Windy City secrets: A peek into Chicago’s local life

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7 lesser known Chicago highlights for you to explore

Chicago is home to many obvious tourist attractions, but if you’re looking for something more exclusive than Navy Pier or Shedd Aquarium, you’ll be pleased to know that Chicago has many lesser-known highlights for you to explore, as well.

These insider favorites are just a sample of the family friendly attractions to be found in Chicago. They offer an intriguing way to fill out your visit and enjoy a bit of local flavor. Add one, two, or all of these stops to your itinerary to see Chicago like a savvy resident.

A walk through the Oak Woods Cemetery

Established in 1854, it’s no wonder the Oak Woods Cemetery is brimming with history. Among the famous personages buried here are:

  • civil rights activist Ida B. Wells
  • hall of Fame baseball player Adrian “Cap” Anson
  • Chicago’s first African-American mayor, Harold Washington
  • Olympiad Jesse Owens
  • physicist Enrico Fermi
  • crime boss Big Jim Colosimo

This cemetery also houses six thousand Confederate soldiers who died at Camp Douglas beneath a massive monument. The cemetery covers 184 beautifully manicured acres, offering visitors ample opportunities to admire the site’s significance.

Appreciating sports history at the West Side Grounds

Baseball fans can’t help but appreciate the history and significance of the West Side Grounds. The Chicago Cubs called this field home from 1894 to 1915. It saw two World Series championships in 1907 and 1908. Cap Anson took hit number 3,000 here, and Kid Nichols enjoyed his 300th win.

The field’s history contains both high and low points that are worth noting. In 1894, a careless cigar started a garbage fire that could have caused massive fatalities had Walt Wilmot and Jimmy Ryan not attacked the barbed wire fence containing the fans with baseball bats. Thanks to their quick action, the fans were able to rush right onto the field, to safety. On the other end of the spectrum, this field saw one of the greatest double play combinations in history –Tinker flipped the ball to Evers who relayed it to Chance.

Visit our previous post on Chicago championships for a brief overview of the city’s many accomplishments in sports.

A fun free weekend at the Chicago Cultural Center

With soaring stained glass domes, massive windows, and elegant pillars, the Chicago Cultural Center is worth a visit for the architecture alone. Stop in for a building tour Wednesday, Friday, or Saturday for a closer look at these stunning features. Not an architecture buff? The Center still has plenty of activities for you to enjoy. Check out the rotating exhibits featured throughout the building for a look at the city’s most interesting art, photography, and graphic design.

On Wired Fridays, visitors can enjoy a dance party in the Cultural Center. The Juice Box series is a dance party for toddlers. Free music programs include classical performances, live jazz, and more. Various theater and dance shows come to the Chicago Cultural Center, as well.

Book browsing at the Harold Washington Library

The exterior of the Harold Washington Library is sure to catch your eye. Stunning owl figures perch atop the roof and neo-classical architecture give the massive building stunning lines. Don’t let your admiration stop here. The interior is just as fascinating. Inside the 756,640 square foot space, you’ll find a mosaic mural by Jacob Lawrence and work from the Polish sculptor Jerzy Kenar.

In addition to a massive collection of books, this library also features music practice rooms, special collections with historic Civil War items, a talking book library for visitors who can’t read, and the Maker Lab with 3D printers and laser cutters. The Thomas Hughes Children’s Library on the second floor has the largest collection of children’s books in the city.

Catching a concert at the Metro

The Metro is the perfect venue for an engaging live performance. The venue accommodates just 1,150 guests, split between the balcony and main floor. This setup ensures that every visitor feels reasonably close to the show and leaves thoroughly satisfied with the performance. Quality acoustics offer an excellent listening experience in any spot.

This venue hosts a variety of performers from rap to rock. Most shows are reasonably priced under $30, so you can pop in to try something new, or commit to always showing up for your favorite bands. Keep an eye on the calendar. Some performances are even free.

Sipping a drink at Curio

Curio is a little known gem in the basement of Gilt Bar. Curious visitors who bravely descend the dimly lit stairs will find themselves in a candlelit room filled with antique mirrors and tufted leather furniture. True to its name, the space is indeed filled with curiosities, including a working Victrola, brass cash register, and vintage odds and ends.

The cocktails here are exquisite, but you must arrive with cash in hand. This little oddity doesn’t accept credit cards. You won’t find food at Curio either, which is fine since you have all the delights of the Gilt Bar waiting upstairs. For a pre- or post-dinner drink, this secret spot is a great way to spice up your night.

Having a quick breakfast at Lou Mitchells

Lou Mitchells is more than just a diner. This iconic hot spot sits at the beginning of Route 66. With an 86-year history, there’s no question about the quality of this establishment. Breakfast is served all day, so you can enjoy this mouthwatering meal any time you drop in. Doughnut holes will keep you satisfied while you wait, though the service is notoriously speedy so you won’t be waiting long. As an added bonus, children and ladies receive a welcoming gift of Milk Duds, as well.

The Lou Mitchells menu features all the breakfast classics, including pancakes, waffles, thick French toast, buttermilk biscuits and country gravy, fresh eggs, fluffy omelets, and all your favorite breakfast meats. The restaurant’s European heritage is evident in the menu with features like Greek cheese or Greek sausage omelets, and a Norwegian smoked salmon plate alongside all American staples.

With these must-see sights on your list, your Chicago vacation will take on a whole new life. From the eyes of an insider, you’ll soon find that this city’s local favorites can rival the tourist traps any day.

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