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Visiting Chicago – Places to Visit

Komodo Dragon, Visiting Chicago

It’s amazing how things work when you live in a city. You forget, upon walking past something amazing day after day after day, what it is that brings people from other places to visit the place where you live every day. It’s only when people from out of town come to visit and then suddenly you can find yourself scrambling to show them what is so cool about your city.

I had that happen to me recently. I live in Chicago. Now, Chicago has a lot of truly amazing and great places to visit and show people. However, when you live here you don’t usually sit here and think about visiting most of them. Heck, if you’re like me, you hardly set foot downtown unless it’s related to business and you forget where things are and how to get there.

However, with my friends in town I had to take some time off from work and spend a couple of days being a tour guide. In a way it was good because it helped me remember why I love this city so much. Now, the places I am going to talk about and tell you about are the standard touristy things. I know that. However, there is a reason things become popular and touristy. They become that way because they are cool and people talk about them and then the word spreads beyond the border of the city and state and, before too long, you have a guy in Saskatchewan saying that maybe he’d like to go to Chicago and visit that thing he heard someone talking about. Just because something is popular with tourists doesn’t mean it still isn’t cool.

1. Millennium Park – this park is all of two years old. For a long time it seemed like it was just going to suck away money from tax payers and amount to nothing. Our mayor seemed like he might get himself into trouble with this planned park that seemed to never get built. Then it opened and everything changed. This park is very cool. It’s a great place to go and just hang out. If I lived and worked downtown I would eat my lunch in this park. The piece of art known as “The Bean” is cool enough by itself. Then, just behind you there, you can find the Gehry designed theater where they hold free concerts during the summer. Gehry also designed the walkway over the Lake Shore Drive. Finally there are the fountains and monoliths with the faces on it. During the summer these things shower water down on the tiles and create a kind of reflecting pool and during the winter the monoliths just show these giant faces of real people. You have to see this to be believed. You can also sit on a bench, talk, enjoy a meal and look at the most spectacular skyline anywhere.

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2. The John Hancock Observatory – Chicago has two observatories. One is in the Sears Tower which is still the tallest building in the United States and was once the tallest building in the world. You are up pretty high and all but, for my money, the John Hancock building at the north end of the downtown area has the better view. You should go at night and just see the lights. They have now added an outdoor viewing deck that is open during the summer. There is a restaurant one floor above the observatory called “The Signature Room” and there is a bar called “The Signature Lounge” right there as well. The building is very cool and the entire exhibit and observation deck is just cool. I am telling you, the situation of this building, right over Michigan Avenue, provides views much more spectacular than the Sears Tower.

3. The Field Museum – This is the museum of natural history. This is the place to go when you want to see hundred of animals that have been stuffed and put on display. Right now they are running a very nice exhibit about King Tut. The King himself is not there but a lot of his family is. The exhibit itself is very well-made and displayed. They have another Egypt exhibit with mummies and all kinds of mummified animals. They have Sue the largest and most-complete T. Rex skeleton in the world. They have the Tsavo lions who were made into a movie called “The Ghost and the Darkness” and they are right on display there for you to see. This was a museum I dreaded to see as a kid but have grown to appreciate more as an adult.

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4. The John G. Shedd Aquarium – Right across from the Field is the Shedd Aquarium and a better one you are not likely to find. There may be some that have some more spectacular exhibits but this one has a view of the lake that is second-to-none. In fact, before you go in take a walk down the finger of land that extends out in the lake and, at the end of it, is the Adler Planetarium. Just look back at the city. This is the best view of the entire skyline bar-none. You could only get one better by being on a boat in the lake itself. If you go at night the lights will dazzle you. Meanwhile the aquarium itself has a very cool Komodo Dragon exhibit running right now. Even if you don’t get to see that just stick around to see the Beluga whales and the dolphin show.

5. The Museum of Science and Industry – this museum is located well south of downtown but it is worth the cab fare or the drive. This is a museum that you should plan to spend an entire day at. It is set far enough away from downtown that they have even put in some great food for you to eat while you are there. These are exhibits that you interact with. You can experience what it was like to god down a mineshaft and work in a coal mine. You can use a flight simulator. You can see a human head dissected and sliced for you to look at. You can reach out and touch things. During the Christmas season you can see Christmas trees from around the world. At other times the biggest damn electric train set in the world is right in the middle of the thing. You can also walk through a real World War Two German submarine here.

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6. The Art Institute of Chicago – One of the finest collections of art you are ever likely to see. When you want to see where Sloan and Ferris kissed in front of that blue stained glass in “Ferris Bueller” this is the place. You can see the painting Cameron looks at that is all dots when you look at it closely and then it becomes a solid thing when you pull back.

7. The Museum of Contemporary Art – This is a brand new museum. It is back by the John Hanncock building. This is modern art whereas the Art Institute has more of the classical art. I am a bit of an art lover so I love just about any art museum. I am just glad that this city now has at least two great art museums and, since this one is new, I think everyone should support it.

We have some of the best restaurants in the world, too, but that is a topic for another time. This is a great city and we don’t mind you coming to visit. If you bump into me, maybe I’ll even tell you some of the better stories about this town.