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Visiting the Skydeck At the Willis Tower: A Chicago Family Day trip

Updated on October 1, 2014

Viewing Chicago From the Second-Tallest Building in the U.S.

I first visited the Skydeck back in the mid-1980s when I was a student in Chicago and the building was the Sears Tower. At that time, it was the tallest building in the world at 1,451 feet high. Today, it is only the eighth-tallest structure in the world, according to Wikipedia, and No. 2 in the U.S. behind the new One World Trade Center in New York. It was renamed the Willis Tower in 2009.

Even so, no trip to Chicago is really complete without a visit to the 103rd floor to gaze out the windows at the city below.

Here are some highlights of a recent visit our family took to the tower. The photos are by us unless otherwise noted.

On a Clear Day You Can See Four States

Museum Campus View Willis Tower Chicago
Museum Campus View Willis Tower Chicago

The tower's 103rd-floor observation deck, called the Skydeck, is enclosed and provides views in all four directions. On a clear day you can see up to 60 miles away across four states: Illinois, of course, but also Wisconsin, Indiana and Michigan.

Unfortunately, we weren't there on a clear day. It was late in the afternoon when we visited, and a bit overcast. So we had to settle for great views of the city and its major attractions. We picked out the John Hancock Center and the Navy Pier to the northeast, and it was easy to find Cellular Field to the south where the Chicago White Sox baseball team plays.

Try as I might, I couldn't find Wrigley Field. But it was easy to pick out McCormick Place, the corncob-like towers of Marina City and the city's museum campus with the Field Museum, Adler Planetarium and Shedd Aquarium. The photo here shows the Adler at the tip of the land with the white aquarium in the foreground.

The Ledge Willis Tower Chicago
The Ledge Willis Tower Chicago

Only the Courageous Brave The Ledge

The biggest attraction on the Skydeck is the Ledge, which is actually four glass boxes that extend almost five feet out from the building itself. You are completely surrounded by glass (see photo).

It can be a bit disconcerting at first, but it is kind of cool to look straight down between your feet at the little tiny people and cars passing below you. The tower says each box is made up of three layers of half-inch thick glass laminated into one seamless unit and that the glass panels weigh 1,500 pounds.

Not that many visitors cared. There were crowds of people waiting to spend some time in the boxes and almost everyone seemed to be fearless stepping in. I say almost everyone because my wife refused!

The tower has a photo service stationed in one of the four boxes so you can get a photo taken even if you don't have a camera.

Looking Down Through The Ledge

The Ledge Willis Tower Chicago
The Ledge Willis Tower Chicago

Here's a photo taken by the younger half of Goldenrulecomics. The four feet belong to our two children.

Willis Tower Mural Chicago
Willis Tower Mural Chicago

Learning About the History of Chicago

While gazing out the windows is the main attraction of the Skydeck, take time to turn around and read the large panels that ring the inside of the floor space.

The panels offer a history of Chicago from when it was founded in 1833. One panel highlights the personalities of the city, including Mickey Finn. Mickey Finn was the manager of the Lone Star Saloon and Palm Garden Restaurant at the turn of the 20th century, and in 1903 was accused of using knockout drops in drinks to rob customers. That's where the phrase "slip him a Mickey" comes from.

The panels also explore Chicago's contributions to the country's culture, highlighting such personalities as Ernest Hemingway and Oprah Winfrey and the city's movies and music.

There's a lot of interesting facts so don't miss out.

Watching Traffic on the Chicago River From the Skydeck

Here is some video shot by the younger half of Goldenrulecomics.

Have You Been to the Top of The Willis Tower?

Willis Tower Chicago
Willis Tower Chicago

Have You Been to the Top of The Willis Tower?

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