Chicago in a day
July 5, 2007 9:51 PM   Subscribe

What are some fast and fun things to do in Chicago?

A friend and I are going to be in Chicago for one day. We're eating at Alinea in the evening, so basically will only have 6-7 hours in the morning to see the rest of Chicago.

Going up the Sears Tower and stopping by Millennium Park are a couple ideas we tossed around. Are they worth it? What else can we do in just a few hours that is cool? Also, cheap is a plus, since we're going for broke on dinner.

(Note: we're driving down from WI, via Milwaukee, so if there's something really cool to do/see there, that'd work too.)
posted by BradNelson to Travel & Transportation around Chicago, IL (17 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Sears Tower isn't really worth the cost, in my opinion. I don't really care about Millenium Park, either, but I see that nearly daily, so I guess the allure of the Bean has worn off. It's probably worth at least one visit.

Ditch the car and ride the CTA. Buy a farecard at any train station. You will see more and won't have to worry about traffic. It's not confusing. Don't worry.

I like walking around Grant Park (aka the Museum Campus). This is a short walk from the Roosevelt (Red line subway/Green and Orange El) stop. You don't actually have to go in the museums--it's just a nice park on the lakefront and they have cool globe sculptures to look at.

If you go north on the Red or Brown lines and get off at Belmont, you will find yourself in a neat neighborhood--and eat lunch at Clarke's.

Or you could go south on the Red line to Cermak/Chinatown--I think you know what is there.
posted by rhoticity at 10:27 PM on July 5, 2007

Millenium Park is a fun thing to do, but the one time I went up in the Sears Tower, it took hours just to get through the lines. I would maybe suggest a walk by the tower instead, and then for more cool architecture, you can also walk up along the river.

If you're coming down from the north, you might consider stopping at the Bahai Temple in Wilmette. I've only ever driven by it (which is impressive on its own), but it's supposed to be really incredible to actually visit.
posted by gueneverey at 10:37 PM on July 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

you might just sit in a park and meditate on the fact that you're about to have the best meal of your life. really.
posted by judith at 10:42 PM on July 5, 2007

Um. Okay. I didn't realize just HOW much of a splurge dinner was going to be. Forget lunch, then. Just go walk around/ride around the city.
posted by rhoticity at 10:52 PM on July 5, 2007

If you don't mind busting your guts with a cheap lunch before your fancy dinner, when I visited Chicago I had the pleasure of some Chicago style pizza with two layers of crust, cheese inside and sauce on top - 3 slices left me with an hour of delirious napping once back in the car. It'll be fun.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 11:23 PM on July 5, 2007

Architecture tour! I'm from LA and did it in a sleetstorm and still loved it.
posted by mdonley at 12:21 AM on July 6, 2007

if you want to go up a tall building, go to the john handcock tower, not the sears tower. cheaper, less frills, and way more cool.

also: go to navy pier and check out the stained glass museum. totally free.
posted by lester at 6:06 AM on July 6, 2007

I just went there for the first time in May, and my best three experiences were:

Milennium Park - it's a must. It's incredibly lovable. I was there only four days and I found myself returning to the park four times. It is an excellent people-watching and public play space.

Ride the el (someone will correct me and say L) around the Loop and walk around the city.

The Field Museum - I don't know if they've got evening hours, but it's hands down the best museum I've ever set foot in.

If you're pressed for time, I would skip walking the whole Magnificent Mile. It's basically a streeside shopping mall, just a bunch of well-heeled folk shopping in Banana Republic, etc. But you should probably walk along Michigan far enough to loiter on the gorgeous bridges, maybe get an ice cream, and look at the Tribune Building. If the Trib building is open, go into the lobby to gawk at its coolness.

The Navy Pier was your typical waterside recreation plaza, fun-ish but not something you wouldn't experience elsewhere. The Ferris Wheel was nice, for a good view of the city. The architecture boat tour leaves from there, I think - I also heard it highly recommended, but couldn't go.
posted by Miko at 6:09 AM on July 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

Oh, yeah, stained glass museum was astoundingly good, especially for free.
posted by Miko at 6:10 AM on July 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

Miko - 'El' with single quotes is technically (historically) correct. Modern written (especially internet) form seems to have switched primarily to L. So you're okay either way :D
posted by rhoticity at 6:18 AM on July 6, 2007

Millennium Park, totally go for it.

Maybe rent bikes and bike down the lake front path. (This place seems to rent by the hour.) Bike south towards museum campus, and go around the Shedd Aquarium! It is one of the best views of the city.

Check out Its very likely that there will be a summer festival in Grant Park.

If you're into art museums, pick either the Art Institute or the MCA (Museum of Contemporary Art). If you have a Chicago friend, have them pick up a free museum family pass at the public library and you can all get in for free. If not, the Chicago Cultural Center (on Washington and Michigan) is a good place to stop off at. The bathrooms are clean, it's cool inside, and there's nice public art exhibitions inside. It's also right across from Millennium Park.
posted by hooray at 6:40 AM on July 6, 2007

Milwaukee - art museum, Summerfest, tons more to do - if you're going to spend any time here, e-mail me.

Racine - Art museum, Wind Point lighthouse (need reservations)

Kenosha - outlet mall... um, that's about it. Oh, there's also Starbucks, White Castle, and an "adult bookstore" off the freeway. Not in the same building.

En route - 7 Mile Fair (huge flea market), Renaissance faire, Mars cheese castle, skydiving (excellent facility, from personal experience - you can see both Milwaukee and Chicago skylines while floating down to earth), Great America, Gurnee Mills outlet mall

Off the beaten path - Kettle Moraine south, Lake Geneva
posted by desjardins at 7:25 AM on July 6, 2007

Do you have malls where you live? If so, you can skip the Mag Mile. The Sears Tower skydeck is far too expensive for the view and the wait can be hellish. Hancock is cheaper with better views. You can really get your money's worth there and skip the observation deck altogether; go to the Signature Room instead and only pay for drinks.

I'm always pimping the architectural tours (especially the river cruise varieties), but if money is a concern, then renting bikes is a great way to see the city. You can rent some at Navy Pier and on a half day rental, easily cruise the lakefront down to Millennium Park, the museum campus and back up through the loop. The stained glass exhibit at Navy Pier is quick, free and interesting, but everything else there is costly and mostly a bore. Just north of the pier is Ohio Street Beach, the most accessible of Chicago's beaches from downtown. That is, of course, free.

Have fun!
posted by Terminal Verbosity at 8:15 AM on July 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

Hancock trumps the Sears, by far.

Architectural tours are fun. Both the Field Museum and the Art Institute are good for a half-day or all-day walkthrough, depending on your inclination.
posted by stevis23 at 8:50 AM on July 6, 2007

Seconding Terminal Verbosity's Signature Room suggestion. Drinkscan be a bit expensive, but just get a single beer to share, and enjoy the beautiful views (best at sundown, IMHO). You'll save upwards of $15-20 over the normal ticket price of the Sears Tower, or even the tickets for the Observation deck of the Hancock (which you'll only be one floor below, anyway).
posted by i less than three nsima at 8:52 AM on July 6, 2007

By the way - leave your handgun at home...
posted by desjardins at 8:57 AM on July 6, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for all the tips guys!
posted by BradNelson at 10:52 AM on July 6, 2007

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