Adventures in Chicago: Old Town, Rush Street and the Gold Coast

I have a new hobby: exploring.

I’m no Marquette or Joliet, but I decided that exploring the streets of Chicago is interesting and exciting to me.

I’ve been on a few recent “adventures,” as I call them. If you live around Chicago — God’s gift to the planet — consider yourself lucky. Read on and then start exploring on your own. This is my first recent adventure, from last weekend. Stay tuned to read about the others.

Adventure #1: Old Town, Rush Street and the Gold Coast neighborhoods

For my first official planned exploration, I decided to do the Chicago History Museum and the surrounding areas. The day went something like this.

Part 1: Chicago History Museum

Chicago History Museum

Where: 1601 N. Clark St. – near the Red Line Clark/Division ‘L’ stop or the Brown Line Sedgwick ‘L’ stop
Cost: $14; $12 for students
More information: www.chicagohistory.org

Through dioramas, artifacts and interactive exhibits, the Chicago History Museum has turned me (along with the other museumgoers) into an unofficial Chicago expert. I found the exhibits interesting and easy to follow. The permanent exhibit focuses on chronicling Chicago’s history: Did you know the city’s name comes from the word for “wild onion”? Or that streets like Lincoln Avenue and Clark Street don’t fit into the grid system because they were Indian trails? Or that the Great Chicago Fire was so fierce because most Chicago houses were made of wood and there was a lot of hay and dry leaves around the city? The museum also includes temporary exhibits — currently one on Abraham Lincoln and one on historic Chicago fashion.

Life-sized hot dog in the Chicago History Museum's section for children

The museum also has a special section for kids, focusing on the senses relating to Chicago: smelling a Chicago-style hot dog, hearing the sounds of the stock yards, etc. (you can even feel what it’s like to BE a hot dog!).

Part 2: Fudge and exploring Old Town

Where: The Fudge Pot, 1532 N. Wells St.
Cost: $2-5
More information: www.oldtownchicago.org/members/the-fudge-pot/

After a long day learning about hot dogs without ketchup, deep-dish pizza and wild onions, I was ready for a sweet snack. I walked just a few blocks from the museum to The Fudge Pot, a small chocolate store located in the middle of the Old Town neighborhood. I could have been satisfied with the strong, delicious chocolate smell alone, but I bought a small slice of milk chocolate fudge anyway for about $3 — worth every penny. The store also sells sweets like taffy apples, chocolate-dipped strawberries and chocolate in the shape of sunglasses, jewelry and fancy sports cars.

Part 3: Second City

Where: 1616 N. Wells St.
Cost: About $18, using discounted tickets from www.hottix.org
More information: www.secondcity.com/?id=theatres/chicago

Using Hot Tix, a site for discounted Chicago theater tickets, I found that the matinee of “Best of Second City” wasn’t too expensive. And Second City, home to all those famous Saturday Night Live stars, never disappoints. The show was a great mix of sketch comedy and improv, including my favorite part — scenes improvised based on headlines from the day’s paper. I can’t wait to go back in a few weeks to see their mainstage show “America: All Better!”

Part 4: Rush Street

Where: Beginning at Rush and Division and heading south until Chicago Avenue
Cost: Free for window shopping; $50ish to have your portrait drawn by the artist in the park; hundreds of thousands of dollars to purchase a Lamborghini at the dealer in the area
More information: www.rushanddivision.com

I didn’t have much of a reason to pull out my wallet here, but window shopping and people watching were certainly enjoyable. The area is lined with fancy, upscale restaurants (including one that had the biggest slice of chocolate cake I’ve ever seen), bars and stores (like Barney’s and other expensive clothing giants).

At the corner of Rush and State is a little park, complete with chairs and tables, a fountain, portrait artist, a smoothie stand and lots of pets.

Part 5: Michigan Avenue; dinner at Foodlife in Water Tower

Where: If you don’t know where the Magnificent Mile is, then I think you better go to the Chicago History Museum right away; but Foodlife is at 835 N. Michigan Ave.
Cost: Free for window shopping; around $10-15 for dinner at Foodlife
More information: www.themagnificentmile.com; www.foodlifechicago.com

I’m almost embarrassed to include this in my “adventure” since it’s so clichĂ© — but it’s still pretty magnificent. The shopping along Michigan Avenue appeals to all interests: Fashion lovers can hit up Banana Republic or Neiman Marcus, chocoholics can indulge at the Hershey Store or Ghirardelli and techies have the Apple store. The Water Tower, as I learned in the Chicago History Museum, was one of the only buildings to survive the Great Chicago Fire.

And next to that Water Tower is the famous Water Tower Place shopping mall. Inside the mall is Foodlife — what I think of as a dining hall for adults. Diners have their choice of pasta, pizza, salad, comfort food, stir fry, Chinese food, burgers, soups, sandwiches and desserts in this diverse restaurant. That evening I had grilled cheese and a made-to-order salad.

Part 6: Deep breath

Quite a day, but pretty Chicagotastic. Stay tuned to hear about my adventures in Wicker Park and Bucktown in my next entry.

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