The Best Kept Secrets of Chicago, IL and The Best Not So Secret Places to Visit

Filed in Gather Travel Essential by on May 3, 2010 0 Comments

Chicago Illinois is a fascinating place to visit.  The city itself is full of beautiful architecture and just walking around the most popular streets in the city can provide hours of entertainment.  If you want to get away from the streets you can simply walk a couple of blocks over and you are on the lake front.  Chicago boasts several miles of walking or bike riding views of Lake Michigan. In the summer time you can enjoy swimming in Lake Michigan or just sun bathing on the beach.

Bicyclist can enjoy 20 miles worth bike path and can ride right to the Lincoln Park Zoo.  Those who are not from Chicago may not know this but admission to the Lincoln Park Zoo is free.  The Chicago area also has two zoos Lincoln Park Zoo, and the very nice popular Brookfield Zoo which is in nearby Brookfield, IL. The Brookfield zoo is not free however.

Architecture

Those who wish to enjoy more of Chicago’s architecture may want to go on the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio Tour. The tour not only includes the home the Frank Lloyd Wright lived in but there are also 25 other buildings in the area that were designed by Wright.  For more information on the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio tour go to: gowright.org.  Also be sure to visit the Robie House also designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

Another adventure for those who love archetcture is the Chicago Architecture tour: For more info go to:  http://www.smartdestinations.com/chicago-attractions-and-tours/chicago-architecture-tour/_attr_Chi_Att_Chicago_Architecture_Foundation.html

Also be sure to take in two of Chicago’s most famous buildings The Willis Tower (formerly the Sears tower, and the John Hancock Tower both for their architecture and for their views.  For a fee visitors can go up in the Willis tower and step out on to a clear ledge looking way down on the city of Chicago.  The observation deck has 4 different views of the city.  The John Hancock observatory boasts views of the beautiful Lake Shore.

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John Hancock Tower.

Most Popular Streets For Shopping and Night Life

Those who love to shop and those who just like to window shop should be sure to take a walk on Michigan Ave. Michigan Ave is famous for its shopping and you will of course need to enter Water Tower place which is a 7 level shopping complex.  Also be sure to take in State Street and Rush Street. I highly recommend getting a true Chicago pizza at Gino’s East Pizza downtown in this area.  It’s not the classiest place around but the pizza is fantastic.

For those that love the night life Chicago’s Rush Street will provide you with many options.

Sports

Those who are big sports fans may want to see Wrigley Field, and Soldier Field and the New Sox Stadium. Those who enjoy architecture will find Soldier Field appealing to see.

Museums and Aquariums

The Shedd Aquarium: Set along the lake front is the Shedd Aquarium which has recently been enhanced.  I have not yet been there since the changes but can tell you it was an amazing place before the changes. The aquarium boasts life from the rivers, coral reefs, the great lakes, and small lakes and even the oceans. Visitors can get a 360 degree view of the Caribbean Reef with a 90,000 gallon circular habitat. This is just one of the exhibits the Shedd Aquarium has to offer.  If you are visiting the aquarium on your visit to Chicago be sure to budget accordingly.  Admission for a family of 4 will cost nearly $100 and parking is extra, and there is an additional $2 charge to see one of the best exhibits.

Of course no visit to Chicago would be complete without visiting at least one or two museums or all of them if you have lots of time.  The two museums I highly recommend seeing are The Field Museum and the Museum of Science and Industry. The Field Museum explores many different cultures and animal life.  There you will see Sue the largest most complete T-Rex dinosaur skeleton assembly.   You can also explore and Egyptian tomb as well as plenty other fascinating exhibits.  This is a very large museum and an all day excursion.  This should also be planned into the budget.  The all access pass to the museum will cost a family of 4 a bit over $100 plus parking.  The basic ticket price will cost a family of 4 around $60.00 but you miss out on some really great exhibits, but if the budget is tight there is still plenty to see under the basic ticket price.

The Museum of Science and Industry is one of my favorite places to visit. This is a great place for families to visit as is the Field Museum.  There are plenty of exhibits to keep the mind engaged and many of them are hands on.  Last time we were there we got to experience how movies are made and got to be actors in a movie.  Then afterwards of course we got to purchase our movie and bring it home.  This whole experience cost extra but we had a lot of fun and were glad we did it and the movie which my son who was about 6 at the time had a starring role in was priceless.  This museum is a little less expensive then the Aquarium and the Field museum.  It will cost you around $50 plus parking for a family of 4.  There are additional exhibits for an extra fee  but those are optional.  If budget is a concern this might be the best option of the popular museums.

The Chicago Children’s museum located at Navy Pier is also a nice place for families to visit.  Kids can dig for fossils there as well as do other fun hands on exhibits.  The cost for a family of 4 is about $40.00 plus parking.

Those who are in to art will enjoy the Art Institute of Chicago and The Museum of Contemporary Art, and The National Museum of Mexican Art.  The art museums would be best for adults who are visiting without children unless the children really enjoy art.  Patrons and employees are not fond of children who may wish to frolic and play, and I personally remember going there as a child and being kind of bored and I know my dad who brought me was trying really hard to enjoy the art.  Children are welcome of course but that is just my personal suggestion and experience.

The Adler Planetarium is an astrology based museum.  There are plenty of hands on exhibits  and two star gazing theaters.  A trip to the Adler planetarium will cost a family of 4 about $32 plus parking.  I have not been there since junior high school but being in a star gazing theater is an amazing experience all in itself.

Three lesser known but note worthy Chicago Museums are the Notebaert Nature Museum, The Chicago History Museum, and the DuSable Museum of African American History.

The Notebaert Nature Museum focuses on the care of nature and the environment.  There is also a live butterfly sanctuary located inside the museum. Admission for a family of 4 is about $30 plus parking.  See http://www.naturemuseum.org/index.php?id=104 for more information.

The Chicago History Museum is for those really wanting to immerse themselves in the history of Chicago.  Currently they are having a special exhibit on Chicago’s famous China town neighborhoods, but normal exhibits include The Crosswords Roads of American which includes many exhibits about Chicago’s history and neighborhoods, innovations, and cultures. You can also experience what it is like to be Chicago Hot dog, hear the Chicago Fire or catch a Fly Ball at Comiskey Park. You can also see the death bed of Abraham Lincoln.  Adult admission is $14, Seniors $12, and free for children under $12.00 this includes audio tours.  Parking will likely be additional.  http://chicagohistory.org/planavisit/visitorinformation/tickets

The DuSable Museum of African American History features many different exhibits throughout the year.  The current exhibits include: The Soul of Bronzeville a musical history, The Black Panthers – Making Sense of History.  Tracing the Civil Rights movement 1848 to 1968. Red White Blue and Black a history of blacks in the armed forces, The Harold Washington Story, The Freedom Now Mural, Thomas Miller Mosaics, and Africa Speaks which is a permanent exhibit that covers Africa from region to region.  Adult admission is $3.00, Seniors $2.00, children 6 to 12 $1.00 and children under 6 are free.  They do ask that no photography or videotaping take place while visiting the museum.  For more information and current exhibits go to:  http://www.dusablemuseum.org/visit/admission-information/

Navy Pier

Another place one should visit when going to Chicago is Navy Pier if you want you can just walk out on the pier and view lake Michagan, there are also many little shops and restaurants there and the children’s museum is also located there.  You can also ride the Merry Go Round or Ferris Wheel for a fee. Enjoy the Smith museum of stained glass, have a segway experience, take an aero balloon ride, ride the lighthouse tower ride, or the swing ride. Play with remote control boats, or play miniature golf.  There are also several stages there with various forms of entertainment and an IMAX theater, and you can take boat tours out of there.

Chicago For Very Little or No Money

There is no doubt that a visit to the Windy City can be quite costly but for the budget minded family there are certainly things you can find to do in Chicago for little or no money.  You can window shop on Michigan Avenue.

Visit Millenium Park and view its current exhibits, watch people ice skate, enjoy the landscaping, and have fun looking at Cloud Gate sculptor that looks like a big reflective bean.  The sculptor reflects the buildings of the city and the rest of the park from every angle, and it is fun to go underneath it and take pictures of yourself reflected inside it and in different shapes from different angles.  The Jay Pritzker Pavilion is an amazing site to behold and The Crown Fountain is very cool it features a large screen with faces of famous Chicagoans and in the summer kids can play in the shallow water of the fountain. Visitors can also enjoy Lurie Garden, The BP Pedestrian Bridge, and the Millenium Monument at Wrigley Square.  The park is full of amazing well kept landscaping.  There is plenty of walking or bike riding needed to see the entire park, but those who go to Chicago should expect to walk a lot.

Visiting Navy Pier mentioned above is free but if you bring children the chances are high you will end up paying something for them to ride or do something.

Another great free area to visit in Chicago is the Lincoln Park Zoo that I mentioned above.  Weather you drive straight there or take the bike path along the shore line to get there, which by the way is free.  You can also enjoy the beaches for free but recently it has been decided that if you drive there your car will have to pay a small parking fee.

Lincoln Park is a 1.5 acre park that features statues of people who have had ties to Chicago.

The Lincoln Park Conservatory is free where you can see some amazing plant and floral displays.

The Elks National Veteran’s Memorial is also in that area around Lincoln Park and is free.  Also take some time to visit the Thomas Masters Gallery.  Those with kids will enjoy the OZ Park which is all done up in a Wizard of Oz theme.

Another place to see for free is Grant Park. Grant Park hosts the famous Buckingham Fountain. Buckingham fountain is one of the largest fountains in the world and kind of a must see for anyone visiting Chicago. The fountain does not operate in December, January, February, and March. Be there at the begining of the hour from 10:00 Am to 11:00 PM to see the fountain put on a water display that lasts for 20 minutes.  This is something beautiful to see at night as there is music lights added in to the water show.

If you are visiting Chicago on Mondays, Tuesdays and sometimes Thursdays you may just be able to visit one of the great Chicago Museums for free.  For a listing of days that museums have free days you can visit this web site:  http://www.chicagohotblog.com/chicago-museum-free-days

Chicago at a Discount

If you want to explore a great many of the things that Chicago has to offer but want to do it at a discount price consider getting a Go card.  The Go card features 30 different Chicago location visits for one low price.  The card also covers transportation for the amount of days you purchase it for so you don’t have worry about extra parking fees.  You can just hop on and off the trolly, or take the Gray Line tours.  It also covers some boat cruises. The Go card covers nearly eveyrthing I have discussused in this article.  For more information and to purchase a Go card go to:  http://www.smartdestinations.com/chicago-attractions-and-tours/_d_Chi-p1.html?pass=Chi_Prod_Go&GCID=GOOGLE-chicago-GOCARD-gbc-gt

The go pass will also get you in to Lego Land in Schaumburg, IL a industrious suburb about 40 minutes west of Chicago.  If you venture out to Schaumburg you might want to get a hotel for the night and take Woodfield Mall which was once the largest mall in the world, and the Streets of Schaumburg, a collection of restaurants, shops, a movie theater, and an adult sized game room where children are allowed until 9:00 PM.

Great places to stay

Magnificent Mile Penthouse

Beautifully rehabbed penthouse located on the 55th and 54th floors. This condo has a magnificent location and the most spectacular views in Chicago! Step outside your door and enjoy world class shopping on the Magnificent Mile. Stroll over to the best restaurants in town. Walk to Chicago’s famous Oak Street beach. Visit Chicago landmarks and hot spots like the John Hancock Building, historic Water Tower, Holy Name Cathedral, American Girl Place, all just blocks away. Take a carriage ride down Michigan Avenue and along the lakefront. Luxuriate in this beautifully appointed home away from home. The stylish bedroom has a queen-sized bed while the living room’s customized Italian leather sleeper sofa comfortably accommodates 2. The kitchen and bath feature extensive use of stone and granite and are fully equipped with your convenience and comfort in mind. All for a fraction of what you’d pay for a downtown hotel. You won’t be disappointed! For more information, Click Here

Magnificent Mile – Gold Coast Luxury Brownstone Downtown!

Another First Class Chicago property! You’ve found it! Location, Location, Location! A historic 1890’s brownstone in the heart of the exclusive Gold Coast where Chicago’s elite reside. You absolutely cannot beat this location at E. Cedar St. between Rush and Lake Shore Drive. An artful blend of elegance and tradition housed in an original Brownstone building. Classic heritage, with charming decor that is tranquil and soothing with all new contemporary furnishings. The building is a national historic architectural landmark that blends romantic, 19th century ambiance with modern comforts for today’s traveler. Add your own chapter to the rich heritage of this storybook brownstone and experience a true classic when you stay at East Cedar. For more information, Click Here

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