For years, I’ve headed to Chicago for day trips or quick overnights – usually taking in the obvious sites and sticking to places tourists congregate.
That changed in 2011, when two events (a business conference and a football game) lured me to the Windy City for seven nights, with ample time to explore what’s beyond the Loop and Magnificent Mile.
If you’re comfortable navigating the city through public transportation, a trip to Chicago need not be predictable or expensive. Buy a one-day Chicago Transit Authority pass for $5.75 (or pay $14 for three days) to ride buses and elevated trains unlimited times. www.transitchicago.com, 888-968-7282
Too big of a step? Contact the Chicago Greeter program, which matches knowledgeable volunteers with visitors who want a hand in getting to know the city. This free guide will spend up to four hours to help introduce travelers to neighborhoods or special interests. www.chicagogreeter.com, 312-744-8000
Where can you go? Many places.
Historic architecture, Swedish heritage and a vibrant gay population enliven the city’s Andersonville neighborhood, a slice of Clark Street where 90 percent of businesses are locally owned. The vibe is small-town friendly, thanks to creative thinkers who are eco-aware. www.andersonville.org, 773-728-2995
Open daily: the Swedish American Museum and Brunk Children’s Museum of Immigration, 5211 N. Clark St. Use the genealogy center to research family history. Buy hand-carved Dala horses or a Swedish windsock in the gift shop.
On tap in a former Swedish bank – now the eclectically decorated Hamburger Mary’s, 5400 N. Clark St. – is Mary Hoppins, a pale ale. Jewelry, art and practical household furnishings made with recycled materials fill GreenSky, 5357 N. Ashland Ave. Tour Koval Distillery, 5121 N. Ravenswood Ave., and sip jasmine or ginger liqueur, or pay $200 for the monthly whiskey workshop (an educational immersion).
Farther north is Uncommon Ground, 1401 W. Devon St., home to the nation’s first certified organic rooftop farm. Solar panels provide 10 percent of the restaurant’s energy.
“We’re learning that as a restaurant we have a lot of power to educate,” says co-owner Helen Cameron. “Kids don’t know where the food is coming from, so the roof is a tool for educating the community.”
The roof’s 640 square feet of tillable soil produces 1 pound of food per square foot.
Support a good cause while browsing the Mount Sinai Women’s Board Resale Shop, 814 W. Diversey St., where a hospital benefits from the sales of a pleasant mishmash of inventory. www.sinai.org (search “resale shop”), 773-935-1434
Feed your craving for authentic Chicago fare with a double red hot at Wiener Circle, 2622 N Clark St., a popular hot dog stand that stays open as late as 5 a.m. on weekends. www.wienercircle.net
That’s far from the only place to order a Chicago dawg, but these rate especially high at www.hotdogchicagostyle.com, a site maintained by a couple of Madison guys who are passionate about their ongoing search for great hot dogs. They provide reviews of several hot dog vendors in Chicago and other locales.
Closer to the Lincoln Park Zoo is the twice-weekly and outdoor Green City Market, 1790 N. Clark St., which runs May through October. Everybody has farmers’ markets these days, but this one welcomes vendors from both Wisconsin and Michigan. That makes for an unusual array of “local” products, Michigan blueberries to Wisconsin artisan cheeses. Add made-as-you-watch crepes and small-batch breads from small Chicago bakeries. www.greencitymarket.org, 773-880-1266
During other times of year, the market moves indoors to the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, 2430 N. Cannon Dr., where selections are leaner and available only on Saturdays.
Back at the Loop, artisan foods and beverages rule year-round at Pastoral, 53 E. Lake St., www.pastoralartisan.com, 312-658-1250, although it’s best to shop there in warm weather for a picnic lunch, then head with it a couple of blocks to Millennium Park.