the new Sultan's Market all within a block of each other (and about two blocks from the zoo/conservatory) on Clark. Maybe they have gift certificates of some sort, two could definitely eat well for $15-20.

Also, the Music Box is a fun experience for seeing an art house movie or late-night zaniness (whether it be sing-alongs or cult classics). The seats aren't very comfortable especially in the main theater, so I usually let anything at the Landmark Century trump the Music Box.

Live (not broadway-in-chicago) theater is also a less touristy activity. The Neo-Futurists put on the quintessential out-of-the-way Chicago show, with a scrappy riotous atmosphere, but you can't buy advance tickets to the main show. You can however buy tickets to their performance at the Theater on the Lake which (if you can guess from the name and my previous comments about the lakefront) is a beautiful locale to see a show. The House Theater generally puts on a real neat show in a more formal but still not posh-theater way, but their current production has been getting lukewarm reviews. Theater Oobleck is consistently good and offbeat as well but just ended their season.
posted by pokermonk at 10:51 PM on June 3, 2007

I've been on the ("guided", if you will) architecture tour in chicago and it was great. of course, you should see if they offer gifts tickets where your friends can select the day they want to attend, because you have to be in the right mood, as well as concerns about the weather. it is, however, confining from a "you're stuck on a boat for a couple of hours" perspective, and the slow pace can be a little dreary.

in los angeles, i've found some downtown theater walks to be a lot of fun. so i looked up something similar for chicago and found this: Chicago Theater Stories Walking Tour.
posted by phaedon at 1:28 AM on June 4, 2007

I just did the segway tour which was fun if you're looking for something different.

I did the architecture boat tour offered by the Chicago Architecture Foundation too. It was really interesting and a great way to see a bit of the city from the river. There are other so called architecture tours, but they don't provide any $ back to the foundation, and all run at about the $28 mark anyway. The Architecture Foundation do walking tours also, so if they're really into particular architecture (e.g. Frank Lloyd Wright or Art Deco) then I think this might be the go.

Of the bike hire places online, there's a couple that offer lakefront tours of the city. I think Bobby's Bike Hire was the biggest one I looked at.

And outdoor movies should be starting in Grant Park (or nearby?) this week yeah?
posted by kaydo at 1:46 AM on June 4, 2007

The Signature Lounge on the 96th floor of the John Hancock Center is a nice, sophisticated way to get the Sears Tower view of the city at night, only with a stiff drink in hand and few obvious tourists. I went here on two separate Valentine's days, and it was great both times -- dim lighting, soft jazz, beautiful citylights, etc. The view from the women's bathroom is, oddly enough, one of the best in Chicago. Drinks are pricey ($8-12 range, as I recall) but entrance is free.

There is a restaurant (the Signature Room) on the 95th floor, probably prohibitively expensive, but you might want to check it out.
posted by bluenausea at 5:13 AM on June 4, 2007

I'm looking for a gift for some new Chicagoans and think they would enjoy one of the river architecture tours. Is there any appreciable difference between the competing operators?

The boat tours that leave from Navy Pier are usually double decker boats with a bar downstairs. The ones that leave from the Michigan St. bridge are small, enclosed in plexiglass, and do not (i repeat, do NOT) feature a bar. A deal breaker IMHO.

It is super touristy, but its a good way to kill an hour and not travel far from downtown.

pokermonk has a ton of good suggestions to which I'd add bicycle tours and perhaps an excursion to Hyde Park to see some of the monuments. Its a part of Chicago that few people see outside of the UofC.
posted by wfrgms at 6:17 AM on June 4, 2007

I guess this would be less a gift and more a heads' up, but we enjoyed the Loop the Loop walking tours-- you can download the MP3s for free from the Chicago Loop Alliance website.

In fact, many of my favorite places in Chicago are free, like the Chicago Botanic Garden, the Bahai Temple, and the stained glass museum at Navy Pier. Perhaps a "Top Five/Ten Free Chicago Outings" list would be a winner?
posted by EmilyClimbs at 6:46 AM on June 4, 2007

The Chicago Architecture Foundation tour is the best. My firm sends all of our summer associates on it as a primer on Chicago. It's excellent. I'd recommend that one above all.
posted by MeetMegan at 11:09 AM on June 4, 2007

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