Festival season is officially underway in Chicago. If you're coming for Pitchfork or Lollapalooza, don't miss out on what the rest of the city has to offer. We wait all year for summer -- you may have heard that we just had an epically terrible winter -- and this is the best time to take in all that's awesome about Chicago.
Go Ahead, Be a Tourist
There's no shame in getting your tourist fix-Chicago has some awesome things to see and do. If you want a break from the heat, The Art Institute is right near Lollapalooza and is home to some of the best art in the country (and the cleanest bathrooms). If you're more into street art, go directly to Pilsen. While there's amazing art to be found on almost every flat surface, the 16th street murals project sponsored by the neighborhood's Alderman features block and blocks of murals by famous and not-so-famous artists. While in Pilsen, eat at any Mexican restaurant, The Honky Tonk BBQ or Nightwood.
Take in a day game at Wrigley Field. (Do it even if you don't like baseball -- the Cubs are terrible and it's all about the people-watching anyway.) While you're in the neighborhood, drop into The Alley to get something pierced, or just check out the corner that made the '90s cool for many of us: Clark and Belmont.
People in Chicago like to go to the top of things. If that's your jam, head to The Sears Tower or to the Signature Lounge at the Hancock Center. To see the city's great architecture without spending a nice day inside, get on a boat. The Architectural Boat Tour is awesome. Locals use out-of-town guests as an excuse to go again. While you're downtown, check out Millennium Park, have yourself a little photoshoot at the Bean and splash around in the water with the kids.
Divvy bikes, conveniently located across from the Gold Star. Image: Libby Lowe.
With all of your festival reveling, you'll be glad to know that public transportation in Chicago is relatively safe, easy and -- in many cases -- available 24 hours a day. The Green Line El train will take you to Pitchfork (as will the Ashland bus if you are coming or going from Wicker Park), the Blue line will shuttle you between Logan Square, Wicker Park and downtown, and if you're here for Lollapalooza, you have your choice of trains and busses. Uber is everywhere, too.
Divvy, the city's bike sharing option, is a great way to get from here to there -- BYO Helmet. Tip: Google your route to check for bike lanes and avoid biking on Ashland. Cut a few blocks west to Wood Street where traffic is lighter and there's a bike lane in place. Milwaukee Avenue and Damen are also bike friendly. If you're going to and from the heart of the city for Lollapalooza, Kinzie (hello, protected bike lane!) is your best bet.
Join the Taco Party
For post-festival eats, skip the hot dogs and pizza, and have some tacos. There are a number of neighborhoods where you can stumble across $2 taco bliss. But, let's focus on what's close to festival central.
If it's late and you want a quick fix, your best best is to head to West Town. On Chicago Avenue, you'll hit the goldmine of open-late, cheap taco shops. The best is Taqueria Traspasada (cash only, open until 1 a.m.).
The best place to be part of the hispter taco revolution that has swept the city in the last few years is Big Star in Wicker Park. If the patio is packed, order from the takeout window and plant yourself across the street on the grass in Wicker Park. Antique Taco (just down the street) is another local favorite. To beat the crowds, make your way to Bullhead Cantina in Humboldt Park. All offer relatively cheap tacos with interesting combinations, great drinks and solid chip and guac options. If Michelin Star Mexican is more to your liking, make a reservation at Mexique in West Town.
Drink Like a Local
Wicker Park is one of Chicago's main nightlife hubs and many festival-goers head to the neighborhood after the last act. Lots of locals complain about how much the area has changed over the last 15 years -- the Marc Jacobs store moving in on Damen a few years back really pushed people over the edge -- but there are still great places tucked in among the new sports bars to grab a drink.
If you want to get a taste of what the neighborhood was like back in the day, take a photo in the photobooth at Rainbo (Liz Phair did and it became the cover of Exile In Guyville), play pool at Gold Star, shoot hoops at Phyllis' Musical Inn, join a ping pong tournament at Happy Village and feel like you're drinking in the best creepy basement ever at The Innertown Pub.
Pick Up Some Souvenirs
If you're taking a break from festival life and want to do some shopping, avoid Michigan Avenue -- there's not much there you can't find at your average mall.
If you don't know what you need, you will find it at RR#1 in West Town. Once your eyes adjust to all of the stuff in this small spot, feel free to go candle crazy, get a Chicago flag onesie for your pregnant friend or a new bag. Get old-school and send some postcards to your friends back home -- or pick up some easy-to-pack paper mementos. The happiest paper shop in Chicago is Paper Doll on Division.
And, while you're on Division, do some clothes shopping. Centrally located among lots of small boutiques, Penelope's was one of the first on this now-popular stretch and remains a great place to shop for clothes, accessories and more. Venture a little further north to Milwaukee Ave. and hit the Silver Room for super cool jewelry, Ragstock for resale and Una Mae's for a mix of new and vintage clothes.
From Wicker Park, hop the Blue Line El to Logan Square and stop in at Wolfbait & B-Girls. Logan Square is the next Wicker Park, so while you're there, have brunch at Lula and check out the scene at Longman & Eagle -- which also has a few rooms to rent if you're looking for a cool place to stay.