One week in Chicago: Attractions

Chicago in the Summer is one of the most dynamic, energetic and entertaining places in the world. While I hate to over-plan any of my trips, I did have some must-sees that I had neglected on previous trips to the Windy City. I wanted to enjoy some of the museums and culture that the city has to offer, buy I also wanted to explore some of the outdoor views during the perfect Midwestern Spring weather. And, despite all of my previous trips to Chicago, I had somehow never been to Wrigley Field, one of the few remaining cathedrals of baseball.

So, fueled by a tremendous amount of local food, I set out to see some of the many treasures scattered around Chicago. By train, bus, foot and yes, Segway, I saw Chicago’s best spots and finally felt like I had taken advantage of a city that is not lacking in culture or activities.

Architecture Boat TourI don’t know much about architecture. I wish I did. But several of my friends told to me check out Chicago’s myriad skyscrapers and other architectural marvels, many of which are consider iconic. To maximize my time and learn a little something along the way, I opted to take a boat tour down the Chicago River that focuses solely on architecture. There are a few companies that offer these educational boat tours, but I opted by Shoreline Sightseeing’s offering. The 90 minute tour winds down the river and an incredibly knowledgeable guide explained the history and style of Chicago’s many influential designs. While I still am pretty clueless when it comes to architecture, I feel like I saw Chicago from a perspective that I have never experienced before.

Field Museum of Natural HistoryCall me a geek, but the Museum of Natural History in New York is one of the favorite places in the world. Well, the Field Museum in Chicago more than holds its own and is an impressive space with an outstanding collection. It’s home to Sue, the largest and most complete Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton in the world. Standing next to Sue, I couldn’t help but feel like a little boy again as I was beyond amazed by the sheer size and ferocity of this long-exctinct beast. The Field Museum is also currently hosting Real Pirates, a phenomenal exhibit on the “Golden Age of Piracy” that is incredibly well done and is a must-see if you are in town between now and October 25, 2009. I lingered in the Field Museum for close to three hours as I marveled at the vastness of its collection.

Art Institute ChicagoRemember when I mentioned that I don’t know much about architecture? Well, art isn’t my forte either. Call me uncouth, but somewhere art history and appreciation escaped me. Still, I enjoy strolling through art museums, particularly on rainy days. So, on one dreary day in Chicago, I wandered downtown to check out The Art Institute’s famed exhibits. While it houses many impressive pieces and would take you some time to truly appreciate everything that it has to offer, you can have a pretty fulfilling experience in just a few hours. I stared at American Gothic for 10 minutes and it alone was worth the price of admission. This iconic painting is oft-parodied, but to see it in person is to feel as if you are experiencing something that transcends art. Well, maybe I just like that viewing such an influential painting made me feel cultured. And with the recent opening to the Art Institute’s Modern Wing, the museum now offers an even more complete view of the many periods and styles throughout history.

Wrigley Field
Built in 1914 and home to the Chicago Cubs since 1916, Wrigley Field is an icon not just in sports but in American culture. The ivy covered brick walls, the red sign welcoming you to the ballpark and the hand-operated scoreboard make you feel like you’ve been transported back in time to a period in history when steroids weren’t the top story and the game seemed pure. I experienced Wrigley twice while I was in Chicago. I took in one game from a rooftop overlooking the stadium and one with a ticket that I scalped right outside the park. If you want a unique view and enjoy all-you-can-eat (and drink) packages, watch a Cubs game from one of the many rooftops across the street from Wrigley. But for the true Chicago experience, get yourself inside. I took the train to Wrigley and arrived an 45 minutes before the game. I scaled not just a ticket but a front row seat! I watched my first Cubs game a mere 18 inches from the field on a gorgeous Spring day. You don’t have to be a Cubs fan, or even a baseball fan, to appreciate the beauty and simplicity of Wrigley Field.

Segway TourSegways are much maligned. They’re a folly that never really had a chance to catch on with mainstream American. Honestly, who was going to commute on a Segway? But for tourism, Segways are brilliant. And, since I am a massive geek, I have always wanted to experience riding one. And what better way to check that off the list than while exploring Chicago? Several companies offer Segway tours in town, but none can match the price of Bike Chicago. For $50, you get more than two hours of “gliding” around town, including an orientation on how to use your Segway. After five minutes it all felt like second nature and I was enjoying every minute of it. We toured Grant Park, the lakeside, Millennium Park and several other sights along the way and the tour guide was patient, helpful and knowledgeable. There may be no better way to see Chicago up close and, well, it’s just plain fun.

There are plenty of other sights to visit in Chicago, and I’ll be covering two very special places tomorrow when I share my experiences with some of Chicago’s furry and scaley friends. What are your favorite Chicago sights? Share below in the comments.

Check out my gallery of these attractions here.

Read about my Chicago food adventures here.