Home to thriving music, sports, and theatre scenes, Chicago is an ever-popular travel destination. With a dizzying array of attractions, trying to see the city on a budget often seems like a daunting task. But with the help of a CTA Day Pass-unlimited rides on all public transit for just $6.00 at any Currency Exchange-it’s easy to see the city without breaking the bank.
Start out at the Museum Campus at the south edge of downtown (an area the locals refer to as “The Loop” for its circular elevated train tracks). A 10-minute walk from the Roosevelt Red Line subway stop, the Museum Campus is home to the Field Museum Natural History, the Adler Planetarium, and the Shedd Aquarium. The campus is pedestrian-friendly and offers spectacular views of the Chicago skyline and Burnham harbor. The museums all have free and discounted admissions days, so check their websites ahead of time to get the best deal.
Afterwards, head down to the harbor to the Shedd and catch a water taxi to Navy Pier. The boats run through the summer and fall, and its well worth the $7.00 ride for the stunning views and the time it saves.
Lined with restaurants, shops, and kiosks, Navy Pier is also home to magicians, musicians, jugglers, and many other performers. Admittance to Navy Pier is free (though they do charge for attractions like the Children’s Museum and the Ferris wheel), but it’s easy to have a lot of fun without spending a penny.
From Navy Pier, catch the #66 bus to Michigan Avenue. South along this street is some of Chicago’s finest architecture-the street is lined with landmarks like the Wrigley Building and the Tribune Tower. Enjoy the scenery on foot or bus, and keep heading south to Millennium Park.
Home to Crown Fountain and the monumental “Cloud Gate” sculpture, Millennium Park is the crown jewel of the Loop. “Cloud Gate” (known as “The Bean” to locals) overlooks the Park plaza-home to the Park Grill restaurant in the summer and an outdoor ice skating rink in the winter. A great place to sit and recharge in the heart of the city, Millennium Park is located right next to the Art Institute of Chicago, one of the world’s premier art museums. Often offering free evening admission, the Art Institute is a must-see for any art lover.
After relaxing in Millennium Park and taking in the collection at the Art Institute, hop a bus north along Michigan to Chicago’s famous “Magnificent Mile”. Named for its fabulous shopping, the Mag Mile is lined with high-end boutique and national chains alike. The window shopping here is rivaled only by the people watching-musicians, artists, and mimes ply their trades along the street next to flower boxes and art installations. Be sure to check out the historic Water Tower, one of the only buildings to survive the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.
Just north of Water Tower Place is the Hancock Building, one of the landmarks of the Chicago skyline. An elevator ride to the observation deck on the 94th floor runs about $11.00, but those of legal drinking age catch the view in style at the Signature Room Lounge on the 96th floor. The 360-degree view is unbeatable and the sunset is more than worth the slightly pricey drinks.
For a little fun after the sun sets and a taste of life outside of the Loop, hop a northbound Red Line train to the Addison stop in Wrigleyville. This baseball Mecca is always hopping, but for a true Chicago experience, skip the sports bars and head for iO (formerly the Improv Olympic). The home of Chicago’s nationally renowned improv scene, iO features a full bar and some great comedy. Wednesday nights feature “T.J. & Dave,” an hour of long-form improv by two of the best in the business. Tickets are only $5.00, but they go quickly, so call early in the day to reserve them. Then sit back, relax, and laugh the rest of the night away.
What & Where:
Adler Planetarium (1300 S. Lake Shore Drive; 312-922-STAR)
Field Museum of Natural History (1400 S. Lake Shore Drive; 312-922-9410)
Shedd Aquarium (1200 S. Lake Shore Drive; 312-939-2438)
Navy Pier (600 E. Grand Avenue; 800-595-PIER)
Millennium Park (201 E. Randolph Street)
The Art Institute of Chicago (111 S. Michigan Avenue; 312-443-3600)
The Signature Lounge (875 N. Michigan Avenue; 312-787-9596)
iO (3541 N. Clark Street; 773-880-0199
Beth Grimaldi is a freelance writer and jack-of-all trades who lives on the north side of Chicago.