You might visit Chicago for the museum campus, with art, sea life and T-Rex bones among the attractions. You might visit to catch a concert in the Frank Gehry-designed pavilion at Millennium Park. You might visit to see three states at once from the Willis Tower or John Hancock building. Or you might visit for the culinary whiplash of Michelin-starred restaurants like Alinea, and hot dog stands where the only stars are relish and poppy seed buns. You’ll stay for all of those reasons and more.
1. It’s easy to get in and get around
Chicago rose to prominence in the 1800s as a transit hub with crisscrossing rail lines and access to the Great Lakes. Now, it boasts two large airports with direct flights to and from just about anywhere, public transportation, trolley tours, Divvy bikes, ride share services, cabs and more. It even has a water taxi on the Chicago River. Whether zipping around for a weekend or commuting on a Tuesday, there’s an option for you.
2. There’s a big body of water
Sure, it’s not an ocean, but if it has waves and you can’t see across it, what’s the difference, really? That’s not a rhetorical question. The difference is that Chicago doesn’t get hurricanes, and swimmers won’t get eaten by a shark or stung by a jellyfish. Instead, there’s miles of great beaches, epic sunrises, boating and more to enjoy.
3. There’s a smaller body of water
The Chicago River might be most famous for being dyed green each St. Patrick’s Day or for having its course reversed so that it flows into the Mississippi River instead of the lake. However, it also offers sensational views of the downtown buildings, best viewed from the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s guided boat tours, and an ever-expanding riverwalk along the banks that is lined with pop-up restaurants during the warm months.
4. Chicago's got art
The Art Institute of Chicago and the Museum of Contemporary Art both feature world-class collections. But art is everywhere, from The Cultural Center and sculptures in the parks like the “bean” in Millennium Park to even the buildings themselves designed by a who’s who of leading architects.
5. Chicago's got smarts
The Chicago area is home to two world-class universities: Northwestern University in neighboring Evanston and the University of Chicago in the Hyde Park neighborhood in the southern portion of the city. In addition, there are numerous colleges and universities centered in the downtown itself, making it one of the largest college towns-within-a-town.
6. It’s a great place to spend your money
Chicago’s famed Michigan Ave. shopping district is a draw for tourists and residents alike, although a mostly swanky one with the big national luxury brands well represented. The American Girl store is another must-visit for the little girls among us. For a boutique-based shopping experience, head out into the neighborhoods like the more-alternative Wicker Park or upscale shops in Lincoln Park.
7. Food for everyone
The city has both a pizza style and a hot dog style that bear its name, and the quality junk food is just the start. Chicago is also home to some of the highest-rated restaurants in the world and celebrity chefs like Rick Bayless and Grant Achatz. The exploding foodie culture helped lure the James Beard Foundation award ceremony away from its traditional home in New York.
8. Da Bears
...and the Bulls, the Cubs, the White Sox, the Blackhawks, the Fire, the Wildcats, the Blue Demons and the Sky. Winners and lovable losers abound in Chicago sports. But with venues like Wrigley Field and Soldier Field, sometimes just being there is all the experience you need.
Chicago may be brutal in the winter, but the summers, springs and falls make up for it. As it warms up, it’s amazing how fast the mood of the city changes: The shorts and sandals come out, giving way to the light jackets in fall as folks transition into pumpkin picking and cider drinking.
10. County Fairs
In a city as large as Chicago, it’s easy to forget just how close the country is. Thankfully, a full summer calendar of county fairs remind the industrial powerhouse of its more agrarian roots with blue-ribbon pigs, funnel cakes, tractor races and the works.
Don’t want to live in the city itself? No problem. Older suburbs like Oak Park and Evanston give city-like experiences but with a smaller-town feel. The North Shore offers lake-side mansions and nationally ranked schools. New-style suburbs like Naperville, Aurora and Glenview will give you a little more house and yard with cul-de-sacs and big-box retailers. Whatever flavor of suburb you like, you’ll find it ringing Chicago and likely only a train-ride from downtown.