Check out these nontouristy local gems

About one-half of Chicagoans are fully vaccinated, and we’re satisfying our pent-up desire to get out and explore. If, like me, your 2021 excursions will be close to home, you may be looking for local attractions you haven’t visited and ones less crowded.

I particularly like to check out nontouristy places that teach a Chicago history lesson, and requests to recommend such spots often come to me as a Chicago Greeter. The following are among my favorites.

An ethnic museum and/or neighborhood: Many of the European ethnic neighborhoods are gone, but you can still explore the immigrant history at museums like the Swedish American Museum, 5211 N. Clark Street, and the Polish Museum of America, 984 N. Milwaukee Avenue. Chicago hasn’t become less of an immigrant city; our immigrant groups have just changed. We still have neighborhoods that make you feel like you’re in a foreign country, like Southeast Asian Devon Avenue, pan-Asian Argyle Street, and Mexican Pilsen and Little Village. My favorite ethnic museum is the free National Museum of Mexican Art, 1852 W. 19th Street. Find a comprehensive list of ethnic museums here.

Graceland Cemetery: Many of the movers and shakers of Chicago’s first century are buried at Graceland Cemetery, including Marshall Field, Potter and Bertha Potter, Daniel Burnham, George Pullman, Louis Sullivan, and Cyrus McCormick. You can learn about their contribution to Chicago history while strolling through the cemetery’s bucolic grounds. Use an interactive map on your cellphone or download a printable pdf from the link there.

Bungalows: We may be best known for our skyscrapers, but “the Chicago architectural contribution most common to the city” is the Chicago Bungalow, said a 2001 book published by the then Chicago Architecture Foundation. Between 1910 and 1940 more than 80,000 bungalows — one-third of Chicago’s single-family housing stock — went up in areas developed for working-class people seeking to leave the city’s core. To see how Chicago’s “average” folks live, head to one of the 14 bungalow historic districts that form a crescent shape around the city. As you stroll the blocks, pay attention to the variations in brick, limestone trim, and other exterior features that differentiate bungalows, contrary to the stereotype of monotony.

Wabash Arts Corridor: Right outside my building’s front door is a demonstration of why Chicago is a cultural trendsetter. The sides of South Loop buildings are covered with murals by both local and world-renowned street artists aided by students of Columbia College, where the idea originated. With dozens of murals, the Wabash Arts Corridor has one of the largest concentration of public art of any US urban center. Find a map here.

International Museum of Surgical Science: If huge gallstones and knives used for amputations during the Civil War would intrigue you, visit the museum at 1524 N. DuSable Lake Shore Drive. Its link to Chicago history is tenuous — it focuses on the history of surgery — but no other place has a museum like it. Moreover, it’s housed in one of the few remaining Gold Coast mansions, giving visitors a glimpse into the habitat of wealthy early-20th-century Chicagoans. 

Jane Addams Hull-House Museum: Here’s a suggestion to save for later, since the Hull-House Museum, 800 S. Halsted Street, has yet to reopen. Most of the Hull-House buildings were demolished to build the University of Illinois campus, but the main building survives to tell a good story about what Hull-House did when it was the country’s best-known settlement house. The bedroom of Jane Addams, Hull-House cofounder and one of the most influential people in Chicago history, is on the second floor.

You can find more ideas by googling “off-the-beaten-path Chicago.“ There are many attractions that I haven’t gone to, despite 31 years living here and 13 years as a Chicago Greeter. The thought of how much remains to be explored at home quelled disappointment that a post-COVID vacation plan fell through

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