Destination: Lincoln Park Zoo is next door to the Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool, but you won't hear a single screech here. Passing through the gates is like stepping into a Monet painting; you'll wonder how a city of 3 million has a garden this quiet. Free (chicagoparkdistrict.com).
What you'll see: Water rushes over limestone rocks, benches invite contemplation and flowers float on quiet, rock-edged pools.
Tip: The park has no parking, so take the CTA's 151 bus north from the Mag Mile, get off at Fullerton and walk 1 block east.
Destination: Take the steps down from North Michigan Avenue to the new Chicago Riverwalk, which runs along the south bank from Lake Michigan to Lake Street. The McCormick Bridgehouse and Chicago River Museum offers a glimpse of the city's river history (877/244-2246; explorechicago.org).
What you'll see: Centennial Fountain shoots its arc of water across the river on the hour. Six cafes line the walk, offering eye-level peeks at busy river traffic.
Tip: Most people don't know Chicago has a Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the riverwalk, with a black granite slab bearing the names of those killed.
Destination: For some cool insights, hop on one of the free 45-minute tours at this hot spot one block east of the Mag Mile. The docent-led tours can focus on the current exhibition as well as pieces from the standing collection. Admission charged (312/280-2660; mcachicago.org).
What you'll see: Tours vary, but the museum's permanent collection includes more than 2,500 objects of visual art from 1945 to the present.
Tip: The museum is closed on Mondays and has free admission on Tuesdays, plus free jazz concerts on Tuesday evenings through early fall.
Destination: The city's stunning architecture is a testament to the brilliant--and bedeviled--men who invented the skyscraper. Learn about their stories during hourlong $5 lunchtime walking tours led by Chicago Architecture Foundation docents (312/922-3432; architecture.org).
What you'll see: On the Marquette Building tour (left), you'll see bronze friezes and Tiffany glass mosaics and learn how this 1895 landmark captures Chicago style.
Tip: These Big Building Mini-Tours start at 12:15 p.m. on weekdays, and visitors have 18 tours to choose from (topics vary depending on the day).
Destination: Opened in 2009, the Modern Wing has a few places you can spend an hour for free. Take the Nichols Bridgeway from Millennium Park to the Bluhm Family Terrace, then enjoy the views of the park, the skyline and the contemporary sculptures on the terrace (312/443-3600; artinstituteofchicago.org).
What you'll see: If you venture inside, you'll find ongoing exhibitions that include "The Touch Gallery," "Neither Man Nor Beast: Animal Images on Ancient Coins" and "What's Greek About a Roman Copy?"
Tip: Plan to go on Thursdays when museum admission is free after 5 p.m. and Terzo Piano serves modern Italian with views of Millennium Park.
Destination: Soar 35 stories above Lake Michigan in the new AeroBalloon at Navy Pier. The anchored helium-filled balloon carries 18 passengers ages 5 and older. The 60-foot-wide white balloon resembles Victorian Era inflatables. Admission charged (312/224-8827; navypier.com).
What you'll see: This weather-dependent attraction based in South Gateway Park soars 350 feet for 8- to 10-minute rides through late September.
Tip: For $35, buy "speed line" tickets that cut waiting times; regular adult admission is $25. Call ahead if weather looks iffy (646/827-6287).
Destination: Jutting into Lake Michigan, Promontory Point is a 12-acre oasis of peace and quiet in Hyde Park, which is home to the University of Chicago (left) and the Obama family. A path winds around the 1930s photogenic field house built of Wisconsin Lannon stone. Free (312/747-6620; chicagoparkdistrict.com).
What you'll see: At this 70-year-old park, you'll take in views of sailboats, the city skyline, waves crashing on the seawall and bicyclists on the lakefront path.
Tip: To get there, take the 55th Street underpass 6 miles south of the Loop and head east of Lake Shore Drive. Parking is free.
Promontory Point 
Destination: You'd need more than a day to cover the massive museum, but in one hour, you'll get a quick hit of education and entertainment at the new Science Storms. The exhibit explores the how and why behind natural phenomena. Admission charged (773/684-1414; msichicago.org)
What you'll see: Fifty interactive stations offer hands-on chances to control a 40-foot tornado, create a tsunami in a 30-foot wave tank and more.
Tip: The museum offers 52 free days each year.