Between conferences, weddings, and plain ol’ summer travel, lots of folks are heading to our fine city of Chicago this season. And while some of you have previously braved Lake Shore Drive and elbowed your way onto the Red Line, here are a few things which no first-time visitor should miss: The Food: Chicago boasts some of the finest cuisine and highest rated restaurants in the country (and world)! But that’s for another day. To truly say you’ve eaten quintessential Chicago grub, you need to grab a Chicago hot dog: an all-beef dog, topped with yellow mustard, chopped white onions, neon green pickle relish, tomato wedges, a dill pickle slice, and a couple of sport peppers on a poppy seed bun. Portillo’s is a local favorite, but for a late night fix, you can’t beat The Wiener’s Circle.Deep dish pizza is another must. And don’t bother comparing it to any other pizza- it isn’t any other pizza. It’s an entirely different meal requiring a fork, a knife, and the will to get beyond that second gigantic piece. (Gino’s East is famous for their cornbread crust and ceiling graffiti.) And Italian beef is the messiest, most satisfying paper-wrapped lunch this side of fish n’ chips. Al’s Beef is the gold standard.

The Sights: Nothing beats seeing the gorgeous Chicago skyline and lakefront from atop the famous Navy Pier Ferris wheel(modeled after the world’s first Ferris wheel, built for the Chicago’s 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition), unless of course you’re taking in the view from the top of The Willis Tower (ahem- The Sears). Traveling without the kiddos? Then you’re definitely going to want to head straight for The Signature Lounge on the Hancock Tower’s 95th floor for some famous martinis. (Insider tip? While the floor-to-ceiling vistas are stunning around the whole restaurant, the views from the ladies’ room window are rather awesome. And- unless things are getting weird- not as crowded.)

Navy Pier Ferris Wheel

The Stuff: Tourists and Chicagoans alike are in love with the Chicago Architecture Foundation River Cruise. And with good reason- these calm river tours of over fifty famous Chicago landmark buildings are informative and ridiculously fun. The Lincoln Park Zoo is one of the nation’s oldest zoos, and also happens to be free 365 days a year. From the incredible span of creatures, to the children’s zoo (and carousel and farm), to the awesome lakefront park which houses this Chicago gem, the whole family will enjoy this open-air marvel.


Looking for more? How about Chicago’s terrific museum campus (featuring an abundance of free and discounted admission days)? Or the miles of beaches, lakefront trails and parks, and hidden green spaces just begging for picnickers (or nappers)?

Whatever you choose, enjoy the heck out of our great city. And stay tuned for a companion article, listing some lesser-known stuff that return visitors aren't gonna want to miss.

(Hint: Pretty good chance it’ll involve more food. A lot more food.)