Chicago is one of the best cities (in the world, in my humble opinion) to visit during the summer.
There’s always something going on that will appeal to everyone, even couch potatoes.
For people explorers, check out the many ethnic and diverse neighborhoods, such as Old Town, the Gold Coast, Chinatown (a fabulous place for dinner), downtown, “The Magnificent Mile” of Michigan Ave., Lincoln and the Hyde Park areas, among others (If you’re careful, you’ll have a great time. Be sure to get a good, readable map; the city’s VERY easy to get around in. I revisited my home town recently and within ONE day, it was like I never left. (Some of you will probably want to rent a car or drive to the city on your own. Just be aware that there’s a LOT of traffic, particularly during rush hour.) You can get to many of these areas by taking the “L” train and/or the subway (There’s often free entertainment here while you’re waiting! And there’s less crowds. I’m referring to the subway here. ) I personally recommend getting an early start. Rush hour begins at 4 pm.-6:30 pm. You may not get a seat! And the fare’s high here, so be prepared. But so are parking fees if you decide to drive. Take the trains! It’s less nerve racking.)
Each neighborhood also has some unique local eateries and shops. (I also strongly recommend that you bring extra money; you’ll be glad you did!)
For concert and event lovers, there are a variety that the public can attend, admission-free. All of the following are located in the heart of downtown; the music concerts are held in the Petrillo Band Shell in Grant Park (very easy to find).
These range from the Chicago Blues Festival (May 30-June 2), the largest one of its kind in the world, to the Annual Chicago Gospel Music Festival (June 7-June 9). Are you ready for the country? Then you must attend the city’s Country Music Festival (June 29-June 30). “Viva! Chicago” is the annual Latin Music Festival (Aug. 24 and 25th). If your passion’s jazz, the city offers yet another great festival, held from Aug. 29 until September 1.
Other events include Bike Chicago, which extolls the benefits of bicycling (May 17-June 16).
Do you like to eat? The city’s “Taste of Chicago” (June 28-July 7) is renowned throughout the world. It’s quite literally a gigantic food fair, offering hundreds (if not thousands) of the best local, fancy restaurant fare, and foreign food that Chi-town has to offer.
This was (and still is) one of my favorite summer “things to do”. (You DO have to pay for the food.) For a great discount, make sure that you get a coupon book, which is sold at the Fair. When I went, there were three types of coupon books available at varying prices. I got the budget one or the cheapie set. You know what? Even with that, here’s what I got to eat: A Jamaican meat pie (the real deal, mon!), a BIG slice of double chocolate deep fudge cake, a BIG slice of pizza, a small bowl of chili, chicken and shrimp jambalaya, Italian sobretto, Mexican tosada, a strawberry chunks ice cream cone, several large glasses of lemonade, and this incredibly nasty tasting Greek dish called Pastitsio, or something like that. It consisted of noodles, three kinds of Greek cheese, meat, and some kind of flavoring. I just couldn’t finish it all; I had to get another slice of pizza and glass of lemonade to wash away that weird taste out of my mouth.
The weather was beautiful at the “Taste”. There were live radio broadcasts, kites were flying, Buckingham Fountain (another Chicago landmark) was in all its glory, and the boats were in the lake. It was a great day to people watch, check out the fashions, etc.
If you’re on your way to the “Taste” on July 4th, I strongly recommend that you pause downtown beforehand, take in and enjoy the Independence Day Parade. I’ve lived in other places medium and small, but NO PLACE does a parade like a big city.
And Chicago’s is awesome! There are marching bands galore’ floats to rival New York City’s, and there’s usually a theme. The Mayor spoke at the opening. After the parade, I returned to the “Taste” to get an Italian treat, then attended an oldies show at the Petrillo Shell. I got a good seat (first come, first served) and got to see several groups, for free!
And of course, what 4th of July would be complete without fireworks? You should see this event at least once in your lifetime; the show is truly spectacular and something you’ll remember forever.
For nature lovers or those who seek tranquility, you can simply just have a picnic in and stroll through Grant Park (or any of Chicago’s many other parks). By all means, contemplate the wonder of Buckingham Fountain, also in the park. Take an afternoon stroll by Lake Michigan or sit and watch the boats. In the midst of this bustling city, you’ll feel like you’re in another world; a peaceful one.
And actually, you really don’t need to even take any picnic food with you. There are hot dog and other vendors scattered all over the park, within easy access (and the prices are reasonable).
Garfield Park Conservatory, located at 300 N. Central Park Ave., in addition to their beautiful displays of flowers and plants, is offering a new exhibit from May 5-Oct. 31 called “Niki In The Garden, ” by Saint Phalle. Call (773) 638-1766 or (888)oak-park for more details. The Conservatory may be free; for the exhibit, you may be charged a fee. Call first to be sure. (LIncoln Park also has a Conservatory, located at 2400 N. Stockton Dr. Call (312) 742-7736 for summer info.)
For all you bookworms, the Chicago Public Library is always free. It costs nothing to get a card (It didn’t when I was there); You can continue your reading through the summer. One of the library’s hidden treasures is its Cultural Center. A variety of free plays and musicals are presented here.
I was pleasantly surprised. I was expecting something cheesy as far as the look of the place and the productions. They’re not. The auditorium was very clean, spacious, air-conditioned, and very comfortable. And the shows had first-rate values.
For museum lovers, located within Grant Park (There are signs that’ll direct you to each one!), are the Field Museum of Natural History, the Shedd Aquarium, and the Adler Planetarium. There’s normally an entrance fee for all three. BUT I discovered that there are FREE admission days and discount rates. (Now for special exhibits, you may still have to pay for viewing.) What you want to do is call first-The Field Museum’s number is (312)922-9410, Shedd Aquarium’s (312)939-2438, and the Planetarium is (312) 922-STAR.
The Field Museum’s like stepping back in time; and there are two special exhibits running. From March 9th of this year-Mar. 9, 2008, are “The Ancient Americas”. From Mar. 30 of this year-Sept. 3, 2007, are “Dinosaurs: Ancient Fossils, New Discoveries.”
The Shedd Aquarium has the longest-running exhibit (since April 15, 2003!-Jan. 1, 2008), “Wild Reef-Sharks at Shedd”. This is the largest and most diverse collection of sharks in North America. “Invasive Species” (runing since Jan. 1, 2006-Jan. 1, 2008) explores over 160 aquatic invasive animals now living in the Great Lakes (“Invasive” refers to plants or animals that arrive in a place where they didn’t originate, then multiply, spread and do harm in their new environment.)
“Lizards and the Komodo King” (running since April 8, 2006-June 30, 2008) is also here.
The Planetarium’s Sky Show is amazing! I entered a large room with a huge domed overview. There were VERY comfortable chairs that tilted back a bit. When the lights went out and the show began, the whole effect was like floating through the stars, planets, and galaxies; I loved it!
The Art Institute is one of my favorite Chicago places (located on 111 S. MIchigan Ave, not far from Grant Park). There’s a FREE admission day here, too-call (312) 443-3600 for info.
“The Silk Road and Beyond: Travel, Trade, and Transformation” (running from Sept. 30, 2006-June 30, 2007) is the special exhibit here.
Some of the regular exhibits consist of Oriental art sculptures, Isamlic art, early American and French art and artifacts, and Medieval art. There were paintings, sketches, early types of chairs and tables, candlesticks, vases, busts, statues, and other stuff. There were entire rooms done up in different old styles, Piscassos, Expressionists, and Monet, suits of armor and weapons from the Middle Ages, drinking vessels, plates, and other things. I loved it!
The Museum of Science and Industry (in the Hyde Park area) I wasn’t quite as taken with as the abovementioned three, but I still had an enjoyable time (There may be massive crowds here; you’ve been warned!). Call (773) 684-1414 or (800) GOT-OMSI for free day info and discount rates. Their new exhibit (May 25-Sept. 3, 2007) may interest forensic science and crime buffs; it’s called “The CSI Experience”. Visitors have thier choice of investigating three different crime scenes!
I wasn’t overly enchanted with the Museum of Contemporary Art. It was OK, but I just wasn’t blown away. Maybe it was the exhibits. Some parts were nice, but have you ever been to a modern art place, looked at the paintings and sculptures for a while, and still just didn’t get it? For you modern art buffs who DO, this is located at 220 E. Chicago Ave., a few blocks away from Grant Park, I think.
From Mar. 24-July 29, 2007, there’s “Exposed: Defining Moments in Photography.” I love good photography; now this I get! Call (312) 280-2660 for more info.
The Chicago Historical Society (Clark St. at North Ave.) was a pleasant surprise. I thought it would be boring, but it’s anything but (At least to me, but hey, it’s my hometown!). There are sketches and prints of early Chicago, artifacts and rooms of pioneer life, a Lincoln exhibit, a Montgomery Ward fashion display, Chicago and American history, a history of furniture exhibit, among others. It was a feast for the eyes. I enjoyed this very much.
From Mar. 31-Sept. 23 of this year, there’s a new exhibit called “The Essential Art Shay: Selected Photographs.” Call (312) 642-4600 for details.
Now regarding the following museum, there are many of you that won’t care about this, or it’s “not your cup of tea” (I’m just being honest here), but for those that do, I also recommend the Du Sable Museum of African American History at 740 E. 56th Place.
It’s quite interesting, but it can be a sombering experience, particularly the racism and slavery exhibits. Sometimes it’s necessary to remember that life wasn’t all “candy land” for some in America.
The museum also spotlights well-renowned and little-known black and ethnic Americans who made important contributions to this country and the world.
Now let’s go to the zoo! There are two: Brookfield and Lincoln Park. Brookfield is several miles out of Chicago; if you have time, by all means go. BUT I recommend Lincoln Park; you’ll have just as much fun, will learn a lot, and it’s easy to get to!
Be prepared for the smell. Now with that being said, you’ll see lions, tigers (they’re beautiful), and bears (Oh my!-I couldn’t resist), leopards, and other big cats, all kinds of monkeys, exotic birds, camels, and other critters. There’s an area for picnics and family outings, too.
For shopaholics, Michigan Ave. (downtown) is world-renowned as “The Magnificent Mile.” It IS that. Now you CAN just window shop here, but I strongly advise you to bring some extra money. Once you’re on “the Mile”, it will be virtually impossible to not buy a few “trinkets”. It’s THAT good (The entire city is a shoppers’ paradise).
There are numerous theatres and other museums throughout Chicago (For example, the Mexican Fine Arts Center Museum and the world-famous theatre group Second City). And check out the Navy Pier (600 E. Grand Ave.-Call (312) 595-PIER for more info. From May 28-Sept.3, 2007, every Wednesday and Saturday evening there are fireworks here. And it’s FREE!
Chicago Summer 2007 will be a citywide celebration (at various locations ) of these events and many others for residents and visitors. I’ll leave you with one more number: Call (877) CHI-CAGO for more info (and inquire about the “Go Chicago Card”. There IS a fee; prices vary depending on the length of your stay. BUT with this card, you’ll get discounts galore to over 25 top attractions, shopping deals, maps, and more! And there’s special group rates and deals for those of you with kids.)
For those of you who are sofa-inclined, there are a variety of couch potato activities for you too. Chicago offers at least 20 TV stations and at least 40 radio stations for your viewing and listening pleasure. If you like oldies, for example, there are several types of oldies radio channels you’ll be able to choose from. And it’s like that for all the major music genres here. You can listen to an entirely different station for at least two-three weeks!
There’s a variety of independent TV channels you can pick up in Chicago for FREE (that you may have to pay for elsewhere). And there’s always something on; you can be vastly entertained without setting foot outside the door!
Pizzas, sub sandwiches, Chinese, burgers, and other food can be delivered 24-7 in Chicago. I believe you can even have your laundry picked up and delivered too. Actually, there are a variety of things that can be delivered right to your door here. And if you have your own computer with Internet access, the sky’s the limit!