There is so much to experience in Chicago, it’s difficult to know
where to begin. You may want to start with an overview of the city. First,
see the expanse of the Chicagoland area from 1,000 feet above at the John
Hancock Observatory or the Sears Tower Skydeck.
Sears Tower Skydeck
The view from the Skydeck on the 103rd floor of the Sears Tower is amazing!
On a clear day, you can see 40-50 miles -- the city of Chicago and it
beautiful architecture, Michigan, Indiana and Wisconsin.
For your enjoyment on the way up, the elevators are equipped with 50-inch
flat screen monitors that make you feel like you're blasting off through
the top of the Sears Tower and into space - with views of the earth compliments
of NASA and the Space Shuttle Endeavor.
The Skydeck also features interactive, museum-quality exhibits highlighting
Chicago's history and historic characters.
John Hancock Center
The John Hancock Center is one of Chicago's most well-known buildings.
It is the 12th tallest building in the world with 100 floors, including
apartments, offices, shops, a hotel, an ice rink, restaurants, its own
post office, and radio and television facilities. The observation deck
is a top attraction for visitors. The famous Signature Room restaurant
is located on the 95th & 96th floors. The John Hancock Center was
completed in 1969 and features a tapered design for structural and space
Art Institute of Chicago
One of the world's premier museums, the Institute has a collection that
spans 5000 years of art - its impressionist and postimpressionist collection
is second only to France's. Excellent maps are available free at the information
booths. The bronze lions flanking the steps are Chicago icons.
Chicago Cultural Center
A few blocks north of the Art Institute is the Chicago Cultural Center,
which often sponsors free music concerts. Galleries, exhibitions, beautiful
interior design and a permanent museum all make this cultural centre an
interesting place to roam.
Chicago Historical Society
The Lincolns, Capones, Daleys and other notables are here, but the focus
of this well-funded museum (located in the lower end of Lincoln Park,
south of the zoo) is on the average person. The role of the commoner in
the American Revolution sets the tone for the humanistic exhibits.
One, titled Fort Dearborn and Frontier Chicago, shows how settlers and
Indians changed each other's lives. The Pioneer Court gives hands-on demonstrations
in the intricacies of making candles, weaving blankets and knitting clothes.
None of the work was easy.
Much of the 2nd floor is devoted to Chicago's development and history.
The roles of immigration and industry are addressed, as are the problems
of slums and the lives of the rich. Special exhibitions are the museum's
strong point, covering such diverse topics as how bungalows allowed almost
every family to afford a home, and how WWII affected the average family.
Field Museum of Natural History
Mummies, native American artefacts, stuffed animals and dinosaurs are
part of the 20 million pieces in the collections of the Field Museum of
Natural History. The Field's most dramatic acquisition came in 1997, when
it obtained a Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton named Sue. It's the best-preserved
skeleton of the fierce meat-eater yet found.
Highlights include an ambitious walk-through exhibit that attempts to
capture the scope of Africa by taking visitors from bustling city streets
to expansive Saharan sand dunes; a re-created multilevel Egyptian burial
chamber housing 23 mummies; and a Dinosaur Hall filled with skeletons,
some of which have had their ages measured in the tens of millions of
This grandly named stretch of Michigan Avenue runs from the Chicago River
north to Lincoln Park. 'Mag Mile,' as it's widely known, is a shopper's
paradise: you can find everything from the swankiest upscale boutiques
to chainstores. Its most famous landmark is the Tribune Tower, a 1925
gothic masterpiece that's home to the Pulitzer-prize winning Chicago Tribune.
Eccentric owner Col Robert McCormick had his overworked reporters send
rocks from famous buildings and monuments around the world and then embedded
them around the base of the building. The Magnificent Mile lies northeast
of the Loop.
Chicago's most popular neighbourhood is alive day and night with people
in-line skating, walking dogs, pushing strollers and driving in circles
for hours looking for a place to park. It's also home to the Biograph
Theater, where gangster John Dillinger was gunned down by the FBI in 1934.
Thugs with guns have since made way for banana-packing primates. The
free Lincoln Park Zoo, founded in 1868, enjoys considerable community
support. Among the highlights are huge monitor lizards, Galápagos
turtles, naked mole rats, fruit bats and spiders. The zoo has been a world
leader in gorilla breeding, with more than three dozen born here since
1970. If you're lucky, the chimpanzees will be drawing on poster board
with crayons. Some of their works have been shown in galleries. Lincoln
Park borders Lake Michigan northeast of the downtown Loop.
Adler Planetarium & Astronomy Museum
The Adler Planetarium is located on Lake Shore Drive at Chicago's Museum
Campus. Opened in 1930 as the first planetarium in the western hemisphere,
the Adler fuels the imagination of its visitors with all new exhibits,
state-of-the-art computer technology and the world's first StarRider Theater,
while showcasing a renowned collection of historical astronomy artifacts.
It started as a wharf, morphed into a University, and ended up as a dead
800-pound gorilla: huge, difficult to dispose of and a little on the nose.
In the late 1980s the pier got a serious facelift, and is now more than
half a mile of tourist-bait in the form of amusement parks, meeting centres
and food courts.
Built in the 1920's, Soldier Field is a monument to the times and great
sports palaces typical of the "Golden Age of Sports" and is
one of few such stadiums still standing. Plans for the stadium began in
1919, when Holibird and Roche won an architectural competition to build
the stadium as a memorial to American soldiers who died in wars.
Seventh inning stretch and the crowd belts out a beer-soaked version of
'Take me out to the Ballgame.' There's only one place in the world you
could be - Wrigley Field. Home to the Chicago Cubs, Wrigley Field draws
tourists year-round who pose under the classic neon sign over the main
entrance to the baseball shrine.
This ivy-covered stadium, one of the oldest in America, is described
by some as being as 'big as a pillbox'. It's an old fashioned ballpark,
where the scoreboard is still changed by hand and where fans fought tooth
and nail to prevent the stadium being kitted out with lights. If you don't
have tickets, or don't want to see the Cubbies lose (as they're prone
to do), stroll over to one of the streets next to the stadium, chat with
the guys who hang around all day waiting for a ball to be hit out of the
park or go sink a beer in one of the neighbourhood sports bars. Notice
how the surrounding flats have adapted their roofs with bleachers for
watching games. Players take fans on tours of the stadium several times
during the season.
The world's largest assortment of finned, gilled and other aquatic creatures
swim within the marble-clad confines of the Shedd Aquarium. The original
1929 building houses 200 tanks. The attached multilevel Oceanarium is
a spectacular space where huge mammal pools seem to blend into the lake
outside the floor-to-ceiling windows.
The centrally located tank is home to 500 tropical fish from placid nurse
sharks to less neighbourly moray eels. Also on hand are beluga whales,
Pacific white-sided dolphins, harbour seals, sea otters and penguins.
Off the Beaten Track
From 1957 to 1967, Chess Records occupied a humble building on South Michigan
Avenue, which became a temple of blues and a spawning ground of rock and
roll. The Chess brothers, two Polish Jews, ran the recording studio that
saw - and heard - the likes of Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley, Howlin' Wolf
and Willie Dixon. Chuck Berry recorded four top-10 singles here, and the
Rolling Stones named a song '2120 S Michigan Ave' after a recording session
in 1964. Today, the building is owned by Willie Dixon's Blues Heaven Foundation,
a non-profit organization set up by the late musician to promote blues
and preserve its legacy.
Hyde Park is an enclave within the city. Much of its existence is owed
to the University of Chicago, a school where graduate students outnumber
undergrads and 22 Nobel prizes for economics have sat on the trophy shelf
since the award was first presented in 1969.
The bookish residents give the place a pleasant, insulated, small-town
air, which is remarkable considering the blighted neighbourhoods to the
west and south. The major attraction for most visitors is the Museum of
Science and Industry, which is dedicated to high-tech gadgets. It also
features some bizarre body exhibits, including a transparent dissected
female mannequin and a preserved man and woman whose bodies have been
cut into thin cross sections.
Another worthwhile attraction is Robie House, Frank Lloyd Wright's poster
Prairie-style house, designed in 1909. The house's rooms cluster around
a central hearth, which may sound cosy but the neighbours hated it, Mr
Robie's wife left him and Mr Robie went broke. Today, the house belongs
to the university and is open to the public.
Hyde Park is 7 miles (11km) southeast of downtown Chicago and accessible
via the Metra train from the Loop's Randolph St and Van Buren St stations.
Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore
From Chicago on a clear day you can see Gary, a miserable steel-making
town 30 miles (48km) southeast along the Lake Michigan shore. Beyond this
industrial blight are the Indiana Dunes, over 20mi (32km) of sandy beaches
and dunes formed by the prevailing winds on Lake Michigan. They are dotted
by development and the odd steel mill, but many long stretches of pristine
beach and shoreline are encompassed in state and national parks.
The Bailly-Chellberg Visitor Center and Trail is the focus of the National
Lakeshore Park. A 2-mile (3km) forest nature trail passes through areas
where dogwood, Arctic berries and even cactus grow. The path also passes
restored log cabins from the 1820s and a farm built by Swedes in the 1870s.
On summer days, the Indiana Dunes State Park is jammed with people hitting
the beach. The Kemil Beach is one of the less crowded; its far eastern
end is dominated by Mt Baldy, a 120ft (36m) dune with good views of the
lake and shoreline.
South Shore trains depart frequently from downtown Chicago for the Indiana
Dunes, 40 miles (64km) east. By car, I-94 puts you close to the parks.
Oak Park is an affluent suburb of Chicago that has been preserved as a
National Historic District. That's because Ernest Hemingway was born and
raised here, and a young architect named Frank Lloyd Wright came here
in 1889 to set up a practice and experiment with building styles.
Most of the Hemingway memorabilia is collected at the Ernest Hemingway
Museum. Admission includes admittance to Hemingway's Birthplace, where
you can see his first room. 'Papa' was born here in 1899 in the home of
his maternal grandparents.
Architecture fans will enjoy wandering around the 25 Frank Lloyd Wright
buildings sprinkled about town. Ask for a walking-tour map at the Oak
Park Visitors Center. The Unity Temple, built in 1904, was Wright's first
attempt at poured-concrete construction and one of his most famous works.
His Home and Studio was remodeled repeatedly and shows off all the hallmark
styles associated with Wright.
Oak Park is 9 miles (15km) west of Chicago's Loop and easily accessible
via the El.
An excellent small museum devoted to 5000 years of Jewish faith and culture,
the Spertus Museum juxtaposes aspects of Jewish life and religion. The
Zell Holocaust Memorial has oral histories from survivors as well as the
names of relatives of deceased Chicagoans. In the basement 'ArtiFact Center',
kids can conduct their own archeaological dig.
Brookfield Zoo, located in Brookfield, Illinois, just west of Chicago,
is open every day of the year. The Zoo is located on 216 acres of beautifully
landscaped grounds, featuring over 2,000 animals. The Zoo first opened
in 1934 and became world renowned for its use of natural barriers, such
as moats, rather than cages. Brookfield Zoo featured the first Giant Panda
exhibit in the United States.
The exhibits, such as the Australia House, Baboon Island, Wolf Woods,
Reptile House, Pachyderm House and more, are sure to please.