A guy once said, make no little plans. In other words, be part of something big today. Be part of something bigger than yourself. Be part of a city that’s larger than life — Chicago.
This city is buzzing with energy. Plan to soak it up. Prepare to lose yourself in it. But most importantly, plan your trip now! Here are 15 epic reasons to visit Chicago in 2015:
From gourmet to street, Italian to Taiwanese, the fusion of food in Chicago is astounding and there are over 4,700 restaurants to eat through. The city is home to some of the world’s most elite chefs at the forefront of cutting-edge cuisine. From 24 Michelin star restaurants and 40+ James Beard Award medalists to an overflow of four- and five-diamond winners every year, the dining scene has never been more thrilling.
Take a culinary tour of Chicago's diverse — and delicious — ethnic neighborhood eateries. Hot dining districts like “Restaurant Row” on Randolph Street and neighboring Fulton Market in the West Loop have at least 7 new planned openings for this year (keep an eye out for Top Chef alum Stephanie Izard’s new Duck Duck Goat and a new concept from celebrity Chicago chef Rick Bayless), while areas like Logan Square and River North continue to add buzzworthy restaurants and bars.
Get a sample at one of 25+ summer food festivals, from perennial favorites such as Taste of Chicago (July) and Chicago Gourmet (September) to the new Chicago Food + Wine Festival (August). Don’t miss Chicago’s top 3 classic foods: our hot dog, deep-dish pizza and Italian beef. Or gather your own farm-fresh picnic feast after a stop at one of the city’s bustling farmers markets: Green City Market and Logan Square Farmers Market are two top picks.
There's a brewing renaissance happening in Chicago, and beer-drinkers are the happy beneficiaries. The craft beer explosion is one reason why GQ Magazine named Chicago the "Greatest Drinking City in America." A host of Chicago breweries and beer-centric bars leave fans of cold ones overflowing with options. A big player in the nation's craft beer scene, Lagunitas Brewery set up a new brewing facility last year with a 300-seat taproom, free tasting tours and live music. While Chicago's own Goose Island adds a new taproom to their Fulton Market brewery Spring 2015.
Specialty beer tours are a ready-made primer on what to see and drink. And throughout the year, over 30 beer festivals and tasting events fill the Chicago calendar including Chicago Craft Beer Week (May) and the sell-out Festival of Barrel Aged Beer (September).
One of Chicago’s greatest achievements is its skyline, complete with architectural stunners such as the Wrigley Building, Willis Tower and Trump International Hotel & Tower. Float down the Chicago River on an architectural boat tour by kayak or cruise ship, or go sky high by helicopter tour. Check out one of the eye-opening options from one of the 85 Chicago Architecture Foundation tours, offered an astonishing 6,000 times per year. Get swept up in panoramic views of the city from 103 stories up at The Ledge at Skydeck Chicago or from the 94th floor at the new TILT at 360° CHICAGO (formerly John Hancock Observatory).
Architecture buffs should definitely look beyond the skyscrapers of downtown too. Suburban Oak Park — just 10 miles from the downtown Loop — has more works from Frank Lloyd Wright than anywhere in the world. Robie House and Unity Temple were nominated to the UNESCO World Heritage List, along with eight other Wright sites, in 2015. See the evolution of his famed Prairie style by tour with the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust.
On the calendar, mark this fall for a convergence of major events: the inaugural Chicago Architecture Biennial (October 2015-January 2016) which expects over 60 participating architects and artists from more than 25 countries; and the annual Historic Pullman House Tour (October) and Open House Chicago (October).
Chicago as a beach vacation? You bet! The lakefront is hopping in the summer as Chicagoans take to 26 sandy beaches. Dip your toes into the cool blue waters of Lake Michigan from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Here you can kick back with a cool beverage at Montrose Beach, play volleyball at lively North Avenue Beach, let the kids run wild at 31st Street Beach or soak up the sun at peaceful 63rd Street Beach.
Rent a Divvy bike on Chicago’s 18-mile long Lakefront Trail to see even more, or take a more leisurely stroll and snap skyline pictures along the way.
Chicago is an epic sports city, and its history runs as deep as the fans are passionate. This baseball season, take in 100 years of history at Chicago Cubs stadium Wrigley Field and check out the ballpark’s facelift; or venture to Bridgeport, home of U.S. Cellular Field and the Chicago White Sox, where special events and giveaways (and fireworks!) commemorate the 10-year anniversary of their 2005 World Series Championship. Get here to catch playoff season for the Chicago Bulls and Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center. Or watch the Chicago Fire play at Toyota Park all through spring and summer.
Be among the first to trek The 606 – a stunning new 2.7 mile elevated park trail set above city streets and connecting five different neighborhoods. Meet Grant Park’s new addition, Maggie Daley Park – an imaginative 20 acres complete with its own mini-lighthouse, a life-sized ship, two climbing walls, 30-foot tall Suspension Bridge Towers, a quarter-mile long skating ribbon, an Enchanted Garden of upside-down trees, plus several Picnic Groves to top it off.
There are over 500 parks and gardens to explore in Chicago, but stretched along the lakefront are three of our most prominent green spaces. Art-filled Millennium Park, where the iconic Cloud Gate sculpture resides, is fresh off its 10th anniversary celebration and is as stunning as ever. Grant Park, home to Buckingham Fountain, gardens and open play spaces, is still "Chicago's Front Yard." And further north Lincoln Park, which at 1,200 acres is larger than New York’s Central Park, has no shortage of attractions: Lincoln Park Zoo, Lincoln Park Conservatory and Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool being just some of them.
The 13-block stretch of Michigan Avenue, dubbed The Magnificent Mile, is home to three indoor malls and 50 flagship stores, among them high-end designers (Burberry, Coach, Louis Vuitton), major retail chains (Banana Republic, Disney Store, Nike) and department stores (Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s, Nordstrom). It also plays host to The Magnificent Mile Shopping Festival (September), a mash-up of fashion, culture and entertainment.
There are bargain deals and luxury splurges to be had all across the city, between the 5 premium outlet malls including the new Fashion Outlets of Chicago, hundreds of neighborhood boutiques, and various street fairs and pop-up markets.
No stranger to nightlife, Chicago is quite the tippling town. Proud to be home to the “World's Best Bartender” (hats off to Charles Joly, awarded the title by Diageo World Class in 2014), you can go on a never-ending craft cocktail crawl in this city, though we also have wine bars for sipping, dance clubs for after-hours revelry and sports bars to toast the local teams.
Chicago cocktail bars come in all shapes and sizes, from the underground, tiki-inspired Three Dots and a Dash to the splashy, Art Deco-style Celeste to a one-of-a-kind bank vault lounge The Bedford to a 10,000 sq. ft. “speakeasy” Untitled. Shaking things up and making headlines are innovators like The Aviary, Scofflaw and The Violet Hour. And as if that's not enough, you can tour and taste locally-made spirits such as vodka from CH Distillery and whiskey from KOVAL Distillery.
For drinks with a view, there’s no shortage with our skyline. Try NoMI Lounge on The Magnificent Mile, the posh perch Rebar at Trump International Hotel & Tower or the party scene at ROOF at theWit Hotel... just a few of the rooftop bars in Chicago. Debuting in 2015 are two guaranteed sensations: the largest outdoor rooftop in Chicago, Streeterville Social at shiny new Loews Chicago Hotel, and the Rooftop Bar at the flashy new Virgin Hotel Chicago.
Music emanates from every corner of Chicago: from street corners and subway stations; to tiny, dimly-lit clubs; to beautiful concert halls, massive stadium stages and outdoor amphitheaters. See a show at one of 225 music venues.
The city’s history is steeped in jazz and blues so definitely add those clubs to your bucket list, particularly Buddy Guy’s Legends and Green Mill Jazz Club. New venues adding to the music landscape include Thalia Hall, a Pilsen landmark reimagined to its original 1890s splendor, and The Promontory, a home to jazz, R&B, folk rock, soul and more in the Hyde Park neighborhood.
Head outside to Millennium Park for lunchtime and evening performances at the nation’s only free outdoor classical music series, Grant Park Music Festival (June-August). The Millennium Park Music Series draws eclectic crowds for its alfresco summer shows — also free! — which showcase electronica, indie rock and jazz.
Mega fests Lollapalooza (August) and Pitchfork (July) both celebrate 10 years in Chicago in 2015; the Grammy Award-winning Chicago Symphony Orchestra presents its 125th anniversary season; while the Chosen Few Picnic a.k.a. the "Woodstock of House Music" marks its 25th anniversary (July) and citywide celebrations of this Chicago-born genre include concerts, art exhibits and films. The biggest names in music make stops here too this summer for outdoor stadium shows: a reunion tour from The Grateful Dead, a weekend at Soldier Field for Taylor Swift, and Wrigley Field concerts with Billy Joel and AC/DC among them.
Chicago is a city that celebrates everything from fine art to the fringe movement, craft beer to cultural heritage, plus everything in between through its special events, festivals, parades and holiday celebrations. The 2015 calendar is no different.
From spring to fall, neighborhood street festivals welcome you every weekend across the city. Adventures await at inaugural events like Taste of Little Village: Flavors of Mexico (June); Elston Avenue Sausage & Music Fest (June); and the Pilsen Food Truck Social (June).
Chicago will continue to do things BIG in 2015. Don't miss Chicago legend and 6-time Grammy Award-winner Buddy Guy headline the largest free blues festival in the world: Chicago Blues Festival (June). Salsa and swing through the largest annual outdoor dancing series in the US: Chicago SummerDance (June-September). Or scan the sky for jets at the oldest and largest free air exhibition of its kind: Chicago Air & Water Show (August). Major new events include the NFL Draft and its free fan festival Draft Town (April); the James Beard Awards (May) known to most as the "Oscars of the food world" and the Chicago Architecture Biennial (opening in October).
Art, animals, history, space and science are all well-represented in Chicago's 60 museums. Voted the "Number One Museum in the World" in the 2014 TripAdvisor Travelers' Choice Awards, the expansive Art Institute of Chicago woos art lovers who revel in its permanent collection of 300,000 works.
Nearby, Chicago's Museum Campus brings an impressive trifecta of attractions to the lakefront: See the largest, most complete T. rex at The Field Museum, meet the beluga whales at Shedd Aquarium and journey through the expansive universe at the Adler Planetarium. Further south, the Museum of Science and Industry is the biggest science museum in the Western Hemisphere. In 2015, these major institutions deliver some blockbuster exhibits on everything from robots to Vikings.
Gallery spaces are lined with rotating exhibitions at the Chicago Cultural Center, a piece of art itself worth a visit just to see the world's largest Tiffany stained-glass dome. At 90 art galleries and 20 art centers, discover works from local, national and international artists.
Scour the streets of downtown and outdoor spaces across the city to see a sampling of the 700+ public art works. Arts districts such as River North, Pilsen and Bridgeport pack in multiple stops, while you can use special open house events like First Fridays to build your itinerary. Even bigger events, EXPO Chicago (September) and Chicago Artists Month (October) are just two of the highlights for the year.
With five regional Tony Award®-winning theaters (Chicago Shakespeare Theater, The Goodman Theatre, Lookingglass Theatre Company, Steppenwolf Theater Company, Victory Gardens Theater), Chicago takes center stage in all types of productions. Blockbuster musical productions by Broadway In Chicago, acclaimed touring productions, independent stories from emerging playwrights — it's all here with 200 theater companies to get acquainted with.
For an evening of laughs, turn to the comedy masters at The Second City, ComedySportz Theater, or iO Chicago Theater, watch stand-up routines at Zanies Comedy Night Club or opt for a multi-sensory interactive experience at Blue Man Group. When you're in Chicago, the show never stops.
Though often defined by its skyline, the heart and soul of Chicago lives in its many vibrant neighborhoods. The city's 77 distinct communities showcase their own flavors, customs, festivals and attractions. From the diverse, family-friendly Edgewater to the North, to the historic cultural institutions of Hyde Park to the South, to the Mexican-influenced Pilsen to the West, there are so many neighborhood highlights.
Chicago is a melting pot of hundreds of different ethnicities and cultures. Enjoy the booming cultural scene in traditionally Irish-American Bridgeport, explore the shops, restaurants and bars of LGBT-friendly Boystown, delve into Chicago's rich African-American history in Bronzeville. Browse the Chinese and Vietnamese shops on Argyle Street in Uptown or grab samosas and try on a sari in "Little India" on Devon Avenue in Rogers Park.
A welcoming city for all visitors, Chicago is home to some of the largest LGBTQ celebrations in the country. Illinois was proudly the 16th state to legalize same-sex marriage. Throughout our many diverse neighborhoods, you'll find TAG-approved hotels and wedding venues, plus a pride-filled calendar of special events.
For a distinctly LGBTQ experience, spend some time in the lively neighborhood of Boystown and its epicenter on Halsted Street. With eccentric boutique shopping, streets adorned with colorful pylons and one of the largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities in the United States, this East Lakeview neighborhood has an energy all its own. For the ultimate Boystown experience, plan a summer trip during the neighborhood's banner events, Chicago Pride Fest and Pride Parade (June) or Northalsted Market Days (August), which attract more than one million spectators and visitors.
The quirky North Side neighborhood of Andersonville is rich in Swedish tradition and is home to a robust gay and lesbian community. Andersonville's charming commercial district is comprised mostly of independent, locally owned businesses, from specialty bakeries and innovative restaurants to stylish boutiques and female-focused gift shops, many of which are located along Clark Street.
Getting into — and out of — Chicago is a breeze, thanks to award-winning O'Hare and Midway international airports; frequent passenger service with Amtrak trains; and a network of major highways. Situated squarely in the center of the country, Chicago is accessible from virtually anywhere.
Chicago's booming hotel industry makes for plenty of accommodation options, from the intimate to the extravagant. Award-winning hotels are joined by a lineup of trendy new openings that tout major brands and epic brand debuts:
The Godfrey Hotel Chicago in River North is a sleek boutique (221 rooms) with a striking Cubist-inspired exterior and an all-season rooftop. IO Urban Roofscape has a retractable roof, two-level fire pit and incredible panoramic skyline views. SOHO House Chicago in the West Loop is a London import and is their largest property yet. Built inside a six-story, century-old warehouse, this exclusive club and public hotel has 40 rooms that give off an air of eclectic vintage elegance. Guests have access to members-only areas, including a gym with its own boxing ring, a 60-foot rooftop pool and a luxurious 30-seat screening room. Virgin Hotel Chicago in the Loop is the first Virgin hotel in the world. With its seamless personalized experience (including an app that allows guests to check in, interact with staff and control in-room functions) and hip dining spaces, the brand's trademark sense of fun and whimsy is splashed all over. Loews Chicago Hotel in Streeterville sets itself up right on the north bank of the Chicago River and across from Lake Michigan. This impressive 52-story glass tower houses 400 sophisticated guest rooms that boast floor-to-ceiling windows, streamlined décor and soothing shades of gray and ivory.