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Chicago's Best: What to see and do in Chicago

The Best of Chicago includes seeing incredible sights like Buckingham Fountain in Grant Park alongside Lake Shore Drive and Lake Michigan.
The Best of Chicago includes seeing incredible sights like Buckingham Fountain in Grant Park alongside Lake Shore Drive and Lake Michigan.
Photo by Scott Paulson

There are many reasons a person may visit Chicago, including one’s leisure time, a vacation destination and one’s need to conduct business. During that visit to Chicago, there are many things to see and do. Here are some of the highlights of the city which may guide one to best spend his or her time in the Windy City.

First and foremost, Chicago has entertainment in many forms. Chicago is a great destination for finding musical entertainment in the form of concerts and club performances, live theater, and other forms of live entertainment. Nightlife includes clubs and bars to pass the night away as Chicago – unlike most other cities throughout the world - stays open very, very late. Sports fanatics have their pick, if they time it right. With Chicago’s Cubs, White Sox, Bulls, Bears, Blackhawks, Fire, and more – including university sports teams – there is likely to be something sports-wise going on when one is in town.

Culturally, Chicago offers the Art Institute, Museum of Science and Industry, Field Museum, the Broadcast Museum, and so many more offerings. The skyscrapers and incredible buildings throughout the city – primarily in the downtown area – have open sky decks to view the city from up high. The entire eastern edge of the city is bordered by Lake Michigan which gives fantastic views of the waters, the boats, and – depending on where one is along the coastline – the city’s skyline. Visiting some of the countries’ finest educational facilities is a possibility as well, with UIC, Northwestern, and DePaul all within a reasonable distance of the downtown area. A visitor can take a walk down one of the world’s most famous financial districts right in Chicago’s loop by venturing down LaSalle Street past the banks and a visit to the Board of Trade.

Naturally, Chicago hopes you’ll spend some time shopping and dining while in the city. The top shopping area in the city is the famed Magnificent Mile – Michigan Avenue. From the well-known stores to the local shops, one finds Michigan Avenue to be a haven for the born-shopper. There is Navy Pier located not far off the Magnificent Mile for more shopping and entertainment experiences. Restaurants throughout the city, many known throughout the world, are available to Chicago visitors. Of course, there is a wide selection of restaurants to experience authentic Chicago-style deep pan pizza which is a favorite among locals as well as visitors. Chicago also has some of the world’s finest hotels waiting for those who will be spending extended time in the city.

Chicago has unlimited touring opportunities. Tours and travels can be taken by bus, horse and buggy, a networked bicycle system, the CTA – including the famous “L” trains (elevated trains), taxis seen just about everywhere, and more. Heading in any direction from the downtown (loop) area, there are neighborhoods throughout the city. Many of the neighborhoods have their own culture. Venturing out of the downtown area, one can see Chinatown to the south, the Hispanic area in Little Village with Chicago’s second-busiest shopping district along 26th Street on the southwest side, the Polish neighborhood to the city’s northwest area, the Asian communities to the north, the Hyde Park neighborhood to the south near President Barack Obama’s Chicago home in Kenwood, and more. Every community has its wide assortment of churches and religious facilities available for viewing and visiting.

Those who prefer to stay outdoors during their visit have many choices besides walking from store to store in the shopping districts across the city. Chicago has several public beaches along Lake Michigan for summer visitors. The city is also well-known for its public parks including Grant Park at loop/downtown level where there are many public offerings including the Taste of Chicago as well as concerts and fests that occur throughout the spring, summer and fall. A tourists’ and locals’ favorite is a stop at Buckingham Fountain which engages its brilliant display from spring through fall. To the north along the lake, there is Lincoln Park Zoo located in the well-known and vast Lincoln Park area of the city.

Of course, if one visits the city during one of Chicago’s many celebrated holidays, there is probably a parade to be viewed – where you just might see some of Chicago’s and Illinois’ most famous as well as infamous politicians. Anytime, one can see where Chicago’s and Illinois’ often-infamous politics takes place at City Hall and the James Thompson Center in the loop. City, state, and Cook County forms of business are all conducted in the center of the city.

Of course, if you are new to Chicago, there may be some unpleasant surprises in store, as well. For that reason, the article “Bad Chicago” has been published as well. Knowing what to avoid or watch out for can make one’s trip to Chicago a much more pleasurable experience. Please take time to view “Bad Chicago” to have a safe and hopefully less-costly time in Chicago.

This is a developing project. Check back for more of "The Best of Chicago" soon.

1. Buckingham Fountain and other city treasures
1. Buckingham Fountain and other city treasures Scott Paulson

1. Buckingham Fountain and other city treasures

The Best of Chicago is Buckingham Fountain and other sites found throughout the city. Buckingham Fountain is likely the most famous and most-often visited of the Chicago landmarks due to its enchantment and location.

Buckingham Fountain is considered the front door of Chicago. It is located in the heart of the city in Grant Park - just east of the loop or downtown portion of Chicago. It is right next to the well-known thoroughfare of Lake Shore Drive which runs north and south along the east side of the city. It is also located right next to Lake Michigan which is another tremendous sight to see.

The fountain was dedicated in 1927 and is known as one of the largest fountains in the entire world. It was built in a rococo wedding cake style and inspired by the Latona Fountain at the Palace of Versailles, and it is designed to represent Lake Michigan.

The fountain operates from spring until fall with its regular water shows and evening colored-light shows. During winter months, the fountain is decorated with festival lights.

2. Willis Tower and Chicago skyscrapers
2. Willis Tower and Chicago skyscrapers Scott Paulson

2. Willis Tower and Chicago skyscrapers

Willis Tower is the tallest skyscraper in Chicago where visitors may see the city from an observation deck near the top of the structure. The building's street address is 233 South Wacker Drive and it is located on the west side of Chicago's loop or downtown area. It was formerly named Sears Tower.

The building is a 108-story that is 1,451 feet tall. When it was completed in 1973, it was the tallest building in the entire world. It earned the title by surpassing the World Trade Center in New York City, New York. Willis Tower held that title for some 25 years, it is now the second-tallest building the United States and now the eighth tallest freestanding structure in the world.

The building is visited by more than 1 million people every year, often visiting the observation deck which is one of Chicago's most-visited landmarks.

The name changed from Sears Tower to Willis Tower in 2009 when the Willis Group obtained the right to rename the structure. It was a part of the lease deal reached when Willis offices moved in. The building was officially renamed on July 16, 2009. Many locals have refused to refer to the skyscraper as anything but Sears Tower and always will.

3. Lake Shore Drive and Lake Michigan
3. Lake Shore Drive and Lake Michigan Scott Paulson

3. Lake Shore Drive and Lake Michigan

Lake Michigan with its north-south thoroughfare of Lake Shore Drive are unique to Chicago and are two of Chicago's most popular attactions for visitors to see and utilyze while in the city.

Lake Michigan is one of the five Great Lakes in North America. It is the only one of the Great Lakes totally located in the United States as none of it's coastlines are outside of the country. Lake Michigan is the second largest of the Great Lakes by volume and the third largest by surface area. Chicago is located on the west side of the lake.

Its name, Michigan, is likely from the Ojibwa word mishigami which means great water. In Chicago, the lake lives up to its name as it is enjoyed for boating, swimming, and - most of all - simply being viewed by those passing by on Lake Shore Drive and those who visit the lakefront beaches.

Lake Shore Drive - also referred to as LSD, The Drive, and locally as the Outer Drive - is, for the most part, a freeway expressway that runs parallel with and alongside the Lake Michigan shoreline in Chicago. It is designated as part of United States Highway 41 for much of its length.

The famed downtown portion of Lake Shore Drive was originally opened as Leif Ericson Drive in 1937. It was renamed Lake Shore Drive in 1946.

4. Chicago Sports
4. Chicago Sports Scott Paulson

4. Chicago Sports

Chicago is famous for its many sports teams. There are professional sports teams as well as university and college teams that have made their mark in the sports world through the years.

Currently, the professional teams include most every American sport. Chicago has two professional baseball teams. The Chicago Cubs play at Wrigley Field on the north side of the city where Addison and Clark Streets meet, and the Chicago White Sox home field is at Cellular Field on the south side of the city along 35th Street near the I-94 expressway.

In football, Chicago has the Chicago Bears who play at Soldier Field - a Chicago landmark located along Lake Shore Drive and Lake Michigan just to the south of the loop and downtown area.

In basketball, Chicago has the Chicago Bulls. The Bulls play at the United Center on Madison on the near west side of the city.

In soccer, Chicago is noted for the Chicago Fire which plays at Toyota Park in south suburban Bedford Park.

To say that many Chicagoans are sports fanatics is putting it very mildly. Chicagoans love their teams and are adamant about being the victors in every game.

5. Magnificent Mile
5. Magnificent Mile Scott Paulson

5. Magnificent Mile

The Magnificent Mile, often referred to as The Mag Mile, is a prestigious business district in Chicago. It is located along Michigan Avenue, running from Oak Street on the Near North Side of the city on the north to the Chicago River on the south end. It is located adjacent to the loop (downtown).

This part of Chicago with the trendy and often-pricey and high-end stores was given its name by real estate developer Arthur Rubloff of the Rubloff Company decades ago in the 1940s. This is the largest shopping district in the entire city of Chicago and has been so for many, many years.

Overall, the shops and stores which encompass this portion of Michigan Avenue occupy about 3,100,000 square feet along with the restaurants, hotels, and museums that are also along this famous stretch of roadway.

The Magnificent Mile has several of the Chicago landmark structures such as the John Hancock Center, the Chicago Tribune Tower, Chicago Water Tower, the Wrigley Building, as well as Chicago's Trump International Hotel and Tower.

6. Chicago Music
6. Chicago Music Scott Paulson

6. Chicago Music

Chicago is known for its music and has been throughout the ages.

Currently, Chicago is noted for housing such great artists as Buddy Guy of the jazz world who has a jazz club just south of the Chicago loop or downtown area. His Legends business is just one of many music venues throughout the city.

Other Chicago artists who still make their mark in the entertainment field include Kanye West, R. Kelly, and Jennifer Hudson.

Through the ages, Chicago has been proud to be the home location of an incredible number of musical artists including Sam Cooke, the Smashing Pumpkins, Muddy Waters, Wilco, the Buckinghams, Styx, Bo Diddley, Curtis Mayfield, Lupe Fiasco, Liz Phair, Frankie Knuckles, Common, Fall Out Boy, Earth Wind & Fire, Kill Hannah, John Prine, Steve Goodman, tje Cryan' Shames, Survivor, the Ides of March, Twista, the Chi-Lites, Koko Taylor, Richard Marx, Da Brat, and - of course - the city's namesake rock band Chicago.

And don't forget the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. It is also famous throughout the world.

7. Chicago Restaurants
7. Chicago Restaurants Scott Paulson

7. Chicago Restaurants

Chicago is famous for its restaurants and other food outlets. Whether one is looking for fine dining, casual dining, ethnic dining, or just something on the run at a food truck or hot dog stand, Chicago restauranteurs are found practically everywhere throughout the city.

In fact, a popular Chicago restaurant - Avicii - was named the world's best restaurant in 2014.

Pizzerias are found throughout the city as Chicago is known for its pizza. Chicago deep dish pizza, in particular, is not only a favorite with the locals but with tourists as well.

Among the best pizzerias in Chicago, there is Lou Malnati on Wells Street near Illinois Street as well as being located in outlying areas.

Though ethnic dining is throughout the city, the best bet is to go to the known-locations for ethniciticies and dining. For example, there is Chinatown on the South Side along Cermak Road near the I-94 expressway for Chinese cuisine. For Greek cuisine, Greektown is located just west of the loop or downtown area on Halsted Street.

Asian fare is prominent on the North Side where the Asian community mostly cohabitates.

The best of the new restaurants jave beem listed to be Dusek's in the Pilen neighborhood, Nico Osteria in River North, Tanta in River North, 42 Grams in Uptown, Brindille in River North, Cicchetti in Streeterville, Kinmont in River North, Mott St. in Wicker Park, The Winchester in Ukrainian Village, Travelle in River North, The Radler in Logan Square, Chop Shop in Wicker Park, Baffo in River North, A10 in Hyde Park, Stella Barra Pizzeria in Lincoln Park, Gogi in West Rogers Park, and Beatrix in River North.

8. Theater in Chicago
8. Theater in Chicago Scott Paulson

8. Theater in Chicago

Chicago theater is big business in the city. Besides plays, theaters host music concerts of some of the most popular singers as well as top spoken word entertainment by comedians and others.

Chicago theater refers to the arts performed onstage in Chicago. It has been a movement in Chicago for many, many years. The movement has seen many small, scarcely-funded theater companies become full-blown institutions of national - and even international - significance.

Chicago is not only known for tours of New York productions ending up in its theaters, but it is also known for many plays originating in the city.

There have been many noteworthy theaters in Chicago through the ages. As early as 1890, there was a theater program under Laura Dainty Pelham which performed the Chicago premiers of some new plays for the times. Galsworthy, Ibsen, and George Bernard Shaw were performed at Hull House which is a social settlement house in Chicago. Also, the Little Theater in Chicago founded by Maurice Browne was influential in the history of Chicago theater.

Following were such significant theater venues such as The Second City, Steppenwolf Theater Company and The Goodman Theater. The Second City, which was founded in 1959 by Paul Sills and Bernie Sahlins was the nation's first improvisational theater. Sills went on to opened The Body Politic Theater in 1968.

To this day, theaters in Chicago continue to grow and entertain the locals as well as those who visit the city.

9. The Arts: Museums and Cultural Centers
9. The Arts: Museums and Cultural Centers Scott Paulson

9. The Arts: Museums and Cultural Centers

Chicago has many cultural institutions and museums for persons interested in history, a wide variety of cultures, and the arts. There are large and small destinations for persons looking for such places.

The major cultural institutions across the city include the Art Institute of Chicago, the Field Museum, the Museum of Science and Industry, Shedd Aquarium, Adler Planetarium, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's Orchestra Hall, the Lyric Opera of Chicago, the Chicago Cultural Center, the Harold Washington Library, Lincoln Park's Lincoln Park Zoo, Lincoln Park Conservatory, the Chicago History Museum, the Oriental Institute, DuSable Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Garfield Park Conservatory, the National Museum of Mexican Art, and the Chicago Architecture Foundation.

Theatrically speaking, Chicago is known for the Goodman Theater, Joffrey Ballet, Steppenwolf Theater, Second City, and the Chicago Shakespeare Theater.

Additionally, Chicago has some cultural institutions within a short distance of the city-proper such as Brookfield Zoo in west suburban Brookfield, amd the Chicago Botanic Gardens in north suburban Glencoe, and Morton Arboretum in west suburban Lisle.

10. Religious Institutions
10. Religious Institutions Scott Paulson

10. Religious Institutions

Chicago is very well known for its many historic and beautiful churches and other religious buildings.

Within Chicago's city limits, there are reportedly over 350 Catholic churches. The most famous of the churches in the Windy City is undoubtedly Holy Name Cathedral located on the city's near North Side on State Street near Chicago Avenue. The church is said to have some 4,500 households represented. Holy Name Cathedral is Chicago's only Cathedral and is the Church of its bishop - Francis Cardinal George.

Due to the popularity and importance of the church, literally thousands of visitors come from all over the world every week to visit the church.

Naturally, there are many other religions observed in Chicago. Compared to 48.78 percent of persons considering themselves quite religious in the United States, Chicago reports having 59.62 percent of its residents referring to themselves as being very religious. While the largest percentage - 38.51 percent of those persons - is Catholic, other religions include Methodist, Baptist, Episcopalian, Pentecostal, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Jewish, Eastern, and Islam.

There are churches located thoughout the city representing every one of the faiths.