Chicago has two airports: O'Hare and Midway. They are roughly the same distance from the city (O'Hare is to the north and Midway to the south). You can travel directly to the center of Chicago via subway from either airport - the Blue Line from O'Hare for $5 or the Orange Line from Midway for $2.25. If you take a cab, you should expect to pay roughly $40 (plus tip) from the airport to a hotel in the center of the city.
We do not recommend renting a car. Parking at the hotels and garages is expensive and street parking is difficult to find. All of the activities we have planned are easily accessible by foot, public transit, or cab.
Chicago's subway system - called the "L" (elevated) - is a hub-and-spoke system, with all the different lines meeting in an area called "The Loop." If you're staying near The Murphy, the closest L stop is either Chicago or Grand, both on the Red Line. From O'Hare, take the Blue Line to the Washington Street stop, then follow the signs to transfer via an underground shopping arcade to the Red Line heading north towards Howard (you will exit the subway and re-enter, but it's a free transfer if you use the same farecard). From Midway, take the Orange Line to State & Lake, then exit the station and walk 1/2 block south on State Street to the Red Line entrance and take the Red Line train heading north in the direction of Howard (again, it will be a free transfer if you use the same farecard).
Taking the subway from O'Hare Airport costs $5; getting on the subway at any other station costs $2.25. Additional information on fares and ticket options can be found here.
Cabs are plentiful in Chicago and can be hailed on the street. As in New York, if the number on the top of the cab is lit, then the cab is available. All cabs are required to take credit cards (and most do), but to avoid arguments with cabbies with "broken" credit card machines, we'd recommend carrying some cash just in case.
Uber (and UberX) is another transportation option. UberX can be significantly cheaper than a cab and there are generally plenty of drivers in the neighborhoods near The Murphy.
Things to Do
- Lincoln Park Zoo: A large outdoor zoo in the center of Lincoln Park. Free admission.
- Lincoln Park Conservatory: Several interconnected Victorian greenhouses, surrounded by gardens. Just a few steps away from the Lincoln Park Zoo. Free admission.
- Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum: A large museum focused on hands-on exhibits and instruction. Recommended for children.
- Cloud Gate (aka "The Bean"): An iconic sculpture at the northern end of Millennium Park. Also check out the Crown Fountain and Lurie Gardens.
- Art Institute: Not quite as big as The Metropolitan Museum in New York, but still far more than you can reasonably absorb in a single day. If you don't want to fork over the admission fee, you can get a great view of the Chicago skyline by walking up the ramp from Millennium Park to the Art Institute's new Modern Wing.
- Buckingham Fountain: Chicago landmark in the center of Grant Park.
- Adler Planetarium: America's first planetarium - several theaters, an observatory, and a large collection of antique astronomical instruments.
- Shedd Aquarium: 5 million gallons of water, 25,000 fish, and 1,500 different species.
- Field Museum of Natural History: One of the largest natural history museums in the world, with an extensive collection of fossils, interactive demonstrations, and exhibits. Recommended for children.
Walk along the lake: There are trails all along the lakefront. From River North/Gold Coast, you can go north or south - both are lovely. If you go north, we recommend walking up Michigan Avenue to Oak Street/East Lake Shore Drive, going through the underpass to get to the beach and then heading north on the path from there. The Lincoln Park Zoo is approximately 1.5 miles from Oak Street Beach, and Belmont Harbor is approximately 3 miles from Oak Street Beach. If you choose to head south from River North/Gold Coast, we recommend walking down Michigan Avenue, past the Tribune and Wrigley buildings, and across the river. Continue down Michigan Avenue a few more blocks until you get to Millennium/Grant Park. Cut over to the lakefront path when you feel like it and head down to Museum Campus, which is approximately 1.5 miles from the Bean in Millennium Park.
Bike along the lake: Same as above (go north to Belmont Harbor or south to Museum Campus, or farther in either direction if you wish), except bike instead of walking. You can rent Divvy bikes before going through the underpass to Oak Street Beach if you're heading north, and you can rent them at several different locations in Millennium/Grant Park if you're heading south. A 24-hour pass, which entitles you to unlimited bike rentals of 30 minutes or less, costs $7. If you keep the bike for more than 30 minutes at a stretch, there are additional charges. Find more information about Divvy bikes here.
Boat tours: Several companies offer cruises of the river and lake. We recommend the tour run by the Chicago Architecture Foundation. Find more information here.
Lakefront beaches: If it's unseasonably warm, grab your swimsuit and head to Oak Street Beach or North Avenue Beach. Oak Street Beach is near The Murphy - to get there, just walk up Michigan Avenue to Oak Street/East Lake Shore Drive and go through the underpass. North Avenue Beach, which is larger, is approximately one mile farther north (by Lincoln Park). Even if it's cold, you can still play beach volleyball while listening to Playing With The Boys.
Visit Lincoln Park: Chicago's largest park, covering over 1200 acres along the lakefront. There are several museums, a zoo, beaches, and many recreational facilities, including a golf course and an archery range (so feel free to pack your bow).
Visit Millennium Park/Grant Park: Together, these two parks cover roughly 350 acres and sit between the Loop and the lakefront. They are bounded on the north by Randolph Street, on the west by Michigan Avenue, and on the south by Roosevelt Ave.
Visit Museum Campus: A 57-acre park at the south end of the Loop that borders Lake Michigan and surrounds three of Chicago's most notable museums. Great views of the city skyline from here.
Shopping: The Magnificent Mile is the main shopping destination for tourists, but there's really not much you can buy here that you can't get at home. It is worth walking down this stretch of Michigan Avenue, though. Walk north on Michigan then go west (take a left) on Oak Street and you'll find a number of upscale boutiques and retailers. Or take the Blue Line to the Damen stop in Wicker Park/Bucktown and visit the boutiques there. The Fashion Outlets of Chicago has good bargains on designer goods - including some retailers that can't be found at most other outlet malls (Burberry, Elie Tahari, Prada, Tory Burch, Saks, Neiman Marcus). Near O'Hare, though, so difficult to get to without a car.
Places to Eat
Below are some of our favorite places to go to lunch/dinner - most are within walking distance or a relatively short cab ride from River North/Gold Coast.
- Gilt Bar: Small plates of comfort food in River North. We recommend the truffle pasta.
- Balena: Our favorite Italian restaurant in the city.
- The Publican: A temple to the pig in the West Loop. Great seafood options as well. Styled after a German beer hall, with lots of communal seating. Excellent beer list.
- Pump Room: Reboot of a Chicago institution in the Gold Coast by Jean-Georges. Largely the same menu as ABC Kitchen in New York. Beautiful interior.
- Sumi Robata Bar: Charcoal-grilled Japanese small plates in River North.
- Au Cheval: Decadent "diner" food in the West Loop.
- Nico: Italian seafood restaurant at the Thompson Hotel in the Gold Coast.
- Avec: Small plates in a small space. Consistently delicious (and affordable).
- Eataly: Giant Italian market in River North with over 20 eateries (even bigger than the one in New York). Most of the eateries are on the second floor. Get a glass of wine, wander around, and enjoy Italian efficiency at its finest.
- Big Star: Tacos, bourbon, and beer in Wicker Park. Big outdoor space (if the weather is nice).
Below are some "famous" Chicago restaurants you might want to try. Note that getting a reservation at one of these places ranges from difficult to impossible. If there's someplace you really want to go, shoot us an email and we'll see if we can pull some strings.
- Alinea: Grant Achatz's modernist restaurant. The only restaurant in Chicago with three Michelin stars.
- Next: Another Grant Achatz restaurant. The menu/concept/decor here changes every three months. Not quite as expensive as Alinea.
- schwa: Molecular gastronomy, BYOB, a tiny dining room, chefs as servers, and the possibility that you may be listening to the Wu-Tang Clan at maximum volume.
- Girl & The Goat: Top Chef winner Stephanie Izard's restaurant in the West Loop.
- Frontera Grill: Rick Bayless's casual Mexican restaurant. Ever since he won Top Chef Masters there has been a line down the block. Topolabampo, his more formal Mexican restaurant, is located directly next door (and takes reservations).
And here are some spots for breakfast/brunch:
- Little Goat: Stephanie Izard's diner in the West Loop. No reservations and waits can be long.
- Sienna Tavern: Italian brunch in River North (the chef here is Fabio from Top Chef).
- Longman & Eagle: Wild boar sloppy joes, chicken & waffles, and shots of bourbon in Logan Square.
- Yolk: Casual diner-style restaurant that does breakfast/brunch basics well. Wait times can be long on the weekend.
- Original Pancake House: Greasy spoon diner located at 22 East Bellevue in the Gold Coast.
- GT Fish & Oyster: Seafood-focused brunch.
- Nico: Classic Italian brunch in the Gold Coast.
- Publican: Hearty brunch with an emphasis on pork.
If you're looking for something to eat at O'Hare Airport, try Rick Bayless's Tortas Frontera (supposedly the only airport food that Mario Batali will eat). There are locations in Terminal 1 near gate B11, in Terminal 3 near gate K4, and in Terminal 5 near gate M12.
Places to Drink
- Violet Hour: One of Chicago's first craft cocktail spots (Wicker Park, across the street from Big Star).
- Barrelhouse Flat: Expansive bar in Lincoln Park with a casual bar downstairs and a classic cocktail lounge upstairs.
- Aviary: Awesomely insane molecular mixology (West Loop - next to Next Restaurant).
- Sable: A staggering collection of spirits and an excellent cocktail list. In the Hotel Palomar in River North.
- Celeste: A three-story bar in River North with a different cocktail focus on each floor.
- Three Dots & A Dash: An amazing tiki bar (River North).
- The Whistler: Live music and craft cocktails in Logan Square.
- Scofflaw: A gin-focused cocktail bar in Logan Square.
- Drumbar: Craft cocktails and a great roofdeck at the Raffaello hotel (Gold Coast). You can, quite literally, see our house from here.
- Berkshire Room: Classic cocktails; in the Acme Hotel (River North).
- Sportsman's Club: To be honest, this is sort of out of the way. But they've got an amaro shot machine, lots of taxidermy, and chess sets at every table.
Additional Information & Links
Follow the links below for additional information on things to see/do in Chicago.