It’s an argument that comes up all the time.
New Yorkers, transplanted to Chicago due to law school or a girlfriend or a fancy consulting job, berate Chicago for not being exciting enough. They can’t wait to finish out their stint in our small Midwestern town and return to the center of gravity.
I ask these New Yorkers (I’m flattering them here…they’re really from the thrilling metropolises of New Jersey and Long Island) if they’ve traveled outside their law school bubble. They answer that of course, they’ve seen Navy Pier and the “Willis” Tower, and they’ve been to the Parks – Lincoln, Wicker, Rogers, Grant, and Millennium.
But, dear friends of the suburbs of Connecticut, there is so much more to Chicago than that. Before you can really judge Chicago, I recommend you try some of the tours I’ve enjoyed recently. And to my Chicagoan friends, even though you may not be a tourist (or you grew up in Deerfield so you basically are a tourist in the city), I recommend you take these as well — it is our responsibility to be the ambassadors of Chicago. The next time I see you, I expect you will know what the four stars of the Chicago flag represent, the name of any other mayor besides Daley or Emanuel, and the location from which Chicago’s grid originates. (Winners get a scoop of ice cream at my apartment.)
Chicago Detours‘ “Inside the Loop: Expect the Unexpected”
$26 ($13 if you were lucky and got the Groupon!)
I’ve been on many tours of Chicago, and this one I took last week was one of my favorites. Chicago Detours prides itself on its unique blend of history, architecture, and multimedia — each tour guide uses an iPad to enrich the tour with photos and videos to supplement the tour guide’s words. This tour focused on the dense area of the Loop, the business and commerce section of the city. I never realized how much I didn’t know about this area, and I loved exploring the beautiful Chicago Temple Building, Daley Plaza and the Picasso statue (the one that looks like a baboon dressing up as a lady playing the harp), the secretive underground Pedway system, the Chicago Cultural Center (why have I never been there before?!), and the many nuances of the Chicago skyline. This tour reminded me that every building, every mosaic tile, every window, every brick, and every funky-looking statue has a history and a story. I look forward to exploring the tour company’s other tours.
Shoreline Sightseeing: Architectural River Cruise
$24-$33 ($16 if you were lucky and got the Groupon)
This is a tour I’d been meaning to do for years, and Groupon finally gave me the push I needed to do it. Even on a rainy October morning, the Chicago River sparkled as our boat glided along it.
I was amazed at all the information the guide was able to cram into an hour-long tour, and it was a bit of a challenge absorbing all the facts that flew at us faster than the raindrops, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. The Chicago River provides the perfect vantage point of the buildings in Chicago, each with a story about how the architect designed the building to fit its function (Bertrand Goldberg designed Marina City to be an all-inclusive residential complex, complete with parking, food, and a theater) or even for social reasons (it’s rumored that Samuel Insull designed the Civic Opera House to look like a throne where his daughter could sit as the star of the opera, with her back facing New York, whose Metropolitan Opera had rejected her). Despite the rain, and despite the somewhat obnoxious foreign tourists who must have thought this was just a social boat ride, this tour was incredibly worthwhile.