Poet Carl Sandburg dubbed Chicago the “City of the Big Shoulders.” It fits. These shoulders support everything from Picasso’s paintings to bustling steel mills, from hot dog stands to world-famous cuisine. Most cities pale in comparison to this ethnically diverse urban enclave whose stunning skyline erupts from the shores of Lake Michigan.
Chicago was born in the late 18th century as a fur trading post. Because of its strategic location between Lake Michigan and the Chicago and Des Plaines rivers, it grew into a giant metropolis. The shadows of its notorious past — the Great Fire of 1871, the “hot-air” politicians who inspired its “Windy City” nickname, the Capone/ Dillinger gangster era of the 1920s and 1930s, the Democratic National Convention and race riots of the 1960s — can do little to diminish its present-day positives.
Visitors with just a few free hours can find unique things to do here. Most downtown hotels cater to convention and business travelers and are quite close to tourist attractions, including the world’s third-tallest building, the Sears Tower. Unfortunately, its Skydeck is often enveloped in clouds. For more picturesque vistas, try the John Hancock Observatory or snap the best panoramic photograph atop the 150-foot Ferris wheel at the Navy Pier (www.navypier.com). Stroll the pier’s half-mile walkway over Lake Michigan to browse entertainment venues and shops.
Chicago’s prime shopping and people-watching mecca is the Magnificent Mile (www.themagnificentmile.com), where a stretch of Michigan Avenue is crowded with upscale malls, designer boutiques and big-name stores including Bloomingdale’s, Crate and Barrel and Nordstrom’s.
At Millennium Park (www.millenniumpark.org), just south of the Magnificent Mile, Anish Kapoor’s polished steel sculpture Cloud Gate— affectionately called “The Bean” by Chicagoans — reflects a fish-eye landscape. The park’s other showstoppers are the towering stainless steel ribbons on the Jay Pritzker Pavilion and the twin 50-foot talking fountains. Bronze lions guard the main entrance of the Art Institute of Chicago (www.artic.edu) farther south on Michigan Avenue. Inside are exhibits encompassing artistry from around the world, including Grant Wood’s American Gothic and one of the four surviving Water Lilies by Claude Monet.
Those attending a convention at McCormick Place can drop in at the nearby Museum Campus — home to the Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium and Adler Planetarium. And if you have time for just one tour, book it with the Chicago Architectural Foundation (www.architecture.org) — the city is full of stunning architecture.
Save time to sample Chicago’s famous chow. The cellar-like atmosphere of Pizzeria Uno (29 E. Ohio St., tel 312 321 1000) hasn’t changed since the gooey deep-dish concoction was first created in 1943. A favorite of comedian Jay Leno, sloppy Italian beef sandwiches at Mr. Beef on Orleans (666 N. Orleans St., tel 312 337 8500) will have you licking your fingers. Gibson’s (1028 N. Rush St., tel 312 266 8999) is carnivore heaven — juicy steaks are so big, the only thing missing are the horns and the tail. The most discerning food aficionados savor small-plate creations at the world-renowned Alinea (1723 N. Halsted St., Lincoln Park, tel 312 867 0110).
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