by Rachel Barac
Looking out from the top of the Willis Tower (otherwise known as Sears Tower) Chicago’s rich architecture spans out as an impressive mix of modern and historical buildings. From here, it is easy to see why it was awarded with the epithet “City in a Garden”, with views of green patches of parks that generously intersperse the cityscape.
Physical attributes apart, ask any local what differentiates Chicago from other cities, and fingers point to its rich cultural identity derived from its many diverse ethnicities. Chicagoans also take immense pride in their city with an all-consuming passion for sports and music as well as a delectable food scene. And while popular attractions abound aplenty, there are a number of lesser known sites and experiences to discover and delight in: just like the locals’ do!
Millennium Park is a beautiful and popular oasis in the city that is visited by locals and tourists alike. But Millennium Park has a little secret. At the southern end of the park, sits the smaller but no less beautiful Lurie Garden. This lovely hidden garden is kept out of view by a tall four-and-a-half metre hedge. Enjoy tranquility as the sounds of the city all but disappear when you walk through the greenery and admire the exquisite flowers. On a hot day dipping a toe into the man made streams can be a refreshing way to cool off.
A newer park that has recently opened but is not yet complete is the 606, its name derived from the Chicago zip code prefix. Developed on an elevated, unused, railway line, that once used to be the Bloomingdale line, this linear park integrates beautiful landscaping with creative artworks. Many locals use this park to move from one neighbourhood to the next without the traffic.
On a sunny Chicago day there is nothing better than enjoying one of Chicago’s many beautiful beaches. Just North of some of the more popular beaches like Ohio Street and North Avenue is a much quieter spot called Foster Avenue beach. With its large grassy park shaded by green leafy trees, this is an ideal place to have a BBQ or picnic. The sand heading down to the beach rarely gets over crowded, with even fewer people at the north end of the beach. There is plenty of room to stretch out a beach towel without bumping into the person next to you. The fresh water is mostly calm and stays at chest height depth for many metres. Hire a kayak and paddle across the water while enjoying the serenity and beautiful views of the Chicago skyline.
No matter the season, there is no shortage of impressive museums to enjoy. Hours or even a few days could be spent marveling at the collections in the popular Art Institute and the Museum of Contemporary Art. However, there are also a number of lesser-known museums that are just as fascinating. One such museum slightly removed from some of the better-known attractions, is the National Museum of Mexican Art. Located in the Pilsen neighbourhood, it showcases photography, paintings and sculpture from Mexican, Latino and Chicano culture. This thoughtfully curated museum is free to the public. Another museum that is sometimes easily over looked is the Driehaus Museum. This mansion was originally built in 1883 for Samuel and Mathilda Nickerson of whom Samuel was a prominent banker. No expense was spared when developing and decorating the mansion. Today this impressive structure displays furnishings remaining from the original owners as well as Richard Driehaus’ private collection of late 19th and early 20th century art.
Keeping with impressive architecture, travel to the Baha’i House of Worship slightly further afield in Wilmette. The interior displays a high domed roof and intricate stone carvings, and the exterior of the building is just as awe-inspiring. The lower level hosts a museum where more can be learned about the construction of the building and of the Baha’i faith itself. The grounds surrounding the structure are made up of many gardens and water features that add to the overall feeling of peacefulness the temple conveys.
Chicago is well known for its food fare, and in keeping with this reputation, there is so much delicious food on offer! Of course there are some good ol’ classics that cannot be ignored: deep-dish pizza, Chicago style hot dogs (hold the ketchup) and succulent steak. Having tucked into that, why not peruse the many different neighbourhoods where one can find a smorgasbord of different cuisines from around the world. A Chicago city tour guide will be able to share the history of these neighbourhoods and help identify the best food vendors. If you’re looking for places frequented mainly by locals, try the family run Mythos Greek Taverna in Lincoln Square. They pride themselves on serving authentic Greek cuisine. For food inspired by street vendors across Mexico, Xoco in Wicker Park is the place to be. A highlight is the fact that they make their own chocolate. Try their churros with chocolate dipping sauce. Hidden in an unmarked building in the Elston Industrial District is Ada Street. This American–Mediterranean share plate style restaurant can be difficult to find but the food is worth the effort. The atmosphere is dark and romantic and the retro vinyl playing in the background adds a fun touch.
As the sun goes down Chicago perks up. The city boasts an overabundance of after hours entertainment. Some of the best theatre productions, comedy acts, bars and clubs can be found in Chicago. The Hideout is a small venue brimming with talent in the form of live music and different acts. It has an unpretentious, intimate, vibe and lives up to its name as it is hidden in an industrial park not too far from Ada Street. On the other end of the scale is the sound of popping corks at the RM Champagne Salon. This charming, dimly lit, venue pays homage to artisanal wine growers. The fireplace is perfect to cozy up to in the winter and the outdoor patio is ideal for summer. To secure a spot it’s best to make a reservation. For Blues lovers, check out Rosa’s Lounge. This family run no frills bar focuses solely on the music. The number of regular customers that keep coming back is testament to the quality acts they attract.
With teams in all of the major professional U.S. sports leagues, Chicagoans are passionate about their sports. And the enthusiasm from the fans can often be just as entertaining as the game itself. Catch a baseball game at the famous Wrigley Field or US Cellular Field, or experience tailgating at Soldier Field before a football match. Whichever sport you decide to see, prepare for a raucous and adrenaline spiking experience!
Image Details and Licenses: https://flic.kr/p/8jaTAi ((vincent desjardins), CC BY 2.0), https://flic.kr/p/5YaBo9 (Guido45, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0), https://flic.kr/p/tXDLvT (John Zacherle, CC BY-SA 2.0), https://flic.kr/p/6yodhZ (Josh Mogerman, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0), https://flic.kr/p/5MbjeM (I Bird 2, CC BY-NC 2.0), https://flic.kr/p/i8HfmS (Steven Depolo, CC BY 2.0), https://flic.kr/p/Dc3of (Thunder Circus, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0), https://flic.kr/p/9YaGWz (Phil King, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, https://flic.kr/p/fShsmj (Rosa's., CC BY-SA 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/6GWmV4 (mandywarhol CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)