From blues clubs to bike hikes, century-old ballparks to stylish bistros, Chicago buzzes with things for attendees and exhibitors to do before and after conference sessions.
Exhibitors can grab a morning meal with clients at Beatrix. The River North neighborhood resetaurant and coffeehouse in the Aloft Hotel on Clark Street features freshly-squeezed juices alongside quinoa cakes and poached eggs, among other gourmet eats. Authentic Hong Kong-style a.m. Dim Sum awaits at Phoenix while brunch at ZED451 features a daily menu that has been known to include maple Cajun bacon and citrus-dusted Atlantic salmon. Foodies gather in retro-cool booths at Little Goat in West Loop for shrimp and grits and peanut butter Fat Elvis waffles by "Top Chef" winner Stephanie Izard.
Meeting organizers entertaining active attendees can rent a two-wheeler from Bobby's Bike Hike or Bike and Roll. Or take advantage of the city's bike sharing program and pick up a baby blue Divvy bike from one of the many stations for a small rental fee. Groups pedal along the beach-fringed lakefront path for exercise-infused sightseeing.
For a memorable post-meeting event, put together a private gathering at one of the city's legendary attractions. Wrigley Field, the historic home of the Chicago Cubs features private suites, customized catering and team-building activities. The pinnacle of Gold Coast dining for over 23 years, Gibsons Bar & Steakhouse hosts events from hors d'oeuvre receptions to sit-down dinners. Broadway in Chicago is the go-to for tickets to the most exciting Downtown Theater District shows, while the Shedd Aquarium brims with sharks and beluga whales.
In the spring or summer, meet in Millennium Park. It's right downtown, prime for an eye-popping stroll and casual get-together. After taking a group picture in front of Anish Kapoor's Cloud Gate, the silvery "Bean," attendees can catch a concert at Pritzker Pavilion or gather at the hidden Lurie Garden.
Host an intimate and entertaining outing and book a 90-minute architecture tour. Viewing the skyline by boat is the quintessential way to go. Grab a seat on deck and look up as cloud-poking towers glide by. Vessels depart from the river docks beneath Michigan Avenue and from Navy Pier.
Plan gatherings around a festival (in summer) or brewery (in winter). In June, a half million fans flock to the Chicago Blues Festival to hear guitar notes and bass lines. In July, grilled meats spice the air for Taste of Chicago. In September, the Berghoff Oktoberfest brings Bavarian-style revelry to the city with German beer and music. Lincoln Park's ZooLights draws winter crowds for a free display of more than a million lights. Any time of year is perfect for visiting Lagunitas Brewing Company, the city's biggest beer maker. Guides give free tours daily that roam by shiny tanks bubbling with Lagunitas' hoppy suds. Many events offer VIP experiences that groups can book in advance.
Organize an unforgettable culinary experience. The West Loop is known for trendy, chef-driven spots like Michelin-starred Grace and refined-meets-rustic Sepia. Rosebud Prime and other martini-swirling steakhouses pepper downtown. Frontera Grill and Acanto are typical of the city's buzzed-about restaurants. Ethnic eats abound in Greektown and Mexican enclave Pilsen.
After dinner, enjoy a show at one of Chicago's many acclaimed theaters. Homegrown Goodman Theatre, Lookingglass Theatre and Steppenwolf Theatre Company are known for powerhouse productions. If laughter is what you seek, visit The Second City, the birthplace of improv comedy.
Of course, no Chicago experience is complete without incorporating the iconic music scene. Catch the nation's best blues players at Buddy Guy's Legends or classic Chicago sounds at Andy's Jazz Club or City Winery.
For the sports fans, Chicago teams span all seasons. Book a suite and bring attendees together for a game. The Cubs play at ivy-clad Wrigley Field, a 100-year-old shrine for baseball fans, while the White Sox swing at mod U.S. Cellular Field. The Bears (football), Blackhawks (hockey) and Bulls (basketball) are hot tickets when the weather cools. The Fire play soccer in suburban Ridgeview.