Laura Schofield's Chicago Recommendations
Talk to a Chicagoan for the best tips on what to do and see in the windy city
There are tons of publications about what to see in Chicago. There are all the old stand-bys. I mean, who doesn't know about Willis (Sears) Tower and the Shedd Aquarium? BUT, do you know how to see Chicago on a budget? Where are the child-appropriate things to do and places to eat? Where can you eat if you're a vegan and into local or organic food? Where are the coolest neighborhoods? I'm a young-at-heart, vegetarian, locally-minded, 38-year-old mother of 4 kids. If you like the things I write about, chances are you might be interested in some of my favorite places in Chicago too!
If you're in the area, planning a trip to Chicago, or even live in the city and are just trying to do something different for . You might even show me a new place!
Important Chicago Phone Numbers
Everything from the CTA Chicago Transit Authority, major airlines serving Chicago, the Police & Fire Departments and more
Just in case you have an emergency in Chicago or just are in need of some official information, refer to this handy listing of Chicago phone numbers.
Science Museums & Attractions
- Adler Planetarium
Chicago's Adler Planetarium was founded in 1930 by Max Adler, a Chicago businessman. Located on a former man-made island in Lake Michigan (Northerly Island), it was designed by Ernest Grunsfeld. Mr. Grunsfeld's grandson, John Grunsfeld, is now a NASA
- Museum of Science & Industry
Take part in live science experiences, view films at the Omnimax and 3d Theatres and tour both the permanent and traveling exhibits at Chicago's Museum of Science & Industry. Some of the more famous attractions at this museum are The Great Train
Culture - History and Art Museums - From World Class Museums to Local History
Chicago has plenty of museums. Here is a listing of museums dealing with local history, world history, art and culture.
- Chicago Cultural Center
As one of the most comprehensive free arts showcases in the United States, this landmark building is the setting for hundreds of programs and exhibitions presented annually by the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs. The nation's first free munic
Greek Town - In Chicago's West LoopClick thumbnail to view full-size
Shopping - From the Magnificent Mile to Chicago's Neighborhoods
Chicago has plenty of shopping, world-class shops and independent boutiques abound. Check here to see what is where.
- SeeMore Shopping
SeeMore Shopping is an excellent portal for shopping in the Chicago area. Choose to view shops by the category of shop, the area you will be shopping in, who has sales going on, etc... Even shopping malls and shops in the Chicago suburbs are listed.
- The Magnificent Mile
With a special section for visitors & travel, definitely check this out if you're a visitor to Chicago and want to see Chicago's Michigan Avenue. The site also lists seasonal events, not-to-be-missed offers and tours, photographs and more informa
- Water Tower Place
"At the pinnacle of Chicago's famed Magnificent Mile, Water Tower Place is Chicago's premier shopping destination. Its stunning eight-level atrium features more than 100 of your favorite stores and restaurants plus a mix of distinctive specialty shop
You're probably a local if you'll want to see a film while in Chicago. I find it handy to know where to look up what's playing and prices for movie theaters. If you're coming in to town to visit family with children, this could be ideal. AND, tourists would definitely enjoy a trip to the IMAX theatre at Navy Pier. So maybe movie listings and times isn't such a bad idea. Here it goes!
- IMAX Theatre at Navy Pier
For a larger than life cinematic experience, head over to the Navy Pier IMAX Theatre. See what's playing and even buy your tickets online.
- AMC River East
Located at 322 East Illinios St., AMC's River East Cinema is in Chicago's Loop, near the NBC Tower and the Tribune Tower. It features stadium seating and hosts numerous films. Note about parking: Get your parking ticket validated at the cinema when
- AMC Loews
Located at 600 North Michigan Ave., AMC's Loews Cinema is right near the Lake in the heart of Chicago's Loop. Between Ontario and Ohio on Michigan Avenue, this theatre show numerous films and has accomodations for the disabled.
- Kerasotes City North
Located at 2600 N Western Ave., Kerasotes City North will have more of a local crowd, being near Logan Square, Bucktown and other primarily residential areas. Many films are shown and this theater offers stadium seating.
- Kerasotes Webster Place
Again hosting many films, Kerasotes Webster Place is located at 1471 W. Webster Avenue, near DePaul University and Lincoln Park. You will find many students frequenting this cinema. Accomodations are available for the disabled.
- Landmark Century Centre Cinema
At 2828 N. Clark Street, just south of Wrigleyville, the Landmark Century Centre Cinema might be a good bet if you plan on spending the day out shopping, people-watching or dining nearby. Accomodations are available for the handicapped.
- AMC Loews Pipers Alley
AMC Loews Pipers Alley shows 5 major motion pictures, with accomodations for the handicapped. Located at 1608 N. Wells St., this cinema is just around the corner from the Chicago Historical Society (also near Lincoln Park Zoo) in Lincoln Park.
- ICE Chatham 14
ICE Chatham 14 Cinema shows many new releases and is located at 210 W 87th Street, on Chicago's South Side. It is easily accessible off the Dan Ryan Expressway.
- Century Evanston 18
Located at 1715 Maple Ave in Chicago's North Shore area, the Century Evanston 18 shows a good selection of new releases, with stadium seating and even has rocking chairs and love seats available!
- The Logan Theatre
If you don't mind seeing releases that have been out for a few weeks, and an older theatre atmosphere, the Logan Theatre is the place for you. Located at 2646 N. Milwaukee Ave (in Logan Square). $3 for a movie - not luxurious but an affordable experi
Cool Places to Eat - Unusual or Not-To-Be-Missed Restaurants
Sometimes you eat at one restaurant, then walk past one a few blocks down that you wish you would've stopped at instead. Here's a listing of unique Chicago restaurants - some for their location, some for their history, and some for their food.
- Oak Street Beachstro
The Oak Street Beachstro offers the best views of Lake Michigan in town - its right on the beach! Just steps away from Michigan Avenue - it is probably one of the best al fresco dining venues in the city. A breakfast buffet is offered, as well as lun
If you're with kids, or just being casual at the beach, you may opt for Castaways rather than the slightly more formal (and slightly more expensive) Oak Street Beachstro. This is also more of a place for young adults having a wild time on the beach i
- The Signature Room at the John Hancock Tower
Cheaper than visiting the observation deck at the John Hancock Tower, you can have a drink in the Signature Room's Lounge and enjoy the view from just under the Observation Deck (no refreshments provided up there BTW!). For an impressive dinner, the
This is a really cool local (and still family run) business that's been around since the 1940's. The last time I took the kids here, the people in the car next to us had a visitor from Denmark with them who apparently always insists they take him her
Chicago Cruises - Even though you're not on a coast, you can still get nautical.
Whether you opt for a tour down the Chicago River, a dinner cruise on Lake Michigan or a quick water taxi ride, there are cruising options available in Chicago. Here's a listing.
- Odyssey Dinner Cruises
Not only offering dinner cruises, the Odyssey also offers brunch and moonlight cruises as well as catering private events. Odyssey cruises depart from Navy Pier and range in price from around $40 per person to over $100 per person.
- Mystic Blue Cruises
Mystic Blue Cruises offer brunch, lunch, midday, dinner and cocktail cruises on Lake Michigan, ranging in price from around $30 per person to nearly $75 per person. Mystic Blue Cruises depart from Navy Pier.
- The Spirit of Chicago
Cruising with the Spirit of Chicago takes you over Lake Michigan for the standard brunch, lunch, happy hour, dinner, cocktail cruises. They also offer narrated cruises focusing on Chicago's architecture and skyline, Gospel cruises and other special t
- Seadog Cruises
Chicago's Seadog Cruises offer speedboat lake tours, river and lake architectural tours, and the 30-minute long "Seadog Extreme" 'thrill' cruises (about $20 for children, $30 for adults). All cruises provided by Seadog are under $30, with infants cr
If you're on holiday, Chicago's public transportation is the best option for getting around the city. During the summer, the city even provides a free "trolley", transporting people between museums and sight-seeing attractions. Two companies independently serve Chicago's public transportation: the CTA (Chicago Transit Authority) and the Metra (longer journeys connecting the city with the suburbs or Union Station and Amtrak trains for further travel).
Both sites below have interactive functions where you can plan your journey when giving a starting and ending location, system maps, information on buying tickets and more. Even as a local, I use these resources regularly.
ChicagoNow even has a blog on the CTA trains by line as well as covering the bus. Its called Going Public. Check it out to find out about delays, reroutes, new cars, goings on at the station, trivia and more. Seriously, it is useful and interesting.
- Chicago Transit Authority
Your source for using public transportation in the city of Chicago. Information is available on city buses and 'El' trains. Use the trip planner to get expert advice on how to get from A to B (you can even state preferences on maximum walking distanc
- Chicago Metra Rail
Metra is THE way to get between the Chicago suburbs and the city. They are also the providers of the free downtown Chicago trollies during the summer. The Metra website offers system maps, advice on parking, and ticket prices. You can also get coupon
- Going Public (Chicago Now)
Wondering about celebrity sightings on the CTA? Which stations have the most graffiti? What other CTA riders have been spotted reading? More practical information exists too, like reroutes, delays, new equiptment, etc.. Give this a look.
Parking in Chicago - Determined to drive?
Don't say we didn't warn you! Chicago has horrible problems with traffic. That being said though, if you need to be somewhere by a specific time, driving is probably your best bet. While the public transportation is good here, its not regular. If you can't afford to be late, you'd better drive.
Parking in Chicago is expensive and in short supply at any of the public garages or car parks. Be careful if parking in any residential areas too - many require a permit to park there for ANY amount of time, and you WILL get a ticket (meter maids are all over the place here - they're quick too!). 'Permit Only' areas are marked with signs - have a look around.
If you still haven't been swayed to take a bus, train or taxi, read on to explore your parking options.
- PILMC - Chicago Parking Map
This java-enabled site takes a few minutes to load up, but it's very good for finding parking garages in the Chicago area and going directly to their websites. Shop around for the best rate before you get there.
Amusement Parks - Something for the kids or the young at heart.
Chicago's weather is brutal in the winter. During the late spring and summer, and going through Halloween usually, amusement parks are open though. Here are some of the more popular ones.
- Kiddieland Amusement Park
Unfortunately, Kiddieland had its final season in 2009. Read all about its history on a page I've written devoted entirely to Kiddieland and its history.
- Six Flags Great America and Hurricane Harbor
If water parks and big thrill rides and roller coasters are your idea of a good time, you won't want to miss Six Flags Great America and Hurricane Harbor. Look for coupons to reduce the admission price - I've gotten some from Dunkin Donuts and even f
Get a few guidebooks - Something to take with you
The internet is a great resource for planning your trip. Things like guidebooks and pocket maps are indispensable though when you actually hit the road. Shop eBay and find some Chicago guide books.
What is there to do in your city?
Sign up at Squidoo and be a tour guide for your own city! What are the hot spots and not-to-be-missed attractions in your neck of the woods? Believe me, its easier to put together a Squidoo lens than you'd think. Compile your favorite things to do and share it with your friends all over the world - online.
If I waited to publish this lens until I covered everything Chicago has to offer, it would never get done! Please let me know if I've left anything out that you think just can't be missed. Maybe you'd like more advice on parking options, getting around the city, hotel recommendations, etc...
Or - maybe you think I've done a good job so far... Whatever you want to say about this insider's guide to Chicago - here's the place! Leave a quick note for all to see by just submitting it below.
Contact Laura Schofield
*If you would like to suggest any links or have your own photos and / or stories published, please send me an email. I can be contacted through my personal homepage, laura-schofield.com. If you enjoy the work I've done here, I do offer professional copy writing, photo restoration / manipulation, search engine optimization and web design services. I can again be contacted for any of these services through my website.