Museums, shopping, a free zoo, a hotel for social travelers—here's our guide of what to do, where to eat and where to stay in Chicago.

By The editors of
March 12, 2013

Due to possible coronavirus-related travel restrictions, please check destinations' websites for the current status of attractions, events, restaurants and lodgings.

On the western shore of Lake Michigan, the Midwest's biggest city blends outdoor recreation and cosmopolitan luxuries. Millions visit each year to shop the Magnificent Mile, explore Millennium Park and cheer on one of the eight pro sports home teams. Jazz clubs and theaters keep the party going into the night.

What to do

Adler Planetarium The exhibits get a little technical for a casual visitor, but the sky shows are stunning. If you go, splurge on a theater package to see a couple of them.

Adler Planetarium. Photo courtesy of City of Chicago
| Credit: Courtesy of City of Chicago

American Writers Museum Tap away on a typewriter, play word games or spin the Wheel of Emotions as you explore writers and writing at this museum just north of Millennium Park.

Andy's Jazz Club This River North spot stands out for its 43-year history of live music and for dinners of braised short rib and shrimp risotto.

Iterations, Art Institute of Chicago Through spring 2021, see artists from around the world present commissioned work using sound art, spoken word, choreography and music.

Bobby's Bike Hike Guided biking or walking tours detail Chicago history.

Buckingham Fountain In Grant Park, one of the world’s largest fountains jets into action for 20-minute shows on the hour 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., with a finale at 10:35 p.m.

Buckingham Fountain

Chicago Architecture Center Check out a scale model of the entire city, then hop aboard a 90-minute river cruise—covering details of more than 50 buildings—on Chicago’s First Lady cruises.

Photo courtesy of Choose Chicago/Adam Alexander Photography

Chicago CityPASS See five attractions-the Shedd Aquarium; The Field Museum; The Ledge at Skydeck Chicago; 360 Chicago or Museum of Science and Industry; and the Adler Planetarium or the Art Institute-for about half the cost of the total for individual admissions.

Chicago Helicopter Experience Riders soar over the sprawling parks lining Lake Michigan and past glass-encased skyscrapers.

Chicago Riverwalk A pedestrian-friendly trail—part of a multidecade river revitalization plan—runs 1¼ miles along the river from Lake Shore Drive west to Lake Street. Explore gardens, art, restaurants and outfitters with boats and bikes.

Chicago Riverwalk

Festivals Chicago knows how to throw a party—look for these festivals and others to return in 2021. Some summer highlights: barbecue and bands at Windy City Smokeout. the music fest Lollapalooza and Chicago Air and Water Show. The city designated 2020 as the Year of Chicago Music.

The Field Museum This treasure trove of science and anthropology is a Midwest must-see. Thanks to reciprocity agreements, you might score free admission if you show a membership card from another science museum.

Frank Lloyd Wright Trust tours Learn about Wright’s architectural legacy in the Chicago area—including his Oak Park home and studio, the Rookery, and the Robie House—on guided tours.

Garfield Park Conservatory About 2,100 plant species grow in eight indoor spaces and 10 acres outdoors. Free programs include yoga.

John G. Shedd Aquarium See beluga whales and other Pacific Northwest coast creatures at the Abbott Oceanarium exhibit and at aquatic shows. 

Shedd Aquarium

360 Chicago The five-state view from the 94th floor is spectacular and worth admission on a clear day.

The Ledge at Skydeck Chicago Step out 1,353 feet above the ground in a glass box that juts 4 feet out from Willis Tower, the city's tallest building.

The Ledge at Skydeck Chicago

Lincoln Park Zoo Opened in 1868, the free zoo is one of the nation’s oldest. It’s home to 1,100 animals from 200-plus species.

The Magnificent Mile More than 460 high-end stores, including boutiques, department stores and high-rise shopping malls, line North Michigan Avenue.

Millennium Park Crowds gather to photograph the Cloud Gate sculpture, as well as for concerts (many free) at Jay Pritzker Pavilion.

Millennium Park

Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago See four stories of mod works in a light-filled venue in the Streeterville neighborhood. The new Marisol restaurant provides an arty backdrop for meals.

Museum of Science and Industry Visitors love programs about technology, transportation and more. The exhibit You! The Experience ages your face 30 years within minutes and makes a giant heart beat in time with your pulse.

Navy Pier One of the city’s most popular attractions draws crowds with the 200-foot-tall Centennial Wheel, Chicago Children’s Museum, restaurants, shops, Imax movies and boat rides—plus, new in 2019, Offshore, the world’s largest rooftop deck.

Oak Street Beach Potted palm trees, a life-size chess set and access to the 18-mile Lakefront Trail make this urban beach a must.

The Second City A training ground for big-name comics, the theater stages shows that skewer current events.

Wrigley Field The Chicago Cubs play their 105th season at Wrigley this year, as a $900 million multiyear project to upgrade the field, add fan amenities and develop the surrounding area is due to wrap up.

Where to eat

3 Arts Club Café Restoration Hardware’s Gold Coast megastore, in the historic Three Arts Club building, has become a hot spot to meet friends for wine, brunch or dinner.

The Angry Crab No plates, no silverware, just giant bags of succulent shellfish coated in lemon pepper, garlic butter or Angry Cajun spices. Dine at either the Wicker Park or Rogers Park location.

Bad Hunter The veggie-centric spot in the West Loop dishes complex flavors with simple names: Chips and Dip, for instance, is nori seaweed crisps served with a citrusy yuzu cream warmed with Japanese togarashi.

Big Star Enjoy bourbon, beer and tacos along with honky-tonk music in a former 1940s gas station in Wicker Park and a second, larger location in Wrigleyville.

The Bongo Room The funky Wicker Park cafe is known for great breakfast dishes, fist-thick breakfast burritos and hotcakes with seasonal fruits and fillings.

Buddy Guy's Legends Soul food and live music restore weary travelers.

Duck Duck Goat Top Chef winner Stephanie Izard's playful take on a Chinese restaurant delivers a fun evening in the West Loop. Fare such as soup dumplings and spring rolls comes on blue porcelain plates decorated with goats.

Eataly Think of this place as a multistory celebration of Italian eats. Counter service stations offer fresh, hand-filled cannoli; Osteria di Eataly serves house-made pastas and classic Negronis; and aisles stock imported antipasti for home cooking.

Elske Danish-American fare might include sturgeon with trumpet mushrooms or squash fritters with trout roe at the Michelin-starred West Loop restaurant.

The Gage Premium whiskey and beer pair with meals like the Gage venison burger, with smoked Gouda and fried jalapeños, at a pub near Millennium Park.

Galit The new Middle Eastern restaurant in Lincoln Park tempts with dishes such as Crispy Halloumi cheese served with corn, blueberries and oregano.

Frontera Grill Celeb chef Rick Bayless owns the James Beard Award-winning restaurant specializing in seasonal Mexican flavors in River North. The homemade mole sauce always draws raves, as do the margaritas.

Little Goat Diner All-day breakfasts—Fat Elvis Waffles with bananas and peanut butter; shrimp and cheesy grits; and Spanish omelets—star at this West Loop spot, one of four area restaurants run by celebrity chef Stephanie Izard.

Lou Malnati's Pizzeria Of all the deep-dish joints in the city, many locals swear this chain (with 56 Chicagoland locations) serves the best.

Mercat a la Planxa Catalan-inspired tapas star on the seasonal menu in the fine-dining restaurant adjacent to the Renaissance Blackstone Hotel in the South Loop.

Oiistar Get your ramen fix in Wicker Park. A bowl of broth swims with fresh noodles, pork belly, egg and garlic.


Pacific Standard Time Dishes from two hearth ovens reflect California vibes in River North: wood-roasted vegetables, simple proteins, whole-grain flatbread pizzas.

Politan Row The new chef-driven food hall features about a dozen vendors, including Bumbu Roux (an Indonesian-Cajun mash-up) and Mom’s (Japanese comfort food).

Uno Pizzeria and Grill The deep-dish pizza craze began at this little River North spot. Pies come with crispy-edged crust and gooey cheese.

Proxi Globally inspired small plates might include fried skate wing with Thai garlic-chili sauce or Indonesian pork jerky at the buzzy West Loop restaurant.

The Purple Pig The popular Pig moved down Mag Mile to new, larger digs last year and adopted a new menu. Pork still stars, but veggies and snacks draw raves too.

Revival Food Hall Grab food to go from one (or more) of 16 stalls featuring Chicago favorites like HotChocolate Bakery and Furious Spoon. The 24,000-square-foot marketplace sits on the ground floor of The National, a 1907 building in The Loop.

Smyth and the Loyalist Chefs prepare three inventive prix fixe meals daily for guests in Smyth’s fine-dining space in the West Loop. Downstairs, The Loyalist serves craft cocktails and a terrific cheeseburger.

Spinning J Retro furniture surrounds the vintage centerpiece: a 1928 soda fountain, where Humboldt Park diners order handmade sodas, potpies, breakfast sandwiches, Thai tea milk shakes and s’mores pie.

Stan's Donuts and Coffee The double-chocolate old-fashioned doughnut is decadent on its own but even better sliced with a thin layer of fresh gelato in the middle.

Swift and Sons In any debate about the best steak in meat-loving Chicago, Swift and Sons always makes the list. Savor Japanese wagyu, a bone-in ribeye or beef Wellington that serves two (plus seafood and veggie options), all in a swanky space inside the historic 10-story Fulton Market Cold Storage building.

Terzo Piano The menu of the dining option at the Art Institute of Chicago stars Mediterranean-inspired dishes, such as lamb Bolognese.

Topolobampo A sleek Mexican restaurant owned by chef Rick Bayless connects to his Frontera Grill in River North and serves organic and heirloom produce.

Where to stay

Ace Hotel Chicago Some rooms come with turntables or guitars in this industrial-chic West Loop hotel created in a building that once housed an Italian-American cheese-making company.

The Blackstone Hotel Spend a bit to get a room or suite with a view of Lake Michigan at this South Michigan Avenue hotel that has hosted 12 presidents.

Chicago Athletic Association Hotel A boutique rehab at this historical men’s sports club added seven bars and restaurants along with 241 cushy guest rooms above Michigan Avenue.

Freehand Chicago Aimed at social travelers, room options include a shared quad with bunk beds, the lobby sports a craft cocktail bar, and staff will arrange group activities.

Photo courtesy of Freehand Chicago/Adrian Gaut
| Credit: Courtesy of Freehand Chicago/Adrian Gau

The Godfrey Hotel An ultramodern elliptical lobby and fourth-floor lounge with retractable roof and two-level fire pit set a luxurious tone in the 221-room hotel.

Holiday Inn Chicago Mart Plaza At the affordable chain hotel in River North, every room has a view and free Wi-Fi, and a skywalk connects to the Merchandise Mart.

Hotel Chicago The high-energy, upscale hotel with a nightclub just off the lobby stands alongside the House of Blues in Marina City.

The Hoxton Just a few of the reasons to stay at this new West Loop hotel: a rooftop pool; the Peruvian restaurant Cabra, run by rock star chef Stephanie Izard; a speakeasy; and urban, mid-mod rooms.

Hotel EMC2 Tuxedoed robots Leo and Cleo might bring shampoo or towels to your room at this Streeterville hotel, where science and art accents elevate the guest experience. The Albert restaurant focuses on eclectic and seasonal fare.

Hotel Felix The River North hotel combines a 1927 Beaux Arts building with contemporary furnishings. Sensors reduce energy usage when rooms are unoccupied.

Hotel Zachary A clubby game-day atmosphere injects this subtly Cubs-theme hotel, across from Wrigley Field.

Hyatt Place Chicago/River North Hotel Breakfast is included with an affordable stay at a prime location.

Kimpton Hotel Allegro Touches of shimmering fabric echo original Art Deco design in this theater district landmark. In-room spa services help you relax.

Kinzie Hotel Chicago maps serve as murals in the 215 guest rooms and suites, reflecting the River North hotel's focus on celebrating local art and culture.

The Langham Fine art graces the walls of the Mies van der Rohe skyscraper in River North, and the 316 guest rooms (complete with marble baths and rain showers) are some of the most spacious in the city.

The Langham

LondonHouse Chicago The 452-room luxury hotel occupies a 1923 former office building in a prime location on North Michigan Avenue. A tri-level rooftop bar overlooks the Chicago River.

The Publishing House Bed and Breakfast Eleven stylish rooms are named after Chicago-based novels and authors. Curl up with a book in the inn’s scattered mini libraries, nooks and reading corners.

The Robey Book one of 69 tower rooms or 20 annex lofts (some with bunk beds as well as a queen) in this Wicker Park combo of a 1929 Art Deco office building and 1905 warehouse.

The Virgin Hotel Ergonomic headboards support you while sitting in bed, sliding partitions create private areas in the room, and a smartphone app lets you adjust the heat and order room service.

Warwick-Allerton Chicago Beyond its 1920s redbrick Renaissance exterior, the Allerton is contemporary. Rooms at this Magnificent Mile spot are comfortable with calming aesthetics.

The Wit Check-in includes a warm chocolate chip cookie, and throughout the hallways, you'll hear the chirping of birds and crickets. In the Loop's theater district.

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