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A Chicago Visitor's Guide: The Basics

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A Chicago Visitor's Guide: The Basics

There's a ton of information for one looking to visit Chicago - probably more than I could hope to round up in one day. However, I thought I would offer this guide to some of the very basic information. These tidbits are written out in one draft and present some honest, spur-of-the-moment thoughts about some of the city's attractions.

Presented at random:

transitchicago.com - this is the website of the CTA (Chicago Transit Authority). Here you will find more information about how to get around the city and surrounding areas on CTA busses and trains. There are some good maps on this website, so it's good to familiarize yourself with the city and your transportation options. The CTA goes from O'Hare and Midway Airport into downtown, as well.

metrarail.com: This is the site for the Metra trains, which run from the city out to the surrounding suburbs in all different directions. These trains leave from both the Ogilvie Transit Center and Union Station, which are located right near one another on the West side of the loop. These trains resemble Amtrak trains, with dual-levels and bathrooms.

Amtrak.com: Amtrak trains arrive in Chicago at Union Station, and come from New York, New Orleans, DC, Seattle, Los Angeles and elsewhere.

http://www.wendellaboats.com/ - This is the website of the Wendella boat tours. These tours start from the bridge over the Chicago River on Michigan Ave. The entrance is at the NW corner of the bridge. There are two tours here - an architectural tour and a sightseeing tour. These are very nice, very relaxing tours that offer a smooth ride. The boats have a bathroom and limited concessions, which are nice. The architectural tour provides some great photography opportunities as you go around the city at water level.

CITY PASS (http://citypass.com/city/chicago.html): Visitors can get this pass for $49, which allows them admission to the Shedd, the Field Museum, the Adler Planetarium, the Art Institute, the Field Museum and the Hancock Observatory.

MUSEUM FREE DAYS - From the Chicago website (some of these *may* change). These "free days" may also not mean "full" admission, as, for example, the Adler offers free basic admission on free days, but the star shows are extra. The Art Institute is always free on Tuesdays, but you will have to check your baggage ($1) and prepare to face crowds, depending on the time of the year (I went there on a Tuesday over Christmas break and had to leave because I could barely move around)

MONDAYS

�� Adler Planetarium:

Jan. 10 -Mar. 1,

Sept. 12 - Dec. 20

�� Field Museum:

Jan. - Feb., Sept. 19 - Dec. 20

June 5-10 (Museum Week);

�� Shedd Aquarium:

Jan. 14 - 20 (Discount Week)

Jan. 24, 31, February 7, 14, 21, 28,

June 5-10 (Museum Week),

Sept. 12 , 19, 26

Oct. - Nov.,

Dec. 11 - 16 (Discount Week)

�� Museum of Science and Industry:

Mon. & Tues. Jan. 3 - Mar. 15; and

Sep 12 - Nov. 22,

June 5-10 (Museum Wk )

Nov. 24 (Thanksgiving)

�� Chicago Historical Society:

9:30 am - 4:30 pm

TUESDAYS

�� Adler Planetarium:

Jan. 10 -Mar. 1,

Sept. 12 - Dec. 20

�� Field Museum:

Jan. - Feb., Sept. 19 - Dec. 20

Sue's birthday, May 17,

June 5-10 (Museum Week)

�� Shedd Aquarium:

Jan. 14 - 20 (Discount Week)

Jan. 25, February 1, 8, 15, 22,

June 5-10 (Museum Week),

Sept. 13 , 20, 27

Oct. - Nov.,

Dec. 11 - 16 (Discount Week)

�� Museum of Science and Industry:

Mon. & Tues. Jan. 3 - Mar. 15; and

Sep 12 - Nov. 22,

June 5-10 (Museum Wk )

Nov. 24 (Thanksgiving)

�� The Art Institute of Chicago:

10:30 am - 4:30 pm

�� Museum of Contemporary Art:

5 pm - 8 pm

�� Swedish American Museum:

Second Tues. of the month; 10 am - 4 pm

�� International Museum of Surgical Science:

10 am - 4 pm

WEDNESDAYS

�� Clarke House Museum:

12 pm, 1 pm, 2 pm

�� Glessner House Museum:

12 pm, 1 pm, 2 pm

THURSDAYS

�� Chicago Children's Museum:

5 pm - 8 pm

�� The Notebaert Nature Museum:

Free General Admission 9 am - 4:30 pm

FRIDAYS

�� Spertus Museum:

1 pm - 3 pm

SUNDAYS

�� DuSable Museum of African American

History:

12 pm - 5 pm

FREE EVERYDAY

�� Chicago Architecture Center

�� Chicago Cultural Center

�� Chicago Public Library's Harold Washington

Center

�� City Gallery at the Historic Water Tower

�� David and Alfred Smart Museum of Art

�� Gallery 37 - 5th Floor Galleries

�� Jane Adams Hull-House Museum

�� Martin D'Arcy Museum of Art

�� Mexican Fine Arts Center Museum

�� Museum of Contemporary Photographs

�� Oriental Museum

�� Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows

MUSEUM: Shedd Aquarium (http://www.sheddaquarium.org/)- When I was little (not that long ago), the Shedd was a fairly mid-sized aquarium that was fun to browse around for a little while. Then, the Shedd opened up the Oceanarium, which offers dolphin shows and other creatures (otters, penguins) in a beautiful setting. Last year, the Shedd also opened up a Wild Reef section, where visitors can get even closer to some extremely beautiful sealife. The Shedd is fun, but it's also expensive - $23 for a full adult fare. Those who are planning to see the Shedd and a few of the other main museums should maybe consider the City Pass mentioned above.

MUSEUM: Art Institute (http://www.artic.edu/aic/) The Art Institute provides a glorious, remarkable amount of historic works of various forms of art, on display in the museum's beautiful, quiet and relaxing setting. As noted above, the museum is free throughout the year on Tuesdays, but be prepared to face crowds during Tuesdays on the busiest times of year (Summer/Christmas Break, for example)

Admission: Admission Fees

Adults: $12

Children, Students and Seniors (over 65): $7

Children five and under are free. Members are always free. Become a member now!

Tuesdays are free to all thanks to the generous support of Ford Motor Company. On other days, admission is suggested, visitors pay what they wish but must pay something. Some exhibitions require special tickets at fixed prices.

MUSEUM: Adler Planetarium (http://www.adlerplanetarium.org/). One of the three museums on the museum campus just South the city along the lake, the Adler provides some very interesting exhibits that take a look at our place in the solar system. The museum's main floors provide some interesting exhibits, but last time I went, I remember thinking it seemed just a *tad* sparse. The star show was enjoyable and interesting, though.

MUSEUM: Field Museum (History) (http://www.fieldmuseum.org/) The Field Museum provides a wealth of continuing exhibits, but they provide some near special exhibits, such as the current Jacqueline Kennedy exhibit and an exhibit I went to a few years ago that displayed the work of Julie Taymor, who directed "Frida", "Titus" and the stage edition of "Lion King". The Field has different price packages but, like the Shedd, it isn't cheap, so the City Pass is a good idea if you're going to visit this and a few of the other exhibits included in the pass.

MUSEUM: Museum of Science and Industry (http://www.msichicago.org/): This is a dazzling museum that provides all sorts of exhibits on a wide variety of topics. There's a lot of interactivity, a lot of eye-popping imagery and the museum as a whole is a great deal of fun. There is also an Omnimax theater in the museum. The problem? It's a far trip for those staying in the downtown area. Located on the South side, it's not convienient to anything and there isn't much in the way of public transit running to it. The best option is probably to take a cab there.

MUSEUM: Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum (http://www.chias.org/) There are always a couple of exhibits in this Lincoln Park museum, but the main exhibit of interest is the butterfly area - a lush, green enclosure where butterflies fly around and land on plants and food scattered about. It's quite peaceful and gorgeous, and worth a look for those coming to see Lincoln Park Zoo, as this museum is a block or so North, on Fullerton.

MUSEUM CAMPUS: This is the area just South of the loop area, along the lake, where the Adler, the Shedd and the Field are located. It's a bit of a walk, as one must cross Grant Park going East, then walk along the lake for the remainder of the trip. I usually walk along Congress (passing the Buckingham Fountain) going east from Congress and Michigan, then cross Lake Shore Drive at the light, then walk the rest of the way along the lakeshore. There are busses to the museum campus, as well. For those staying in the North Michigan Ave/River North area, one can take the "L" South on the Red Line (subway) to Harrison (no further South than that stop) and then walk the couple of blocks over to Michigan Ave. Walk a block North to Congress and Michigan, then head East from there to the lake. Walk the rest of the way South along the lake to the Museum Campus.

ATTRACTION: Navy Pier (http://www.navypier.com/). Navy Pier has its pros and cons. There are some very nice little restaurant areas within the pier, and it's great to be able to sit outside and eat and look over at the city. The Ferris Wheel provides a great look at the city, and the new mini golf course is basic, but fun. The IMAX movie theater, which includes a 10,000 watt sound system, provides a great presentation. There's a stained glass museum within the pier that seems entirely random (you're just walking down a hall and all the sudden you're in a stained glass museum), but it's quite beautiful. Finally, there's great views of the city, especially from towards the end of the pier.

On the other hand, the Pier can seem like a tourist trap in some ways. Things are all a bit pricey, and there are stands set up throughout the main part of the pier selling things that really have never seemed like me to be anything more than trinkets. The pier can also be jammed during the Summer months and during some weekend times.

ATTRACTION: Lincoln Park Zoo - one of the last free zoos in the country, this mid-sized zoo provides some terrific animal exhibits, and a few of the buildings are gorgeous old buildings that are architecturally pretty splendid. There are refreshments and gift shops in the Zoo, and a fairly large Farm section on the South side of the Zoo. Paddleboats are available to go around the lagoon. Right by the paddleboats and cafe are a couple of machines that dispense fish food. I always enjoy throwing a few handfuls in, as there are some HUGE fish in there (although I wouldn't eat them).

ATTRACTION: Sears Tower Skydeck. Despite living in Chicago all my life, I'd really never been up to the Skydeck until last year. A little miffed at the around $10 admission fee and the requirement to sit through a movie about Chicago before going up, I was surprised at how long I spent looking out over the surrounding area once I got up to the top. On a clear day (it was a little hazy when I went), you can see into other states. The skydeck would provide even better photographic opprtunities if they'd clean the windows - dirt smudges showed up in the photographs I took. Still, a very worthwhile attraction on a clear day.

DEEP DISCOUNT HOTEL SERVICES: Briefly, both Hotwire and Priceline are deep discount services. You buy a hotel in a certain "zone" (for example, a chicago zone is "North Michigan Ave" on both services. Hotwire also has "Magnificent Mile/Wacker Drive". With priceline, you bid on a certain star level hotel in an area and you (usually) are accepted or not. Sometimes it will allow you a re-bid or make you a room offer if you raise your price by a certain amount. Both services offer very good discounts (I'll probably never pay full price for a hotel room again, I just can't given what I've saved), but keep in mind that you can not cancel or change these reservations.

Hotwire gives you rooms at fixed prices, but also gives a listing of the amenities. Given the amenities and area, one can at least try to figure what hotels are being offered. This is not a perfect (and definitely not guaranteed) science, but there are some that are pretty apparent.

SAFETY: Don't make yourself out to be a tourist - appear to know where you're going. Although it's fine to have maps with you and ask people, don't spread out a map too obviously on the street. My best suggestion is to study maps and have a good plan as to what your schedule is - not only will you seem like less of a tourist, you'll also spend your time more efficently. If you stop somewhere, keep your bag with you, not on the ground or on the floor near you. Chicago's a pretty safe big city, but you still need to have common sense and keep an eye out for who's around you. There are areas that are not safe in different parts of the city, but mainly some areas on the West and South side of the city.

Any questions, comments? - dvdmovie1@aol.com

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1. Re: A Chicago Visitor's Guide: The Basics

Fantastic post with a lot of GREAT information!

Dvdmovie1 has covered basically everything you need to know for your visit to Chicago.

I hate to pinpoint one thing, but I was curious as to why you recommended the "Harrison" stop (and no further south than that) to get to the Museum Campus?

I always go 1 stop further to the Red Line "Roosevelt" stop. Of all the L stations in Chicago, this is probably my favorite. It has a brand new beautifully painted tunnel connecting the Orange and Green Lines. It's also right in the center of Roosevelt Square, with a quick walk west over the bridge to the 2-story Target store. And right across the street from the red line stop is the most upscale Jewel Osco in the city (very impressive, not like most Jewels) as well as Starbucks, 711, and Dunkin Donuts right there.

To get to Museum Campus from the Roosevelt stop, all you have to do is walk east on Roosevelt, over the bridge, and under the wide tunnels under Lake Shore Drive, and you're there (5 min walk). The nice thing about the Roosevelt station is the access to the free trolleys. All the trolleys are right there waiting on the curb of Roosevelt Rd to take you to the Museum Campus. Very convenient!

Swartz Creek
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2. Re: A Chicago Visitor's Guide: The Basics

Thank you for your effort to help visitors. I am going to print it out and stick it in my Chicago folder!!! Mark in Michigan

Illinois City...
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3. Re: A Chicago Visitor's Guide: The Basics

Will, you certainly could get off at Roosevelt, and that is a little further down. However, I like getting off at Harrison and walking past the Buckingham, then along the waterfront from there. Either way is good.

Illinois City...
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4. Re: A Chicago Visitor's Guide: The Basics

An additional detail:

Those looking for more information on the CTA "L" trains should head to chicago-l.org

This site offers a look at the current status and history of each "L" stop through pictures, sounds and a great deal of text. Those who are coming to Chicago should definitely check it out and certainly, those who are from Chicago and wanting to learn more should also give it a look.

houston, tx
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5. Re: A Chicago Visitor's Guide: The Basics

Great info, thanks!!!

Michigan
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6. Re: A Chicago Visitor's Guide: The Basics

HI dvdmovie1,

We have a room booked at THe Palmer House Hilton for next weekend. We have a rate of $129. However, after reading all of your advice on using priceline and hotwire I am thinking of canceling it and going that route. What do you think?

Illinois City...
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7. Re: A Chicago Visitor's Guide: The Basics

lcpalmer -

I enjoy using hotwire and priceline and would be happy to discuss the possibilities of it if you contact me via email. There might not be any deals, but if you email me your dates, I can look to see what's happening on Hotwire.

dvdmovie1@aol.com

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8. Re: A Chicago Visitor's Guide: The Basics

lcpalmer - the Palmer is not a bad hotel at all, however, and if you're coming to see plays/theater museums, it's in an optimal location.

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9. Re: A Chicago Visitor's Guide: The Basics

We are going to a play on the first night and hope to do the museums on day 2. Hopefully day 1 will consist of shopping! We are coming on the 11th of this month. What do you think? Stay with The Palmer House?

Illinois City...
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10. Re: A Chicago Visitor's Guide: The Basics

lcpalmer - with what your plans are, I would stay w/the Palmer. Nice hotel, good location for what you're doing.