Chicago guidebooks and best-of lists all include the Art Institute, Museum of Science and Industry, Wrigley Field, Millennium Park and Chicago-style pizza. But the city's hidden gems can be just as interesting. Here are 10 reasons we recommend venturing off the beaten path in the Windy City.
Chicago Greeter The free Chicago Greeter program is an informative and fun way to explore the city under the wing of a local volunteer. Spontaneous? Take the InstaGreeter hour-long walk through downtown. A planner? Sign up at least two weeks in advance for the Greeter Visit, which lasts two to four hours and personalizes the neighborhood, language and theme of the tour.
Photo courtesy of Choose Chicago and Chicago Greeter
The Chicago Temple
When completed in 1924 as the new facilities of the First United Methodist Church, the Chicago Temple was the tallest building in the city. The main sanctuary of the neo-Gothic building has stained-glass windows depicting the history of Chicago; the Sky Chapel sits under spires, 400 feet above the ground. Tours are available at 2 p.m. Monday through Saturday and after services Sunday.
The InterContinental Chicago Magnificent Mile
Built by the Shriners as the Medinah Men’s Athletic Club in 1929, the InterContinental is a maze of intriguing history. Hear it while seeing the elaborate ballrooms, elegant architecture and a junior-Olympic-size pool on free, self-guided iPod tours (request one at the concierge desk).
Photo courtesy of InterContinental Chicago
Gene Siskel Film Center
Art films, international films, documentaries and more take center stage at the Gene Siskel, named for the late film critic. This comfortable theater is home to 1,500 screenings and 100 guest appearances a year. See what’s playing during your visit.
Chocolate at the Pen
A buffet dedicated entirely to chocolate? It isn't too good to be true. It happens 8 p.m. to midnight every Friday and Saturday at The Lobby of The Peninsula Chicago. Eat cacao-based treats to your heart’s content while listening to live music and sipping—what else?—a chocolate martini.
The Moth If you’re a fan of “The Moth Radio Hour,” you’ll love these live storytelling events, which happen twice a month at Martyrs’ and Haymarket Pub and Brewery. Audience members climb on stage to share a true story corresponding with the month’s theme (hunger, lost and found, haunted and journeys are all recent themes); teams of judges select a winner. Unlike many storytelling events around town, you don’t need to be a professional writer to share a story at The Moth. The result: performances that are raw, visceral and real.
RM Champagne Salon
This bastion of bubbly is literally hidden—off a small, cobblestone alley in the West Loop. Sit around a fire and sip dozens of effervescent options from French Champagne houses. The 1,500-square-foot dispensary feels like a charming European parlor and will help you quickly forget the blustery weather outside.
Oak Street and Michigan Avenue may draw the shopping masses, but you’ll find me, and fashion-savvy locals, at Hazel in the northside neighborhood of North Center. Hazel sells unique jewelry, accessories, stationery and more, and its neighboring sister store, Hazel Apparel, has all the boutique-y Mad Men
-style dresses (and jeans, t-shirts and even men’s clothes) you’ll ever need.
If a beige room that earns loyalty points isn’t your style, check out the Acme Hotel Company. This place bursts with character. Staff is personable, and decor is clever (kiss marks on the bathroom mirror double as nightlights). Knock and Drop coffee service delivers fresh, complimentary coffee to your room on request—a great reason to get out of bed. Prices are reasonable, and the swanky on-site bar, The Berkshire Room,
is a hidden gem within a hidden gem.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed at this multistory celebration of Italian edibles, and first-timers often head straight to the busiest areas. But if you’re looking for a steal without a long line, swing by the Focaccia Counter at Le Cucine for a meal-size square of freshly baked bread with toppings like prosciutto and housemade mozzarella for less than five bucks.
Kate Silver is a Chicago-based freelance writer and the author of the 2015 Frommer’s EasyGuide to Chicago.