September 25, 2008

Chicago: Escaping the bubble

Every once in a while, the stars align just right for U of C students—we get a sunny day and a light workload. When these rare opportunities come along, we have an obligation to follow the example of a great Chicagoan and take the day off.

While there never seem to be enough hours of daylight to manage everything Ferris Bueller crammed into a single afternoon, one of the greatest perks to living in the city is that there's no pressure to see and do all that Chicago has to offer in one try. The first step to getting out of Hyde Park and exploring the Windy City is becoming familiar with CTA.

Traveling on CTA isn't rocket science, but it can take some getting used to before it starts to feel routine. Taking some time to learn the bus routes out of campus or how to use CTA's trip planner (online at makes getting across town a lot less stressful and, after a while, pretty simple. A train, a bus, or a combination of the two will go to most major tourist attractions and sweet neighborhood joints.

While adjusting to public transit, don't be afraid about taking the opportunity to play tourist. Taking the #6 Jackson Park Express to downtown is the perfect way to ease into experiencing Chicago. A scenic drive up Lake Shore Drive provides views of the skyline and Lake Michigan before turning onto the Magnificent Mile and making stops right by spots on Chicago's must-see list.

Start with the basics by visiting places like the Art Institute and Museum Campus, Lincoln Park Zoo, and the beaches along Lake Michigan. Take a moment to snap a picture or two in front of the Wrigley Building or of the crazy reflections in the Bean before it all starts to blend into the landscape.

Once Michigan Avenue and State Street have been covered—and this can take a while—branch out from Chicago's most famous sites. It's a dynamic city with something to offer everyone. Here's a sampling of what to expect from the Second City.

Arts and Culture: Dance, Theater, Opera

Chicago's nickname, "the Second City" carries over from a cultural snub made when the city was still considered a swampy backwater at the end of the 1800s. Today, Chicago is the home of 200 live theaters and 49 museums. Take your pick of the big names like the Joffrey Ballet, Lyric Opera, and Chicago Shakespeare Theater, or go in search of smaller venues.

The Great Outdoors

Weather permitting, Chicago is a great city for going out and getting some fresh air. The 18-mile stretch of flat lakefront path is perfect for jogging, biking, rollerblading, and walking. Try using it sometime for a trip from campus to downtown or the North Side. There are also plenty of places to spend a quiet day reading or listening to music between the major parks (Millennium, Grant, and Lincoln) and beaches (Ohio and North Avenue). Even in the dead of winter, it's still possible to enjoy being outside with ice skating at Millennium Park until March.


With six teams, there's someone to root for in Chicago year round, and the sports gods have been fairly kind to Chicagoans of late—a century-long World Series drought aside. Summer is dominated by the cross-town baseball rivalry between the South Side's White Sox and the North Side's Cubs. In the fall, the city unites behind the (pronounced "da") Bears. In the winter, the United Center alternates between being a basketball court for the Bulls and a hockey rink for the Blackhawks. Last but not least, the Fire warm up for soccer season in the spring.


Word associations for "Chicago" and "food" typically end with "pizza" (meaning a choice between stuffed, deep dish, and thin crust) or "hot dog" (with emerald green relish and ex-nay on the ketchup). But there is much more to eat than these two classic favorites. Between Greek Town, Chinatown, Bucktown, Pilsen, Belmont, and everything in between, there are enough restaurants and variations of cuisine to keep even the most avid foodie busy for four years.

And that's just a taste of Chicago. Make it your kind of town.