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Chicago offers stellar shopping, sports, art and unabashed culinary splendor
With the inhumanity of Middle America’s summer heat wave behind us, it’s time to get reacquainted with how glorious a visit to the Windy City can be. Fall is the perfect season to visit Chicago. With sun, moderate weather, fewer crowds with the kids back in school, and gorgeous, golden leaves in Grant Park, visitors will find themselves in a cozy, autumnal spirit quickly, and able to enjoy Chicago's best places to visit.
The first stop is Grant Park, also known as “Chicago's front yard.” It has the Clarence Buckingham Memorial Fountain, an expanse of beautiful grounds perfect for strolling among falling leaves; and it is centrally located near three, world-class, Chicago CityPASS bargain destinations: The Field Museum of Natural History, Adler Planetarium and the Shedd Aquarium. It also offers Chicago’s prettiest lakefront views.
Make sure you do some window-shopping and people watching along the city’s famed Magnificent Mile, where some of the world’s best shopping, hotels and restaurants are located. Not only can you take care of all your family’s holiday shopping before they’ve even begun to think about it, you can enjoy high tea in a regal hotel parlor, enjoy a Millennium Park Concert, and you must – simply must – visit the unforgettable “Sue” at Field Museum. Sue is the largest, most complete, and best-preserved Tyrannosaurus Rex fossil — 13-feet high at the hips and 42-feet long from head to tail. It’s everything a five-year-old child’s nightmare is supposed to be.
The Sporting Life
If shopping doesn’t tickle your pickle, few events evoke a classic Chicago experience as cheering on the Cubbies or the White Sox. If you’re in town before October, you can get tickets to a Cubs game at Wrigley Field, or tickets to a White Sox game at U.S. Cellular Field.
Naturally, fall means football and few events rivet the fervent fan like a Bears game. Unfortunately, attending a Bears game at Soldier Field costs a lot more than I’m willing to shell out. Looking online, the ticket prices listed ranged between $110–$550, but the only seats I could find for the Lions game on Oct. 22 were $300 each … sitting on the third level! I didn’t pay anywhere near that when I saw the Stones play there.
Instead, you might want to get your Bear fix watching the game and enjoying a hearty meal at Mike Ditka’s Restaurant. It sports a great brunch, outstanding Bloody Mary’s, a big bar and a hearty lunch. While the dinner menu is on the pricier side – it’s definitely cheaper than sitting in the cold at Soldier Field.
Another popular place to enjoy the game is The Wild Goose Bar & Grill. With great wings and atmosphere, you might have to wait. Probably best to leave your Packers jersey at home too.
Louisiana has the Po’Boy, New York the Reuben and Philadelphia the cheese steak. Chicago steps up to the plate with Italian beef and deep-dish pizza.
Al’s Beef’s mainstay is its Italian beef, a roll stuffed with paper-thin-sliced, wet beef, that is slathered in sautéed pepper slices served dripping. They also offer Chicago hot dogs, hand-cut French fries, and Polish sausage. A real gastric carnival awaits.
Gino's East and Giordano’s vie for the crown for the nation’s best deep-dish pizza. Since I hate conflict, I favor trying both … repeatedly. If you want to bring back a gift that will be appreciated, be prepared to stand in line a while at the famous Garret Popcorn shop, which pops its cheesy, buttery and sweet popcorn varieties daily. Chances are, the tin won’t make it back in your luggage, and your bright orange fingertips will provide evidence of your best intentions.
Afternoon in paradise
My favorite Chicago destination is the Art Institute of Chicago, another Chicago CityPASS-featured ticket. The Institute is where I’ve gotten lost for an entire afternoon, squinting at Georges-Pierre Seurat’s vast dotted canvas, and reveling in being face-to-face with the stern-faced, American classic, American Gothic. Best make sure you go with a like-minded, artsy person lest you feel hurried. That happened to me in the Prado once: I’m enjoying a visual feast of El Greco and Picasso in one of the world’s greatest museums, when my Spanish friend kept asking me if I was about done yet after viewing every room.
As the nation’s second-largest art museum, the Art Institute of Chicago also is in a class all its own. If you haven’t been in some time, the Institute’s Modern Wing houses galleries for the museum’s renowned collection of modern European paintings and sculpture, as well as its collection of contemporary art, including film, video and new media. After a few hours, the Institute’s sets the table for a walk or a bite with an interior garden, an open-air sculpture terrace, a pedestrian bridge to Millennium Park, a mezzanine café, and the Terzo Piano fine-dining restaurant, featuring Italian cuisine “with a modern perspective.” (Note: The Art Institute of Chicago shares an option ticket with the Adler Planetarium. Visitors may choose to redeem this ticket for admission to either the Art Institute or the Adler.)
After all that strolling around indoors, you should get out and enjoy a water taxi ride. For just $7 for an all-day pass, the Chicago Water Taxi operates on a closed loop route on the Chicago River shuttling passengers between Chinatown and Madison Street on the south branch; La Salle Street and Michigan Avenue on the main branch. Operating seven days a week, it’s fast and just plain fun.
Many Chicago locals name the architecture cruise as one of the “musts” for visitors. On a Shoreline Sightseeing Cruise, you’ll learn about how Chicago’s monumental skyline rose from the Great Fire of 1871. You’ll enjoy landmark buildings by legendary architects, and, on most Wednesday and Saturday nights in the summer, if offers nighttime cruises to enjoy the Navy Pier’s famous fireworks displays.
Another special feature of Navy Pier is Pier Park, which has a copy of an original Ferris wheel built by engineer George Ferris for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition. At 150-feet high with 40 gondolas, it offers a great view at the top of city skyline. Navy Pier also has a 1920s-era carousel, museums, shops and restaurants.
See the best for less
There’s little doubt that you’ll want to go to most of the venues contained in a Chicago CityPASS ticket booklet, so it makes sense to arrive equipped with one. It costs just $84 for adults (a value of $167.50) and $69 for kids, ages 3-11 (a value of $149.50), which is 50 and 52 percent off regular adult and child admission prices. In addition to saving money, CityPASS travelers save time, skipping the main-entrance ticket lines at most attractions.