One thing I know about Chicago; as soon as St. Pattie's Day rolls around, Chicago floods with tourists. The majority of the camera-toting, skyscraper-staring, picture-taking crowd can be spotted from a mile (or two) away. Mostly they obediently stick to the tourism bubble Chicago has set up around it's tourist-designated attractions- State Street, Magnificent Mile, Sears/Willis Tower, the John Hancock Observatory, Navy Pier and the Lincoln Park Zoo... most of which are overly expensive, seemingly made only to take advantage of naive tourist's inviting pockets. But for the few who decide that they don't care about the boring Bean or the $15 dollar (or more) trek up the Willis Tower (yeah I said it), I'm here to help. You understand that there's more to Chicago than what they tell you (in the name of tourism) and you want to experience Chicago just like a native.
We Chicagoans, although we are generally helpful and amiable to the every-day wandering tourist, tire of giving the same directions over and over. So surprise one of us- ask them where THEY would go if they were you- figuring out Chicago for the very first time. Sure, at first they'll say the regular old things- Navy Pier, Willis Tower, the Bean...
What do they wish they had known about Chicago in the wee days of being here? While their friends let them go around being all cute and new and green?
Here are some answers to that question from real Chicagoans:
1. Check out public transportation. Chicagoans are connected to virtually everything by the CTA. Want to find all the cool places we're hiding, just a couple stops from the tourist bubble? Wicker Park (off of the Damen stop of the Blue Line), Lincoln Square (off of the Western stop of the Brown Line), Little Village/Pilsen (off of the 18th st or Kedzie stop of the Pink Line) are all beautiful places to check out, just minutes from downtown. Do some exploring- don't be afraid of the CTA! Being safe on the CTA is the same as the city in general- stay alert, look confident, and know where you're going. People take advantage of wandering, confused tourists (that's why we try to keep them safe by building a bubble :) )
2. Check out the ethnic areas. La Vallita/Pilsen (18th st or Kedzie stop of the Pink Line), Little India (Western Stop of the Brown Line), Chinatown (Chinatown stop of the Red Line), Ukrainian Village (#66 Chicago Ave bus), and Little Italy (Polk stop of the Pink Line) are all ethnic areas, vibrant and full of their individual culture, foods, music and beliefs. The Chicago Park District have cultural centers and museums that express the stories, history and views of the area they represent. Tons of Chicago museums are free or have free days, and their year-round events and exhibits are beautiful and vivid. Even those that cost admission will save you money compared to the tourism-centered sites.
3. Check out the holes-in-the-wall. Chicagoans are proud of their individual little worlds of cafes and restaurants that they've found over the years of living in the city. Instead of going to the chains and names you are familiar with, check out the nooks and crannies that make up Chicago's diverse eateries and don't be afraid to ask someone where their favorites are. You have the opportunity to find the best food in the city, if only you take a little risk and do a little exploring. Nesh (off of the Fullerton stop of the Red/Brown/Purple lines), Penny's Noodle Shop (off of the Damen stop of the Blue Line or the Addison stop of the Brown and Red Lines), and 90 miles (off of the Western stop of the Blue Line, O'Hare branch) are just some of my personal favorites.
4. Check out the live music. Music is the rhythm Chicago wakes up to and is put to bed by. Every where you turn you will find clubs, bars, cafes and venues where live music of all sorts, genres and types are played. Whether your preference is jazz, funk, blues, pop, folk, classical or rock, Chicago has something for everyone. Besides the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park (Adams/Wabash stop of the Loop), there is Close Up 2 (jazz club with no cover, as of now- LaSalle stop of the Blue Line), and Heartland Cafe (Morse stop of the Red Line) are examples.
5. Check out the inspiring theatre. Chicago's theatre district isn't the only place to find engaging theatre. Famous theaters like The Second City (off of the Sedgwick station of the Brown Line), and Steppenwolf Theatre Co. (North/Clybourn stop of the Red Line), as well as Griffin Theatre Co, a non-profit professional theater company and IO, a comedy theater and school (both located off of the Addison stop of the Red Line) are local places natives go to enjoy some drama and comedy.
The examples above are just the surface of what Chicago has to offer you. Explore Chicago like a native- step out of the bubble and enjoy the real Chicago.