Since the 1950s, Chicago has been called the “Second City,” following an article in New Yorker magazine asserting that Chicago could never measure up to New York. Well, take it from a native New Yorker, there is nothing second place about Chicago. When some of us weren’t looking, Chicago became a state-of-the-art destination for art lovers and architecture aficionados, foodies and fashionistas, blues and jazz fans, and yes, those interested in seeing just where the First Family really lives.
Indeed, says Joleen Haran, assistant director of tourism at the Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau, “Chicago has been getting rave reviews, making the news with its bid for the 2016 Summer Olympics—the only U.S. city competing; creating culinary headlines as the city with more five-diamond award restaurants than any other in the nation; and yes, getting a boost from having a Chicago resident now president of the United States. Chicago formed the backdrop to President Obama’s acceptance speech, delivered in downtown Grant Park.” She also credits the city’s trio news-making cultural attractions—the fabulously expanded Art Institute of Chicago, the 103rd-floor Skydeck atop the landmark Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower), and the high-tech advancements at the indoor Shedd Aquarium (the world’s largest)—for the steady increase in leisure travelers. “For vacation planners,” Haran advises, “the booking engine at choosechicago.com offers assistance in customizing vacation packages.”
Many people credit a lot of today’s buzz about Chicago to retiring Mayor Richard Daley who presided (1989 to 2011) over an urban renaissance that has bloomed into a beautiful, world-class city, turning Chicago into an economic success story, while paying particular attention to beautifying Chicago’s aging core. New York Times correspondent Susan Saulny points out that, “The mayor promoted the city’s business, tourism, culinary and art industries in a way that positioned Chicago to compete with American cities better known for such things, like New York and San Francisco.”
Indeed, Chicago as a U.S. urban vacation destination was a no-brainer when we compiled our Editors’ Hot List. And Steve Born, vice president of marketing for the Globus family of brands, agrees. “Chicago is certainly one of my favorite U.S. cities,” says Born. “One that easily fits into Monograms’ criteria for choosing a destination, which starts with the level of visitor interest and demand for the destination. Chicago qualifies!” Monograms, in fact, has chosen Chicago are one of the urban centers where the company is introducing its own onsite “Local Hosts” who, right from each guest’s arrival, are on-hand to meet and greet, and always accessible to answer questions, arrange excursions and offer suggestions to ensure a one-of-a-kind vacation, reports Born. Monograms’ 3-night Chicago package includes accommodations at the Essex Inn, and tickets for a day’s travel aboard the hop-on-hop-off trolley whose city circuit includes many of the major attractions; upgrade hotel choices are the Crowne Plaza Chicago or Palmer House Hilton. Add on to this the “personal touch” of a Monograms’ “Local Host,” who is always on call to arrange a visit to the Frank Lloyd Wright home or a Gangster Tour of Chicago’s most infamous sites, to give guidance on where to shop, where to dine deliciously.
arts scene The arts scene in Chicago is major. Tops on the to-see list is the Art Institute of Chicago, which in 2009 debuted a new wing to house its modern collection. Although the museum is most famous for its Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings, treasures run from ancient to contemporary. Chicago’s museum scene embraces the Museum of Contemporary Art, as well as the interactive Museum of Science and Industry and the Field Museum of Natural History whose star is Sue: the largest T-rex ever found.
The birthplace of the modern building, Chicago has shaped American architecture. After the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, the city rebuilt on the talents of forward-thinking architects Daniel Burnham, Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright. Their grand architectural legacy is on view when taking the 90-minute, docent-narrated Chicago Architecture Foundation cruise that glides past an array of dazzling skyscrapers along the Chicago River. The Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust’s tours are a must for Wright fans (wrightplus.org), and modern architecture and design aficionados should book their tour of the campus of the Illinois Institute of Technology (mies.iit.edu/tours), planned and designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.