Swimmers tick off laps as soft waves roll onto the sandy shore, where spectators relax on beach chairs and blankets. Graceful as ballet dancers, a small group of young boys jump to keep their volleyball in the air. Nothing unusual about this beach scene, except that I'm viewing it not on a remote island paradise, but from the 14th floor of the W Hotel in downtown Chicago. There are so many amazing Chicago tourist attractions to choose from. All you need is a map and you're ready to go.
On the shores of Lake Michigan, one of the Great Lakes, Chicago embraces the waterfront even as it reaches for the sky. The city, renowned for its trendsetting architecture, also exploits its favored location by the water. Indeed, the sea and the sky complement each other. Among many commercial tours, the Chicago Architectural Foundation conducts more than 70 guided walking and river tours that highlight the skyline's landmark buildings.
Boston-born Louis Henry Sullivan, a proponent of contemporary architecture, left his mark on Chicago with several innovative masonry buildings, including the Jewelers' Building and Pilgrim Baptist Church. Using steel beams to support buildings, he was free to design ornamental facades.
There's a good opportunity to see some of the well-known skyscrapers and their ornamentation up close for a totally different perspective. The free guided architectural tour by train around the downtown loop, offered by the Chicago Transit Authority on Saturdays, passes within a few feet of some buildings. In addition to pointing out the sights, guides provide a capsule course on the city's history. The tour is a very popular attraction and the ticket line forms early in the morning at the Chicago Cultural Center at 78 E. Washington Street.
And while you're at the Cultural Center, take time to look around at the elegant building, affectionately dubbed "the people's palace." It houses art galleries, theaters and a café. All performances and exhibitions are free, including the nostalgic radio museum on the first floor. If you listened to The Lone Ranger on radio or remember Baby Snooks, if you laughed at Groucho Marx or cried with Stella Dallas, the exhibits and tapes will stoke memories of the golden age of radio. There's even a recreated radio-broadcasting studio with period electronic equipment.
The Cultural Center is conveniently located across the street from the Chicago Art Institute, one of the world's premier showcases for modern art. The museum is home to many of the familiar works used to illustrate art books. In addition to a huge stained glass mural by Marc Chagall, the collection features such seminal artists as Georgia O'Keefe, Pablo Picasso and Jean Arp.
The collection also includes furniture by Frank Lloyd Wright, who worked for a time with Louis Sullivan and lived in the suburb of Oak Park. His home, which comprises his office and studio, is open to the public. Just as Thomas Jefferson's home, Monticello, is a personal statement about the President, the Wright residence reflects the origins of the creative concepts of the architect who later famously designed the Robie House at 5757 S. Woodlawn Avenue and Fallingwater in Pennsylvania.
Chicago is a walking city with a variety of ethnic neighborhoods to explore. One of the most interesting is Old Town. Slightly bohemian, it is distinguished by old-fashioned lampposts, hidden gardens and charming, period row houses. Linger in bookshops and coffeehouses, dine on authentic ethnic cooking at one of the small mom and pop restaurants or sit in the park. There's a small town friendliness to this neighborhood in the heart of the city.
While you're in the neighborhood, take in a performance at the popular Second City at 1616 N. Wells Street, Old Town's main drag. You may discover the next Jay Leno or David Letterman. A Mecca for improvisational comedy, Second City helped to launch the careers of such headliners as Alan Alda, Joan Rivers and Jerry Stiller.
If Chicago seems like a smorgasbord, you're right. The city has something for everyone. That's why I join the chorus of travelers who sing its praises and say, "Chicago is my kind of town."
Article provided by Homesteader
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