Travel Guide: In The He(Art) Of Chicago
Jaw-dropping architecture, world-class museums, and some of the best food and drink in the country make Chicago a destination that’s not to be missed.
Humble Midwestern roots keep Chicago vibrant but grounded, and locals here are a friendly bunch. This summer, a revitalized Wrigley Field neighborhood is unrecognizable, with new restaurants, retail and a new boutique hotel popping up near Addison & Clark. Popular lakefront attraction Navy Pier offers free music and cultural programming all summer long – including fireworks through Labor Day weekend every Wednesday and Saturday evening. More adventurous types and returning visitors will enjoy exploring neighborhoods like Bucktown, Pilsen and Logan Square by foot – all are easily accessible via CTA.
Where To Stay
$: ACME Hotel Company (starting at $189 per night) is a hip boutique property in the heart of River North, a great base for exploring the Windy City. Vinyl records line the elevators and bathroom mirrors have a big lipstick smooch in the corner. Look outside your window for a flying trapeze act of mannequins painted by Art Institute of Chicago students. Every room has an Alexa that can place room service orders or request late checkout, but the best amenity is the complimentary knock-and-drop morning coffee and tea service.
$$: Dana Hotel and Spa (starting at $239 per night) is another centrally located hotel with 216 simple-but-chic rooms and a creative street-level seafood restaurant, Portsmith. Rooftop bar Apogee is a summer hotspot for locals and visitors alike with whimsical fairytale cocktails practically made for Instagram. The spa is small, but therapists are excellent whether you’re looking for a facial, massage or manicure. Try the “wow brow” treatment for a flattering mini-makeover.
$$$ (Bucket-List Stay): When it comes to five-star hotels, Park Hyatt Chicago (starting at $350 per night) is all about understated elegance. Rooms are well-appointed, and the views of Michigan Avenue and historic water tower from NoMI Kitchen on the seventh floor can’t be beat.
What To Do
Chicago has no shortage of world-class museums, from the Art Institute and Museum of Contemporary Art to the Shedd Aquarium, Field Museum and Adler Planetarium on museum campus. The Museum of Science and Industry is a perennial favorite for its interactive exhibits, too. All are worth visiting, but the best hidden-gem for adventurous art lovers is located amongst the bodegas and panaderias of Pilsen. The National Museum of Mexican Art houses more than 9,000 works from ancient Mesoamerica to present day, and showcases the beauty and depth of Mexican culture and history. Admission is free and the museum often hosts special events for dance, music, literature and theater.
The best way to explore the city’s famous architecture is on a 90-minute Chicago Architecture Foundation River Cruise. The tour covers more than 50 buildings along the Chicago River, including landmarks like the Wrigley Building and Tribune Tower. Each certified volunteer docent tells the stories of Chicago’s history through its buildings with a slightly different perspective, so the tour never gets old, with new anecdotes and layers unveiled each time. Tours are offered year-round but bundle up to brave the cold come winter and remember that boats get quite crowded on summer weekends.
Where To Eat
The West Loop is the city’s hottest neighborhood for dining, with cuisines ranging from Argentine grilling at El Che Bar to fresh pasta at Monteverde. Elske is another favorite, with a lovable husband-and-wife chef team championing a Nordic culinary ethos that is unique in Chicago. Their eight-course tasting menu ($85) is one of the most affordable in town for the amount of food, and dishes like the signature duck liver tart with salted ramp and buckwheat are as delicious as they are creative.
Further north in Ravenswood, Band of Bohemia is both a brewery and restaurant, representing Chicago’s excellent craft beer scene paired with thoughtful dishes. They also serve a wicked weekend brunch – save room for the foie gras ice cream sandwich with housemade sprinkles. For a more casual meal, The Ruin Daily is the best deli and day-drinking bar in town. They make great coffee and decadent twists on traditional sandwich favorites like grilled cheese, tuna melt, buffalo cauliflower and a banh meatball served with homemade chips.
Don’t Miss – The Bucketlist Activity
Take an aerial tour with Chicago Helicopter Experience before or after exploring the city by foot. Pilots share fun facts about the city’s history and culture while expertly navigating in a new fleet of helicopters. You’ll fly north over Chicago’s Museum Campus, and spot landmarks like Buckingham Fountain, Grant Park, Willis Tower and the Wrigley Building, reaching as far north as Wrigley Field before turning back. There are day and evening tours depending on your preferred views.
Amber is a permanent gypsy, traveling the world 350+ days each year. She’s flown a plane to the Grand Canyon, spearfished in Mexico and had dinner with Francis Mallmann at his home in Uruguay, all in the name of work. She studied journalism at Northwestern University and, in addition to serving as the RUBY Travel Expert, her work also appears in Forbes, Saveur, Hemispheres, Departures, American Way, Four Seasons Magazine, Spafinder and USA Today. Follow her adventures on Instagram and Twitter.