Top Things to Do in Chicago
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 restaurants keep the party going into the night.
What to Do
The exhibits get a little technical for a casual visitor, but the sky shows are stunning. If you go to Adler Planetarium, splurge on a theater package to see a couple of them.
Andy's Jazz Club
This River North spot stands out for its long history of live music and for dinners of braised short rib and shrimp risotto.
Art on the Mart
Public art goes big with the world's largest permanent digital projection. Curated art flows on selected evenings across the 25-story, two-block-long building (formerly The Merchandise Mart).
Bobby's Bike Hike
Guided biking or walking tours detail Chicago history.
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.
Walk or bike along 6 miles of curving Lake Michigan shoreline in this 598-acre park, which connects Grant Park to Jackson Park.
Chicago Architecture Center
Check out a scale model of the entire city at the architecture center, then hop aboard a 90-minute river cruise—covering details of more than 50 buildings—on Chicago's First Lady cruises.
See five attractions for about half the cost of the total for individual admissions.
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.
Related: 36 Hours in Chicago
Chicago knows how to throw a party. Some summer highlights: barbecue and bands at Windy City Smokeout, the music fest Lollapalooza and Chicago Air and Water Show.
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. Check out ideas for scavenger hunts, family programs and seasonal flower shows.
John G. Shedd Aquarium
See beluga whales and other Pacific Northwest coast creatures at the aquarium's Abbott Oceanarium exhibit and at aquatic shows.
The five-state view from the 94th floor is spectacular and worth admission on a clear day.
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. (Also in Lincoln Park, don't miss the serene Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool.)
The Magnificent Mile
More than 450 high-end stores, including boutiques, department stores and high-rise shopping malls, line North Michigan Avenue.
Come to Millennium Park photograph the iconic Cloud Gate sculpture, explore Lurie Garden and check the concert schedule at Jay Pritzker Pavilion.
Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago
See four stories of mod works in a light-filled venue in the Streeterville neighborhood. The Marisol restaurant provides an arty backdrop for meals.
Museum of Science and Industry
Visitors love programs about technology, transportation and more at this outstanding science museum. The exhibit You! The Experience ages your face 30 years within minutes and makes a giant heart beat in time with your pulse.
One of the city's most popular attractions, Navy Pier draws visitors with the 200-foot-tall Centennial Wheel, Chicago Children's Museum, restaurants, shops and boat rides. A new flight ride attraction is expected to open in 2024.
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.
The Chicago Cubs play their 148th season at Wrigley this year, after a $900 million multiyear project to upgrade the field, add fan amenities and develop the surrounding area. Check the website for ticket information as well as for dates on off-season guided tours.
Related: Meet the Midwest's MLB Parks
Where to Eat and Drink
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.
Three Michelin stars, a world-renowned chef, a once-in-a-lifetime event. At Alinea, you'll not only taste the most innovative modern cuisine—you'll experience it, as table centerpieces transform into tasting menu items and a crystallized helium balloon becomes dessert.
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 any of three locations.
Enjoy Big Star's bourbon, beer and tacos along with honky-tonk music in a former 1940s gas station in Wicker Park; a second, larger location in Wrigleyville; and Marisco's in the West Town neighborhood.
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.
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.
Premium whiskey and beer pair with meals like the Gage venison burger, with white Cheddar and fire-roasted jalapeños, at a pub near Millennium Park.
The Middle Eastern restaurant in Lincoln Park tempts with dishes such as Smoked Turkey Shawarma served with collards, sweet potatoes and chilies.
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 the 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 serves the best.
Find sourdough bagels, challah, babka and more at this Wicker Park bakery, from James Beard award-winning pastry chef Mindy Segal.
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 has moved down Mag Mile to new, larger digs and adopted a new menu. Pork still stars, but veggies and snacks draw raves too.
Smyth and the Loyalist
Chefs prepare inventive prix fixe meals for guests in Smyth's fine-dining space in the West Loop. Downstairs, The Loyalist serves craft cocktails and a terrific cheeseburger.
Retro furniture at Spinning J 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 at Stan's.
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.
A sleek Mexican restaurant owned by chef Rick Bayless connects to his Frontera Grill in River North and serves organic and heirloom produce.
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.
Where to Stay
21c Museum Hotel
This River North hotel, like others in the 21c collection, features a free contemporary art museum that's open to the public as well as original artwork in the 297 guest rooms.
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
Housed in a Venetian Gothic 1893 building, Chicago Athletic Association feels over-the-top in a good way. The decor nods to its swanky athletic club history, and amenities include a billiards room and 13th-floor Cindy's offering inventive cocktails.
Aimed at social travelers, room options at Freehand include a shared quad with bunk beds, the lobby sports a craft cocktail bar, and staff can arrange group activities.
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 Godfrey.
The high-energy, upscale hotel with a nightclub just off the lobby stands alongside the House of Blues in Marina City.
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.
A clubby game-day atmosphere injects this subtly Cubs-theme hotel, across from Wrigley Field.
Just a few of the reasons to stay at this West Loop hotel: a rooftop pool; the Peruvian restaurant Cabra, run by rock star chef Stephanie Izard; a speakeasy; and urban, mid-mod rooms.
Hyatt Place Chicago/River North Hotel
Breakfast is included with an affordable stay at a prime location.
Chicago maps serve as murals in the 215 guest rooms and suites at the Kinzie, reflecting the River North hotel's focus on celebrating local art and culture.
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 LaSalle Chicago
An architect's legacy lives on in a new hotel called The LaSalle Chicago. Daniel Burnham—known for the layout of the Chicago World's Fair and Chicago's city plan—designed the Continental and Commercial National Bank Building in 1911. Now the top five floors of this neoclassical masterpiece offer an elegant escape in the Windy City's financial district (close to the Art Institute of Chicago, Millennium Park and the theater district).
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.
Book one of 69 tower rooms or 20 annex lofts (some with bunk beds as well as a queen) in The Robey, a 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—all part of the welcoming vibe at The Virgin Hotel.
Beyond its 1920s redbrick Renaissance exterior, the Allerton is contemporary. Rooms at this Magnificent Mile spot are comfortable with calming aesthetics.