SEE THE SIGHTS
Known for its diverse architecture and collection of museums and attractions, Chicago has plenty of sights guaranteed to keep your family busy.
One of the major draws in Chicago is the Shedd Aquarium, located on Chicago’s Museum Campus. Open daily, the Shedd Aquarium hosts over 32,500 different species of animals and fish, from whales to snails and tarantulas to turtles. Guests to the Shedd Aquarium are greeted by the Caribbean Reef exhibit, where you can get eye-to-eye with several species of saltwater fish and watch divers feed them. Be sure to check out the award-winning Abbott Oceanarium, where you can encounter Beluga whales, sea lions, and sea otters. The Polar Play Zone has great activities for kids, in addition to underwater viewing areas for the Beluga whales and penguins. If you make it to the Shedd Aquarium this summer or early fall, be sure to take advantage of Stingray Touch, where guests can pet stingrays as they glide through the water.
AAA TIP—Be sure to arrive at the Shedd Aquarium early, as the line to enter the facility can occasionally exceed 30 minutes, but it is well worth the wait. Saturdays are especially busy.
Staying on the Chicago Museum Campus, the Field Museum provides the opportunity to travel through time to view 4.5 billion years’ worth of history. With more than 26 million artifacts, the Field Museum is home to exhibits such as SUE, the largest and most complete T. Rex ever found, as well as a collection of 14 Egyptian mummies.
Also on the Museum Campus is the Adler Planetarium, America’s first planetarium. Home to NASA’s Gemini 12 space capsule, the planetarium is a great destination for families. The Planet Explorers exhibit provides hands-on fun for kids, and there are plenty of shows and theaters sure to keep a family of all ages busy. Destination Solar System is the Adler’s premier show, but many guests also enjoy being able to experience the night sky over Chicago as it appeared in 1913 in the historic Atwood Sphere.
A bit farther south of downtown Chicago and accessible by bus, car, or taxi is the Museum of Science and Industry. The largest science center in the western hemisphere and open daily, the Museum of Science and Industry boasts a large transportation collection, including a U-505 submarine—the only German submarine in the United States.
AAA TIP—Visit the Motion Simulator and Omnimax when first arriving to the Museum of Science and Industry to secure reservations.
Navy Pier, nestled along Lake Michigan, is home to the Chicago Children’s Museum and features great dining and shopping options. While at Navy Pier, be sure to take a ride on the Navy Pier Ferris Wheel, which lifts riders 150 feet into the air while they witness stunning views of the Chicago skyline and Lake Michigan shoreline.
AAA TIP—Don’t miss out on the Wednesday and Saturday night fireworks displays at Navy Pier if visiting during the summer months.
While in downtown Chicago, be sure to check out either 360 Chicago in the John Hancock Center, or Skydeck Chicago in the Willis (Sears) Tower. Both attractions offer exceptional views of the Chicago skyline and either attraction has fuel to feed your inner dare-devil.
Chicago also boasts an excellent arts scene. Home to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Art Institute of Chicago, many visitors will enjoy taking in one of the many shows that are a part of the Broadway in Chicago series.
One of the best ways to view Chicago’s architectural marvels is to take a cruise along the Chicago River. Cruise lines such as Shoreline Sightseeing offer fantastic architecture and history cruises that provide riders with an insider’s glimpse into the buildings, architecture, and engineering that made Chicago famous. Cruises leave from a variety of locations, but the easiest place to catch a cruise is from Navy Pier.
WHERE TO STAY
There are plenty of lodging options in Chicago at a variety of price points. Many opt to stay in downtown Chicago along the Magnificent Mile, close to transportation, shopping, and dining. There are a variety of hotels in this area and the benefit to staying along Michigan Avenue is its proximity to all the major Chicago attractions.
AAA TIP—Be prepared to spend at least $40 per night to park a vehicle at a hotel in downtown Chicago—very few hotels in this area offer complimentary parking.
Another area to consider staying is near O’Hare International Airport. Located just under 20 miles from downtown Chicago, the Rosemont area offers many hotels at lower price points than properties in downtown Chicago. Many hotels, such as the Renaissance Chicago O’Hare Suites, are located just steps away from the CTA Blue Line, making the trip into downtown Chicago simple without having to ever set foot in the car after arriving to the hotel.
HOW TO GET AROUND
While Chicago has an expansive highway system, it’s not always easy to navigate as an out-of-towner. Combine this with the high price of parking in the downtown areas, and parking the car will suddenly seem like a great idea.
AAA TIP—Most of Chicago’s highway system is in the form of toll roads, so bring plenty of cash and watch for periodic pull-offs to pay tolls.
The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) system is very user-friendly and is highly recommended for tourist use around the city, regardless of where you decide to stay. The Chicago ‘L’, or Chicago’s rail system, is easy to navigate with stations scattered all around downtown Chicago and in the suburbs. One, three, and seven day unlimited passes (in the form of electronic Ventra cards) are available for purchase at train stations and local retailers.
AAA TIP—If you’re unsure of how to navigate the train, there are transit system maps available. There are a variety of apps available for your smartphone or tablet that can also help you with schedules, maps, and walking instructions. CTA staff is also always willing to help answer transit questions.