Friday, May 31, 2013

Chicago Like a Local

Summer is here, which means that it's officially tourist season. My fair city is now full of people who traveled from near and far to see what The Windy City has to offer. Most of them will stay downtown, shop on the Magnificent Mile, go to Navy Pier, and check out the views from the top of the Sears Tower. Those are all fine things to do, but here are some tips on experiencing Chicago like a local. Here are some of the most popular tourist activities in Chicago and the things I think are better.

Tourist Trap: Double-decker bus tour
Like a local: Rent a bike and ride the Lakefront Trail through the city. Board the 22 bus in the Loop and ride it north along Clark Street.
Touristy but Local-Approved: Take a Chicago Architecture Foundation river cruise or try a Segway tour through Millennium Park and Museum Campus.

Adam and I approve of Segway tours.

Tourist Activity: Top of the Sears Tower or Hancock Building
Like a Local: Locals know that the best view in town is from the top of the Hancock Building. The observatory is great, but if you want to skip the long line, head to The Signature Room, the restaurant on the 95th floor of the Hancock Building, and get the same great views for free while enjoying dessert or a cocktail.

Signature Room

Tourist Trap: Michigan Avenue (sometimes called the Magnificent Mile)
Like a Local: If you feel like dropping some serious cash, head to Oak Street where you'll find shops for Kate Spade, Prada, Vera Wang, and Hermès. My favorite place to shop in the city is along Armitage and Halsted Streets in Lincoln Park. Take the brown line to the Armitage stop and check out Art Effect for cute clothing and housewares, 1154 Lill Studio for custom handbags, and All She Wrote for gorgeous stationery.

Tourist Trap: Chicago is known for its comedy scene. Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Stephen Colbert, Seth Meyers, Mike Myers, Chris Farley, Steve Carell, and Bill Murray - just to name a few - all got their starts here. Tourists head to The Second City for improv shows.
Like a Local: The iO Theatre in Wrigleyville is my favorite place for comedy. Be sure to check out their signature Harold Show.

iO Theatre

For Kids
Tourist Trap: Navy Pier (This is the #1 tourist attraction in Illinois, and I seriously do not understand why. Don't feel bad for skipping it.)
Like a Local: Lincoln Park Zoo

My godson and his brother up close and personal with a gorilla at the Lincoln Park Zoo

Deep-Dish Pizza
Tourist Trap: Pizzeria Uno, Gino's East, Giordano's
Like a Local: Everyone has their favorites. Downtown, I like Lou Malnati's (gotta get the butter crust) and Pizano's (try the Mark's Special), but my hands-down favorite is Pequod's up in Lincoln Park. It's all about the caramelized crust from their seasoned cast iron pans. My mouth is watering just looking at this picture.

Jeff Eats Chicago

Chicago-Style Hot Dogs
Tourist Trap: Weiner Circle
Like a Local: Go to Portillo's and get a hot dog (don't you dare ask for ketchup) plus a slice of their famous chocolate cake.

Sun Times

My favorite thing about living in Chicago is the food. Here are my suggestions for everything you could ever want to put in your belly while you're in Chicago. (Yes, I have eaten at every single one of these places.)

Burgers: DMK Burger Bar, Kuma's Corner
Brunch: Bakin' and Eggs, Elly's Pancake House
Mexican: Flaco's Tacos, El Nuevo Mexicano, any of Rick Bayless's restaurants
Sushi: Union Sushi + Barbeque Bar, Sunda, Kamehachi, Kyoto, Toro
Thai: Andy's Thai Kitchen, Noodles in the Pot
Sandwiches: JP Graziano's, Aje Cafe, New York Deli
Seafood: New England Seafood Company, Fish Bar, Devon Seafood Grill
Italian: Sapori Trattoria, RPM Italian, Vivo
Date Night/Special Occasion: HB, The Drawing Room, Sepia, Perennial Virant

Most people would include food and booze in the same category, but in Chicago, booze deserves its own recognition.

Brewery tours: Half Acre, Metropolitan
Brewpubs: Revolution Brewing, DryHop (owned by my friend Greg), Goose Island, Haymarket, Piece Pizzeria
Arcade Bars: Headquarters Beercade, Emporium
Craft cocktails: Barrelhouse Flat, The Violet Hour, The Aviary, Sable
Wine: Bin 36, DOC Wine Bar, Pops for Champagne
Whiskey: Delilah's (Lady Gaga's favorite)
Drinks with a view: The J.Parker, The Signature Lounge, Roof

Have you ever been to Chicago? What was your favorite thing that you did?


  1. Love this! I totally love getting an inside look at other people's cities! I've been to Chicago once, but I was there for a conference and barely left my the hotel and conference area. Guess I need to go back!

  2. Great list! We live a hop and skip away in Louisville, but I've never been to Chi-Town. Sounds like we need to make a weekend getaway.

    1. I've never been to Louisville, but going to the Kentucky Derby is on my 30 Before 30 list, so hopefully I'll make it down there soon.

  3. Pinning! Thanks for this; we're actually going to Chicago later this summer (passing through on the way to visit family, but will probably stop for a day or two in the city) so this is very helpful!

  4. This is such a great guide! I've never been to Chicago but it's on my list. I'll be saving this for a future visit!

  5. Great list! Despite being a native "Chicagoan" I don't know much about what to do in the city since I was a suburbs girl. We're going a night downtown for our anniversary next month, so I might have to use some of your ideas!

  6. What a good idea to do a blog post with the local places to go as a tourist! I've only been to Chicago once and would love to go back and try out some of your suggestions! I recently moved to CA and once I know my city more I'm going to have to do a locals post!

  7. What a good idea to do a blog post with the local places to go as a tourist! I've only been to Chicago once and would love to go back and try out some of your suggestions! I recently moved to CA and once I know my city more I'm going to have to do a locals post!

  8. What a great list, this makes me miss Chicago so much! I need to get back to IL!