Chicago is a city with heart and stamina and art and incredibly deep and miserable winters and incredibly bright and wonderful people. No breaks. They all run together. It’s a city that’s already proven itself, and whose skyline is known the world over (I know this because I grew up in Chicago’s farming suburbs, and travel has resulted in people from every corner of the earth talking about the incredible buildings in my home city). Chicago doesn’t ask for permission. It’s a city of immigrants and farm kids and people who believe in doing and building and striving and putting in the hours. It’s a home to art and to science and to an aggressive (and hilarious) sense of humor.
There’s a level of competency that’s assumed in a city this size. There’s also an incredible warmth and willingness and welcoming here. Chicago wants you to party. It’s a grounded, confident place, and it would like for you to drink a beer already and stop fussing. So, come in, come in, close the door behind you. This is a Chicago travel guide.
1. The Field Museum. On what’s known as the Museum Campus, it shares a common area with Adler Planetarium and the Shedd Aquarium. The Grand Hall is currently being updated after Sue the T-Rex reigned the space for years. Now? They’re working on bringing in a touchable cast of the biggest dinosaur ever. Patagotitan mayorum stretches 122 feet and will afford Sue her own wing while it fills the atrium — very nearly literally fills it. Currently the Field also has an incredible Egyptian exhibit with rooms from a 5,000-year-old tomb, mummies, hieroglyphics, and a shrine to Bastet. Plus! The Field always has additional exhibits and incredible collections. Tickets are pricey, but the city has free days! Try to hit those, if you can.
2. Alexander Calder. The sculptor who invented mobiles (let that sink in. You’ve almost definitely seen his work) was most known for pieces powered by chance. His sculptures are generally known for having small, brightly colored pieces suspended by a fine system of kinetic incorporation. But! He also did colossal welded abstract sculptures with similar structure and colors. Chicago has two in an easy walk from The Field. First, the garden at the Art Institute has one. From there, definitely add his piece “Flamingo” to your list. It takes up most of an urban square (Google Maps will direct you straight to it), and with a sure finish of orange-red it breathes life into the blocks of black and glass buildings that frame its space. His signature on this piece is bigger than most of his other pieces in whole. It’s arching and interesting and solid and definitely worth the side trip.
3. Wrigley Field. Okay, so, listen. When Lindsay and I were talking about this project before I shot it, I brought up Wrigley, and we got into a lively conversation about whether sports had a place in a travel guide so definitively Simon and Ruby. Here’s my argument: the inclusion of Wrigley isn’t about sports as much as it is about hope. Simon and Ruby is rooted in the experience of travel, and in the experience of bringing all you love with you as you travel through life; it’s about carrying those pieces in your heart, and making experiences into more because of the places you’ve seen and the people you’ve loved: how both have made you better so that you, too, can make things better. In the time leading up to the final games of the World Series in 2016 — when Chicago was closer than it had been to a Series win in 108 years — ONE HUNDRED AND EIGHT — the walls of Wrigley were covered with sidewalk chalk love letters from Chicagoans who carried the love of their families and friends with them — the love of people who had cheered and hoped for a Cubs victory their entire lives and who weren’t around to see the championship in person: who hadn’t lived long enough to see the team just freaking win it already. Chicago covered the bricks in love and in the exquisite momentum of hope that is undeniably palpable and effervescent when Chicago opens its mouth to properly cheer. Game 7 was an away game, so the streets of Wrigleyville filled with fans who watched the game outside of the stadium. The video of the moment the Cubs won still makes me sob. Impossible is nothing. Hope is everything.
4. Cool, I’m crying, hang on. It’s cool, we’re cool, crying is cool. Gimme two seconds.
5. Right. I’m back. Pilsen Art Crawl! Pilsen is my favorite art district in the city. Tourists generally get stuck in the bourgeois presentation of River North and miss the incredible creativity of Pilsen. I was allowed access to Good Details before the Second Friday opening of Shani Crowe’s most recent show. The space is gorgeous, the art is insane, and after talking with the co-owner for a while about what makes a good gallery show, I feel incredibly safe sending anyone here for an opening. | Instagram: @gooddetails / Owners: @ggreenran @detailsbypia
6. Pilsen also has amazing tacos. Go to Mary’s Taqueria. It’s really near 19th & Halsted, where Good Details sits (I recommend you drive, still). There are baller murals and the tacos are delicious and taste like Mexico. The horchata is also just like Mexico. Highly recommended.
7. You’re going to need to take Lower Wacker Drive to get out of Pilsen. Pretend you’re Batman. “The Dark Knight” was filmed here. It’s fun. Pretend.
8. The Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park. Live inside a lotus flower long enough to take in the skyline to the south and the zoo to the north. It’s a gorgeous break from the downtown congestion, plus it incorporates some of S&R’s favorite shapes and structures.
9. Is now an appropriate time to talk about how this city has a playlist? When you drive back into the city along Lake Shore Drive, please listen to Sufjan Steven’s “Chicago.” If you need to drive north along the same route, switch it to “Lake Shore Drive” by Aliotta Haynes Jeremiah.
10. You’re now probably feeling sufficiently sleepy. You’ll need something delicious. Coda di Volpe in Lakeview is just the thing. Try their Stolen Vespa if you can handle the subtle smoke of mezcal married to grapefruit. If you just need a little bite, grab a pizza (I recognize this sounds crazy, because pizzas aren’t small meals. Just. Just, trust me, please. They’re cracker-thin Italian style crusts, and the ingredients are fresh and bright. You’ll surprise yourself with how much you can eat, and easily). If you have the time and the budget to truly sit and eat, I recommend it. It’s best when you have a group and can split every plate, but there’s no wrong way to do this place. Delicious, delicious.
11. The Midwestern sky makes my chest hurt. I’m not a homesick person ever, really. But, euuuugh. The sky here. (Yes, yes, I KNOW the SKY isn’t a destination for a travel guide. Just look up, though.) The sunsets are gorgeous. The clouds are nearly always puffy. And, if you can get to the lake to change your horizon, watch the light stretch across the wide open sky. Then maybe you can write me a postcard and tell me about it.