Things to see outside of downtown Chicago.

Old Oct 7th, 2002, 04:28 PM
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Things to see outside of downtown Chicago.

My wife and I will be visiting Chicago over Thanksgiving. On all our trips we rent a car for a day and go driving around the outskirts of a city, this time my wife does not want to go through the hassle. I was wondering if there was anything worth seeing that we would have to rent a car to get to. Preferably historical, or scenic. Or would downtown keep us busy enough for 3 1/2 days?
Old Oct 7th, 2002, 05:30 PM
Owen O'Neill
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There's a fairly significant number of Frank Lloyd Wright designed home in one of the suburbs (Oak Park). You could rent a car but I'm told that traffic in the Chicago area is very problematic. The Architecture Foundation offers some tours of the Wright studio and the homes - some include a bus ride out and back. It's not every weekend and has to be reserved in advance but if these are anything like their boat tours it will be well worth the time. Details at
Old Oct 7th, 2002, 07:06 PM
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That is a good sugestion (Owen). I grew up there and found the Botanic garden in Northbrook to be great- on the weekends they have autumn fairs. Also, Galena is a beautiful town to visit- Its about a 3 hour drive from Chicago. Oh yea, and Long Grove, is a little historic town 45 min from Chicago with a covered bridge.
Old Oct 7th, 2002, 11:32 PM
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There's more than enough to do in downtown Chicago to keep you going for 3 1/2 days, though if you're a fan of architecture at all, Oak Park is worth trying to get to (though not worth renting a car for) - check with the Architecture Foundation.
Old Oct 8th, 2002, 07:06 AM
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There should be plenty to keep you busy for 3 1/2 days in Chicago. If your wife is a shopper, the Friday after Thanksgiving is the big shopping day. The Marshall Field's over on State Street should have it's window display out by then, usually it's worth taking a look at.

Owen had a good suggestion for you in visiting Oak Park with the Architecture Foundation. If the tour is not held that weekend, they also have a number of tours of Chicago neighborhoods which should meet either your historical or scenic criteria.

Or you could try using the Chicago Greeters for a tour of an area you would like to see. Visit their website at There is a description of the areas that they may be able to take you on the website. The service is free. You could visit Pullman, the planned community for the Pullman sleeping car factory, Beverly which has a lot of really cool old big houses, Hyde Park where the Columbian Exposition was held, etc. The website requests that you sign up at least a week in advance.

And I haven't even mentioned the museums yet-Art Institute, Shedd Aquarium, Field Museum, Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago Historical Society all are worth a look if they fit your interests.

The Botanic Gardens are nice but I don't think I'd devote a day to it, especially since the gardens will be past their peak in late November.

Galena is a long drive from Chicago, maybe a couple of hours or more depending on traffic. It would be a nice day trip if you were here for a week but I think you're time is better spent in the city with so few days.

You don't say where you are coming from or if you are used to driving in large cities. Traffic over holiday weekends in Chicago is brutal, the Wednesday before and Sunday after are particularly bad.
Old Oct 8th, 2002, 07:15 AM
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Great, thanks for all the suggestions. Kris we live in LA, so I understand what you mean about holiday traffic. I think this time we might pass up renting a car and just take the tours.
Thank you all,
Old Oct 8th, 2002, 05:25 PM
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Check out the city's theatre scene. And don't worry about the traffic, except for the Wednesday evening rush and the Sunday afternoon return. The only really busy areas will be North Michigan Avenue and possibly the museum campus; the rest of the downtown area will be very quiet that weekend.

That's not a great time for architecture tours since they are staffed by volunteers, but the FLW buildings in Oak Park are great, as is his Robie House on the south side.
Old Oct 17th, 2002, 07:33 PM
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I recommend Long Grove. Lots of cute shops.
Old Oct 18th, 2002, 08:47 AM
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You can get to Oak Park in 15 minutes on the METRA suburban commuter train. I believe it is on West Madison, not Union station, the other one. I would do this rather than take the subway since that goes through some seedy areas. Although people do it ecery day and survive.

Old Oct 18th, 2002, 09:31 AM
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I live in the Bay Area (home of somewhat notorious traffic) and in the trips I've taken to Chicago, I still can't get over how bad the traffic is!! My best advice would be to use your legs and the fairly comprehensive Chicago transit system (known at the CTA).

While I agree that downtown could keep you busy for 3 1/2 days, there are a lot of interesting things to see outside of downtown as well. Here are a few of my suggestions (with public transit directions). You might want to go to the Chicago Cultural Center/Visitor Center once you arrive. It's located at Michigan and Washington, right downtown in the loop. You can pick up a copy of the transit map and a lot of other Tourist information.

I totally agree that travelling out to Oak Park is worth is. Not only are the Frank Lloyd Wright designed houses wonderful, but the town's
"downtown" is very nice to walk around. You can take the Metra UP-W line from the Ogilivie Transportation Center (OTC) which is located just west of the Loop, at Washington and Canal. Check out the Metra wesbite:

Alternatively, you can take the Green line Elevated train from the loop. It runs more frequently and is cheaper than Metra, but takes a bit longer. Take it from any Loop station on either Wabash or Lake, heading west towards "Harlem/Lake". Exit at either Oak Park or Harlem/Lake and walk north, it's very well signed.

Another interesting community outside of downtown Chicago is Hyde Park. It's located south along the lake, and is the home of the University of Chicago and the Museum of Science and Industry. It's technically part of Chicago, but has the feel of a separate town. Because there's a major college located there, there's some great architecture and also a lot of funky stores, cafes, etc.

The best way to get to Hyde Park is to take the Metra Electric line from Randolph Street station (located at Michigan and Randolph downtown). Get off the train at 59th Street station and you are there. You can also take the CTA express bus (#6-Jeffrey) which runs every 6-10 minutes, even on weekends. You can catch the bus southbound on State Street in the loop. Then, just get off when the bus reaches 59th Street in Hyde Park.

The third suggestion I ahve is to visit Evanston, a northern suburb of Chicago. It's home to Northwestern University and like Oak Park, has a pedestrian friendly downtown with stores, cafes, etc. You can get there on Metra on the UP-N line by riding from OTC (see directions above) out to Davis station. Just walk east when you exit the station.

A longer, but maybe more scenic route is taking the red line El train north to Howard. Switch at Howard to the purple line train and exit at Davis. You can catch the red line train at a number of stops downtown, in the subway under State Street. The Davis El stop is right next to the Davis Metra stop. I love riding the Els as you rumble above ground, right next to many north side apartment buildings.

Anyway, hope any of this was useful.

The CTA website is:
Old Oct 18th, 2002, 11:02 AM
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I, too, will endorse Owen's Oak Park suggestion. It's well worth the trip.
Chicago is well known for its architecture, so the suggestion to contact the foundation is also a good one.
Old Oct 18th, 2002, 02:23 PM
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Wow, thanks for all the information. This info will be used, I just hope we have enough time to do everything we want.
Old Oct 18th, 2002, 02:32 PM
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I don't think anyone else mentioned it, so here's goes. The Chicago Architecture Foundation also has a store right downtown (on Michigan at Jackson). This has to be one of the most interesting stores I've ever been in, in my life. When I visited, in the lobby, they had models and plans for different works within Chicago. The store has books, gifts, and anything else you can imagine having to do with architecture, urban planning, Chicago, transit, etc. They also have, literally, dozens of tours available, most for about $10. Here is their website:

Old Oct 24th, 2002, 08:38 PM
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Mike, if the Chihuly exhibit is extended though November, DON'T MISS IT! It's at the Garfield Park Conservatory (take the green line) and it is absolutely fantastic, even if you have seen his work on the coast I can't recommend it enough; the website is: Also Owen has (as usual) given excellent advice about Oak Park and Robie House. Robie House is under restoration but still a treasure. We took the "El" out there (hey - our fist day in the city, what did we know?) but I would take the Metra if we were to go again. The "El" was fine, but on this route we had to change to a bus and the bus stop was a little skeevy. Also, a walk down Astor street on a nice day is great, beautiful historic town homes etc. and there are some coffee shops, restaurants, and the Pump Room nearby. Enjoy!
Old Oct 29th, 2002, 12:06 AM
City Dweller
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Related to what Adam just mentioned about the skeevy bus stop, I feel the need to warn you to be careful taking the Green Line to Oak Park. Chances are that you'll be fine, but you should know that this particular el line runs through some less-than-safe areas just before getting to Oak Park from the city. You probably have less to worry about during the day than at night.
Old Oct 29th, 2002, 07:50 AM
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Thanks for the warnings, Adam and City Dweller. We do like to wander around, and more then once found ourselves in a not so friendly neigborhood. One time in San Antonio, we stopped at a gas station before dropping off the rental car, the attendant muttered to me under his breath, "what the hell are you doing here, get out of here before the sun goes down." And the next day a cab driver gave me a good lecture when I asked him about that area and what I had experienced there. So alittle heads up always helps.
Old Oct 29th, 2002, 01:13 PM
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The B'Hai (sp?) Temple in Wilmette. You can take scenic Lake Shore Drive from the city, which turns into Sheridan through Evanston to B'Hai. I would suggest continuing on Sheridan Road through to at least Highland Park. It's just such a pretty drive at any time of you. You'll catch a glimps of the gorgous homes, even a Frank Lloyd Wright or two. This drive is the one thing i miss about no longer having a car! When I visit my parents, I always make us take this leisurely trip!
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