When you think of the U.S. Midwest, the words “bland” and “cornfield” may come to mind, but if this is your impression of the area as a whole, I am here to inform you that there is so much more to it than corn. In fact, on top of being the 3rd most populated city in the United States, Chicago is also among the World’s largest cities. Located on the southwestern tip of Lake Michigan, Chicago is blessed with the benefits of all four beautiful seasons—although I recommend coming during the warmer months (May-September). The energy of the city really seems to transform once spring emerges and everyone has fully thawed from the brutal Lake Michigan winter. I truly believe summer and sunshine enhance the beauty of the city—there is just something about the greenery and flowers mixed with the urban landscape that inspires feelings of excitement.
Take Advantage of the CTA
Whenever I make trips to Chicago, I like to take a detour from the typical touristy attractions and explore the neighborhoods of the city, which is something I highly recommend doing. The CTA system in Chicago is so convenient and easy, and it makes 1 day adventures much more do-able because it allows you to cover more ground. I like to take the “L” (Elevated Train) to Belmont when I come. I try to take the Brown Line because it is all above ground and you get a gorgeous view of the city. It kind of feels like a little 10-15 minute tour of Chicago—might as well get your $3 worth for the cost of your ticket, right?
Discover What the Neighborhoods of Chicago Have to Offer
Right across the street from the Belmont CTA station is this awesome restaurant/bar called Cheesie’s. They only serve a delicious variety of grilled cheese sandwiches and they have chalkboard tables you can write on while you wait for your food. It is a great place to go if you are looking to get a drink and some good food, but you want to try something different and not spend a fortune on one meal. I love the unique atmosphere of the place and the food is amazing, so I always try to make a stop here. The Belmont area if full of boutique clothing shops, cool coffee spots, and eclectic little shops, and I could spend hours walking around and exploring down there. It is also kind of neat to see the more residential areas of Chicago, and I make sure to fantasize about living there one day each time I come.
Millennium Park Adventures
Of course, you cannot come to Chicago and not do anything touristy at all. If you have never seen Cloud Gate (“The Bean”) in Millennium Park, I support going to check it out—the skyline of the city reflected onto a giant bean is pretty neat, especially at night. Sometimes random tourist attractions like this just make you smile and there is nothing wrong with that, so I encourage you to check it out—especially because there are several other things in the area that I believe are worth seeing.
Stroll Through Lurie Garden
Every time I’m in Millennium Park, I take a stroll through Lurie Garden, which is right next to the giant Pritzker Music Pavilion. There is a calming stream full of penny and nickel wishes that runs through the garden, and it feels so good to kick off your shoes and stick your feet in the cool water after a long day of exploring. The view is fabulous, so it is a great place to sit back and absorb the greatness of the city. (Hold on to your phones when snapping photos, though! This is the spot where I drowned my phone in water for the second time… oops!) Like I mentioned before, I am addicted to the energy nature produces while thriving in the middle of an urban setting, so this view is definitely something I never want to want to miss.
Check Out the See-Saws at Navy Pier
Normally, I would warn you to steer clear of Navy Pier—mostly because it is a huge tourist trap and there is nothing to do there except throw away money on stupid, meaningless things. However, they did just install a giant circle of light up see-saws right in front of the entrance, which is definitely worth checking out if you are in the area. I made a stop here during the day, but I would love to experience them at night with the backdrop of city lights. It feels so silly to ride a see-saw as a grown adult, so be prepared to be surrounded by endless laughter from all ages. It is impossible to get on one of these things without a huge smile plastered across your face. Negative feelings about Navy Pier aside, I encourage you to make a stop at these see-saws and release your inner childhood.
Fall in Love with Lake Michigan
Each of these these mini-adventures are essential to the Chicago experience, but Lake Michigan is hands down what I adore most about the city. It may have something to do with my equal loyalty to both nature and city, but I feel guilty taking a trip to Chicago without stopping to admire the Lake. I encourage you to walk along the Lakefront Trail and admire the skyline from there. Here, you can soak in the view of the city, then turn 180 degrees and fall in love with Lake Michigan. I also encourage you to come here at sunset or at night, just when the skyline starts to light up and all of the city’s energy is reflected onto the harbor. The view is absolutely breathtaking.
Don’t End Your Adventure too Early
In order to get a well-rounded, authentic Chicago experience, you must be willing to cover as much ground as your legs will allow—there is always the CTA to help you out when you get tired! The shopping on State Street and Michigan Avenue is pretty great, but there is so much more Chicago has to offer, so do not hesitate to venture out. Don’t stop exploring once the sun sets either—you haven’t seen any city fully until you’ve experienced it at night, as well.