Nonstop Adventure: Chicago


By R.C. Rausch

No matter when you visit Chicago, there is tons to do and see. And although winters in the Windy City can be bone-chillingly cold, a surprising wealth of things to do awaits both indoors and out. LL

Even though we live in paradise, the occasional out-of-town excursion is a treat. From Hilton Head and Savannah we’re fortunate to have nonstop flight options that afford exploration of many popular North American destinations rich in abundant sights, sounds and flavors. LOCAL Life brings these nonstop cities to you through the eyes and recommendations of local foodies, shopaholics, sports fans and cultural aficionados who will ensure that your next out-of-town adventure is just that — nonstop.


Savannah Hilton Head International Airport (SAV) to Chicago Midway International Airport (MDW)

Duration: 2 hours, 20 minutes

Airline: Southwest, Allegiant (April 14) Savannah Hilton Head International Airport (SAV) to Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD)

Duration: 2 hours, 15 minutes

Airline: United

Where to go

If you’re visiting in winter, go skating at the McCormick Tribune Ice Rink in Millennium Park. The rink is open daily (weather permitting) from now through early March. Admission is free, but online reservation tickets are required. Rentals and lessons are also available.

Chicago is famous for its architecture, and the best way to see it is on an architectural tour via boat on the Chicago River. Winter might not be the most comfortable time for this, but you’ll still find a variety of companies offering guided discoveries of the 130-year history behind the city’s skyline.

Locals love the Garfield Park Conservatory, easy to reach from the Loop’s Green Line train. Admission is free (there is a suggested donation). Even in the chilly winter months, you’ll see thousands of plant species from around the world spread among eight indoor display gardens.

Chicago is a city of neighborhoods, and each has a story to tell.

Lincoln Park, just north of downtown, has a free zoo on the shores of Lake Michigan. There are fun and educational programs for children and adults, like enjoying a glass of wine while learning about Puerto Rican parrots. An extensive schedule of programs and daily activities for the Lincoln Park Zoo is available online.

Be sure to cross the bridge on the zoo’s Nature Boardwalk: The view of the skyline from behind the South Pond is stunning.

Jackson Park, on the city’s South Side, will be the future home of the Obama Presidential Center. Right now it’s where you’ll find the famous Japanese Gardens, part of the exhibit built for the 1893 World’s Fair. Check out SKYLANDING—Yoko Ono’s first permanent art installation in North America. Come spring, blossoming cherry trees, koi ponds, waterfalls, bridges and authentic Japanese horticulture offer welcome serenity.

Andersonville, one of Chicago’s coziest neighborhoods, is famous for its Swedish heritage. Spend the day there shopping and eating, starting with breakfast at Ann Sather. Try authentic Swedish dishes like lingonberry pancakes, and don’t miss the famous giant cinnamon rolls. Start walking off the carbs by learning about the area’s history at the Swedish-American Museum, then wander the stalls at the Andersonville Galleria, where dozens of local artists sell handmade jewelry, art, clothes and kitchenware. Still hungry? Head over to Middle Eastern Bakery for homemade hummus, pita and baklava, plus pistachios, dates, spices and more. Wrap up the afternoon at Hopleaf, one of the best beer bars in the country, also famous for steamed Belgian mussels and frites.

Established in 1860, Graceland Cemetery in Uptown provides a window into Chicago’s storied past. Many of the biggest names in the city’s history are buried here, including retailer Marshall Field, hotelier Potter Palmer, heavyweight champion Jack Johnson, America’s first undercover agent Allan Pinkerton and architects Daniel Burnham, William LeBaron Jenney and John Root. A self-guided audio tour is available.

Chicago is a year-round sports-mad city. In winter it’s the NHL’s Blackhawks and the Chicago Bulls of the NBA. Spring and summer? The White Sox play at Guaranteed Rate Field on the South Side, and no summer trip is complete without a visit to Wrigley Field — home of the Chicago Cubs, 2016 World Series Champions — with its ivy-covered outfield walls, manual scoreboard and lively atmosphere. Surrounding the stadium is Wrigleyville, which bursts at the seams with sports bars, souvenir stalls and die-hard Cubs fans. Even if you’re not a fan, take a walk on Clark Street, which is filled with bars and restaurants.

Right outside the stadium is Gallagher Way, a popular gathering spot for neighbors, fans and visitors, featuring year-round events including farmers markets, an outdoor concert series, film screenings and a winter wonderland.

Painters, sculptors, photographers, ceramicists and fashion designers welcome visitors into their studios at The Bridgeport Art Center, located in the former Spiegel catalog warehouse. Open studios are featured on the third Friday of each month from 7-10 p.m. Farmers and crafts markets are popular throughout the city and ‘burbs. Two worth finding are Randolph Street Market and Fulton Market.

What to eat

The city’s food scene also varies by neighborhood. You’ll find the iconic deep-dish pizza just about everywhere, but search out the numerous specialty food shops and ethnic restaurants that bring the flavors of the world to the cooks and diners of Chicagoland. Among the best-known cuisines in Chicago are Polish, Indian, Chinese, Little Italy and soul food, along with coffee houses and speakeasies.

There’s not nearly enough space here to list the best restaurants, but some local foodies offered these suggestions:

• Lula Cafe: A favorite breakfast spot offering a selection of pastries, sweet and savory. The smoked trout scramble and seasonal crostata are favorites. Also great for lunch and dinner, with noteworthy beverage options including low- and zero-proof cocktails, responsibly made wines and a selection of local beers.

• Donut Vault: This literal hole in the wall in the River North neighborhood is open until they sell out. Favorites? Pistachio Old Fashioned and Chestnut Cake donut (seasonal).

• Beautiful Rind: An amazing specialty cheese shop that offers both dine-in and takeaway. The salespeople are extremely knowledgeable and friendly.

• Lardon: All house-made charcuterie with a wide selection of cheeses and amazing bistro fare. Think crispy duck confit, trout a la meuniere, steak frites and frisee salad.

• Uncle Mike’s Place: The Filipino breakfast is hearty, tasty and affordable. Each order comes with a cup of lugaw, a rice porridge of sorts, which is perfect on its own, no need to add a thing.

• Pequod’s Pizza in Morton Grove. The place is small, the pizza is fantastic, and you’ll meet lots of locals.

A few more names: Gibson’s on River North (great view and fantastic lunch), RPM Italian, Yu’s Mandarin (Schaumburg or Vernon Hills), Sienna Tavern, Angelina’s (Lakeview), Geja Café (fondue) and Howl at the Moon. For some post-meal fun, try one of Chicago’s many speakeasies.

On your way home (and conveniently located near Gate B8 at O’Hare), pick up some Garrett Popcorn. The classic savory-sweet Chicago mix (a cheese caramel corn blend) is irresistible. It’ll get you planning a return visit real soon.

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