I admit I tend to over-schedule my trips to make sure I see EVERYTHING there is to see. But a recent trip to Chicago showed me that sometimes it’s the unexpected sites that end up being the most memorable.
I was in Chicago with my two daughters and a full itinerary of things, including bike and food tours and a Broadway show. Along the way, however, we happened some other places that proved to be just as exciting, if not more, than the ones we’d planned.
American Writers Museum
Bob Dylan’s music was a backdrop during my university days and beyond, but I never fully appreciated his lyrics until I visited the American Writers Museum in Chicago.
The museum has an exhibit of his songs which was set up in recognition of Dylan being honoured with the Noble Prize for Poetry two years ago. Located above a store on N. Michigan Avenue, as soon as we stepped inside we knew we were in for a treat. The elevators leading up to the second floor were beautifully decorative and provided a hint that we were heading into something special.
What made it so fun is that the whole museum – including the Dylan exhibit – is highly interactive. While I listened to Dylan’s songs on headphones, my daughter tried her hand at writing a few paragraphs on an old fashioned typewriter which added to a story that others had contributed to, making it a never-ending story.
Meanwhile, my other daughter played with an interactive word map in which you tried to guess the words used in a famous novel. This component, which was exceptionally well done, made the visit so much more memorable for us.
One of my favourite exhibits at the museum, which opened in 2017, was the section that contained typewriters of famous writers, like John Lennon, Orson Welles and Maya Angelou. Very cool. You don’t have to be a writer to appreciate the museum, but you will come away with a greater appreciation of writers and their craft.
Chicago Public Library
We passed by the Chicago Public Library several times on route to a show or exhibition and finally succumbed to the impressive architecture and went inside. We were wowed by the stunning design that was like a treasure trove. The library was built in 1897, 26 years after the Great Chicago fire in 1871 that gutted the city, killing more than 300 people and destroying roughly 3.3 square miles (9 km2) of the city.
The library was rebuilt and is a marvel in architectural design. Where the outside is angular and imposing, the inside is majestic and elegant. The staircase, walls and ceilings were all decorated with thousands of tiny ceramic tiles, each one placed by hand.
We looked up to see an enormous glass dome and hanging lights, both designed by Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company of New York. While visiting the library, a staffer told us we should make a special visit to Macy’s on Randolph Avenue to see the tile ceiling on the top floor. The elevators travelled slower than molasses, but it was worth the wait.
Lake Shore East Park
We discovered the Lake Shore East Park on E. Benton Place quite by accident while we were waiting for a restaurant to open one morning. The park was like an oasis in the city with its rows of flowers, ingenious fountain, and quaint dog park. It was obviously well-liked by the locals for early morning jogs and dog walks.
No trip to Chicago is complete without a walk along the river, especially with the growing number of cafes and restaurants to enjoy along the way. The Riverwalk runs along the south bank of the Chicago River and has been expanded.
We had arrived there to go on a river cruise when we realised we had more than an hour to kill. Looking around, we spotted Ghirardelli’s and, being official members of the chocoholic club, we headed upstairs to the cafe.
It was the perfect lookout spot to enjoy the river view while we salivated over delicious chocolate. I found out the company has deep roots in Chicago, dating back to 1847. I can’t think of a better way to bide one’s time than eating chocolate while gazing out over the river and enjoying a spectacular view.
It was while we were down by the river that we discovered the new Apple store. Even if you’re not an Apple lover, you’ll like the new two-storey store which is made entirely of glass so has excellent views. Inside there was a cluster of wooden boxes to be used as chairs and many people were using them. Also a great spot to drop in and recharge our phones.
Best eats in Chow-cago
Chicago is known for its food but rather than simply visiting various restaurants, we decided to do a food tour that would introduce us to the finest the city had to offer and also find out about the history of various foods. The food tour wasn’t something we happened upon but it’s not something everyone does – and they should.
We went with Chicago Planet Tours for their three-hour food tour of the River North neighbourhood. Our tour guide David was fun and offered up all number of great facts about Chicago and the history of its well-known food. We taste-tested the all-beef hot dog (deelish) at Al’s Italian Beef, chowed down on the deep dish pizza at Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria (and declared it a close tie with Giordano’s), downed a chocolate brownie (the secret’s in the Nutella) at the Cooper Fox and snacked on a sample of popcorn at Garretts.
Called the Best in Chow food tour, I would highly recommend it for anyone wanting to know more about the food of Chicago and learn about the incredible history and culture of one of the city’s neighbourhoods. Just you don’t eat before you go!
There were two things we weren’t able to do because we ran out of time but I’m mentioning them as they’re not only great fun, they’re free.
We weren’t able to visit the Navy Pier on Wednesday night for the spectacular firework show (it’s also on Saturday nights) nor did we make it to the Signature room in the John Hancock building where they have the best view in the city. The restaurant wouldn’t allow my daughters in since it was licensed but, if you go, I was told the best view of all is in the women’s washroom window. Enjoy!
The author was a guest of the American Writers Museum and Chicago Planet Tours. They did not review or approve this article.