Chicago’s tourist hotspots – they’re not just for tourists

From the Saturday, May 26, 2012, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …

Chicago’s tourist hotspots – they’re not just for tourists


May 26, 2012

It’s Memorial Day Weekend, otherwise known as the unofficial start of summertime.

And in Chicago, otherwise known as “Summer’s Favorite City,” that means it’s officially time to start enjoying all that the city has to offer under the sun. That includes some of the obvious things that you might have already enjoyed in the past. Or, perhaps, those that you haven’t enjoyed because they’re, well, so darn obvious.

This past weekend, I spent time in Colorado visiting family. And during a conversation with a cousin who has lived in the San Francisco area for the past few years, the topic of Alcatraz came up.

Despite living just miles from the bay, my cousin explained how he’s never visited “The Rock,” which has long been one of the top tourist destinations (and my personal favorite) in San Fran.

My cousin remarked how sometimes you just don’t think about seeing the “touristy” sights in the big city nearest to you. That, of course, got me thinking about Chicago and its stereotypical tourist hotspots that everyone from out-of-state seems to visit, but locals often seem to ignore.

Well, I’m here to say that you shouldn’t ignore them.

There’s a reason why Chicago’s tourist hotspots are so hot. They’re fun. And the following is a list of five places in Chicago that everyone should experience at least once in their lifetime.

SkyDeck at Willis Tower

It’ll always be Sears Tower to me (even if it now isn’t). And it’s still the tallest building in North America (even if it might not always be, as New York City’s Freedom Tower may ultimately rise higher.)

If you’ve never been, the SkyDeck atop Chicago’s most iconic skyscraper is worth climbing up to (by elevator, of course). And if you haven’t been there recently, it’s worth revisiting. Especially to experience “The Ledge,” a quartet of enclosed glass boxes that stick out four feet from the 103rd floor Skydeck – and leave you peering 1,353 feet straight down.

The Signature Room

The Sears, er, Willis Tower’s SkyDeck gets all the glamour in Chicago. But it’s actually the John Hancock Tower’s 95th floor observatory – featuring the famous Signature Room lounge – that offers the city’s most spectacular view.

Situated on the northern end of Michigan Avenue, the Signature Room offers sweeping views the lake, the Magnificent Mile and the city sprawling off to the west. The drinks aren’t bad, either.

The Ferris Wheel at Navy Pier

During Chicago’s 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, the world’s first Ferris wheel made its debut. The version found today at Navy Pier today is modeled after the original, and has become one of Chicago’s most visible attractions.

Speaking of views, the 150-foot-tall wheel offers a truly breathtaking one of the skyline during a seven-minute ride in one of its gondolas.

The Bean

Officially known as “Cloud Gate,” although no one calls it that, the most iconic element of Millennium Park is a treat to see, no matter if you’ve seen “The Bean” a hundred times before, or if you’ve never seen it at all.

The stainless-steel, mirrored sculpture is especially enjoyable during the summer when the sunshine and skyscrapers are reflecting off it, while little kids scurry about beneath its 12-foot-high arch.

“Eat at Ed’s”

It’s not as popular as it once was, but for any red-blooded Chicago area resident, Ed Debevic’s – the famously kitschy 1950s-themed “diner deluxe” in River North – is still a must-see at least once.

No doubt, Ed’s notoriously smart-aleck wait staff will tell you the same – right after they’ve slid you into a sparkly plastic booth and forced you to wear a paper deli hat throughout your meal.