I wanted to visit Chicago since years but I had never enough time, or flights were too expensive or it just wasn’t the right season (I didn’t wanna go in late fall or winter … brrrr). But this year I found cheap flights from NYCs LaGuardia Airport to Chicago O’Hare for just $110 return!
The first time I thought about visiting Chicago was in 2011 when I saw Jaume Plensa’s sculpture “Echo” in Madison Square Park in NYC and another of his sculptures in the sculpture garden in New Orleans. I read a little about the Spanish artist and his other public artworks and when I came across the Crown Fountain I knew I had to see it!
Reading about the Crown Fountain led to reading about Millenium Park, which led to reading about all the public art in the Loop, which led to reading about all the architecture in the Loop, which led to … You get the idea. So finally the big day came when I flew to Chicago after 4 days in New York.
And I fell in love with the city the second I got there! There was something about it that made me feel calm, secure and happy as soon as I arrived. I loved every place I visited, the people were super friendly and even the bad weather didn’t bother me too much. While exploring the city I often thought “That’s it. Now I’ve seen all the pretty places here!” and then I turned around the next corner and was again completely in awe about the beautiful building, the view or whatever else there was to see. And while every corner surprised me with new beautiful things to see I felt as if had visited many times before. And felt quite at home instantly.
Here’s what did, saw, ate and loved in Chicago:
My hostel “Urban Holiday Lofts” in Wicker Park / Bucktown:
I found this hostel on hostelworld.com where it has 8.9 rating and that is definitely well deserved. The hostel is just a short walk from the “Damen” station of the CTA blue line (that connects O’Hare Airport with Wicker Park and the Loop) and the intersection of Damen, Milwaukee and North Avenues where all the hip shops, bars and restaurants are. Yet the hostel is on a very quiet residential street and conveniently there’s a small grocery store on the ground floor. I booked a single room for about $60/night with a shared bathroom. The rooms were very clean and spacious and the staff was super helpful. I’d definitely stay there again!
Wicker Park is a super hip neighborhood in Chicago with many great cafés, bars, restaurants and shops, mostly centered around the before mentioned intersection at the Damen Stop. I would have loved to have coffee in every coffee shop, eat in every restaurant, drink in every bar and shop in every store! Plus: I’d like to live in every house there! There were so many cute houses! One of my favorite buildings in this neighborhood was the old bank building that now hosts a Walgreens – the prettiest Walgreens I’ve ever seen!
The CTA / the L:
A city with a good public transport system is my kind of city! I got everywhere I wanted to go easily with the CTA and I loved riding “The L” – the elevated trains – in the Loop. The views from up there are so much cooler than dark subway tunnels! I bought a 3-day-ticket at the airport for $20 so the CTA was not only fast, clean and safe but also cheap. I’m a fan!
The weather was all over the place while I visited: sunny and warm, cloudy and rainy, cold and misty and everything in between! But that didn’t stop me from doing everything I had planned. On the second day it was really misty until the late afternoon and I loved it! We don’t get this kind of weather here so I really enjoyed it.
In 1871 half of Chicago burnt down in huge fire which led to the biggest building boom in the US and the construction of the world’s first skyscraper in 1885 by using steel-skeleton construction. Many renowned architects have left their mark on the city, such as Daniel Burnham, John Root and Helmut Jahn. I took a tour of the Rookery Building (by Burnham and Root) in the Loop which had its lobby remodeled by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1905. It is absolutely stunning and a must-see when in Chicago.
Miro! Picasso! Calder! Anish Kapoor! Jaume Plensa! All of them and many more: outdoors, free and in walking distance to each other. Need I say more?
As mentioned above the Millenium Park was what made me initially think about going to Chicago and it did not disappoint! This was one of the very rare moments where I took pictures with my camera instead of my phone (I had packed the wrong battery recharger, so I had to use the power wisely), so I’ll do a proper post about the park and it features soon.
The sunset cruise:
I originally wanted to do the Architecture Boat Tour but I got to the river too late and the only tour available at this time was the Sunset Cruise on Lake Michigan. I quickly decided to go for it, bought a ticket and hopped on the boat. As soon as we left the river and got through the lock onto Lake Michigan the fog got thicker and thicker and we couldn’t see a thing! The tour guide’s announcements ended up being: “We’re just passing the Chicago lighthouse! I know you can’t see it, but I promise you it’s there!” 🙂 But the captain decided to head back closer to the shore and the fog got lighter and we were finally able to see the beautiful skyline again! And this time the fog didn’t do any harm, it made for an even better experience: the sunset turned the fog from purple, to pink, to bright orange! Definitely one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen! Here’s a little Instagram video.
Wabash Arts Corridor:
Just a few days before I left for New York I saw on Kobra’s Instagram account that he’ll be painting a new mural in Chicago soon. After a little bit of research I found out about the Wabash Arts Corridor and the Urban Art festival. Two of my favourite street artist – RETNA and Tatyana Fazlalizadeh- had already painted murals there last year and Kobra was going to be working on his mural within the 3 days I was in town! You cannot imagine my excitement! I walked around Wabash Avenue and the South Loop in the afternoon and saw many great murals (how cute is Hebru Brantley’s “Chi Boy”?!) but my absolute favorite moment was when I walked up State Street in the Loop and saw Kobra and his team working on his tribute to blues legend Muddy Waters! I had recently seen two of his murals in Downtown West Palm Beach but seeing such a mural being painted was a very special experience. I didn’t stay long enough in Chicago to see the finished mural – but you can see it here.
Stan’s Donuts & Big Star Taco
Unfortunately I didn’t eat as much typical Chicago food as I had planned. I definitely have to go back there for some deep-dish pizza and Chicago style hot dogs! 2 places I can highly recommend are Big Star Taco and Stan’s Donuts, both in Wicker Park on Damen Avenue. I always crave good Mexican food because I can’t find any decent here in Germany. The tacos at Big Star were absolutely delicious and so was the Margarita. I also loved their large outdoor terrace and the whole styling.
Stan’s Donuts is where I had breakfast every morning. Just like Mexican food, it’s hard to find decent donuts in Germany, so I’ll alway have loads of them when I’m in the US. My favourite was the old-fashioned blueberry – so good!
And a few minor disappointments:
The Bloomingdale Trail:
I was super excited to take a walk along the Bloomingdale Trail (also called the 606) because I’m such a big fan of the High Line in NYC. The 606 is a linear park built on and old abandoned railway, just like the High Line and the Promenade Plantee in Paris. On the High Line there is so much to do and see: sculptures, street art, benches, seating steps, a lawn and a water feature and there are food vendors, restrooms and various events. The 606 is just a 2,7 mile long stretch of concrete with a few flowerbeds and benches. I was highly disappointed! But I have to admit that I’ve only walk half of the trail and it was an overcast Thursday morning. Futhermore I’m sure it’s a great spot for going for jogging or biking or to get faster from A to B if you live in one of the neighborhoods that are now connected through the 606. But it didn’t really appeal to me as a tourist.
The John Hancock building:
I had heard and read that the observation deck in the Hancock Building is a far better (and cheaper!) choice than the Sears Tower and decided to spend my last evening seeing Chicago from above. When I got there (perfectly timed so that I’ll be up there before sunset) the staff informed me that they have a private event and are closed for the day. Since it was my last day I had no chance to visited another time and was very disappointed. 😦
And a few things I had planned and didn’t got to do due to time or weather restrictions:
Visit the The Art Institute, eat at Bang Bang Pie, do the Architecture Boat Cruise, visit Lincoln park & the Zoo, rent a bike and ride along the Lake Michigan waterfront, got to the beach at the lake, visit Navy Pier and walk through the Crown Fountain barefoot. 🙂
Many reasons to go back someday (soon)!