Art & Architecture
It’s hard to know what to gawp at first. High-flying architecture is everywhere, from the stratospheric, glass-floored Willis Tower to Frank Gehry’s swooping silver Pritzker Pavilion to Frank Lloyd Wright’s stained-glass Robie House. Whimsical public art studs the streets; you might be walking along and wham, there’s an abstract Picasso statue that’s not only cool to look at, but you’re allowed to go right up and climb on it. For art museums, take your pick: impressionist masterpieces at the massive Art Institute, psychedelic paintings at the mid-sized Museum of Mexican Art or outsider drawings at the small Intuit gallery.
Chicago knows how to rock a festival. Between March and September it throws around 200 shindigs. The specialty is music. Blues Fest brings half a million people to Millennium Park to hear guitar notes slide and bass lines roll, all for free. During the four-day Lollapalooza mega-party, rock bands thrash while the audience dances in an arm-flailing frenzy. Smaller, barbecue-scented street fests take place in the neighborhoods each weekend – though some rival downtown for star power on their stages (oh, hey, Olivia Newton-John at Northalsted Market Days).
Loosen your belt – you’ve got a lot of eating to do. On the menu: peanut-butter-and-banana-topped waffles for breakfast (at Stephanie Izard’s Little Goat), a chicken, apple and cranberry hot dog for lunch (at Hot G Dog), and 20 courses of centrifuged, encapsulated molecular gastronomy for dinner (at Grant Achatz’ Alinea). You can also chow down on a superb range of ethnic eats from Vietnamese pho to Mexican carnitas, Polish pierogi and Macanese fat rice. Still hungry? Order a late-night deep-dish pizza.
Chicago is a maniacal sports town, with a pro team for every season (two teams, in baseball’s case). Watching a game is a local rite of passage, whether you slather on the blue-and-orange body paint for a Bears football game, join the raucous baseball crowd in Wrigley Field’s bleachers, or plop down on a bar stool at the neighborhood tavern for whatever match is on TV. Count on making lots of spirited new friends. Should the excitement rub off and inspire you to get active yourself, the city’s 26 beaches and 580 parks offer a huge array of play options.
Field Museum of Natural History
Museum in South Loop & Near South Side
The Field Museum houses some 30 million artifacts and includes everything but the kitchen sink – beetles, mummies, gemstones, Bushman the stuffed ape – all tended by a slew of PhD-wielding scientists, as the Field remains an active research institution. The collection’s rock star is Sue, the largest Tyrannosaurus rex yet discovered. She even gets her own gift shop. Special exhibits, such as the 3-D movie, cost extra.
After communing with Sue, dino lovers should head up to the ‘Evolving Planet’ exhibit on the 2nd floor, which has more of the big guys and gals. You can learn about the evolution of the species and watch staff paleontologists clean up fossils in the lab.
‘Inside Ancient Egypt’ is another good exhibit that recreates an Egyptian burial chamber on two levels. The mastaba (tomb) contains 23 actual mummies and is a reconstruction of the one built for Unis-ankh, the son of the last pharaoh of the Fifth dynasty, who died at age 21 in 2407 BC. The relic-strewn bottom level is especially worthwhile.
Other displays that merit your time include the Hall of Gems and its glittering garnets, opals, emeralds, pearls and diamonds. The Northwest Coast and Arctic Peoples totem pole collection got its start with artifacts shipped to Chicago for the 1893 World’s Expo. And the largest man-eating lion ever caught is stuffed and standing sentry on the basement floor. Preserved insects and birds are also on display in all their taxidermic glory.
The museum is vast, so get a map at the desk and make a plan of attack or download the museum’s free app for curated tours of various collections.
TOP CHOICE MEXICAN IN NEAR NORTH & NAVY PIER
You’ve probably seen chef-owner Rick Bayless on TV, stirring up pepper sauces and other jump-off-the-tongue Mexican creations. His isn’t your typical taco menu: Bayless uses seasonal, sustainable ingredients for his…
TOP CHOICE GASTRONOMY IN LINCOLN PARK & OLD TOWN
One of the world’s best restaurants, with three Michelin stars, Alinea brings on multiple courses of molecular gastronomy. Dishes may emanate from a centrifuge or be pressed into a capsule, à la duck served with a ‘…
TOP CHOICE DINER IN NEAR WEST SIDE & PILSEN
Top Chef winner Stephanie Izard opened this diner for the foodie masses across the street from her ever-booked main restaurant, Girl & the Goat. Scooch into a vintage booth and order off the all-day breakfast me…
TOP CHOICE GASTROPUB IN THE LOOP
This always-hopping gastropub dishes up fanciful grub, from Gouda-topped venison burgers to mussels vindaloo or Guinness-battered fish and chips. The booze rocks too, including a solid whiskey list and small-batch b…
TOP CHOICE PIZZA IN NEAR NORTH & NAVY PIER
Giordano’s makes ‘stuffed’ pizza, a bigger, doughier version of deep dish. It’s awesome. If you want a slice of heaven, order the ‘special,’ a stuffed pie containing sausage, mushroom, green pepper and onions. Each …
Built in 1914 and named for the chewing-gum guy, Wrigley Field is the second-oldest baseball park in the major leagues. It’s known for its hand-turned scoreboard, ivy-covered outfield walls and neon sign over the front entrance. It’s also known for its team’s legendary losing streak. The Cubs hadn’t won a championship since 1908, a cursed dry spell that was unrivaled in US sports. Then in 2016, they triumphed in mythic style. Learn more on 1½-hour tours ($25) of the ballpark, available April through September.
The grassy plaza just north of the main entrance – aka The Park – has tables, chairs, a coffee shop and huge video screen. On non-game days it’s open to the public and hosts free movie nights, concerts and a Thursday farmers market; on game days it’s a beer garden for ticket holders. A hotel and more amenities are forthcoming.
Art Institute of Chicago
The Art Institute is the second-largest art museum in the country. Its collection of impressionist and post-impressionist paintings rivals those in France, and the number of surrealist works is tremendous. Download the free app for DIY audio tours; it offers several quick-hit jaunts, from highlights (including Georges Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte and Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks) to architecture and pop art tours. Allow two hours to browse the museum’s must-sees; art buffs should allocate much longer.
The main entrance is on Michigan Ave, but you can also enter via the dazzling Modern Wing on Monroe St. Ask at the front desk about free talks and tours once you’re inside. Note that the 3rd-floor contemporary sculpture terrace is always free. It has great city views and connects to Millennium Park via the mod, pedestrian-only Nichols Bridgeway.
Your backstage pass to Chicago’s best festivals
Bookworm? Architecture buff? Indie rocker? No matter how you roll, Chicago’s got a festival for you. Each festival season – which stretches roughly from the first suggestion of mild temps until the first threat of flurries – brings over 400 neighborhood shindigs alone, not to mention a host of multi-day events keyed to interests from hoppy brews to electric blues. Here, 11 of the best Chicago fests. not to mention a host of multi-day events
Find out what’s brewing during llinos craft beer week
Mid-May is heaven for hopheads around Illinois: for one intoxicating week, breweries, bars and restaurants around the state celebrate the sudsy stuff with hundreds of events like pairing dinners, rare beer tappings, and even booze-fueled performance art. Here in Chicago, the annual highlight is Beer Under Glass, when more than 100 area breweries convene to pour samples of their wares amidst the tropical greenery of the Garfield Park Conservatory’s soaring greenhouses.
Boogie down to Chicago Blues Festival
When half a million people stream Downtown in early June with blankets and picnic baskets in tow, it’s kickoff time for Blues Fest. Fans flock to hear guitar notes slide, bass lines roll and fret-bending bands work their mojo. It’s the largest free blues gig in the world – a fitting legacy for the city that electrified the genre. Since its 1984 inception, the festival has welcomed no lesser lights than B.B. King, John Lee Hooker and Koko Taylor, and local axe-man Buddy Guy is a frequent flyer.
Dig into chef-created bites at Taste of Randolph
With apologies to Chicago’s other food-centric street festivals, it’s this weekend-long June shindig that boasts the real culinary bonafides, unfolding as it does in the buzzy West Loop, home to many of the city’s most celebrated kitchens. Expect creative takes on casual fare like meatballs and fried chicken from hot spots such as Grant Achatz’s Roister and Sarah Grueneberg’s Monteverde, plus a respectable music lineup that in years past has featured acts like Atlas Genius, Dawes and Dinosaur Jr.
Get down with the cool kids at Pitchfork
Bespectacled indie-rock fans get giddy for the taste-making line-up of alternative and emerging acts at the Pitchfork Music Festival. The young crowd – in thrift store sundresses and Converse high tops, tie-dyed shirts and jean shorts – roams between the three main stages in offbeat Union Park, with pit stops to buy vinyl, screenprints and Etsy-worthy handicrafts in between. Recent headliners include Chance the Rapper, Sufjan Stevens and LCD Soundsystem.
Get sauced at Mole De Mayo
Of the hundreds of neighborhood fests that take over Chicago’s streets from spring through fall, this one, held in late May in the predominantly Mexican community of Pilsen, stands out for fantastic fare with a distinctly local flavor. Street eats like tacos and pambazos perfume the air with earthy smoke, but the star of the show is the complex, hearty sauce that gives the event its name. Over a dozen area restaurants serve up their take. Vote for your favorite, and then grab a michelada and check out the diverse entertainment, including traditional Chinelos dancers and high-flying lucha libre wrestling.
Turn it up to 11 at Lollapalooza
The super-sized rock festival amps up Grant Park like no other bash, with 130+ bands getting loud on eight stages. For four full days guitars thrash, lights spin and the audience dances into a sweaty, arm-flailing frenzy. The likes of Paul McCartney, Radiohead, Lorde and Outkast have taken their turns as headline acts. Beyond rock and roll, Lolla has tents for video game playing, eco-friendly shopping and chowing down on lobster corndogs (tattooed TV chef Graham Elliot curates the food vendors).
Dance in the streets at Northalsted Market Days
Boystown lets loose when summer’s heat peaks. For this six-block street party, revelers gay and straight alike prowl incense-wafting craft vendors along Halsted Street in the heart of Chicago’s LGBTQ neighborhood. Drag queens in feather boas, Twister games played in the street and disco divas on the main stage (Gloria Gaynor! Olivia Newton-John!) are a sure bet.
Bid summer a swinging farewell at Chicago Jazz Festival
Jazz Fest anchors the city’s Labor Day festivities. Devotees chill in chairs on Millennium Park‘s lawn or in the marble confines of the Chicago Cultural Center, and pretend the prominent musicians aren’t blowing the last notes of summer on their horns. Well into its fourth decade, Jazz Fest has seen Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck, Charlie Haden and their like bebop into the night.
Get a new view of the city at Open House Chicago
From gilded theaters to hyper-modern high rises, over 200 buildings citywide throw open their doors for free tours during this weekend-long October festival, coordinated by the Chicago Architecture Foundation. Because they’re tucked off the beaten path or usually off limits to the public, many of the sites on the roster would normally fly under the radar; consequently, they reveal a side of Chicago that visitors – or, for that matter, locals – don’t normally see.
Put on your smarty pants at the Chicago Humanities Festival
For two weeks each November, nearly 100 culture makers of all stripes (think prominent social critics such as Ta-Nehisi Coates and novelists like Margaret Atwood, politicians like Al Gore and musicians such as Elvis Costello) converge upon Chicago for this brainy festival, delivering lectures, performances, and exhibits keyed to the year’s appointed theme at venues across the city. The collective result is a prismatic view of topics as wide-ranging as journeys, America and laughter.