Gracefully separated from Lake Michigan by an unbroken string of parks, beaches, marinas and museums, Chicago is a textbook of 20th-century architecture and one of the country’s loveliest metropolises. Visitors discover a clean, cosmopolitan city with excellent shopping, unique restaurants and a thriving cultural scene. The talented labor pool wasn’t the only reason I chose to open the Andrew Harper Travel Office in Chicago. It’s simply one of my favorite cities in the world.
Conveniently, many top attractions cluster in the Loop, a skyscraper district around which all “L” train lines circle, and the adjacent River North neighborhood, home to the shopping of Michigan Avenue and Oak Street, as well as all of my recommended hotels. It would be possible to enjoy a rewarding vacation without ever leaving these areas. The neoclassical Field Museum of Natural History has an endlessly diverting collection, and the neighboring Shedd Aquarium ranks as the largest indoor aquarium in the world. Families flock to both, making it wise to purchase tickets in advance, especially on weekends. Nearby, the world-class Art Institute of Chicago contains an array of Impressionist masterpieces (including Seurat’s “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte”), plus iconic American works by the likes of Edward Hopper (“Nighthawks”) and Grant Wood (“American Gothic”). A Renzo Piano-designed wing that opened in 2009 added space for a collection of modern pieces, temporary exhibitions and a fine café. A pedestrian bridge arcs from the Art Institute to Millennium Park with its well-tended gardens, dramatic fountains, Anish Kapoor’s wildly popular “Cloud Gate” sculpture, and a Frank Gehry-designed bandshell. In the summer, it’s bliss to bring a picnic and to listen to a classical concert as the sun sets behind the magnificent skyline.
Despite all of these riches downtown, it would be a shame never to venture into the neighborhoods beyond. To the north, Lincoln Park contains the graceful Conservatory with exotic plants from around the world, as well as the Green City Market, Chicago’s best weekly farmers’ market. Farther on, in Lakeview, devoted baseball fans endure repeated disappointment at historic Wrigley Field, home to the beloved Cubs. And cozy Andersonville draws connoisseurs to its microbrewery, craft distillery and delightful storefront restaurants. To the west, the Loop gives way to a lively nightlife district along Randolph Street, and a little-known gallery district along Grand Avenue. Logan Square has emerged as an unlikely gourmet and craft cocktail destination. Continuing west, Oak Park contains notable Frank Lloyd Wright architecture, including his former home and studio. And to the south, the gentrifying neighborhoods of Pilsen and Bronzeville lead down to Hyde Park, dominated by the neo-Gothic architecture of The University of Chicago and the immense Beaux Arts Museum of Science and Industry. Fans of “The Devil in the White City,” Erik Larson’s dark best-seller about the 1893 World’s Fair, will no doubt want to stroll along the nearby Midway Plaisance.