Chicago playtime

April 1, 2010
Feast on pizza, jazz, skyscrapers, museums, or the Cubs

CHICAGO is known as “The City That Works,” a tag promoted by Mayor Richard M Daley that refers to Chicago's labor tradition and the long hours worked by its residents.

But when you're not working at the National Tank Truck Carriers' 62nd Annual Conference & Tank Truck Equipment Show May 10-12, you're going to want to play. Thankfully, Chicago is a city where they also know the value of leisure.

Conference attendees will be staying at the Chicago Marriott Magnificent Mile, which is located, yes, on The Magnificent Mile, the northern part of Michigan Avenue between the Chicago River and Lake Shore Drive that is Chicago's version of the Champs-Elysées. It's a grand, wide boulevard featuring exclusive shops, museums, upscale hotels, and restaurants.

All the big names in shopping are here, including Bloomingdales, Saks Fifth Avenue, Disney, Apple, and Niketown. The wide sidewalks are often adorned with well-tended flowerbeds — in May, there will be hundreds of thousands of vibrant tulips and floral-themed activities, including tulip bulb give-away and the display of Tulipa Maggie Daley, a tulip named after Chicago's First Lady, Maggie Daley.

The Magnificent Mile is home to architectural landmarks such as John Hancock Center, a 100-story-tall residential skyscraper. The tower, situated at the northern end of the avenue, attracted other large buildings, including the nearby Water Tower Place (1976), a tower with more than 100 shops, theaters and restaurants.

The oldest building along The Magnificent Mile is the Old Water Tower, built in 1869 with a castle style of architecture that looks a bit out of place in this modern high-rise district. One of the few survivors of the Chicago Great Fire in 1871, the building symbolizes Chicago's resilience. It faced demolition several times — in 1906, 1918, and 1948 — but preservationists won out.

In 1920, when Michigan Avenue was widened to create a thoroughfare able to cope with the growing traffic and connect the street with Pine Street across the Chicago River, the Michigan Avenue bridge was built — a striking bascule bridge modeled on the Pont Alexandre III in Paris. Then came the Drake Hotel at the northern end and the now-famous Wrigley building at the southern end.

Venturing out

Those who want to venture off The Magnificent Mile will find magic in the Navy Pier — the Midwest's top tourist destination — and its boardwalk, 150-foot Ferris wheel, boat, and segway tours. Millennium Park offers music, art, landscape design, and architecture — including the mammoth stainless-steel Cloud Gate sculpture — plus splashing around in the interactive Crown Fountain and alfresco dining.

There are guided tours (on foot or aboard a Chicago River boat, lakeshore cruise, or sightseeing bus) and breathtaking, birds-eye views from the 103rd floor of Skydeck Chicago in the Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower) and the 94th floor of Hancock Observatory.

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Architecture River Cruises wind alongside soaring towers and point out 50-plus significant sites. The Historic Skyscrapers Walking Tour takes you back in time to see some world-famous early skyscrapers in this birthplace of the modern skyscraper. Visit neighborhoods and other points of interest on bus tours.

A Chicago Theatre Tour reveals the architecture of this majestic venue plus renowned performers' autographs and colorful murals on dressing-room walls.

Chicago Neighborhood Tours introduce you to different communities' people, arts, culture, and history. Focus on the city's many different ethnic groups, magnificent churches, great cemeteries or other specific subjects. Or tour monumental art on one of the new Chicago Public Art tours.

Is walking your passion? The city boasts 29 miles of lakefront paths.

Want to take advantage of free possibilities? Check out Lincoln Park Zoo, home to more than 1000 mammals, reptiles, and birds. Enjoy the peaceful gardens under glass at Garfield Park Conservatory and Lincoln Park Conservatory, or take in one of the free performances at Navy Pier. Walk over to Millennium Park's Jay Pritzker Pavilion for a performance of the Grant Park Music Festival — the nation's only free outdoor classical music series.

Take a tour off the beaten path: Bobby's Bike Hike reveals why Chicago was recently named best bicycling city in the country. Guides and cruiser-style bicycles take riders of all ages and fitness levels through lakefront neighborhoods, parks, and more.

Chicago Food Planet specializes in food tours in Chicago's most historic, delicious neighborhoods. Visit fine chocolate shops in the Loop, Andersonville, and other spots with Chicago Chocolate Tours.

Explore paranormal doings with Chicago Ghost Investigations and Chicago Supernatural Tours.

Wrigley Field

If you love baseball, you're in luck. The Cubs are in town during the conference, playing against the Florida Marlins at venerable Wrigley Field at 7:05 pm May 10 and May 11 and 1:20 pm on May 12.

Wrigley Field, built in 1914, is hosting Major League Baseball for the 96th season, 94 of them involving the Cubs. Wrigley Field is the second-oldest ballpark in the majors behind Boston's Fenway Park (1912).

Do you like theater performances? Landmark Loop theaters in the city's bustling Downtown Theater District — including the grand Cadillac Palace Theatre, Ford Center for the Performing Arts/Oriental Theatre, Bank of America Theatre, and Auditorium Theatre — host mega-hit musicals, plays, and dance productions straight from Broadway as part of Broadway in Chicago, as well as world premiere productions.

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The legendary Chicago Theatre, whose famous C-H-I-C-A-G-O marquee lights up State Street, hosts concerts, comedians, special events, and theatrical productions, and more recently the brand new production from Cirque du Soleil, Banana Shpeel. You can also take a peek behind-the-scenes on the venue's Marquee Tour, which highlights the history of the building from its landmark opening in 1921 to today.

The Harris Theater for Performance and Dance features world-renowned dance and music institutions and hosts acclaimed national and international companies in its state-of-the-art setting at the north end of Millennium Park.

How about museums?

In Chicago's lakefront Museum Campus, centered within The Field Museum's 20 million biological and anthropological specimens, is Sue, the largest and most complete T-Rex ever found. Explore the universe at Adler Planetarium and Astronomy Museum, the world's only museum with two full-size planetarium theaters. Or head to the Shedd Aquarium and get up close with 22,000 aquatic species.

The Museum of Science and Industry — the largest science museum in the Western Hemisphere — offers over 800 captivating interactive exhibits, including the U-505 submarine, a working coal mine, and a Boeing 727 airplane.

The Art Institute of Chicago has a permanent collection of paintings, drawings, photography, and textiles that includes the largest compilation of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works outside the Louvre. Find outstanding and thought-provoking visual art created since 1945 at The Museum of Contemporary Art.

Curious about the environment we live in and creatures that live among us? Visit The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum in Lincoln Park to learn about urban nature.

For the kids, the Children's Museum is a must-see.

Chicago is synonymous with pizza. It migrated to America with the Italians in the latter half of the 19th century and was introduced to Chicago by a peddler who walked up and down Taylor Street with a metal washtub of pizzas on his head, offering a chew for two cents. In 1943, Chicago-style deep-dish pizza (a pizza with a flaky crust that rises an inch or more above the plate and surrounds deep piles of toppings) was created by Ike Sewell at his bar and grill called Pizzeria Uno.

Nightlife? Chicago is the birthplace of Chicago Blues, which adds electricity to strengthen the standard guitar/harmonica combination. Experience this legendary sound at Blue Chicago's two locations, from celebrated local and national touring acts at Buddy Guy's Legends, and at Kingston Mines — Chicago's oldest blues club and Chicago Music Awards' “Most Popular Blues Club” for eight years. Catch smooth jazz sounds at The Back Room, Pops for Champagne, Andy's Jazz Club, Green Dolphin Street, or The Green Mill.

Catch a performance by the famed Chicago Symphony Orchestra or renowned Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Or, if laughter is what you seek, you're in the right place: Modern improv was born in Chicago. The Second City, which has produced comic greats since 1959, and ComedySportz deliver fast and funny improv.

The Second City launched the careers of such comic greats as Tina Fey, Will Ferrell, and Steve Carell. On each of the two stages in the Old Town theatre, resident troupes perform.

At ComedySportz in the Lakeview neighborhood, Red and Blue teams battle it out in front of a referee in games the audience selects, and points are awarded based on how hard the improvisers make you laugh. Other shows include The Improv Match Game, in which real audience contestants match wits with top Chicago improvisers, The Rotator shows created by ensemble members, and The Beatbox — a fast-paced fusion of long form improvisation and classic hip-hop.