Chicago is a lively city, and it’s got my triumvirate for what makes a city ideal to explore: good public transportation, variety of good food, and a mix of cultural and natural attractions. I’ve already talked about the Shedd Aquarium, and I definitely have more to say on the city’s attractions. But first, the other two sides of the triangle.
Getting around using public transit
The city is laid out in a fairly orderly grid. Along, above, and below the streets run the “L” trains (short for “elevated,” since trains were historically on rails above street level) of the Chicago Transit Authority. On street level are buses that run 140 routes throughout the city.
There are 8 lines on the L train. They work pretty much like any urban rail system: each line has a different route (in Chicago, they are differentiated by color) and you use the last stop of the train as a directional marker. For example, the Blue Line goes from O’Hare Airport northwest of the city, travels southeast to downtown Chicago, and goes west to end up in Forest Park. It’s easy to switch trains and there are several designated transfer stations between lines.
To use the CTA bus or rail, you need to have a Ventra ticket. A single ride ticket is 3 USD, but the actual fare for a ride is 2 USD on a bus, 2.25 on a train (to O’Hare, it’s 5 USD). There’s a media fee and a transfer fee — you can make up to two transfers within 2 hours using the same ticket.
A day pass is 10 USD and may be your best value depending on where you are going and how many rides you’ll be taking.
If you’re staying longer, a refillable card can be purchased for 5 USD and you can load credits to it at any Ventra vending machine.
Some Chicago food suggestions
Try the Beef & Brandy — good service, classy diner feel. The biscuits and gravy are amazing.
Have a classic Chicago dog, or spice it up with a chili dog at Portillos. A Chicago institution, and the downtown Ontario Street location is just really old school. Also home to Barnelli’s Italian pasta.
The Island Party Hut on the Chicago Riverwalk serves Hawaiian-style fare. They make an excellent Kalua Pork.
When you’re craving food after a day of checking out the sights and an evening at the Navy Pier, check out Dough Bros. This is Italian-style pizza in Chicago. Prices are great, the pizza is yummy, and it’s cafeteria style: grab it and go.
Whatever you like
Eataly is a fun grocery store with counters and restaurants inside. This spot is an all-around type of place — you can try their bakery for breakfast, paninis for lunch, and one of the several Italian restaurants for dinner. Grab some coffee, enjoy the Nutella bar (they make crepes, among other things), or try some gelato or truffles for dessert.