when the winds blow through chicago, located on the south western tip of lake michigan, there’s little to obstruct their assault on your skin as the gusts flow uninterrupted in between the skyscrapers that line up along a neat grid system. many thus agree with its popular nickname, windy city, although that moniker actually has more political than meteorological connotations – windy being a metaphor for the talkative and boastful rhetoric of early local politicians, who were known for their long-windedness.
these days, this third most populous american city is better known as the adopted hometown of president obama, the former base of talk show queen oprah winfrey and for its o’hare international airport, which regained its position as the busiest air hub in the world this year with more than 500,000 flights taking off in the first seven months of 2014. if you’re among the 15,000 travellers who land at its international terminal on average each day, here are 10 spots around the city that you should not miss.
known as the most beautiful urban parkway in america, the 24km-long shoreline is flanked by lake michigan on its east and the city on its west, where commercial buildings and luxurious residential projects are dotted with parklands. the drive itself is home to several attractions, including the lakefront trail where city folks converge on weekends to jog, brisk walk, skate, spend quality time with their children or pets, or simply sit back and enjoy their time off.
at the museum of science and industry, you can explore a coal mine and german sub or watch dolphins and whales put on a fine show at shedd aquarium, part of the museum campus that sits on a manmade island on the lake. in the evenings (from april to mid-october), feast on the coloured lights and water dance of the buckingham fountain, then dine at popular restaurants at navy pier or lincoln park, which is also home to a 1,200-acre zoo.
from navy pier, it’s a five-minute drive to millennium park, where british artist anish kapoor’s cloud gate has become a beloved icon since 2006. more than 160 stainless steel plates were welded to create this legume-shaped sculpture with a seamless, shiny surface that projects mirror images of the surrounding buildings. affectionately called the bean, it can, with a stretch of the imagination and childhood wonder, symbolise a modern-day urban incarnation of jack and the beanstalk. the same reflective skin wraps around the underneath of the bean, which visitors can access by walking through its 3.7m-high arch and stand surrounded by refractive images, not unlike being inside a kaleidoscope tube.
adjacent to the bean is the frank gehry-designed pritzker pavilion, a music venue that can seat up to 11,000 and plays host to events like the grant park music festival – the only free outdoor classical music series in america. the pavilion is equipped with a sophisticated sound system of acoustic design that mimics the audio quality and sensorial experience of an indoor concert hall. fitted across a trellis network that fronts the stage area that’s crowned by gehry’s proprietary brushed stainless steel headdress, the pavilion is really more a work of art than mere concert venue.
the magnificent mile
across millenium park is a 13-block avenue known as magnificent mile, the pulse of the city with over 400 boutiques, some 60 hotels, more than 250 restaurants, a good number of art galleries, theatres and watering holes housed in majestic buildings that boast of classic architectural styles. among the most recognisable icons are the tribune tower, where a portion of its facade contains stones from more than 150 global landmarks, including the great wall of china, taj mahal and the berlin wall. at the northern end of the mile, the drake hotel’s cape cod has consistently ranked high for its fresh seafood offerings and famous for its wooden bar, where famous guests like marilyn monroe and joe dimaggio carved their initials.
you would have seen enough of chicago’s towering skyline from the ground by now. for a change of pace and scenery, view the iconic buildings from a closer perspective – from on board an l train, the city’s elevated rapid transit system. complete the loop circuit, which covers nine stations around an elevated quadrangular loop in chicago’s downtown and whizzes you past some of the city’s most iconic buildings several storeys off the ground.
for even loftier views, head to the john hancock center and be prepared to hear your eardrums pop as you take to escalator to the 94th and 95th floors of the 100-storey tower, home to 360 chicago and the signature room, respectively. the former delivers on its name, affording 360-degree views of the city – there’s also an open-air skywalk – from 1,000ft above ground level. for after-dinner drinks, the latter offers an extensive list of cocktails and classics while you take in the sparkling panorama and see for yourself why it served as part inspiration for batman’s gotham city. the upcoming batman vs superman: dawn of justice, is currently filming in chicago’s uptown area.
uno pizzeria & grill 619 north wabash avenue www.unos.com
for all the fine dining, world-class restaurants that chicago offers, sometimes nothing beats the culinary comforts of a pizza – especially when it’s a deep dish pizza, invented by ike sewell in 1943 at his restaurant, uno. now a global empire of more than 140 outlets, it was at this outlet at the corner of ohio and wabash that he served the first numero uno, with its nearly two inch-tall buttery crust holding a generous amount of sausage, pepperoni, onion, pepper and mushroom swimming in a chunky tomato sauce topped with mozzarella and romano cheeses. the menu and options expanded as its fame grew; you can now choose between a traditional or nine-grain crust, and even customise your toppings. if you can’t get a table at the original uno, head across the road to its sister outlet, pizza due.
super dawgs 6363 north milwaukee avenue opens 11am-1am, sunday-thursday; 11am-2am, friday-saturday www.superdawg.com
five years after pizza uno first delighted chicago with its indulgent italian concoction, a more american comfort food took roots when then-newlyweds maurie and flaurie berman set up a hotdog cart they called superdawg, inspired by the comic superheroes of the 1940s. aside from a secret recipe, the bermans planted a pair of 12-foot hot dog icons – a male and a female, representing the couple themselves – on top of their stall, complete with flirtatious winking and blinking eyes to attract customers.
from a summer-only endeavour, superdawg grew into a profitable business that fed their family of five and from a simple stall to a drive-in restaurant, developing into a much-loved chicago icon. besides superb hotdogs, their other bestseller is the fantastic crinkle-cut superfries, the result of a precise four-step cooking process to ensure every potato stick is golden and crispy. in 2009, a second superdawg opened in milwaukee, modelled after the original.
the blue man group 3133 north halsted www.blueman.com/chicago/
they deliver cheesy slapstick routines, make music out of pvc pipes and they’re blue. the blue man group was an instant hit when the show debuted in 1987, its three bald founders performing an unspoken repertoire while covered in striking body paint. besides chicago, the production is a mainstay in new york and boston, and has also presented in las vegas, orlando, berlin, tokyo and on board the norwegian cruise line. if you like 80s-style comedy, this is pure mindless entertainment that may involve you getting soaked.
harpo studios 1058 west washington boulevard
countless famous faces and respected personalities walked through its doors while fans gathered outside hoping to catch a glimpse of the celebrities or shop for merchandise at the oprah store. the talk show queen and her harpo studios were based in chicago from 1990 till 2011, when she decided to move her company and show to los angeles. her popularity and the prominence of harpo helped gentrify the once-gritty area where it’s located, leading to former mayor richard daley to declare the street outside the studio as oprah winfrey way. the studio is still in operation although the shows are no longer filmed there, and die-hard fans still turn up for a look.