• Chicago
May 31, 2013

Six Things I Didn’t Know About Chicago

The Chicago skyline from the Shoreline Sightseeing tour.

Call me silly, but the extent of my knowledge of Chicago could be summed up by a three words: 1992 Chicago Bulls. I grew up watching the Chicago Bulls in all of their glory, wishing I could be like Mike (“… like Mike. If I could be like Mike.“), hoping to wear uber-cool goggles like Horace Grant, dreaming I could score Scottie Pippen, and practicing my 3s so I could be like B.J. Armstrong.

So when I vacationed in Chicago this past weekend, during the Memorial Day break, I have to admit my knowledge of the city, aside from some dominant basketball seasons, was null. I had been to the city before, for a quick bachelorette trip in 2008, and yeah, I had been to Magnificent Mile then, but that proved negligible for any decent Chicago acumen.

After spending three days in Chicago, I give my top six things I learned while in Chicago.

1. Architecture

I’m absolutely convinced that had I been born smarter, I would have been an architect. So much about engineering, design, building materials and structure fascinates me. But alas, life has dealt me bad hand in the intelligence department, so I’ll only be able to enjoy architecture from a peripheral view.

Chicago is an architectural fan’s dream. In the city’s downtown, it’s easy to admire one building. And then the building next to it. And the one next to that one. Each building is a structural masterpiece, with so much thought and foresight put into it.

I got my taste of Chicago’s architectural during the Shoreline Sightseeing cruise. Recommended to me by a Chicago resident, it’s a must-do excursion for both natives and tourists. It’s $32-$35 for adults (tip: if you give your e-mail address on the website, you’ll receive a $5 off coupon code). We took the architectural river tour that picked up (and dropped off) at the Navy Pier. The 60-minute tour/cruise wove at a leisurely pace through the Chicago River, pointing out phenomenal feats of architecture.

Some of my favorite buildings that our tour guide, Jeff, showed off were:

Marina City:

  • designed in 1959 by architect Bertrand Goldberg
  • mixed-use residential and commercial building meant to give residents everything they’d need in one spot
  • contains no right angles
  • home to the House of Blues, Smith and Wollensky, a bank and an upscale bowling alley
Marina City is a mixed-use that takes up an entire block.

Marina City is a mixed-use that takes up an entire city block.

Tribune Tower

  • In 1922, the Chicago Tribute hosted a design competition with the stakes being that the winner’s design would be personified in the paper’s new building. The contest received about 260 entries.
  • The winners of the competition were American architects John Mead Howells and Raymond Hood (of Rockfeller Center fame), who designed a neo-Gothic building with buttresses near the top.
  • 36 floors
  • Interesting fact: The Tribune Tower contains about 149 stones from famous structures, like the Berlin Wall, Arc de Triumphe and Aztec ruins.

The Tribune Tower has pieces from historic structures affixed to its exterior, like Aztec ruins and the Berlin Wall.

Trump International Hotel & Towers

  • Designed by Adam Smith of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill
  • Building completed in 2009
  • 92 floors
  • Second-tallest building in the Western Hemisphere (after Chicago’s own Willis Tower)
Trump International Hotel & Towers is home to Derrick Rose (Chicago's other great landmark).

Trump International Hotel & Towers is home to Derrick Rose (Chicago’s other great landmark).

2. It’s hilarious

Heard of The Second City? It’s the ever-popular improv show that became the launchpad for stars like Tina Fey, James Belushi, Stephen Colbert and Rachel Dratch. We watched the “Let Them Eat Chaos” show. It. Was. Hilarious.

Tickets are between $23-$28, and there’s the option to purchase a dinner package, too.

3. Food is better than expected

I ain’t no fool when it comes to food. After watching “Top Chef: Chicago,” I had a pretty good idea the food in this city was going to be pretty memorable. Two semi-under-the-radar spots we dined at were Carnivale and Mercat a la Planxa. Carnivale was an ode to Latin cuisine, with ropa vieja coming out as appetizers and stuffed in a flour tortilla. Pretty innovative.

At Mercat a la Planxa, Spanish cuisine rules. The brainchild of famed Philadelphia chef, Jose Garces, Mercat a la Planxa delivers tapas-styled portions with dishes meant to be shared. We opted for a chef’s tasting menu and got treated to the brilliant tastes of Chef Cory Morris, chef de cuisine of the establishment. Highlights included bacon-wrapped dates and black cod in a saffron broth (delish!!!).

Two spots I will be sure to try the next time I’m in Chicago: Girl & the Goat (by a Top Chef winner, Stephanie Izard) and The Purple Pig.

Welcome to Carnivale, located at the Near West Side of Chicago.

Welcome to Carnivale, located at the Near West Side of Chicago.

Paella at Carnivale

Paella at Carnivale

4. The view rocks

Chicago is smack-dab on Lake Michigan, which technically is a lake, but could be mistaken for an ocean due to its vastness and unending frontier. The Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Building) and the John Hancock Center offer visitors amazing views of the city. We went up the John Hancock Center, where we skipped the Observatory ($18 for one adult) on the 97th floor and instead had a drink at the bar on the 96th floor.

The view from the 96th floor of the John Hancock Center.

The view from the 96th floor of the John Hancock Center.

5. Memorable artwork live here

Who doesn’t love Cloud Gate, aka The Bean? The public structure was a quick walk from our hotel in Millennium Park. I spotted the structure during my morning run alongside Lakeshore Drive, when I cut into the park.

Cloud Gate (nicknamed The Bean) was created by British architect Anish Kapoor.

Cloud Gate (nicknamed The Bean) was created by British architect Anish Kapoor.



The ultimate selfie.

The ultimate selfie.

6. It’s a great place for a jumping photo

Here I am, jumping for joy at The Bean.

Here I am, jumping for joy at The Bean.

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  1. Good post and good pictures! The last one is the best! haha.

  2. Carrie Allgaier says:

    The Purple Pig is my FAV! I should have told you to check it out – my bad! Glad you had fun! It’s a fabulous city, if it wasn’t so darn cold, I would most likely call it ‘home.’

    • Nila Do says:

      We tried going twice to the Purple Pig, and it was uber-crowded! I guess that’s a great sign for a good restaurant. It’s definitely on my hit list for next time.

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