The Best of Chicago

By Staff Report

Jun. 19, 2008

Whether you’re staying for a whole week or just trying to visit a few places in between conference activities, you will want to get a taste of the best of Chicago. The third-largest city in America is also one of the country’s most popular convention spots, and Chicago always has its welcome mat out. Family-friendly attractions, distinctive neighborhoods, upscale shopping and a vibrant nightlife are sure to please your family, significant other and even your boss.

As the city’s official visitor center, the Chicago Cultural Center is a great place to begin your visit to Chicago.

    Daily programs and exhibits highlight the city’s performing, visual and literary arts. The center also boasts the world’s largest Tiffany stained-glass dome among its must-see features.Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington St., (312) 744-6630.

    Navy Pier is the No. 1 tourist destination in the Midwest. Free concert performances, sightseeing boat tours, a family pavilion with restaurants and shops, and a 3-D Imax theater are among its attractions. Other highlights include the Chicago Children’s Museum, Crystal Gardens indoor botanical park, the Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows and the Skyline Stage for concerts and plays. The highlight of the pier is a 15-story Ferris wheel. Cap off a Chicago visit with fireworks, held on Wednesdays and Saturdays throughout the summer.Navy Pier, 600 E. Grand Ave., (800) 595-PIER.

    There is no shortage of parks—or beaches—in Chicago. Situated beside Lake Michigan, the city offers 29 miles of walking, jogging and cycling paths along with 15 miles of beaches. Two of the most popular beaches offering fun for adults and children alike are Oak Street Beach and North Avenue Beach. Oak Street Beach, 1000 North Ave., (312) 742-5121. North Avenue Beach, 1603 N. Lake Shore Drive, (312) 742-PLAY.

    Millennium Park is Chicago’s latest addition to its repertoire of parks and arts venues. The beautifully landscaped 24.5-acre park is home to several works of art and the Frank Gehry-designed Jay Pritzker Pavilion, featuring free concerts by the Grant Park Orchestra and Chorus, and a variety of performers representing the city’s diversity.Millennium Park, 201 E. Randolph St., (312) 742-1168.

Zoos and conservatories
   Nothing says “family friendly” better than the words “free admission,” and if you’ve brought your family to the conference you’ll want to visit the city’s top-notch presentations of flora and fauna.

    Lincoln Park Zoo is one of the last public zoos in the country that offers free admission. Located in Lincoln Park along Chicago’s lakefront, the zoo is home to more than 1,000 mammals, birds and reptiles. A newly expanded lion house holds Siberian tigers, African lions, leopards and other big cats. The African Journey section features giraffes, elephants and other African animals living in lush surroundings similar to their native habitat. A working replica of a Midwestern farm is among the featured exhibits at the zoo. Lincoln Park Zoo, 2001 N. Clark St., (312) 742-2000.

    In the heart of Lincoln Park, adjacent to the zoo, is the Lincoln Park Conservatory. Take a break from the hectic convention pace and stroll through the gardens.Lincoln Park Conservatory, 2391 N. Stockton Drive, (312) 742-7736.

    One of the largest indoor gardens in the nation is the Garfield Park Conservatory. The conservatory is celebrating its 100th birthday with yearlong events as part of “CHICAGOASIS: The Greenest Show on Earth.” Let your pocketbook rest while the family visits the children’s garden and you take in one or all of the five permanent collections at this free, city-owned garden under glass. Garfield Park Conservatory, 300 N. Central Park Ave., (312) 746-5100,

   Chicago is a sports town, no doubt about it, with 16 professional teams and four major American sports. The SHRM Annual Conference lands in Chicago during baseball, women’s basketball and soccer season, so check the home schedules of your favorite team:

    Chicago Cubs, Wrigley Field, 1060 W. Addison St., (773) 404-CUBS.

   Chicago White Sox, U.S. Cellular Field, 333 W. 35th St., (312) 674-1000.

    Chicago Fire (men’s soccer), Toyota Park, 7000 S. Harlem Ave., Bridgeview, Illinois, (888) MLS-FIRE.

    Chicago Sky (women’s basketball), UIC Pavilion, University of Illinois at Chicago, 525 S. Racine Ave., (866) SKY-WNBA.

    Sample the best that the world has to offer, right in Chicago’s ethnic enclaves. Some are more obvious, such as Little Italy and Chinatown in the city’s South Loop and Greektown in the West Loop.

    Others have developed their ethnic identities based on the immigrants who settled in those neighborhoods, such as the Beverly neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago, home to one of the largest Irish-American communities in the United States; and Andersonville, which touts a Swedish contingent among its ethnically diverse residents.

    Hyde Park, also on the South Side, is home to the DuSable Museum of African American History, named after the “father of Chicago,” Jean Baptiste Pointe du Sable, as well as 2008 presidential candidate Barack Obama. Still other global influences are clustered on famous boulevards, such as Paseo Boricua in Humboldt Park, the center of Chicago’s sizable Puerto Rican community; and Seoul Drive, a growing Korean business community in Albany Park. Chicago boasts 77 distinct neighborhoods within the city, each with its own vibe.
Little  ItalyChinatownGreektown;BeverlyAndersonville; Hyde Park; DuSable Museum, 740 E. 56th Place, (773) 947-0600; Paseo Boricua, Division Street between Western and California avenues; Seoul Drive, Lawrence Avenue between Kedzie Avenue and Pulaski Road.

    Chicago’s diversity is evident on the night scene too. From blues to jazz, soul to salsa, gospel to house music, Chicago remains the scene setter. The Uptown neighborhood is home to nightclubs, restaurants and other music venues, but other popular clubs are scattered throughout the city. Among the favorites:
    Blues: Blue Chicago, 736 N. Clark St., (312) 642-6261; Buddy Guy’s Legends, 754 S. Wabash Ave., (312) 427-0333; Kingston Mines, 2548 N. Halsted St., (773) 477-4646; House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn St., (312) 923-2000.

    Jazz: Andy’s Jazz Club and Restaurant, 11 E. Hubbard St., (312) 642-6805; The Back Room, 1007 N. Rush St., (312) 751-2433; The Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway Ave., (773) 878-5552.

    Piano bars: Howl at the Moon, 26 W. Hubbard St., (312) 863-7427; Jilly’s Piano Bar, 1007 N. Rush St., (312) 664-1001; Red Head Piano Bar, 16 W. Ontario St., (312) 640-1000. [

Theater and Concerts
The vibrant theater community offers bound-for-Broadway shows and Broadway hits such as Wicked. Original productions and classics can be seen at the famous Steppenwolf Theater, the Royal George Theater and the Apollo Theater.

    Improv and comedy go hand in hand in Chicago. Second City Theater has produced some of the great comic geniuses of the past half-century, and the actors at ComedySportz deliver the quick quips and gibes in unscripted fashion.

    To find out what’s playing, who’s on stage and where, go to the League of Chicago Theater’s Web site, which covers the Chicago theater community.

    And check the Charter One Pavilion at Northerly Island and the Grant Park Music Festival for a schedule of free summer concerts in the warm Chicago evenings. Charter One Pavilion at Northerly Island, 1300 S. Lynn White Drive, (312) 540-2668. Grant Park Music Festival, Jay Pritzker Pavilion at Millennium Park, 205 E. Randolph Drive, (312) 742-7638.

Chicago is the birthplace of the skyscraper, and its architectural markers offer a timeline of the history and development of this diverse city. Its notable buildings date to the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition and the mid-20th century Frank Lloyd Wright Robie House, while the latest examples of modern skyscrapers are exemplified by such structures as the minimalist Federal Center courthouse building, designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Robie House, University of Chicago, 5757 S. Woodlawn Ave., (773) 834-1847; Chicago Federal Center, 219 S. Dearborn St., (312) 435-5850.

    The landmark Sears Tower is the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere and the third-tallest building in the world. From its Skydeck observatory, viewers can see into the neighboring states of Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin. No wonder it has its own ZIP code! Sears Tower Skydeck, 233 S. Wacker St., (312) 875-9447.

    Hop to the top of the John Hancock Center in 39 seconds on North America’s fastest elevator. When you arrive at the Hancock Observatory on the 94th floor, step out onto the Skywalk, a caged open-air observatory with 3-D talking telescopes that speak in four languages.John Hancock Center, 875 N. Michigan Ave., (312) 751-3681.

The expression “Shop till you drop” takes on new meaning in a town that employs an official director of fashion. The Magnificent Mile, a portion of lake-hugging Michigan Avenue and neighboring Randolph Street, is a destination location for shoppers. A collection of 460 stores offers everything from high-end boutiques to name-brand retailers. The Greater North Michigan Avenue Association, (312) 642-3570.

    But there’s more. Oak Street, just off Michigan Avenue, continues the upscale shopping experience; State Street Retail Historic District boasts the world’s second-largest department store (a Macy’s outpost); the famed boutiques of Armitage Avenue in Lincoln Park; and Wicker Park-Bucktown, recently spotlighted for its shoppers’ delights in Vanity Fair.

    So much to see, so little time?

    Get the highlights of this great American city by taking one of several tours around town. There are various architectural tours, including the Chicago River cruise and the “Devil in the White City” Tour, hosted by the Chicago Architecture Foundation and based on Erik Larson’s best-selling book.

    The Chicago Theater Tour and the Behind the Emerald Curtain Tour, which takes place on the set of Wicked, take you backstage in the heart of the city’s theatrical community to explore its most famous theaters. The Chicago Public Art Tour leads visitors through the city’s parks and neighborhoods where works of art are displayed for public enjoyment and to discuss why Chicago is often referred to as “an open-air museum.” (The Public Art Tour takes place on Wednesdays only, so carve out some time from your conference schedule on June 25 if you would like to take this tour.)

    Chicago Architecture Foundation, 224 S. Michigan Ave., (312) 922-3432. Chicago Theater Tour, 175 N. State St., (312) 462-6300.

    Behind the Emerald Curtain Tour,Ford Theater for the Performing Arts, Oriental Theater, 24 W. Randolph St., (312) 977-1702.

   Chicago Public Art Tour, (312) 742-1190.

    For the unconventional travelers, there are these unconventional tours:

    Chicago Chocolate Tour: This guided walking tour takes guests to several of the city’s most popular chocolate shops.

    Watson Adventures Scavenger Hunt: Gather up to six colleagues and set out on an adventure through Chicago.

    Bobby’s Bike Hike: It’s tough to exercise while traveling on business, but this tour provides cruiser-style bicycles for participants to pedal through the city.

    Chicago Food Planet: Get off the beaten path and eat where Chicagoans eat. This tour includes food tastings at specialty food shops, ethnic eateries and other nontraditional venues.

    Other tour options include a free personal greeter, available by reservation through the Chicago Visitors Center, who will take you to the top places on your list, as well as on-your-own audio tours that can be downloaded into your MP3 player before you leave your hotel room.

    The numerous tours offered in Chicago are too many to list here, so to find out details about these and other tours, visit the Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau’s Web site.

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