Highland Park (Ravinia)
Chicago is a city of neighborhoods. While the downtown has many great cultural institutions and tourist attractions, most Chicagoans live and play outside of the central business district. To truly understand Chicago, travelers must venture away from the Loop and Michigan Avenue and out to the vibrant neighborhoods. Take the Brown Line to Armitage to visit upscale boutiques and see residential streets lined with million-dollar homes in the historic Lincoln Park Neighborhood. Take the Red or Brown Line to Belmont to visit Lakeview, a neighborhood defined by its mix of alternative youth, gay & lesbian, sports and family cultures -- the Belmont strip is a favorite hangout of Chicago youth, the North Halsted strip is the center of Chicago's GLBT culture, Clark Street from Belmont to Wrigley Field is "main street" for baseball fans on Chicago's north side, and Broadway south of Belmont is a laid-back mix of all of the above. Take the Blue Line to Damen to visit Wicker Park, the center of Chicago's "in" scene and home to many chic restaurants, bars and boutiques.
A CityPass will get you in to 6 attractions within 9 days at a much reduced rate than paying for the attractions separately. The 6 attractions are Adler Planetarium & Astronomy Museum, Art Institute of Chicago, Field Museum, Hancock Observatory, Museum of Science and Industry and Shedd Aquarium. $49 adult (save $44.45), $39 child (save $30.60). CityPass is highly recommended even if you only want to visit two or three of these locations -- the Pass allows you to cut to the front of lines and this alone can be worth the price.
• Adler Planetarium & Astronomy Museum, 1300 S. Lake Shore Dr. Every day except Thanksgiving Day and 25 Dec 9:30am-4:30pm, first F of month 9:30am-10pm. Admission and one show $13 adult. Additional shows $5. For other prices see the Adler's webpage. Features a permanent collection, many fixed and touring exhibits, seasonal and topical shows, and some demonstrations and workshops.
• Art Institute of Chicago, 111 S. Michigan Ave, +1 312-443-3600. M-W, F 10:30am-4:30pm, Th 10:30am-8pm, Sa-Su 10am-5pm (Note: no longer open late on Tuesdays). One of the premier museums in the United States definitely not to be missed. Famous pieces include American Gothic by Grant Wood. But there's lots of other paintings, one of the best collections of Impressionists in the world, and early 20th-century pieces and other art covering 5000 years, including archaeological finds and medieval armor. Suggested donation: $12 ($7 children and seniors, free Tue.).
• Brookfield Zoo is truly one of the best zoological parks in the US.
• Chicago Blues Museum, 3636 S. Iron St, 773-828-8118. Closed Monday. Phone to confirm hours.
• Chicago Board of Trade Visitor Center is currently closed except for pre-arranged groups due to fear of terrorism.
• Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington St. M-Th 10am-7pm, F 10am-6pm, Sa 10am-5pm, Su 11am-5pm, closed holidays. Built in 1897 as Chicago's first public library, the building now houses the city's Visitor Information Center, galleries, and exhibit halls. The ceiling of Preston Bradley Hall includes a 38-foot Tiffany glass dome. Worth a visit to see the beautiful interior. Free.
• Chicago Mercantile Exchange Visitors Center, lobby level, 20 S. Wacker Dr. M-F, 8am-4:30pm. The 4th Floor Visitor Gallery is currently closed but the lobby level visitors center has displays on the history and role of the exchange. Free.
• DuSable Museum of African American History, 740 E. 56th Place, Washington Park (near the University of Chicago). M-Sa 10am-5pm, Su noon-5pm. $3 adult, $1 child, free on Sunday.
• Field Museum, 1400 South Lake Shore Drive, +1 312-922-9410. 9am-5pm every day. Chicago's Natural History Museum highlights include the largest Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton in the world as well as a great, kids-friendly Egyptian exhibit. $10 ($5 children, $7 seniors and students, Mon. and Tue. free seasonally).
• Garfield Park. History-filled Chicago park 4 miles / 15 minutes west of downtown. It's in a rough neighborhood, though you can take the El (Green Line) right to the Conservatory-Central Park Drive Station in the park. Looking at the city from the El gives you a picture of a different part of Chicago. On the trip out, you might also notice the gentrification spreading West from downtown there are startlingly rapid changes from gentrified to decayed neighborhoods.
• Garfield Park Conservatory, 300 N. Central Park Ave. Every day 9am-5pm, except Th 9am-8pm. Amazing botanical conservatory, one of the largest indoor gardens in the world. Free admission and parking.
• Grant Park. Park located between Lake Shore Drive and Columbus Drive. Home of the huge Buckingham fountain which runs 10am-11pm and is accompanied by music and colored lights 8-11pm, May-Sep. Millennium Park is to the north and the Museum Campus to the south, so there is a large area you can wander.
• Hancock Observatory, John Hancock Center, 875 N. Michigan Ave. 9am-11pm. 360 degree views from the 94th floor. Rivals the Sears Tower Skydeck. $9.75 (plus amusement tax) adult, $6 (plus amusement tax) child, or for free you can visit the bar a floor below and order a drink or two, the view is almost as good and they have live jazz on the weekends.
• Harold Washington Library Center, 400 S. State St and Congress Parkway. M-Th 9am-7pm, F-Sa 9am-5pm, Su 1-5pm. Chicago Public Library's central library in a beautiful building. It holds exhibitions and has well-equipped free computer and Internet services which visitors can use on presentation of photo ID.
• Lincoln Park. One and one-half-mile long park with nearly everything one could hope for. Take a free trolley when they're running or a CTA bus (routes 151 and 156 stop right at the zoo gate).
• Chicago Historical Society, Clark St at North Ave (south end of park). M-W noon-8pm, Th-Sa 9:30am-4:30pm, Su noon-5pm. Urban history museum. Suggested admission $5 adult, $1 child, free on Mondays.
• Lincoln Park Zoo, 2200 N. Cannon Dr (Lake Shore Dr and Fullerton Parkway). Every day 9am-6pm, winter 9am-5pm, summer weekends 9am-7pm. A great free urban zoo and one of the few remaining. Includes a Great Ape house, and the Farm In The Zoo. Don't miss the penguins! Free.
• Lincoln Park Conservatory, 2400 N. Stockton Dr (north end of zoo). 9am-5pm. Free.
• Notebaert Nature Museum (Chicago Academy of Sciences), 2430 N. Cannon Dr. M-F 9am-4:30pm, Sa-Su 10am-5pm. $7 adult, $4 child, free on Thur.
• McCormick Place convention complex, Lake Shore Drive south of Museum complex and Soldier Field. Home to multiple national events such as the Auto Show and the Tool Show.
Millennium Park • Millennium Park. Has modern sculptures in steel and glass. The Art Institute is immediately to the south and Grant Park to the southeast.
• Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 E. Chicago Ave., +1 312-280-2660. Tu 10AM-8PM, We-Su 10AM-5PM. Art of all types from around the world made since 1945. Be sure to check out what the current exhibit is the museum can be rather boring when they are between exhibits. $10 ($6 student, free Tu after 5PM).
• Museum of Contemporary Photography, 600 S. Michigan Ave., +1 312-663-5554 Mo-Fr 10AM-5PM, Th 10AM-8PM, Sa 12-5PM. The Museum is free and open to the public. A stimulating and innovative forum for the collection, creation, and examination of contemporary image making in its camera tradition and in its expanded vocabulary of digital processes.
• Museum of Holography. It'll only take you twenty minutes, but it's kind of interesting.
• Museum of Science and Industry, 5700 S. Lake Shore Dr and E. 57th St, Hyde Park (take CTA buses 2, 6, 10 or 28 or the Metra train). Summer and holidays M-Sa 9:30am-5:30pm, Su 11am-5:30pm, other seasons M-Sa 9:30am-4pm, Su 11am-4pm. Spend hours upon hours there looking at really cool stuff you never even knew you didn't know about. So much to do, so little time. You can return for free the following day if you take your ticket to "Will Call" on the way out on your first day. Great for kids, with many hands-on exhibits; adults will enjoy the display of the German U-boat U-505. $9 adult, $5 child, extra for certain exhibits.
• Navy Pier. Summer, Su-Th 10am-10pm, F-Sa 10am-midnight, shorter hours other seasons. Home of the excellent Chicago Shakespeare Theater, a Children's Museum, an IMAX theater, a small stained glass museum, a wonderfully large Ferris wheel ($5 adult, $4 child) and shops. It is an easy place to entertain a child. Navy Pier has fireworks shows on summer nights: every Wednesday at 9:30pm and Saturday at 10:15pm.
View from Sears Tower Skydeck • Sears Tower Skydeck, 233 S. Wacker Dr. 10am-10pm May-Sep, 10am-8pm Oct-Apr. Avoid the worst of the crowds after 4pm. Higher than the Hancock Observatory. $9.95 (plus admissions tax) adult, $6.95 (plus admissions tax) child.
• Shedd Aquarium, 1200 S. Lakeshore Dr. +1 312-939-2438. Located on the Museum Campus, the Shedd Aquarium is home to a large collection of marine life from throughout the world. The Pacific Northwest-themed Oceanarium features dolphins, whales and other animals from the region, as well as a panoramic view of Lake Michigan. The recently-opened Wild Reef exhibit offers floor-to-ceiling windows for an extraordinary view of a Philippine coral reef environment, complete with dozens of sharks. If you want to take pictures, bring an SLR camera with fast film or a good digital SLR so you don't need a flash. $23 adult, $16 child.
• Spertus Institute, 618 S. Michigan Ave. Su-W 10am-5pm, Th 10am-7pm (10am-5pm Jan-Feb), F 10am-3pm. A museum dedicated to Judaica. $5 adult, $3 child; free on Fridays.
• University of Chicago, Hyde Park.
• David and Alfred Smart Museum of Art, 5550 S. Greenwood Ave. Tu, W, F 10am-4pm, Th 10am-8pm, Sa-Su 11am-5pm. Free.
• Oriental Institute Museum, 1155 E. 58th St, part of the University of Chicago. Tu, Th-Sa 10am-6pm, W 10am-8:30pm, Su noon-6pm. One of the best collections of ancient Egyptian and Near Eastern archaeology in the world. Free; suggested donation $5 adult, $2 child.
• Willie Dixon's Blues Heaven, 2120 S. Michigan Ave (from downtown catch buses 3 or 4 on S. Michigan Ave). M-Sa, noon-2pm. Formerly the Chess Records studios where many Chicago blues and early rock and roll recordings were made.
• McDonald's #1 Store Museum, 400 N. Lee Street (17 miles northwest of downtown), (847) 297-5022. Open Memorial Day to Labor Day. This museum is a recreation of the first McDonald's restaurant. The original restaurant was demolished in 1984. You'll know you have seen it when you get to an old-looking McDonald's restaurant with a sign saying that they sell hamburgers for 15 cents. Free admission.
Bordering Chicago to the north and accessible via several CTA Purple Line and Metra stations, Evanston has many identities: family-friendly suburb, gateway to the wealthy North Shore, college town, dining destination and cultural center. At the north end of the college campus is a working lighthouse, open to the public, with scenic views of the shore. Further north is the Baha'i temple in Wilmette, a cultural and architectural sight to see.
• Northwestern University. One of the premier universities in the U.S., Northwestern maintains a park-like campus situated along the shore of Lake Michigan. In the 1960s, the university decided to expand the campus by filling in part of the lake with sand from the Indiana Dunes, creating an idyllic, tree-lined 84-acre area surrounding a lagoon. The campus also features an outdoor sculpture garden, indoor art galleries, multiple theaters, and an eclectic collection of architecture ranging from neo-Gothic to modernist. Tours are available from the Office of Undergraduate Admission, 1801 Hinman Ave.
• Chicago Botanic Garden, 1000 Lake Cook Rd, Glencoe (25 miles north of downtown). Every day except 25 Dec, 8am-sunset. Amazingly beautiful, and completely diverse. The 385-acre park, research, and art facilities are open year round for your visiting pleasure.
Only about 10 miles west of downtown, Oak Park is easily accessible by the CTA Blue Line, Green Line or Metra Train. http://www.oprf.com/
• Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio. 951 Chicago Avenue, Oak Park, IL 60302.
• Ernest Hemingway Birthplace Home
• Unity Temple. A National Historic Landmark. 875 Lake Street, Oak Park, Il 60302.
• Oak Park Festival Theatre. The Midwest's oldest outdoor theatre. Performances June - August. Austin Gardens, Forest Avenue and Lake Street, Downtown Oak Park.
• Park Ridge Music Concerts, a bunch of free Friday night concerts during the summer. Held in front of city hall. Always start at 8:00pm.
Highland Park (Ravinia)
• Ravinia Music Festival, usually just called "Ravinia". A summer-long festival featuring music of all types. The summer home of the Chicago Symphony. Other orchestras (like the Ravinia Festival Orchestra) play there also, as well as various pop and jazz performers. You can either choose to sit in the pavilion (which costs a bit more), or bring a blanket and chairs and sit on its large lawn. Chairs are also available for rental at the park. It has a few places to buy food and drinks (including wine and beer), however prices are high, and food, wine and beer may be brought into the park. Certain classical concerts are free for college students with a college ID. If you go, definitely buy some Ravinia ice cream (not the Dove stuff). If you sit in the Pavilion you get a special program. If you sit on the lawn, you'll have to go and find one of the green newspaper dispensers and they hold the lawn programs. Ravinia often hosts family and children's concerts, but for more sophisticated shows you should either leave the kids at the hotel, or make sure that they will be well behaved. Absurdly easy to get to via Metra North Line; Ravinia has its own stop, which only operates on days with performances. Costs about $5.00 each way from Ogilvie Transportation Center.
• Old Long Grove. When someone says they've been to "Long Grove" they are usually talking about this. Old Long Grove is a historical street with a whole bunch of moderately expensive, yet very interesting, stores and restaurants located in the Northwest suburbs. Different festivals go on there during the year. Definitely visit the Long Grove confectionery. It's a great place to buy candy. It's best known for its chocolate-covered strawberries.