Located on the shores of Lake Michigan, Chicago is a city of magnificent lakefront parks, world-class museums and stunning architecture. And, with Southwest flying non-stop from Greenville to Chicago, it’s now much easier to hop on a plane and explore this vibrant city. Whether it’s for a quick weekend trip or a week-long vacation, in less than two hours you can be taking in the sights and sounds of the windy city.
First, there’s the pizza…
Around every corner, down each street, the smells of great food mix in the air creating a mouth-watering scent that wafts in-between the skyscrapers. With over 7000 restaurants in Chicago there is definitely no shortage of choices. Chicago has been named a Favorite Food City by Travel +Leisure and it boasts more 5-star restaurants than any other city in the nation. But this is also the birthplace of deep dish pizza and there’s a reason why so many swear that the pizza here can’t be beat.
Deep dish pizza is a must-have and Giordano’s serves up some of the best. The owners, Joseph and Efren Boglio are from Northern Italy and make their deep dish, double-crusted pies just like mama Giordano used to make. The restaurant seems to always be busy so be sure to get there early. You’ll need to pre-order your pizza about 30-45 minutes in advance of being seated.
Pizano’s on State Street is another local favorite. One of the pioneers of deep dish pizza, Rudy Malnati, Sr. opened Pizzeria Uno in 1943. In 1991, his son Rudy Malnati Jr followed in his dad’s footsteps and opened Pizano’s. The Malnati family has been making pizzas and Italian food for over sixty years and it’s rumored to be a favorite of one of Chicago’s more famous citizens, Oprah Winfrey.
Then see the city…
One of the best ways to get around the city is the hop on and off trolley and double-decker buses from the Chicago Trolley and Double Decker Company. “We are thought of as safe, fun transportation for our patrons to navigate the city during their stay,” says Chicago Trolley Vice President, John Curran. Sit up top on one of the double-decker buses and you’ll not only have a great view, but a tour guide will provide you with history and fun facts of Chicago. The buses and trolleys run every day beginning at 9 am and you are welcome to get off and on as many times as you wish. The route covers thirteen miles with fourteen different stops. Tickets are $17-$35 and you can buy a pass for just one day or multiple days.
For shopping, big-name retail stores are mostly located on Michigan Avenue, also known as the Magnificent Mile, including a six-story Bloomingdales. Water Tower Place is an indoor mall with over 225,000 square feet with Macy’s as an anchor. Also at Water Tower is American Girl Place where girls can bring their look-alike dolls to lunch, get their hair styled and have a photo shoot. Designer and boutique shopping can be found on Oak Street with retailers such as Barney’s New York, Hermes Paris, Jimmy Choo, Kate Spade and Juicy Couture.
Chicago also has one of the few in-city beaches in the U.S., Oak Street Beach. This beach area has lifeguards on duty and is a great place to hang out on a hot summer day.
Visit Millennium Park and take a picture of your reflection and Chicago skyline at the Cloudgate aka the bean sculpture.
While the Willis Tower (formally the Sears Tower) is the tallest building in the city (and in the western hemisphere), the views are actually better at the John Hancock Observatory. The Observatory also has the only open-air skywalk. It’s open every day from 9am until 11pm and is rated one of the “top five best places for pictures in Chicago (by the Chicago Tribune)”. A Fast Pass will cost you $31.00 per adult but will let you skip the sometimes long elevator lines.
Navy Pier is a great place to take the kids. There are carnival style games and rides including a 150 foot high Ferris wheel. Firework shows are each Wednesday and Saturday evening during the summer and on Saturdays in the fall. There are also street performers and a calendar full of special events and performances. From here you can catch a water taxi over to the aquarium and Field Museum or down to the Willis Tower or Michigan Avenue bridge.
Architectural buffs will enjoy the Shoreline Sightseeing Architecture River Cruise that leaves from Navy Pier. This tour will point out buildings created by world-famous architects such as Mies van der Rohe and Owings and Merrill. Skyscrapers were first introduced in Chicago and you’ll learn about how they shaped (literally!) the city.
For a night out on the town, visit one of the jazz and blues clubs located in former speakeasy’s along Rush Street. The Second City is also a popular night time destination. This comedy club has been around since 1959 and has helped launch the careers of comedians such as John Belushi, Mike Meyers, Bill Murray, Tina Fey, Steven Carrell and many more.
Museums, zoos and aquariums….oh my!
With over forty different museums, it’s hard to fit them all into one visit. But be sure to see Sue, the largest and most complete T-Rex ever discovered at The Field Museum. The John G. Shedd Aquarium has over 32,000 aquatic animals while the Adler Planetarium explores space exploration. The Museum of Science and Industry is the largest science center in the western hemisphere and features Science Storms, a new permanent exhibit that explores’ tornadoes, tsunami’s and lightening. The Lincoln Park Zoo is the country’s oldest public zoo and houses more than 1,000 animals in a forty-nine acre park in the middle of the city. The best part is that it’s free to the public and is open every day.
Catch a ball game…
If you happen to be in town during baseball season then catching a Cubs game at Wrigley Field is also a must-do. Built in 1914, this ballpark is steeped in history. Scores are still changed by hand on the original scoreboard. From downtown, it’s easy to hop on the subway (you’ll take the L train) and get off at the Addison Street stop which is only a block from the stadium. If you’re lucky, Mark, a ballpark vendor since 1973, will sing you a song while pouring an Old Style beer into a cup for you. Don’t forget a Chicago style hot dog and some peanuts to make the experience complete.
These are just a few of the many things to do in Downtown Chicago. So whether your interests lay in experiencing great food, sports or taking in a museum this great weekend getaway has something for everyone.
For more information on Chicago, visit the city’s official tourism website at: http://www.explorechicago.org
Tips for Exploring Downtown Chicago
- Cabs are the best way to get from the airport to downtown. You’ll fly into Chicago Midway which is about a 20-30 minute ride and should cost around $35-$40.
- There are a lot of great hotels to choose from. Choose one in the Magnificent Mile area and you’ll be centrally located to most attractions. The Chicago Marriott Downtown Magnificent Mile is one of the busiest I’ve ever seen, but it offers comfortable rooms and all of the usual amenities. Plus, world-class shopping is literally right next door.
- As noted, use the Chicago Trolley and subways to get around. Chicago is big, but there’s a good transportation system in place and it’s still a walkable city.
- Depending on what attractions you plan to visit, a City Pass might save you money. You can visit their website for more information and locations where to buy the passes. http://www.citypass.com/chicago