Chicago (Photo: Thinkstock)
Fringed by Lake Michigan, Chicago bats in a league all its own. Days are enjoyed by dining al fresco, hitting up the beaches that stretch along the lake, getting out on the water, taking in a free movie at the park, and attending the endless street festivals that pop up around the city. Here’s the perfect day in Chicago.
Where to Stay: Located in just beside the famous Magnificent Mile and down the street from Oak Street Beach, the Waldorf Astoria offers luxury in the heart of the city. Rooms here are equipped with a fireplace (pretty in the summer, cozy in the winter), balconies, and a palatial shower area. (Save some time to visit the spa, the cherry on top of an excellent stay.)
Spend your morning walking along the lakefront path, starting at Oak Street Beach and meandering your way about, soaking in what it is people love about Chicago. Then head to The Little Goat, a big diner that serves a mighty feed. Owned by Stephanie Izard of Girl & The Goat, this year-round hot spot draws locals and tourists in by the masses, especially in summer when outdoor seating is available. The menu is as extensive as it is creative: You’ll find common breakfast staples, like chocolate pancakes and omelets, as well as playful dishes like the Fat Elvis Waffles or The Little Piggy Went to China (eggs with Szechuan pork sausage). The diner is also home to a cafe and bakery that produces all its breads and other pastries in-house.
Photo: Castaways Chicago
Next, jump in a cab to North Avenue Beach where you’ll think you’ve been magically transported to the West Coast. All signs here point toward the perfect seaside summer: a running path that becomes an expressway of bikers, joggers, rollerbladers, and everything in between; Castaway’s Beach Bar, said to be a favorite of Vince Vaughn, housed in a building inspired by a blue and white ocean liner; volleyball courts; bikini- and boardie-clad bodies taking some sun; and the waters of Lake Michigan so clear and blue, they rival the most luminous colors of the Pacific.
Test your balance and agility by going paddle boarding, as the lake’s calm surface is perfect for beginners and experienced alike. SUP Chicago offers lesson, rentals and even SUP Yoga (did someone say SUPYO?) every day. Don’t miss the spectacular view of Chicago’s skyline, located just around the bend from the SUP beachfront office.
The Chicago skyline sure does put on a pretty show. (Photo: Alexandra E. Petri)
Make your way to the Lincoln Park neighborhood to recharge your batteries for a relaxing lunch. Life takes place outdoors from May through September, and al fresco dining is the quintessential Chicago experience. Snag a patio table at Perennial Virant, a restaurant that celebrates local produce and ingredients with its farm-to-table philosophy. Attached to the restaurant is Hotel Lincoln, where inside you can find the charming Elaine’s Coffee Call. Wander up to the rooftop for the chilled out J. Parker bar that attracts a good crowd and offers magnificent views of the city, the park and Lake Michigan just beyond it.
Want to learn to take in a bit of the city’s history? You can do so by getting out on the water. Take a cruise along the Chicago River to learn about the Windy City and its architecture with the Chicago Architecture Foundation. Tours last 90 minutes, and tickets, which run about $40 per person pre-tax, can be booked in advance online.
Next stop, the Navy Pier to ride the Ferris wheel, a landmark and a cultural pilgrimage that can be likened to riding Coney Island’s famous Cyclone. Though not nearly as old (or rickety), the Ferris wheel was built to resemble the first of its kind, introduced at the 1893 World Columbian Exposition Board in Chicago. Board one of the 40 gondolas that soar 150 feet into the air to take your love of Chicago’s beauty to new heights. According to recent reports, the city is planning to build a new, bigger Ferris wheel come September that will be at least 50 feet taller than the current one. Tickets are available for purchase online now through September 27.
Some of the country’s best restaurants call Chicago home, and you can find cuisine from every corner of the globe mixing up the dining scene here. Newly-opened Intro restaurant is turning heads with the innovative concept behind it. Rising chefs from around the country take the helm every few months, introducing their own set-course menus and creating a design and a even playlist reflective of their tastes and styles. (Intro kicked off its career with L.A. chef C.J. Jacobson before changing hands over to Erik Anderson, who will depart from the restaurant July 25.)
Now the night can really start. Bars are aplenty in Chicago, so the only problem you’ll have is choosing one. Over in the bohemian Logan Square, Scofflaw has long been a favorite for its tasty cocktails that pay homage to gin. Barrelhouse Flat, The Aviary and The Violet Hour are also all loved not only for their drinks but for the undeniably cool patrons that gather here. Beers more your thing? Fountainhead and Map Room boast enough varieties to last a lifetime.
Finish your night at none other than the Wiener Circle for a hot dog with a side angry banter from the notoriously rude, profane and ill-tempered staff. The dogs are worth it, and so is the rite-of-passage experience.