Fellow knitters, I live in and love Philadelphia, but Chicago is my sweet home. What follows is a smattering of places I visit when I go back. Chicago readers and expats, please let loose in the comments with your favorite things to do, places to see, and specialties to eat, but know that, always and forever, the best red hots are served not in Chicago, but at Elmwood Park landmark Johnnie’s.
City of the Big Buildings
Chicago boasts architectural gems that give it one of the finest skylines of any U.S. city. I always recommend a river tour to friends who ask me what to do during a visit. The best one is sponsored by the Chicago Architecture Foundation. The gallery above is filled with shots I took as my family and I cruised the Chicago River on a cloudless summer day. From the boat we also got a view of the meandering Chicago Riverwalk. Take in riverside parks, cafés, and public art on a pre- or après-cruise stroll.
Architect Jeanne Gang’s Aqua Tower is the largest project ever awarded to a firm led by a woman, and Studio Gang’s Vista Tower pictured here will be the third tallest building in Chicago when it is completed.
Walk the Mile, Eat the Pizza
The stretch of Chicago’s Michigan Avenue from the DuSable Bridge (where river cruises begin and end) to The Drake Hotel is known as the Magnificent Mile. It’s the city’s premiere commercial district. You may choose to shop and occasionally drop into coffee bars and restaurants along your way. Or you may prefer just to be part of the bustle as you make a beeline for the observation deck at the John Hancock Building or, if skyscrapers aren’t your thing, for the wide open spaces of Oak Street Beach.
You’ll want lunch at some point. Yes, Gino’s East just off Michigan Avenue has delicious deep dish pizza and atmosphere with a capital A. But if you sit down only once to this Chicago specialty, head to a Lou Malnati’s. It’s our family favorite. (If you’re determined to do your homework on deep dish, read more about it in TimeOut Chicago.)
A Wicker Park Ramble
Chicago’s seventy-seven vibrant neighborhoods can’t all be visited in a weekend. How was I to choose one to highlight for your late Saturday afternoon? When I walked into Firefly Fiber Arts in Wicker Park, the answer became clear. It’s a destination yarn shop. I had a delightful conversation with co-owner Sarah Jamison about fiber, sustainability, and dyeing yarn with plants and minerals. Inspirational! I could have stayed all day, but I had a son in tow and he was hungry for a burger at Small Cheval just a few blocks’ walk away. (Also in Wicker Park is Irazú—a Costa Rican BYOB we make a point of visiting every time we’re in town.)
There weren’t many skeins left of Firefly Fiber Arts’ mellow, mineral-y Earthly Yarns after Chicago Yarn Crawl participants had pretty much cleaned out the weekend before my visit.
If coffee is what you’re craving after your visit to Firefly Fiber Arts, Chicago is the home of Intelligentsia and their Wicker Park Coffeebar will hit the spot. Want sweets? We didn’t fit it in during our summertime visit, but we have enjoyed James Beard Award-winning Mindy’s Hot Chocolate during holiday visits. You’re welcome!
I’m afraid you’re on your own for nighttime entertainment because I was a homebody and a lark even before we started a family. I hear that Chicago is famous for blues and improv. (That’s a joke!) Chicago’s lively theater scene can always draw me out. Check out what’s at Court Theatre, Lookingglass Theatre, Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Goodman Theatre, and Steppenwolf Theatre when you plan your visit.
Cooler by the Lake
Chicago’s Chinatown is one of the oldest in the U.S. and a great place to start your Sunday morning. Consider Cai for dim sum. After breakfast, wander toward Wentworth Avenue, the neighborhood’s main street of shops and stop at The Nine Dragon Wall on your way. The Chinatown Branch Library is worth a walk-around, though it won’t be open on a Sunday.
Now you’re ready to head back downtown for a visit to The Art Institute of Chicago, a place where I have spent countless hours from my middle school years (when I was allowed to ride the L downtown alone or with friends) and on. Georgia O’Keefe’s Sky above Clouds IV was my magnet (like Georges Seurat’s A Sunday on La Grande Jatte is for Cameron in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off).
Yes, I was so taken with the painting I later rendered it as a Ballband Dishcloth (Now in the Kay Gardiner Collection).
Stretch your legs in Millennium Park where you’ll find photo ops galore in the naturalistic Lurie Garden highlighting native species; on the Great Lawn under the Jay Pritzker Pavilion designed by Frank Gehry; by Jaume Plensa’s mesmerizing Crown Fountain; and, of course, at Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate.
A Collage of Millennium Park impressions.
The Yarny City
- Friendly greetings come your way as soon as you open the door of bright and colorful Knit1. They have a superb collection that will keep you busily browsing.
- Vibrant Sister-Arts Studio is Lincoln Park’s yarn shop and “craft café” offering kits to engage makers of all ages and satisfy all fiber-arts interests.
- Historic Printer’s Row is home to comfy yarnify! and its rainbow collection of fibers and hand-dyed yarns.
- Enter the wonderland that is Nina in Noble Square and make your mark at their striking, community-building Make Wall. You’ll find a gorgeous and diverse selection of yarns and fabrics too.
The Make Wall awaits.
Museums Galore or Choose Your Own Adventure
Swap out one of the mornings or afternoons I describe above for an alternate agenda!
- Two gems near my old neighborhood on the South Side are the DuSable Museum of African-American History and The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago. It was especially moving to visit the DuSable Museum during this summer’s centenary of Chicago’s 1919 Race Riot. On your visit to Hyde Park, be sure to stop by the Robie House, the Seminary Co-op Bookstore and 57th Street Books. If you’re hungry, we like Medici on 57th and we love Cedar’s Mediterranean Kitchen.
- The National Museum of Mexican Art is located in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood. They rotate their extensive permanent collection of art and artifacts spanning 3,000 years and beautifully showcase work by contemporary artists in special exhibits. Step around the corner to Paleteria y Neveria Sabores de Michoacán for a paleta afterward, but good luck choosing just one flavor. If you’re looking for lunch or dinner, Nuevo Leon is a favorite spot of ours.