It’s really not hard to love Chicago. Growing up in a super small town, the bright lights, big city atmosphere had me enthralled from my first visit as a wee one, and from then on I lived for field trips to the Windy City. At 165 miles away, it was just far enough to visit only about once a year, mostly on school trips. I always remember the feeling I would get on the school bus when you could first see the skyline – it would take my breath away, even as a kid. I couldn’t imagine what people actually did in that skyline – what kinds of jobs they had, did they have families, how could they drive? It was all so different from growing up in rural Illinois, where the only view that changed in your backyard year to year was when the farmer planted seed corn instead of soybeans. You know, sometimes it’s good to experience the city like a tourist, even though at an official 10 years in May, I’m an established Chicagoan. I’m going to give you a list of 5 awesome places you can go, whether you’re a tourist, or have lived in the city for years. Let’s start with the pinnacle of tourist activities: a visit to the Hancock Center.
1. 360 CHICAGO – John Hancock Observatory
I recently had a chance to throwback to my very first trip to Chicago, an experience that included the Junior and Senior C-family going up in the Hancock to see the sights from the observatory. When you’re five, you get an eye-popping dose of perspective, and the first glimmer that you’re somewhat terrified of heights – the ants on the ground are actually people, your knees are a little shaky – your first taste of vertigo.
The good people at 360 CHICAGO invited some very cool, very awesome, very influential Chicago bloggers (…how did I get invited?…) to hang out atop the John Hancock Observation Deck, as part of their announcement of the new Chicago Resident Appreciation Rate, aka “The 606 Rate”, aka 50% off if you’re a resident of Chicago. That brings adult admission down to $10, and $6.50 for kids. It’s a good deal, 606’ers. Oh, and they’re doing the “Sunset Series,” which has some cool photography-related events going down, PLUS through Memorial Day, active duty military and veterans get in free.
We also got the chance to literally hang out on TILT!, the, frankly terrifying, sky ride that dangles you 1,000 feet above the city, and tilts you until your pathetically weak core muscles give out and you’re truly laying atop the glass, taking in the sights. Is it scary? Yes!! Is it worth it? Yes!!
At this time I will now regale you with some of my photos from 360 CHICAGO, and as an added treat, show you some actually very lovely photos taken from the observation deck by Nick Ulivieri, the resident kickass photographer for 360.
Oh look, it’s Main Squeeze, hiding out behind his camera phone, taking this picture of yours truly:
This one is almost as good as that one below:
Please visit the website for more information on 360 CHICAGO. | 875 N Michigan Avenue, 94th Floor | Open Daily 9am–11pm
2. The French Market
Let’s put it this way – if your Metra train takes you into Ogilvie, there’s a damn good chance you’ve already been to The French Market. If your Metra train drops you off at Union Station, or if you’re over here like “What’s a Metra train?”, then you probably haven’t been to The French Market. It’s this wonderful place that houses a bunch of different food vendors all together, kind of like one of those fantastic open-air markets in France…but a little more like a food court, as there is certainly nothing open air about Chicago’s French Market.
But nevertheless, it’s got some super fantastic food vendors that are worthy of the trip, even if you don’t ride the Metra. Check out the map (open it in a new tab if you’d actually like to read it):
My friend Chrissy and I descended upon the French Market for another of the super cool blogger events we’re frequently invited to (this was her invite, might I clarify, I was just the desperate for Da Lobsta & Beaver’s Donuts +1). We ate…and ate…and ate…and then when we tired of eating, we had another lobster roll, and I had a green smoothie. Like, my first ever. And I didn’t die, and it was pretty tasty.
For more information, please visit the website Chicago French Market | 131 North Clinton (Between Washington and Randolph), Chicago, Illinois | 312-575-0306
3. The Four Seasons Chicago
Never in my life would there be an occasion to be at The Four Seasons anywhere, unless it was at the invitation of someone else. My boss was kind enough to invite me along for our fancy work awards ceremony. It was SO MUCH FUN. There was an amazing band, The Gentlemen of Leisure, and the food….oh, just so fantastic. I shall tuck this one away in my memory for when I’m rich, famous and need to host a very large, very upscale event.
To get your fancy on, visit The Four Seasons Chicago | 120 E Delaware Place, Chicago, IL 60611
4. Walter E. Smithe
How do you follow up Walter E. Smithe? Is it “You Dream it, We Build It”? Perhaps it’s the lilty “Custom Furniture” or maybe it’s “That’s Smithe with an E.” As a Chicagoan, all of the above answers are correct, and good luck getting the theme song out of your head for the rest of the day. Whatever your preference, it’s a place all of Chicago knows, but I’m guessing not nearly everyone in Chicago has been, and now there’s a super great reason to visit.
Recently Walter E. Smithe, Chicago’s favorite furniture store, teamed up with Jeff Lewis, a kick-ass house flipper & designer and star of perhaps my favorite Bravo reality show, (and I watch like 75% of them) “Flipping Out.” Jeff curated the collection, so you can shop room vignettes, and mix and match with Jeff-approved elements. Walter E. Smithe invited the public to a meet and greet with Jeff, Gage and Jenni at their Lincoln Park showroom, just mere blocks from my work. I collected another superfan, my friend Paul, and we browsed – playing the game “favorite thing in this room, and most hated thing in this room” re: the vignettes, drank margaritas, ate our weight in cheese, and then actually got to meet and greet Jeff, Gage & Jenni. Here is photographic evidence that this really happened.
For the location nearest you, visit Walter E. Smithe. The Lincoln Park location is at 2009 N Clybourn Ave, Chicago, IL 60614
5. Chris’s Northland Tavern
I’ve declared a new rule for all Chicagoans – if you have lived in the city for over 5 years, and are over 21 of course, you MUST have a favorite dive bar. If you’re on board with this decree, let me know what your favorite is in the comments, and I’ll totally visit. Mine is Chris’s Northland Tavern, the definitive answer to the question I’m frequently asked “Where do you guys go out most often?”
Chris’s is that special combination of cheap, slightly rough-crowded and a short enough walk from home base that I’d go there even if it weren’t for the friendly bartenders who’ve worked their for years, and if you visit often enough, just might slip you a free shot or two. On top of all this awesomeness, there’s a TouchTunes jukebox, a pool table and a decent selection of beer, chips, and if you’re really drunk enough, food, but I’d skip that and eat a gyro from The Hat instead, which is just 2 doors away. Main Squeeze prefers gyros from Tarboush, located directly next door to Chris’s.
I can’t even tell you how many nights I’ve passed drinking, watching a game, talking with the bartenders and owning the jukebox at this superb Chicago dive bar. Open 365 days a year, if you’re over in Bucktown or Wicker Park and find yourself wandering near Ashland and North Ave, do yourself a favor and stop in for a beer. Tip your bartenders well!
Chris’s Northland Tavern is located at 1610 W North Avenue, Chicago, IL 60622. They do not have a website, but you can read their reviews on Yelp.