I asked locals, both Chicagoans and suburbanites to make recommendations and everyone says go to Millennium Park, see the Bean. The Bean is supposedly actually called Cloudscape, but nobody calls it that. (Speaking of suburbanites — used to be called 708ers, for the area code, before the addition of more area codes in both city and suburbs.)

The Sears Tower has a new scare your pants off feature, a glass bottom balcony.

I had some requests for “non-touristy” stuff to see, but a wise friend said, “actually, I think the touristy stuff is better.”

Chicago is a city of neighborhoods, and because of traffic patterns and distance, you’ll want to visit one neighborhood per day. Two if they’re close and you’re really energetic.

I’m organizing some things to see in Chicago by neighborhood:

Hyde Park: See Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House and the Oriental Institute, eat in nearby Chinatown. (Nearby is relative.)

If you have time, stop by the Japanese garden that’s behind the Museum of Science and Industry. Skip the MSI unless you’re really into trains, planes, WWII subs or want to go in a replica coal mine. I think I’m bored with MSI from going too often, but my good friend says:

“remember the Harry Potter exhibit and the Smart House! Also there is a great inventors exhibit (can’t remember what it is called) that has a very cool music-generating machine.”

Downtown: the aforementioned Millennium Park, you can walk over toward Wacker Drive and the Dearborn bridge and stand on the bronze plaque where Fort Dearborn once stood.

Of course there’s Art Institute of Chicago, armor collection, pre Columbian Gold, and lower level decorative arts collection. The brand new modern wing just opened, I haven’t been yet, but friends report that it’s great. Be warned though, the Art Institute just raised their price to a whopping $18.00 per person! (Not sure where the armor is, with things being moved around during remodeling.)

If you can take more art at this point, go to the Chicago Cultural Center, formerly the library, and see the Tiffany dome, the multiple art galleries, and if you’re there on the right day, see a free lunchtime performance.

Walk to the lake, of course, see Lake Michigan, stop by Buckingham Fountain on your way.

From downtown it’s a straight shot out to Oak Park to see the Frank Lloyd Wright home and studio. Or take a walking tour, download the audio for one for free.

Where to eat: this is a tough call, as there are a ton of good restaurants. For good cheese, Marion Street Cheese Market, for Mexican, Lalo’s on Oak Park Avenue, 5 Guys Burgers and Fries on Lake Street, Trader Joe’s on Harlem for a picnic lunch.

Or visit nearby Forest Park for Gaetano’s, Cafe Dalucca if it’s before 3 pm, or Fuji Grill on Harlem for Japanese.

For more on what to see in Oak Park, see the post above this one.

North End of Downtown, or the “Magnificent Mile”

A bit dull, artistically. The Museum of Contemporary Art is there, and they have some nice Calder mobiles. Other than that the Mag Mile just shopping, I don’t get it. Upscale retail, if that’s what you’re in the mood for.

An excellent museum is the National Museum of Mexican Art (formerly the Mexican Fine Art Center Museum) in the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago.

It’s the largest museum of Mexican art outside of Mexico! Plan your visit info. is here.

Where to eat: El Milagro on Blue Island and Cafe Bon Bon on 18th for desert. Yum! Check out hours and such first.

Old Town:

Visit the Chicago History Museum. More on the neighborhood here.

Evanston, IL

Stop by the beach and the Blind Faith Cafe for veggie eats. For beads, see Ayala’s Originals.

There’s also the Evanston Art Center, and right next door, a lighthouse you can tour: grossepointlighthouse.net. Kids under 8 are not allowed.

Navy Pier
Navy Pier is a mall that happens to be on a pier. I think it’s the least interesting thing to do in Chicago. It’s also hard to get to. There’s a shuttle from the closest train stop, if you miss it, it’s a long walk. Parking is really, really expensive. I think there are a lot of more interesting things to do in Chicago. Sure, it’s safe, clean and indoors, but it’s summer, so skip it. (Lots of people disagree with me. It’s a good place to catch a boat tour, there’s a stained glass museum, lots of good restaurants, and the Chicago Children’s Museum.)

Getting around

Traffic is a big factor if you’re driving, so plan accordingly or take the train. The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) has a phone number you can call and they’ll plan your whole route for you.

Trains are easier to figure out than they used to be, but not as easy as Washington, D.C. Make sure you’re getting on the right “color” train and the correct “end of the line.”

Some helpful planning websites:

Transit Chicago

Explore Chicago

Bonus section:

Cool houses of worship to see

Unity Temple in Oak Park, IL http://www.utrf.org/visit.html

BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Bartlett, IL http://www.swaminarayan.org

more to come

Your suggestions are welcomed in the comments!

Photo credit: Joe Pena
From the Comments:

Mary Ellen writes:

You forgot one great Chicago activity – the Architectural Boat Tour. If you put it on the list, I suggest that you recommend that people book it through the Chicago Architecture Foundation, as these docents know more than they have time to talk about. Other boat tour companies have added some information on architecture, but they aren’t as extensively trained or knowledgeable as the CAF docents.

Great suggestion Mary Ellen, thanks! Here’s the link: http://www.architecture.org

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