The Chicago Guide
Chicago is easy to love. First, there’s the famous Midwestern charm, which can’t be overstated and seems genetically wired in its inhabitants. People are just really nice here. Then, of course, there are world class museums, parks, parks, parks everywhere you look, and so many great restaurants we’ve barely made a dent in our checklist. And every year, it just gets better. Formerly off-the-beaten path neighborhoods, like Logan Square and Bucktown, are now front-and-center when it comes to Chicago’s new crop of hip watering holes, while old school haunts, like The Peninsula (one of GP’s favorites), are getting fresh, modern makeovers. As much as we love sharing everything new, though, we’re also rediscovering cultural institutions, shops, and restaurants that deserve newfound attention. It’s this uniquely Chicago mix, after all, that makes this city so endlessly exciting.
The Second City1616 N. Wells St., Old Town | 312.337.3992
This legendary sketch and improv comedy troupe has churned out some of the country’s best comedians (Joan Rivers, John Belushi, Bill Murray, Tina Fey, and Stephen Colbert—and that’s barely skimming the surface). The group now has a permanent presence in Toronto and Hollywood, but its roots have been firmly planted in Chicago since 1959. You can catch one of their shows any night of the week, but you’ll want to pick up tickets well in advance as shows tend to sell out.
Art Institute Chicago111 S. Michigan Ave., The Loop | 312.443.3600
Founded in 1879, the Art Institute of Chicago is hands down one of the city’s oldest treasures. The permanent collection is 300,000-strong, boasting such American classics as Grant Wood's American Gothic and Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks. If you haven’t been in a while, it’s worth a visit just to see the recently opened, Renzo Piano-designed Modern Wing. Piano is famous for his lighting, and the shelter above the space (which allows some daylight to sift into the galleries) is one of the best examples of his work to date.
Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago220 E. Chicago Ave., Magnificent Mile | 312.280.2660
Housed in a Josef Paul Kleihues-designed building in the heart of the city, MCA Chicago is one of the best contemporary art museums in the world. In years past, they've organized everything from the first David Bowie retrospective, to the US debut of Colombian sculptor Doris Salcedo, as well as a major survey of American painter Kerry James Marshall (which they co-organized with the Met and LA's MOCA). We also love MCA for its manageable size—you can easily traverse the major galleries in a couple hours.
Field Museum of Natural History1400 S. Lake Shore Dr., Near South Side | 312.922.9410
One of the country’s great institutions, the Field Museum encompasses about sixty-five million years of natural history, give or take. Dinosaurs are almost brought to life with fully reconstructed skeletons, including the most complete T-Rex frame in the world, and dozens of animated videos and interactive displays create an engrossing narrative of evolution that’s easy for kids to digest. But grownups are just as enthralled. There’s also the Play Lab, an educational space for the youngest visitors to crawl into recreated dinosaur nests, play with toy fossils, and experiment with musical instruments from ancient cultures. The building itself is a neoclassical beauty inspired by the temples of Ancient Rome and Greece, and the location—right on Lake Michigan and adjacent to Grant Park—is perfect for outdoor picnics and running around after a visit.
Frank Lloyd Wright Home & Studio951 Chicago Ave., Oak Park | 312.994.4000
A native Midwesterner, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Chicago work is easily accessible for architecture nerds in search of inspiration, especially in the Oak Park neighborhood. This is where you’ll find Wright’s own former home and studio, designed when he was just twenty-two years old. While you could happily amble about the leafy streets and see the Robie House and the Harry S. Adams House—two of the most well-known Wright-conceived homes in the area—it’s really his own home place that makes the best starting point. You’ll see features, like his obsession with horizontal lines, cantilevering, and inglenook fireplaces, that would become Wright’s signature in his later projects. It’s a fascinating history lesson to walk through his early experimental, trial-and-error canvas.
Adler Planetarium1300 South Lake Shore Dr., Near South Side | 312.922.7827
In many ways, Chicago is a city made for kids. Parks and green spaces are everywhere, and the museums always seem to have plenty to offer the little ones. Adler Planetarium, right next to the Field Museum on the shores of Lake Michigan, is a prime example. Come here for a fun dose of cosmic escapism (adults will love it, too), where exhibits like “The Universe: A Walk Through Space” is akin to stepping into another world. You’ll wander through darkened rooms illuminated only by high resolution, twinkling recreations of the stars, galaxies, and planets.