2017 Millennium Park Summer Movie Schedule

Starting in June and running until early September you will be able to enjoy 14 different movies for FREE in Millennium Park on their giant 40ft screen. You can sit back and relax from a seat in the Jay Pritzker Pavillon or breakout the blanket and bottle wine (it’s OK to do so!) and chill out on the lawn.

If you plan on bringing kids just double check the movie that is being shown as there are several ‘R’ rated films.

Each movie starts at 6:30pm every Tuesday. Mark your calendars…

Tuesday, June 13 – The Blues Brothers (R)

Tuesday, June 20 – Caddy Shack(R)

Tuesday, June 27 – Julia & Julia (PG-13)

Tuesday, July 11 (presented in Spanish with English subtitles) – El Norte (R)

Tuesday, July 18 – La La Land (PG-13)

Tuesday, July 25 – Network (R)

Tuesday, August 1 – Bend it like Beckham (PG-13)

Tuesday, August 8 (Double Feature!) – Ghost (PG-13) & The Shining (R)

Tuesday, August 15 – Hidden Figures (PG)

Tuesday, August 22 – Five Heartbeats (R)

Thursday, August 24th (11:00 AM Showing) – Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (80th Anniversary)

Tuesday, August 29 – The Princess Bride (PG)

Tuesday, September 5 – Wayne’s World (PG-13)

Have fun and we hope to see you out there!

Chicago Style Italian Beef

Today we’re examining Chicago Style Italian Beef including the history, the ingredients and most importantly where to get it. In the past we’ve broken down Chicago Deep Dish Pizza and it is probably more involved than you might think.

Chicago Style Italian Beef History

We’re not sure why we Chicagoans have such a hard time with history and getting stories straight. Who started the Great Chicago Fire of 1871? Where did we get our Chicago Nicknames? Italian Beef also has some debatable origins. Here are a handful of the most recognized theories.

  1. 1925 a company by the name of Scala’s Original Beef and Sausage Company started in Chicago. (Spoiler alert: it still does operate and supplies many Chicago restaurants with their meat for beef sandwiches). According to them the Italian Beef was introduced at weddings and banquets. The roasted beef was sliced thing and served on bread to help “stretch” the food to feed the many guests. It was, needless to say, a very popular item and the rest is history.
  2. Then there is the story of an Italian immigrant working in the Chicago Stock Yards in the early 1900s. (The stock yards were Chicago’s meat-packing district, and Chicago led the world in meat packing back then). The worker would take home the less desirable cuts of meat that the company sold and according to the story made literally the same exact thing that is served today: roast the beef in Italian spices and broth, slice it, serve on Italian bread. This one seems a bit far-fetched, but we love it.
  3. And while perhaps not the inventory of Italian Beef sandwiches we do have to tip our caps to Al Ferreri and his sister and brother-in-law, Frances and Chris Pacelli. Why? Because that trio is responsible for opening Al’s Beef in 1938. The restaurant is still open today and has expanded quite a bit. In fact there is one in Dubai now!

Regardless of who invented the Chicago Style Italian Beef when we know this much – it’s dang good. Let’s take a closer look at the ingredients used to make these sandwiches.

Chicago Style Italian Beef Ingredients

Al’s Beef Chicago Style Italian Sausage. Don’t you tell us this doesn’t make you hungry.

We like this part the best. So often we don’t know what were eating. A Chicago Style Italian Beef? Easy, it’s meat, bread, juice and maybe some peppers, right? Not so fast…

The meat used to make an Italian Beef sandwich is beef. Typically it’s one of three different cuts of meat: sirloin rear, bottom round or top round. Bottom Round is by far the most popular which if you look at the graphic below it would be a 32 lb. cut of beef just above the shank on the outside of the steer’s hind legs.

Study and remember these cuts the next time you are shopping for beef in the grocery store.                                                                                                                        Source: Yzmo at the English language Wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)

Most likely the cut used in Italian Beef is going to be from the Bottom Round because it’s lean and it’s the cheapest cut. However the meat isn’t as tender as some of the other cuts. To make the meat soft and delicious it’s roasted at a medium heat in a garlicky broth infused with Italian spices such as oregano. This style of roasting in a liquid is called a wet roast. Depending on the exact style of cut and how long the beef is roasted you could lose almost half of the weight during the cooking process. Yikes!

Once the beef is cooked it’s then sliced thin in a deli slicer and returned to it’s broth to cook some more before being served to you on an Italian roll with your choice of peppers – either sweet or hot.

You’re going to get your choice – sweet or hot peppers. Of course you could opt for neither, but if you take one or the other here is what you’re getting:

  • Sweet Peppers – the pepper is actually called the Friggitello, but you might here it in the streets called “Golden Greek”. We (Americans) will often times confuse this with a peperoncini – THIS IS NOT a peperoncini. Oh, and often times if you order sweet peppers on your Italian Beef you could get simply cooked green bell peppers, which is OK too.
  • Hot Peppers – Mmm. This is where it’s at! When you order hot peppers on your Chicago Style Italian Beef you aren’t simply going to get a couple of whole peppers thrown on there. You’re going to get a hot relish of pickled vegetables that INCLUDE peppers called Giardiniera. (Pronounced: JAR – DIH – NAIR – AH) This HOT style relish is a Chicago thing and we’ll often times add sport peppers to kick it up a notch. The remaining vegetables include carrots, celery, cauliflower, serrano peppers and gherkins. There can be an entire post on Giardiniera – which is a good idea…

Some places you can have them throw cheese on top, typically melted mozzarella. We’ve had it. It’s not bad – actually it’s quite good. However, there is just something that feels “right” about not getting cheese. No one is going to look at you crazy if you order a cheesy beef though.

And when you order you are definitely going to be asked “Wet or Dry?” This can throw a first-timer off. You might be wondering, “wait…what? it’s a sandwich..” Here is what you need to know to properly answer:

  • Wet: The beef gets pulled from the broth with tongs and is immediately put onto the Italian roll – most of the juices are soaked into the bread.
  • Dry: The beef gets pulled from the broth and the server gives the beef a chance to dry off. Most of the juices drip back into the pot and don’t make it to your bread.
  • Dipped: This is a thing. Beef sandwich is made and then with the tongs the ENTIRE sandwich is dipped into the broth. 100 out 100 in the flavor department, 100 out of 100 in the very soggy, kind of hard to eat department too.

Where to get Chicago Style Italian Beef

Johnnie’s Beef (Courtesy of TripAdvisor)

There are so many great places for Italian Beef in Chicago. We couldn’t possibly list them all. We’ll do our best to provide our favorites. If we forgot a place on this list add it to the comments section. In no particular order…

Al’s Beef – Many locations, one of the originals founded in 1938

Mr. Beef on Orleans – Another one of the originals – classic.

Johnnie’s Beef – One of our favorites – located just west of Chicago. Yum.

Portillo’s – A Chicagoland favorite – has a large menu of other foods too and many locations across the city.

Jay’s Beef – This place serves awesome beef sandwiches and is located in Wicker Park. So we like it. A lot.

Enjoy your Chicago Style Italian Beef sandwiches!

Chicago Nicknames

Chicago has a number of well known nicknames such as The Windy City and Second City.   But where exactly did these nicknames come from and what do they mean? We’ll take a look at their origins and dive into a little Chicago history along the way.

Where did ‘Chicago’ come from?

Great question. Chicago is actually a version of a word spoken by the Miami and Illinois tribes to describe a wild leek (a vegetable that belongs in the onion and garlic families) that grew in and around the mouth of what is now the Chicago River. The local tribes called this plant “shikaakwa” – which translates to “stinky onion.” The early explorers that trekked through Chicago in the early 1600s weren’t fluent in the native language and over the course of the next hundred or so odd year “shikaakwa” became “Chicago.” So, technically, our beautiful city is named after a stinky onion-type vegetable that grew here 350 years ago.

The Windy City

The most famous of our nicknames is The Windy City. A lot of visitors assume that the nickname comes from the intense winds that can blow off the shores of Lake Michigan and catch you off guard as the wind sweeps around the buildings in the Loop. Many have lost their hats, glasses and umbrellas over the years. But this isn’t why we’re The Windy City.

There are rich debates actually as to the origins of the nickname. The top two competing theories deal with a city rivalry with Cincinnati that dates back to the 1840s through 1870s as Chicago and Cincy competed for the title of largest meatpacking city in America. Cincinnati held the title, along with the nickname Porkopolis, until the mid 1860s when Chicago took over as the leading pork packer. Chicago decided to take their same nickname, Porkopolis, as well. This city rivalry spilled over to the baseball diamond when Chicago introduced a team named the White Stockings specifically to beat the Cincinnati Red Stockings. Headlines as early as April 20, 1876 proclaimed Chicago as “The Windy City.”

The other leading theory was Chicago’s politicians and lobbyists effectively blowing “hot air” while vying for the right to host the Columbian Exposition of 1893, more commonly known then as the World’s Fair. This was a bitter content with many big cities such as New York, Washington D.C. & St. Louis all wanting to host the fair. Many figured that New York City would win. Chicago had sent many people out to the east coast to speak and market Chicago as the best city. In the end Chicago did win, hosted the Columbian Exposition of 1893 and in the process might have established the folks from Chicago “Windy” with all of their talking they did.

Second City

There are again a couple of competing explanations as to why Chicago is labeled the Second City. A 1950s book written by New Yorker Magazine writer Abbott J. Liebling titled Chicago: The Second City appears to have solidified the nickname and tied it to our ranking as second best, largely due to population, to New York City. However, that wasn’t the first time the nickname had been used when comparing Chicago to New York City. Second City was a popular term to describe Chicago when we were competing head-to-head with New York City for the rights to host the Columbian Exposition in 1893. Chicago & NYC were the two finalists. We all know how this turned out.

By the way, Chicago is no longer the 2nd largest city in the USA anymore. We’re actually 3rd now behind New York City (8.1M residents) & Los Angeles (3.7M residents). Chicago has 2.7M residents.

There’s another theory of where the nickname came from that we like a little better. Chicago had an opportunity after The Great Chicago Fire of 1871 to rebuild a city with a blank canvas. And we took full advantage. In the decades following the fire Chicago experienced the most explosive growth of any city in the history of the world. We pioneered sky scraping, introduced the world to modern retailing practices & created on of the greatest cities on earth. The city you’re visiting today is in fact the Second City.

City of Big Shoulders

This nickname is taken directly from the famous poem by Carl Sandberg titled Chicago published in 1914. The nickname appear in the 5th line and is likely a reference to how Chicago, in the 1850s and 1860s, literally jacked the entire city up 4-14ft creating a world beneath the main street level. After The Great Chicago Fire of 1871 the city was rebuilt properly with several levels. You can see the cars driving below Wacker drive from the north side of the Chicago River at the Du Sable Bridge. Most of the maintenance, garbage and deliveries to all of the buildings take place below the main level which is why you will not notice alleys in the Loop. No need for them.

Other Chicago Nicknames

City on the Make – based on the title of an essay by Nelson Algren published in 1951 that describes a 120 year history in Chicago rife with gansters, hustlers and corrupt politicians.

City in a Garden – based on our city motto, Urbs en Horto, which is Latin for City in a Garden.

The City that Works – famous quote by then Mayor Richard J. Daley

The Third Coast – referencing the shore along Lake Michigan

City by the Lake – self explanatory – we are …a city….by …the lake (Lake Michigan)

Do you have any nicknames you like to use for Chicago? Share them with us in the comment section.

 

 

 

20 Free Things to do in Chicago

Keeping with the spirit of our business and our desire to help everyone enjoy Chicago on the tightest of budgets we’ve compiled a list of the 20 best free things to do in Chicago.

#1 goes to … Visit Navy Pier – tough to beat the action at Navy Pier during the summer. It’s a real special treat if you’re there for the 4th of July too, great fireworks show.

2. Take a walking tour – Yup, a shameless plug. But really – they’re awesome. Check out our calendar and reserve your spot today.

3. Chicago Cultural Center – One of the first cultural centers in the nation is home to the largest Tiffany glass dome and rotating art exhibits – all free of charge.

4. Millennium Park – your visit to Chicago is not complete unless you visit The Bean and Crown Fountain – both located within a hop, skip and a jump of each other in Millennium Park.

5. Buckingham Fountain – Where are our Married with Children fans? No? Ok… Well, still – definitely worth a visit during the summer when the fountains are on. (April – October, 8am – 11pm daily)

6. Chicago Botanic Gardens – the gardens are located just outside the city. Entrance is free, but parking is not. We’re not entirely sure if this should even be on our list. It is stunningly beautiful though.

7. Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art – This is another tricky one. Technically this is a pay-what-your-want museum. The suggested admission fee is $12 for an adult but they will not turn anyone away.

8. Arcade – Yes, you have read that right. There are a handful of bars popping up across the city that allow you to play your favorite games, like NBA Jam, for free. Headquarters Beercade in Lakeview is one of them.

9. Visit a Chicago brewery. Both Lagunitas and Revolution offer free tours.

10. Take advantage of Chicago’s 18 miles of lake front trail. Ride a bike, walk, jog, people watch, segway (probably not free) or rollerblade. Just take advantage of the trail!

11. Lincoln Park Conservatory – Love love love this place. Their rotating show room is awesome as is their fern garden. Don’t forget that the Lincoln Park Conservatory is only the 2nd largest in Chicago behind the Garfield Park Conservatory which is also free.

12. Harold Washington Library – it’s gigantic, has wi-fi and is a great spot to escape the hustle and bustle of the city while your still in the city.

13. Movies in Millennium Park – Every Tuesday beginning June 21 you can catch a flick in Millennium Park. Here is the full line up of what’s playing.

14. National Museum of Mexican Art – The museum has over 9,000 pieces making it on of the largest collections of Mexican art in the country.

15. Maggie Daley Park – Visit Chicago’s version of Alice in Wonderland and unleash your inner child.

16. The Rookery Building – The lobby of this building has the only Frank Lloyd Wright design in the Loop. Do not miss this if that’s your type of thing.

17. Lincoln Park Zoo – the largest urban zoo in America. Home to more than 200 different species and over 1,000 animals.

18. Jane Adams Hull-House Museum – Dedicated to the first woman to win the Nobel Prize.

19. The Underground Pedway – sure, it’s not really a match for Minneapolis’ covered walkways, but the Chicago version is kind of cool if you have a chance to dip below the surface.

20. John Hancock Observation Deck – save yourself the $20 or so to go to the deck and instead head to the Signature Lounge located on the 96th floor. It’s free and you can enjoy a cocktail up there!

What did we miss? Let us know your favorite free thing to do in Chicago.

The Best Chicago Museums

There are no shortages of museums in Chicago. According to Trip Advisor there are 98 of them in fact. Locals who have spent their entire lives in Chicago will probably never make it to even half of them. So how the heck can you narrow the best museums? Our museum experts have picked the best museum from a handful of categories.

Chicago Art Museums

We’ll start with the easiest category. Hands down, the best art museum in the Windy City is the Art Institute of Chicago. To be honest, it is one of the best in the world. Trip Advisor has repeatedly lavished awards on it, such as Best Museum, and a Top Ten Traveler’s Choice Award. It is clear to see why. The museum features permanent collections that include the world’s masters, such as Monet, Da Vinci, Van Gogh, Manet, and Rembrandt, just to name a few. “American Gothic” makes its home here, and from ancient to contemporary, practically every school is represented. The Thorne Rooms are one unique feature of the Institute that entice both young and old. Perfectly to scale, these miniature rooms each reflect a different time period. Together, the Rooms constitute a dollhouse that is like no other. An interesting note, Illinois author Marianne Malone has written best-selling children’s fiction based on the Thorne Rooms. If you have little ones, have them read the book before their visit.

Runner up: And if for some reason you can’t get to the Art Institute, try the Museum of Contemporary Art. It too, is fantastic, and free tours are given daily. And we like free.

Websitehttp://www.artic.edu

Hours: Open daily 10:30am–5:00pm, Thursdays until 8:00pm

Cost: $25 adults, $19 students or seniors, FREE for Children under 14 and Illinois residents on Thursdays

Real Good News: The Art Institute of Chicago is included in the Chicago CityPass which saves you up to 53% off regular priced admission.

Chicago Science Museums

Source: Shedd Aquarium

Source: Shedd Aquarium

If you’re a science lover, Chicago has much to offer in the way of museums. A place that really wows is the Shedd Aquarium. One of the largest inland aquariums in the world, the Shedd has over 30,000 animals—fresh water, marine, and even terrestrial. That means that in addition to getting an up-close view of sharks, sea lions, and octopi, you’ll also see some animals that dwell on the ground, like monkeys, frogs, and iguanas. The Aquarium offers all kinds of tours, from basic admission to small group “behind the scene” tours that are phenomenal. You’ll see where expert veterinarians and trainers care for our aquatic friends. And what care it is—the freshest of seafood from all over the world comes to Chicago to be served in the finest restaurants… and at the Shedd. But you can’t get it at the cafeteria. It’s for the aquarium’s permanent residents! You can however, enjoy some of Chicago’s finest Jazz here. Every Wednesday (begins June 22) in the summer “Jazzin’ at the Shedd” features popular Jazz artists, dinner, and cocktails on their spacious veranda, plus a great view of the fireworks that start at dusk. Before it gets dark though, take in the awesome architectural show that is the outside of the Shedd Aquarium.

Runner up: Another great science museum is in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood, so if you are more for physics and trains than dolphins and coral, visit the Museum of Science & Industry instead – or heck, visit both!

Websitehttp://www.sheddaquarium.org

Hours: Open daily 9:00am–5:00pm, Weekends open until 6:00pm

Cost: There are so many ticketing options (group size, what do you want to see, buy in advance). The cheapest option starts at $37.95 for adults and $28.95 for children by purchasing tickets online.

Real Good News: The Art Institute of Chicago is included in the Chicago CityPass which saves you up to 53% off regular priced admission.

Chicago History Museums

Sharing a campus with the Shedd Aquarium and the Adler Planetarium is the Field Museum of Natural History. It is another Windy City Gem. You’ll marvel at colossal “Sue”, prominently displayed on its main floor. She is the most well-preserved and complete Tyrannosaurus Rex ever discovered. The children’s area, where the little ones can excavate finds of their own is a big draw. Through the museum’s partnership with University of Chicago Paleontologist Paul Sereno (once voted one of the world’s most beautiful people by People Magazine) the dinosaur exhibits are as fun as they are educational. The Museum frequently hosts temporary exhibits (a recent one on Haitian Voodoo was a real crowd-pleaser) that are as interesting as their permanent offerings. The Museum building itself is extraordinary—it is often rented for large affairs due to its beauty. Come in the warm months and you can have a lovely picnic on the adjoining lawn, fly a kite, or watch as children roll down the small hills at the front of the building.

Runner up: If you’re interested in cultural as opposed to natural history, you may want to visit the Chicago History Museum. Though it is quite a bit smaller, it’s chockfull of interesting facts on America’s Second City.

Websitehttps://www.fieldmuseum.org

Hours: Open daily 9:00am–5:00pm, except Christmas day. Last admission is 4pm.

Cost:  Adults $38, students & seniors $32, Children (3-11) $26

Real Good News: The Art Institute of Chicago is included in the Chicago CityPass which saves you up to 53% off regular priced admission.

Chicago Children’s Museums

Source: Chicago Children's Museum

Source: Chicago Children’s Museum

As if Navy Pier weren’t enough of a playground, with its huge ferris wheel, funhouse, and stage, the Chicago Children’s Museum is housed on its second through fourth floors. While you might wish to take the stairs, tykes usually prefer to climb up through the burlap-netted maze. A family with young one’s could easily spend the whole day at this museum, which is completely hands-on. It features an extensive water exhibit (be sure to don one of the raincoats provided) as well as a miniature grocery store entirely manned by its short-in-stature visitors. In one room, glass boxes adorn the walls with games and toys of yesteryear that will have parents waxing nostalgic. There are also plenty of child-friendly dining and shopping options on the first floor of the Pier, from sit-down restaurants to McDonalds, and a great ice cream shop. Don’t miss the Build-a-Bear Workshop either.

Runner up: For those who like a less crowded, lower-key experience, The Kohl Children’s Museum in nearby Glenview is equally splendid.

Websitehttp://www.chicagochildrensmuseum.org

Hours: Open daily 9:00am–5:00pm, Thursdays open until 8:00pm

Cost:  Children & Adults $14, Seniors $13, Children under 1yr old FREE. There are a variety of discounts and specials available. Make sure to visit their Plan your Visit page for details.

Free Chicago Museums

No way we can do this post without mentioning the best free museums in the city.

Chicago is a city whose large and thriving Mexican population is manifested in its food and art. The Pilsen neighborhood is the epicenter of this community. In it lies one of the largest collections of Mexican art in the country, at the National Museum of Mexican Art. With over 9,000 pieces housed in a spacious and modern facility, it’s a shock that this museum is free to the public. Yet since its inception in 1987, the Museum has remained true to its mission of bringing Mexican art and culture to the masses “sin fronteras” (without borders). In addition to the fine art that is part of the collection, you can also see a host of cultural and entertainment events here, from dance performances to speeches. Some say that the gift shop offers such unique and authentic wares that it is an exhibit itself. When you’re finished at the museum, be sure to stay in the neighborhood and enjoy delicious, reasonably priced Mexican food, along with some tequila or a margarita that will having you screaming for “uno mas”!

Runner up: If you can’t make it to the NMMA, the University of Chicago’s Oriental Museum is another outstanding free cultural venue that has the additional benefit of featuring an entombed body!

Websitehttp://www.nationalmuseumofmexicanart.org

Hours: Tuesday – Sunday 10:00am – 5:00pm. Closed Mondays and on major holidays.

Cost:  Free!

Chicago Planetary & Observatory Museums

Source: Adler Planetarium

Source: Adler Planetarium

Ok, maybe we lied earlier – this is probably the easiest category to pick our favorite in because there is really only one!

If you want to stare into space from Chicago, head straight for the Adler Planetarium, where the “star” is the Doane Observatory. Here, the telescope allows viewers to see planets that are trillions of miles away. Visitor’s come to experience this as well as the phenomenal IMAX theater at the planetarium, which also presents some thrilling footage of the universe. Another draw of the Adler Planetarium is its extensive collection. From scientific instruments of historical significance, to paintings, photographs, and books, even the most advanced researchers will not be disappointed. For those who can’t get to the Adler, neighboring Evanston has a formidable competitor. Northwestern University’s Dearborn Observatory has an 18.5 inch refracting telescope that is open to the public.

Websitehttp://www.adlerplanetarium.org

Hours: Open daily 9:30am–4:00pm, weekends open until 4:30pm

Cost:  General admission for adults start at $12 and $8 for children. (Note: these prices do not include any shows which are pretty cool)

Real Good News: The Art Institute of Chicago is included in the Chicago CityPass which saves you up to 53% off regular priced admission.

Chicago Specialty Museums

The Pullman Museum and Historic District is a designated National Historic Site that is as much a neighborhood as it is a museum. The district on the south side of Chicago features buildings such as the Arcade, the Clock Tower, the Market, and row homes. It is a tribute to Pullman’s influence on American industry, showing how manufacturing generated large and thriving communities. The row homes are actual former residences of people that were employed at the Pullman textile mill and other facilities. Period furniture and architecture is expertly preserved. The library features books on the history of the area and blueprints that were integral to its construction. Visiting this extensive historic site will take all day or more. If you can’t make it down to the south side to experience it, you might want to visit the Museum of Contemporay Photography instead. This is a top-notch specialty museum located right in the loop. Best of all, it’s free!

So there you have it – our curated museum list to help plan your next visit. If you think that we should have included different museums let our guests know by leaving a comment below!

 

 

 

 

Forgot Something? Don’t Worry, Chicago Delivers within 2 Hours

We’ve all been there – no matter how much time and care you take while packing you arrive at your hotel (or Airbnb now) and realize that you’ve left something behind. Of course whatever it may be will be of utmost importance. Often times the hotel or a local drugstore is an obvious and easy stop to pick up what you’re missing. However, for those times where the front desk doesn’t have what you need and the drug store is too far or maybe closed do not panic, there are several options in Chicago that will deliver you want you want – all in less than two hours. All of these places will deliver anywhere within their territory – so even if you’re at a clients office or visiting relatives you can still receive your goods.

Postmates

Our favorite is a delivery service called Postmates. Postmates is changing the way products are delivered city by city. Founded in San Francisco (because that is pretty much where every tech company comes from) in 2011 Postmates connects customers (you) with local couriers to deliver your products.

There are plenty of companies out there (Grubhub, Yelp24 to name a couple) that will deliver you food from a restaurant. What we love about Postmates is their ability to deliver just about anything, including a nice selection of personal care, health and beauty from their “general store” – and typically in less than an hour for a $4.99-$5.99 delivery fee. They also allow you to customize an order. By doing this you really can get a bit more out of Postmates than you could other delivery services. Select a store and tell the courier, in free form, what exactly it is that you want.

A few nights ago we selected our local Walgreens and wrote the courier, “Please pick out the most awesome ice creams that you can and keep the total under $15. We do not care about the brand, the size or the flavor – so long as it is awesome. Thanks!”  Less than 45 minutes later the courier showed up at our door with 5 little pints, their selection was awesome. Mint Chocolate Chip, Moose Tracks, Snickers, Twix and Cookie Dough. We were very impressed.

Amazon Prime Now

if you’re an Amazon Prime member visiting Chicago then you are in luck. Amazon offers their FREE 2hr delivery services on “10s of thousands” of products through their Amazon Prime Now program. If you don’t know what Amazon Prime is you can learn more and receive a 30-day free trail and take advantage of Prime Now.

What we love about Amazon is their unique selection of products, incredible pricing and ease of use. Traveling with a pet – or I guess did you acquire a pet while traveling? No problem, there are over 250 pet products in their assortment right now. Popular categories include personal care, books, games, electronics, fitness, baby, beauty & they also ship from a handful of local retailers too.

There are a couple of aspects to Amazon Prime Now that we don’t like all that much. One is it’s only available on your smartphone. The app works great, but shopping on the computer is much easier than on your cell phone. You also have to be an Amazon Prime member (which costs $99 annually) – where as the other services are a pay per order model.

Google Shopping Express

Free Chicago Walking Tours

Another player in this space that you have heard of before is Google. Google Shopping Express might be our favorite for the sheer variety of stores they deliver from. Costco, check. Walgreens, check. Staples, Toys R Us, Ulta – – the list goes on. We’re also big fans of the fact that you can add your loyalty cards to the order and get credit for any sales or bonus points (unlike many of the other delivery services).

Google Shopping Express allows you to pick delivery times for your products, including next day delivery if you’re outside of their same-day zones. The minimum per-store order is $15 and delivery starts at $5.99/order but they’re constantly running promotions for free delivery and offer a month-long membership for $10/month.

Instacart

Free Chicago Walking Tours

Lastly the app that we feel probably started it all and might be the most well know – Instacart. These folks made a name for themselves delivering whatever you can find in a grocery store but have recently expanded the stores they deliver from to include Target and Petco.

We love their variety of local Chicago grocery stores including our famous meca-of-booze Binny’s Beverage Depot. They also disclose whether or not the prices they charge on a per item basis are the same or higher (and how much higher) than what you would find in the store. For instance you can order from Whole Foods and the prices are the same as in their stores, but if you order from Costco you will pay slightly more. But we love that their upfront with that. Their search is also incredible.

If you’re in a big rush they will expedite your order (for an additional fee) to deliver within an hour.

Did we miss an app or delivery service doing an awesome job in Chicago? Let us know!

Your guide to getting around in Chicago

Chicago is the countries 3rd largest city (as of July 2014) which means that you have access to all the bells and whistles as it pertains to getting around. Bikes, cars, buses, trains, boats – all are available to help you get from point A to point B in Chicago. But all of these options can be confusing. We’re here to help you sort them out.

Chicago Public Transportion

Besides walking – which we we talk about a little later – using public transportation in the City of Chicago is the most economical way of getting around. And with hundreds of bus routes, high-speed rail and our famous “L” trains it’s convenient too. Chicago is home to the country’s second largest public transportation network (more than 1.7 million rides per day). This system is operated, managed and serviced by the Chicago Transit Authority.

bus

Here is a quick breakdown of your options provided by the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA):

  • Buses – CTA operates 1,865 buses, 128 routes and 1,354 route miles.* The bus routes are all numeric (i.e. route 36 or route 151). Our favorite app to help you manage arrival times of buses at specific stations are Ridescout & Ventra. Speaking of Ventra, make sure you read this section below on what exactly Ventra is and how to use it.
    • Full bus fare: $2.00
  • “L” Trains – The “L” stands for elevated, as in the trains run above the ground. These trains are often the most efficient to connect commuters to long(ish) distances within the city. The lines are organized by color. Blue, Red, Purple, Pink, Yellow, Green, Orange & Brown. There are trains that run to O’Hare (Blue Line) and Midway (Orange Line). Check out this “L” train map to familiarize yourself with the routes.
    • Full “L” train fare: $2.25
  • Metra – This is Chicago’s high-speed rail that connects the city with the surrounding suburbs. Because of how much ground is covered with these trains,  your best bet to learn which route is for you is to visit the official Metra website or Contact Us with any questions on planning your trip.

Visit CTA Fares & Tickets information.

Now is a great time to talk about Ventra. Ventura is the contact-less payment system used by the CTA. Ventra has an app that allows you to purchase mobile tickets and track arrival/departure times for buses and trains.

Buses will still accept cash (exact change only, $2 per route) but you will have to purchase a Ventra ticket when you ride the “L” trains. There are two options:

  1. Purchase a disposable ticket. The cost is actually $3.00 when you buy a single ticket from the Ventra machine at the train station. This includes your ride, up to 2 transfers and a $.50 limited use media fee. We have no clue what the limited use media fee is.You can also purchase a 1-day pass (still disposable) for $10. This pass is good for unlimited rides on CTA buses and “L” trains for 24hrs. If you think you are going to ride the trains and buses a few times in a day this is a great option.
  2. Purchase a plastic Ventra card and load cash balance or longer-term passes. This will cost you $5 initially when you purchase at the vending machine or a local retailer – the good news is you can covert that $5 into a transit credit by registering your account online at Ventra.com within 90 days. This is a great option if you’re going to be using public transportation for a week or longer.
    • 3-Day Pass – $20
    • 7-Day Pass – $28 ($33 if you include Pace bus service that services the Chicago Suburbs)
    • 30-Day Pass – $100

Chicago by Bike

bikes

Depending on which blog/news outlet you read Chicago can rank anywhere from the #2 most bike-friendly city in America to #6. Either way that is pretty dang good. Currently Chicago has over 200 miles of protected bike lanes in the city, 18.5 miles of off-street bike lanes along Lake Michigan and more than 13,000 bike rack spots. If you’re a cycling enthusiast than we probably won’t tell you much that you don’t already know. But if you’re visiting the city sans bike and are interested in riding, then make sure you check out Divvy.

Divvy Bikes is Chicago’s bike-sharing program with 4,760 bikes spread across their 476 stations throughout Chicago. Divvy bikes are available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.  You will want to read the how-to-guide provided by Divvy for all of the important details, but the basics are this:

  • You either purchase an annual membership online or, most likely, you will purchase a 24hr pass at the Divvy bike station near you. $9.95 for 24hr pass, $75 for annual pass.
  • 24hr pass purchases receive a code they enter into the bike station that allows them to use the Divvy bike for 30 minutes. Riders need to return the bike to any Divvy station within 30 minutes. You will be charged ($2 – $8) for any overtime. See Divvy pricing schedule for more details.
  • Rinse and repeat – you can do this for up to 24hrs with the $9.95 pass. It’s unlimited.

Tip: You could theoretically return and re-rent your Divvy bike immediately for those trips that are longer than 30 minutes. But if you’re going to ride for miles and do not want to stop, you’re better off renting a bicycle for the day from a bike shop. Bikechicago.com (Bike & Roll) is a top-rated bicycle renting and tour company in Chicago. $9/hr, $30/half day and $36/full day.

Chicago By Car

uber

There are plenty of options for getting around by cars in Chicago – you can drive (if you’re brave or have to), you can hail a taxi (easy breazy) or grab an Uber or Lyft (our personal favorite).

Taxis
If you’ve taken a taxi before then you are in good shape. There aren’t really any curve balls that will be thrown at you unless you take a city-based taxi from O’Hare airport and they drive you to a suburb – then you will be charged time and half. Please find below the rate schedule for taxis in Chicago as of January 1, 2016.

  • $3.25 base fare
  • $2.25 each additional mile
  • $.20 for every 36 seconds time elapsed
  • $1.00 first additional passenger
  • $.50 each additional passenger after the first additional passenger
  • $50.00 vomit cleanup fee
  • $4.00 Illinois airport departure tax

Private Transportation
Technology companies such as Uber & Lyft are taking the country by storm offering customers the ability to quickly schedule a car to pick them up and take them to their destination within minutes from their smartphones – and most of the time it’s cheaper than a cab.  Our two favorites are Uber & Lyft.

Both Uber & Lyft work in the same way. You download the app, setup an account, add your credit card information and start booking your rides. It really is so easy. Once you try out one of the companies it will be hard to go back to the traditional hailing a cab – especially in bad weather. Some other aspects of this type of ride that we love is not having to exchange cash or even get your wallet out. The transaction is all handled through the app with the credit card information you provided and saved to your profile. The drivers are rated by users (on a scale from 1-5). If drivers are poorly rated they risk having their driving privileges suspended (i.e. – can no longer make money). Drivers are therefore have an incentive to provide great service and get great reviews.

If you haven’t tried Uber or Lyft we have a special new customer promotion for you. You can get your first Uber ride for free (up to $15) and you can get $50 in Lyft ride credits (5 separate $10 credits) by signing up and using their apps today. New customers only.

Driving & Parking
We’re not sure where to start with this one. Driving in any city, including Chicago, can be a pain in the butt. Traffic into and out of the city, especially in the rush hour morning and evening, can drive just about anyone crazy. If you have (or want) to drive we recommend downloading either Google Maps or Waze. These two transit apps will ensure that your drive will be as fast as it possibly can be.

Parking is an entirely separate can of worms. So you made it to downtown Chicago and you still are sane? Great, but now you much find where to park. Chicago is not making it easy on your either. We have free parking on the streets, we have paid parking on the streets and we have permit-only parking on the streets – so make sure you are paying attention!

For those of you that are less adventurous and want to be sure you’re in a proper parking spot we have some good news. Once again technology comes to the rescue with a couple of apps helping you find the closest and cheapest parking available in the city.

  • Parking Panda will help you locate a parking spot by providing an address, city, neighborhood or zip code. They bill themselves as the #1 Parking App.
  • SpotHero operates in the same fashion priding itself on how quickly you can find, secure and pay for parking on their app.

Chicago by Boat

That’s right, boats. Chicago Water Taxi operates between a few popular locations along the famous Chicago River in the heart of downtown Chicago. Chicago Water Taxi Day Passes ($8 on weekdays, $10 on weekend), 10 ride passes ($17.50 weekday, $30 weekend) and a monthly pass for $60.

*Chicago Transit Authority, Spring 2016

12 sites to help you plan an unforgettable visit to Chicago

Chicago is a massive city – covering over 237 square miles. There are roughly 2.7 million permanent residents and more than 48 million visitors to the city each year. There are almost 5,000 restaurants to choose from. You could visit a different museum every weekend and still have leftovers, because we have 60 of them – including the #1 Museum in the World. (spoiler: Art Institute of Chicago). There are over 200 theaters & over 225 music venues in Chicago. Getting around in the city can be a breeze or you could feel like it requires an advanced physics degree. Chicago has 28 bus routes & 8 train routes that connect 146 stations. Over 3,000 bikes spread amongst 300 stations are available to rent by the hour to help you tackle one of the countries most bike-friendly cities. And while Chicago ranks #3 by population in America we’re still home to 8,1000 acres of green space, 580 parks and 26 beaches.

Source: City of Chicago

So how the heck are you supposed to figure all of this out on your short weekend trip or heck, even week-long trip to Chicago? Free Chicago Walking Tours is going to help. We present to you the top 12 resources to “hack” your way to an unforgettable Chicago vacation. These websites are a special selection that will make you you make the most of your Chicago trip by having fun, learning & meeting people.

START HERE WITH THESE GENERAL TRAVEL & CHICAGO SITES

TripAdvisor Chicago – Hear us out first. Free Chicago Walking Tours recommends using TripAdvisor Chicago as a way to start the brainstorming process and see what other visitors did in the city.  There is so much information in one place. From things to do, to restaurants, hotels and short-term rentals. Free Chicago Walking Tours even challenges Chicago-area locals to take a look for themselves and find out what is hot in Chicago.

Wikitravel Chicago – Online since 2003, Wikitravel bills itself as the original crowd-sourced travel guide with over 300,000 destinations, including Chicago. There is so much information here. Free Chicago Walking Tours loves this information because it really doesn’t come with an agenda. It’s simply there – use it as you please. It coves topics you really won’t find on other travel sites. Topics such as staying safe within the city and includes a listing of all of foreign consulates located within the city as well as their address and phone numbers. But there really is so much more than this. if you have an hour or so to spare and have never been to or read about Chicago you must visit this page.

Choose Chicago – Yes, we know. Not really a hidden gem or a secret, but this is a catch-all site that is dedicated to Chicago and it didn’t feel right leaving it off. Choose Chicago has a little (OK, a lot) of just about everything. It can be a bit overwhelming because there is so much information, but used correctly and it can be a real asset. Their Chicago Trip Planner is an excellent place to start for those visiting for the first time or the fifth time.

OVER 30% OF VISITORS TO CHICAGO SAY “CULINARY EXPERIENCES” ARE THEIR PRIMARY REASON FOR THE VISIT. THESE SITES WILL MAKE SURE THOSE EXPERIENCES ARE UNIQUE AND MEMORABLE.

Eater Chicago – If you’re looking for the scoop on Chicago dining, drinking, food and nightlife check this site out. If you’re local and haven’t heard of it then you’re going to have some fun for a few hours. If you’re visiting and want to get down to the nitty gritty here are the best features for you:

  • Eater Chicago Essential 38 Restaurants (the answer to: “Can you recommend a restaurant?”
  • Eater Chicago Heat map (hottest Chicago restaurants)
  • We can’t link to this one, because it changes every weekend. But Eater Chicago has a feature every Friday & Saturday they present the best restaurants in Chicago with last minute reservations available from Open Table. Check it out when you’re in need of a place to eat but completely forgot to reserve your spot.

LTH Forum – This is a legit foodie website. It’s not flashy. It’s not sexy. It gets right down to business. The site is the work of Chicago locals who left another “more restrictive” food blog to start their own. Whether you want to meet up with locals to break bread together or you’re interested in getting the scoop on some neighborhood haunts – check this site out.

WEATHER AND TRANSPORTATION ARE TWO VERY UNPREDICTABLE ASPECTS OF CHICAGO LIFE. USE THESE SITES AND APP TO HELP YOU PLAN AND PREPARE FOR ANYTHING.

Spot Hero – For anyone that is going to be driving and parking in Chicago. This is the app for you. It’s almost too good to be true. You plug in where you need to park (an address, landmark, whatever) and the date range. Next thing you know it’s telling you all the spots – both public and private – that you can park at, their location and their price. That is it. Search for the spot, find the spot and pay for it.

RideScout – The all-in-one-whatever-mode-you-want-to-travel transit app has arrived to Chicago. Yay! This app will help you get from point A to point B. Whether you want to take a taxi, a bus, walk, bike, car share, park your care or whatever. All in one simple screen. This is great for those that want to take advantage of every single type of transportation possible in a city (you know who you are) and for those looking to take the most efficient route because they’re running late. Or for those that just want to see how close their friends can guess as to the time difference between taking a bike vs a ride share. Have fun.

Chicago Pedway – Wait, what’s a pedway? It’s a noun -a footway built for pedestrians in an urban area. In Chicago’s case it’s an underground pedway. But why you may ask? To help give you cover for our awful Chicago winters. Many locals don’t even know about it. Now you’re in-the-know. It’s sort of a tangled mess of underground walkways, but we have to admit it’s quite unique and if you have time (or for some reason you’re visiting in the winter) make sure you take a visit.

Dark Sky – Chicago is the Windy City. You have probably heard all of the silly one-liners. “If you don’t like the weather in Chicago, wait 15 minutes.” Chicago has four distinct seasons and then some. Cheers to Dark Sky and the technology behind it that can alert you down to the minute (not kidding) when it will rain or snow in Chicago.

CHICAGO ENTERTAINMENT. ENOUGH SAID.

Free Museum Passes from the Library – Sorry out-of-towners, this one is strictly for locals with a valid ID and Chicago address only. We just couldn’t leave it off our list though, it’s too good. This might even be the last drop in the bucket to motivate you to pack up and move to Chicago.

Just like the link says, if you have a Chicago Public Library card you can “check out” passes to the museum good for up to two adults. The catch? You MUST be accompanied by a child under the age of 18. And yes, the #1 Museum in the World is on the list.

ChicagoPlays – Remember those 200+ theaters that were mentioned in the opening paragraph? ChicagoPlays will make it much easier for you to navigate all that is happening in Chicago. Find a theatre. Find a play. Look by date. Look by what is hot. Buy Tickets. Have fun.

Did we miss a great site that needs to be added on this list? Let us know by adding your comment below.