May 25 2010 by BW Innsider
What better time to visit Chicago than during the sun-soaked days of summer? From the bustling beaches and citywide festivals to the cultural institutions and downtown Chicago real estate architecture, Chicago is a world-class destination that offers any newcomer or longtime frequenter a memorable vacation.
Chicago's downtown Loop is a great starting off point for the summer visitor. If traveling by train, it's where you'll arrive and both airport "L" routes land you there as well. This is the hub of the city and a wonderful home-base for all your daily excursions. But before leaving the Loop, there are a few sights to see in this wonderfully vibrant part of town.
Architecture abounds in Chicago and the most notable edifices are located right in the Loop. Catch the highlights on a relaxing boat tour run by the Chicago Architecture Foundation. Packed with historical facts and quirky anecdotes, this 90-minute cruise along the river is guided by docents who know more stories about the designing, construction and existence of Chicago's buildings than there's time to tell in an hour-and-a-half. In the summertime, it's a delight to sit atop the open-air vessel and enjoy unobstructed views of Chicago's spectacular skyline.
After you disembark, head over to Millennium Park (at the northwest corner of the Loop's lakefront park system) for some of the city's newest and most popular outdoor attractions. This 24.5-acre site is home to Chicago's iconic "Bean" sculpture (officially named Cloud Gate). The gigantic shiny orb is shaped like a kidney bean and reflects distorted images of the people and buildings that surround it--sort of like an enormous fun-house mirror. The Crown Fountain, a dual-tower 50-foot water fountain that displays faces of Chicago citizens on large LED screens, is a family favorite on sweltering days. Kids love to play in the shallow pool and dodge the fire-hose size spray that unsuspectingly shoots from the side towers. A futuristic-looking, state-of-the-art amphitheater hosts regular entertainment and special events; and the gardens are a quiet respite from all the excitement.
From Millennium Park, cross Monroe Street into Chicago's "front yard"--otherwise known as Grant Park. This 300+ acre plot of green is where most of Chicago's major summer events take place, including the Taste of Chicago, Lollapalooza, Chicago Blues Festival, Chicago Jazz Festival, and the Grant Park Music Festival. The Art Institute of Chicago is actually located on the grounds of Grant Park, as is Buckingham Fountain, which produces a spectacular water show every hour, on the hour (8am - 11pm) with special light and music accompaniment starting at dusk.
You can hop on Chicago's 18-mile lakefront trail practically anywhere along the shoreline. The paved path hugs the Lake Michigan coast and offers some of the most picturesque scenery for snapshots with your travel companions. Both pedestrians and cyclists are welcome, but motorized vehicles are strictly prohibited. Not having to dodge cars makes for a peaceful stroll any time of day or night. Once the sun drops behind the skyline, the city lights are absolutely breathtaking from the lakefront and the fireworks that erupt over the water every Wednesday at 9:30pm and Saturday at 10:15pm from Navy Pier are the pièce de résistance for a truly magical evening.
Navy Pier is just north of the Chicago Loop where the Chicago River meets Lake Michigan. It is the #1 tourist and leisure destination in the Midwest and the closest thing Chicago has to an amusement park. The pier is over 3,000 feet long and boasts a 15-story Ferris Wheel, carnival rides, several performance stages, two museums, restaurants, food stands, roaming musicians and magicians, an IMAX theater, and tons of other family-friendly attractions. More than 8 million people visit Navy Pier a year, so expect crowds no matter when you go.
Further up the shoreline is another hot spot for summer travelers and residents alike. North Avenue Beach is Chicago's largest, most popular beach and it is guaranteed to be teeming with sunbathers, swimmers, volleyball players, inline skaters, cyclists, runners, families and singles every weekend between Memorial Day and Labor Day. The area nearest the boathouse, which has public restrooms, rinsing showers, concessions, and a rooftop restaurant, is the most congested and where the wildest beach-goers station themselves. Armed with towels, beach blankets, coolers, umbrellas, lounge chairs, sunscreen and iPod players, people come prepared for a full day of partying and relaxation. The atmosphere is spirited and carefree, save for the lifeguards who are on duty until 7pm daily and keep things shipshape. Live bands play cover songs from the rooftop of the boathouse, which is also a good perch for a refreshing beverage and bite to eat from the menu.
Take the footbridge from North Avenue Beach over Lake Shore Drive into Lincoln Park. This 1200-acre recreation haven has green grass, shady trees, landscaped grounds, pristine ponds, historic statues and athletic sports fields. However, the tourist types are often more interested in hitting up the park's zoo, conservatory and museums. The great thing about the Lincoln Park Zoo and Conservatory is admission is free and kids love both. You can spend an afternoon making the rounds without spending a dime! The Chicago History Museum is on the south end of the park and the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum is on the north side. These do require entrance fees but the exhibits are fascinating and the air-conditioning is a welcome break from Chicago's summer heat.
It is easy to wear yourself out traipsing all over the city, trying to get in everything Chicago has to offer the summer traveler. So take a load off and indulge in one last highlight of the true Chicago experience--patio dining. It is a favorite pastime of locals and any restaurant that delivers on the outdoor seating is sure to be hopping. From side-street eateries to riverfront steakhouses, the options are limitless and cater to every taste and budget.
Content courtesy of www.dreamtown.com.