Thursday, September 27, 2012

Summertime in Chicago

My tan is fading by the second. Summer is officially over. No more bikinis, outdoor music festivals, or movies in the park for another year. I was lucky enough to spend this summer working on a freelance project in my beautiful Chicago. It was kind of like high school days, but with drinking at bars.

I'm bias, but Chicago is one of the best cities to celebrate summer in. Just chilling outside with a double scoop of mint chocolate chip on a steamy night after a long day of swimming at the beach with the city's skyline all around you. Or playing bags with friends over a Summer Shandy with a serenading chorus of crickets. Seriously, what could be better?

For most of the U.S. this summer was record breaking HOT. If you’re not lucky enough to have a friend with a pool, you most likely melted to the ground and slithered to the beach - Alex Mack style. There are actually dozens of beaches along Lake Michigan - Montrose Avenue Beach, Oak Street Beach, 12th Street Beach. Some are better for certain things than others. North Avenue Beach is great for working out, equipped with a Crunch Fitness mini gym, bike & running paths, and is the best viewing spot to watch the annual Chicago Air & Water Show. Belmont Harbor is known as the “dog beach.” Loyola beaches are known for being kid-friendly with a park and concessions. Though, my favorite beach is an hour outside of Chicago at the Indiana Dunes. It’s 15 miles of sand dunes that range from giant 125 ft hills to flat east coast prairie style beach to wooded hiking trails. After you sweat it out on the trails, you can BBQ on the grills. Go bird watching, fishing, camping - if that's your thing. My friends and I prefer to let the waves beat the crap out of us. Bruises - literally. After visiting for the first time since I was a kid, it was nice to see that this place hasn't changed that much. Or maybe it's just equally awesome as an adult. Or my maturity levels peaked at age 12. Or all of the above.

View of Chicago from across Lake Michigan in Indiana. 

So have you ever noticed that summer always flies by because there’s more sunlight? And more sunlight means more time for fun. And more time for fun means more illegal fire hydrant tapping. And more illegal fire hydrant tapping means…I don’t know where I was going with this. 

Check out the city from above at the Skydeck atop the Sears Tower. (I’ll never get used to calling it Willis Tower, but I haven’t really tried either.) Walk out onto the glass that suspends 103 floors above the ant cars below. Look down. Then, look around at everyone else’s face who’s doing it too.

Taste of Chicago is one of my favorite holidays. Every July, Grant Park becomes one giant food festival where people sample stuff their faces with yummy dishes from restaurants around the city. Try foods like Sabor Latino’s pork filled banana dumplings or Chicago staples like Billy Goat Tavern’s cheeseburger or Rainbow Cone from the city’s Southside. Come hungry.

Buckingham Fountain, at the center of Grant Park where The Taste is held annually.

Chicago is known as the improv capital of the world. While Second City is the most famous venue with alum like Tina Fey, Amy Poehler (ugh…my favorite), Martin Short, Steven Colbert, Bill Murray, and so many other funny heavy hitters, don’t overlook some of the lesser-known (and usually cheaper) spots to get a laugh.

Chicago Improv

If you're in the Lakeview neighborhood, dine at Wilde then walk down the block to Bobtail Ice Cream Company for dessert. I think Chicago might be the ice cream capital too. So many good places to get fat from. Check out Southside legend, Rainbow Cone, where you get Orange Sherbet, Pistachio, Palmer House (New York Vanilla with cherries & walnuts), Strawberry, and Chocolate ice cream scoops all on one cone. Sounds weird. Tastes delicious.

Lincoln Park Observatory – pretty plants, pretty plants.

Eat carrot cake waffles at the punked out Bleeding Heart Bakery and Café. Get an Arnold Palmer cupcake or Monster Donut to go.

Set sail on the Tall Ship Windy. Get an architectural & Chicago history tour from a pack of singing pirates. Keep a look out for Groupons, matey.  

Before you dive in…

Lake Michigan is more of an inland sea than a lake, creating waves big enough to surf on. That said, watch out for the rip currents, tides, and waves (up to 35 ft.) and check the bacteria warnings before heading in.

And if you’ve never seen it, google “Lake Michigan waves.” Oh! Oh! Better yet. “Lake Michigan waves knocking people down.”