Sometimes traveling in a city can be hard if you don’t know where you’re going or what you need to do. A perfect example of such a complicated destination is the city of Chicago. Worshiped and adored by those that live there, as well as hated by its rivals (looking at you Milwaukee), the city is a hot spot for visitors. It’s estimated that around 50 million tourists visit the city every year, all looking to capture some of the Windy City’s magic. But because Chicago is so big, it can be easy to get lost, fall into some of its beloved tourist traps, and miss out on some of the hidden gems that only the locals really know about
So if you’re the kind of traveler that wants to get off the beaten path, here’s a list of places to visit in Chicago that most outsiders totally miss out on (but now you won’t):
The Chicago Temple
The Chicago Temple is the oldest church in Chicago and is also one of its most progressive. The church follows the teachings of the United Method Church and supports any couple that comes to their congregation wishing for marriage. The neo-gothic structure sits in the north end of Chicago, overlooking Lake Michigan. The church is known for its unique architecture — it’s a strange combination between a skyscraper and a church. The building is almost 600 feet tall and is made up of smaller sanctuaries on different floors, like the Sky Chapel tucked inside the steeple — offering a great view of the lake. The church is still in operation and welcomes visitors from all religious denominations. It’s a truly wonderful reminder of the diversity and uniqueness of the Chicago area.
The Old Tuberculosis Sanitarium
On the corner of Pulaski and Bryn Mawr avenue sits a strange reminder of Chicago’s past. The Chicago Municipal Tuberculosis Sanitarium was once a major hospital and research center dedicated to tackling the growing tuberculosis problem that Chicago — and most of the United States — was dealing with during the fist half of the 20th century. Opened in 1915, the sanitarium remained in operation for nearly 60 years, with room to house almost 1,000 patients. Doctors and researchers flocked there to study tuberculosis and learn prevention techniques that could be used to fight it. Finally, as the disease began to wane, the sanitarium became the North Park Village Nature Center and today is a 46-acre nature preserve that has educational facilities and interactive displays for visitors to poke and prod.
The Garfield Park Conservatory
Known as the “landscape art under glass,” the Garfield Park Conservatory is one of the largest conservatories in the US. It features a variety of plant and animal life that will make you forget that you’re in the heart of the most populated city in the midwest. In total, the conservatory occupies about two acres of land and features luscious tropical plants, prickly cacti, and carnivorous flowers. And not only is the parking free, but so is the admission. There’s koi ponds and activities for kids, and all the rooms are themed. There’s deserts, zoology lessons, and bee-keeping, and the facilities are well-maintained, engaging, and varied. For those who want to escape the hustle and bustle of Chicago, the Conservatory is a mindful gem.
The Obama Kissing Rock
The Obama Kissing Rock is maybe one of the cutest Chicago attractions that you’ll ever encounter. The rock stands as a memorial to the first time that President Barack Obama planted one on his wife Michelle. The plaque features a quote from the 44th president, which reads: “On our first date, I treated her to the finest ice cream Baskin-Robbins had to offer, our dinner table doubling as the curb. I kissed her, and it tasted like chocolate.” The area might not seem like the most romantic place, but it’s a reminder that love and life can happen in the least expected places. While the Baskin-Robbins no longer exists, the boulder and the plaque serve as a memorial to a sweet moment in the life of a president-to-be during the summer of 1989.
The Water Cribs
One of Chicago’s strangest and best-kept secrets are the Chicago water cribs. These are what provides Chicago with all of its clean drinking water, funneled directly from Lake Michigan. The first crib was built based off designs implemented by a little-known engineer by the name of Ellis F. Chesbrough. His idea was to take water from the lake, filter it, and deliver it using tunnels and pumps to Chicago’s many residents. The first crib was actually made of wood and floated on the water, and for years they were operated by “crib keepers.” Today’s cribs are fully automated, but in an effort to protect them from any harm, the functioning and nonfunctioning cribs are indistinguishable. The cribs can be seen from the edge of the water, and act as a constant reminder to Chicagoans of their unique clean water system.
The Federal Reserve’s Money Museum
Understanding the American financial system can be pretty difficult. Considering the average person doesn’t fully understand what filing their taxes mean, breaking down the ins and outs of US banking can be pretty interesting. At the Chicago Money Museum, interactive exhibits illustrate some complicated currency history, while also featuring the difference between a million dollars in $1, $20, and $100. The museum itself is free, even though they hand out bags of money at the end of the visit (unfortunately, it’s been shredded!). The museum outlines the history behind currency, shows different money slips handed out during wartimes, and detailed explanations about how money is printed. The museum is at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.
The Tiffany Dome
The splendid stained-glass masterpiece that is the Tiffany Dome is a wonder to observe. In the heart of the Chicago Cultural Center, the Tiffany Dome is the largest Tiffany glass domes in existence. The dome is 38-feet in diameter and is composed of over 30,000 individuals squares of glass. It was built in 1897 by the head of Tiffany’s mosaic department, J. A. Holzer and today is valued at almost $35 million. But when the sun hits the dome at the right angle, making shadows and light elegantly dance, it’s priceless.
The Rainbo Club
Arguably one of the last standing dive bars in Wicker Park, the Rainbo Club is a musical, cultural, and exciting relic of Chicago’s often tumultuous past. While it’s hard to verify some of the Rainbo’s more risque roots, rumor has it that the bar served as a speakeasy during prohibition that operated the guise of a drugstore. The club has since lived on to be, through various reincarnations, a polka bar, a gang war hideout, and a hangout for local rock stars. The club as it stands today was built in October 1985 by Dee Taira and Gavin Morrison. The two execute their business using the simple logic that if you give your customers good beer, good service, and a good time, they’ll keep coming back. And for three decades, it’s worked.
The Home Alone House
If you’re a millennial — or really anyone — then the red brick home featured in Home Alone has a special spot in your heart. The home, a beautiful Winnetka Georgian home recently sold for about $1.5 million, but can be visited from the outside by those in the area. The producers apparently picked the house because it had seemed simultaneously warm and menacing — an apt combination considering the well-known plots of the Home Alone series. While there’s no word from Hollywood about a possible sequel, remake, or reboot, it doesn’t look like anyone plans on tearing the house down anytime soon, so hopefully, if Kevin McCallister ever wants to go back home, it’ll be there waiting for him.
The DNA Discovery Center
There’s a lot of people who are obsessed with their ancestry and can trace their family tree back for generations. As the steady march of science moves forward, they can look even closer at the bits and pieces that make them who they are: their DNA. To better understand how DNA ties us all together, the DNA Discovery Center at the Field Museum exhibition offers exciting and educational exhibits about how this tiny interesting molecule. What’s even more exciting is that the museum also doubles as an advanced research facility. The lab, discoveries, and all the actions behind scientific progress can be seen from close-up. Guides are available to answer all of the questions you might have, like “How is it even possible that I’m made up of the same stuff as a mushroom or an arctic seal?” The exhibit is hands-on and has rotating featured exhibits on things like sharks, desert plant life, and poisonous frogs. There’s really no better place to ask questions and get answers.
Have you had a uniquely wonderful experience in Chicago? Do you have a particular spot that you like to visit that no one knows about? Let us know what it is in the comments below!