Chicago: City in a Garden on the Lake
Published: Saturday, May 28, 2011 7:00 am
Set a course 41° north and 87° west for Chicago, a top destination for world travelers and one of the best places to visit by boat. The iconic skyline of architectural marvels that greets visiting Lake Michigan boaters is merely the first of many unforgettable Chicago sights and experiences.
Nine harbors and beaches punctuate 26 miles of lakefront parks perfect for biking, swimming, boating, skating, jogging, walking, picnicking, flying a kite and fishing. These unique features provide a one-of-a-kind boating experience complete with the latest in floating docks, moorings, star docks, fuel facilities and other amenities, with new slips and restrooms opening this season. Look for a new 31st Street harbor in 2012.
Chicago's innovative 18.5-mile Lakefront Trail with paths leading directly into the city's famous multicultural neighborhoods has made Chicago both a noted walking and biking city. The Lakefront Trail is complemented by over 175 miles of additional bike lanes and 12,000-plus bike racks. A network of accessible and bike-friendly buses and trains provide easy, economical and quick travel between neighborhoods for continued exploration on foot or by bike. With so many attractions in close proximity with one another, both downtown and beyond, walking or biking are great ways to enjoy Chicago up close.
Bike rental and free bike parking are available at the McDonald's Cycle Center in Millennium Park. Bike tours are also available here and through other operators, including Bobby's Bike Hike and the free Chicago Greeter Service, which accommodates up to four and begins Memorial Day weekend.
Chicago Greeter highlights many more citywide excursions on foot and public transit for up to six, demonstrating the city's walk ability and user-friendly transit. City-knowledgeable locals take visitors on a free two to four hour-long, insider showcase of Chicago's sights. Visitors are matched with greeters through an online pre-registration system, www.ChicagoGreeter.com, 7 to 10 business days in advance.
Chicago's 77 distinct neighborhoods offer at least as many different experiences through an assortment of attractions, sights, tastes, sounds, languages and cultures. Find an overview on each neighborhood at www.ExploreChicago.org and interactive, printable Google maps with highlighted points of interest. A free e-book, Eat, Play, Love Our Neighborhoods, makes it easy to enjoy this "City of Neighborhoods" like an insider. Or, try Chicago Neighborhood Tours' half-day bus tours guided by local experts. Reservations at www.ChicagoNeighborhoodTours.com are recommended.
Prefer to stay closer to the city's front door? The long list of unique lake front attractions guaranteed to surprise and delight include the following:
- The popular, award-winning, 24.5-acre, Millennium Park created by world-acclaimed artists such as Frank Gehry, Anish Kapoor, Jaume Plensa, Piet Oudolf and Renzo Piano. Among this summer's hundreds of free performances, events and exhibits are four large-scale, colorful sculptures by acclaimed Mexican artist Yvonne Domenge, and starting June 9, Family Fun Festival's hands-on activities, music and special performances.
- Night skies are a glow with color at Grant Park's Buckingham Fountain light show accompanied by music (every hour on the hour for 20 minutes, last show at 10 pm) and starting May 28, fireworks with music at Navy Pier (Wednesdays 9:30 pm, Saturdays 10:15 pm), Chicago's most visited attraction.
- Tuesdays' free noontime Chicago Blues Festival Preview performances in May at the Chicago Cultural Center lead up to the Chicago Blues Festival on June 10 through 12 in Grant Park. Admission is free and 12-ticket food-beverage strips will be $8.
- Opening June 24, Taste of Chicago, the premier 10-day outdoor food fest celebrating Chicago's diverse and multicultural dining scene also presents family entertainment and live Latin, gospel, country and Celtic music. Admission is free, and food tickets can be purchased.
- Nature areas for strolling, birding and butterfly watching plus nearby museums and attractions include Lincoln Park North Pond behind Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum; Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool north of Lincoln Park Zoo; and Jackson Park Bobolink Meadow, Wooded Island and Osaka Garden, all behind the Museum of Science and Industry.
- Chicago Riverwalk at Wacker Drive extends from Lake Shore Drive to Franklin Street, along Chicago's second shoreline—the Chicago River. Expect incredible views of the Loop's skyscrapers, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Plaza, dining, architectural cruises, water taxi's and the McCormick Bridgehouse & Chicago River Museum whose season begins May 15.
- Museum Campus at Roosevelt Road and the lake is home to the recently renovated Shedd Aquarium and Abbott Oceanarium, Adler Planetarium & Astronomy Museum and The Field Museum. Nearby are 12th Street Beach, Northerly Island (with some of the best fishing in Chicago and the Charter One Pavilion for concerts) and Soldier Field where stadium tours run on select dates.
- Vertical mall Block 37 is State Street's newest offering. The Magnificent Mile, from the Chicago River to Oak Street, offers top-of-the-line designer goods from around the world. Neighborhood specialty shops carry the work of independent and Chicago fashion designers, while River North features original artworks, stylish furniture and other appointments for the home. For the inside track on Chicago designers, visit www.ChicagoFashionResource.com.
Chicago has two Michelin Three-Star, two Forbes Five-Star and more AAA Five-Diamond restaurants than any other city in the world, and thousands of restaurants serving up delicacies for every taste, budget and mood. Whatever your tastes, Chicago's Culinary Concierge at the Chicago Cultural Center Visitor Information Center has the scoop on the local food scene, from events, cooking classes and culinary-school dining rooms to food-music venues, restaurants and tours.
The Visitor Information Centers are a must for free brochures, maps and assistance with planning a memorable itinerary or just navigating the city. They're located in the Chicago Cultural Center, 77 E. Randolph Street, and at the historic Water Works pumping station, 163 E. Pearson Street at Michigan Avenue.
Receive answers to your Chicago questions on the go, and tips on the latest citywide events and activities, via the FREE Twitter Concierge Service (@explorechicago) available during Visitor Center hours. For Visitor Centerhours, trip-planning assistance, comprehensive event information and hotel accommodations, visit www.ExploreChicago.org.
For a list of Chicago yacht clubs, visit www.ChicagoYachtingAssociation.org.
The Chicago Office of Tourism and Culture is dedicated to promoting Chicago as a premier cultural destination to domestic and international leisure travelers, providing innovative visitor programs and services, and presenting freeworld-class public programs. For more information please visit www.ExploreChicago.org.
**All photos are courtesy of the Chicago Park District**