Free Time Fun

Welcome to Chicago, the Paris of the Midwest!  For our out-of-town guests planning an extended weekend (or our local friends planning a "staycation"), we hope these links will be helpful. Chicago is a sprawling "city of neighborhoods," and there is so much to explore, from conventional tourist activities to adventures off the beaten track.   Please also be sure to let us know if you have any particular interests or tastes you don't find here, or have any questions about locations so that we may offer suggestions to ensure you have the best visit ever.  

General Resources

Explore Chicago, Chicago's Official Visitor's Site,

Time Out Chicago, featuring fun and hip entertainment options,

There is always a ton of great music and theater going on in Chicago, please check these out for current shows.

The Belden-Stratford also offers a very nice list of attractions, as well as an interactive map, under "location" on the left side menu of their home page.

Transportation and Safety

Public transportation is accessible from all suggested hotels, and $2.25 a ride ($1 for kids).  Everybody uses it here, you can get pretty much anywhere on our buses and trains, so don't be afraid of being an urban adventurer! The south and west side have some areas that can be a little randy if you're not familiar with them, but the north side and downtown are generally (city) safe for exploration.

Taxi service:
Flash Cab, (773) 561-4444


Our city has some very extraordinary history, and the buildings help to tell it!  Riverboat architectural tours are some of the best ways to see Chicago.
A very reputable company for tours is
Chicago Line Cruises, and
Chicago Architectural Boat Tours
also offer unique ways to see the city!

Another unique tour is Chicago Chocolate Tours, also offering cupcake tours! You can go back on a diet on Monday. 


The Second City, training group and playground of some of our country's
finest comedians, offers sketch comedy within walking distance of the Belden Stratford and a short bus ride from other hotel options. Tickets are relatively reasonable and can be booked online.

Additionally, Zanies features nationally-known stand-up talents, and is also walking distance from the hotel (good thing, they have a high drink minimum).

La Tourista

All of the hotels are near bus lines that will take you to the doorstep of many of Chicago's biggest tourist attractions, such as The Magnificent Mile (upscale shopping and malls, and a nice walk to the Chicago River), The Chicago Art Institute, The "Bean" in Millennium Park and Buckingham Fountain (all withing close walking distance to one another), Navy Pier (exuberant and a little too toursit-y for some, but good with kids, as they feature the Chicago Children's Museum) and Museum Campus (The Shedd Aquarium is an Jim&Ez favorite; we had our "honeymoon" there after taking vows at City Hall years ago), and if you have a car, The Museum of Science and Industry is truly extraordinary, the last standing building of the 1893 World Columbian Exposition and filled to the brim with marvels today!

Of course, walking distance from the Belden Stratford there is also our favorite, The Lincoln Park Zoo, the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum with their beautiful butterfly room, and the nearby Chicago History Museum, also one of our favorites, as it is not overwhelming and always interesting (we love their dioramas!).  It has a very nice restaurant, and you can take your picture as a Chicago-style hot dog in the children's room.

Small Boutique Shopping

Bus and "L" (elevated train) rides are $2.25.  The Brown Line elevated train will take you all around the city, and all of the stops are safe.  You can use the Brown Line going north for a fun little tour of Chicago boutiques that are off the beaten path:

You can get off at the Armitage stop and right to the east (left) of the station is the wonderful Art Effect, plus lots of swanky little boo-teeks all around.

Then, get back on the "L" going North, get off at Southport and just walk down the street north toward the famous Music Box theater, lots of pretty, pretty shops like Anthropologie and Paper Source and cupcakes and such...very girly girl.

Next stop on the L going north: You can get off at Montrose, walk about a block west and have lunch at Glenn's Diner (amazing seafood, best burger in the city and most amazing potato pancakes) and then visit Hazel, one of my favorite gift boutiques, and grab some hand-dipped chocolates from Margie's, an old-skool Chicago original.

You can get right back on that L north and get off at Western, then you can visit Lincoln Square (a block to your right when you leave the station), lots of funky little gift shops, a good independent bookstore and a fun neighborhood. Hangar 18 is my fave, plus, you can grab some bubble bath for the end of your day at the unique Merz Apothecary. There are also good restaurants around:  Cafe Selmarie (chopped salad is most popular), Trattoria Trullo (truffle gnocci, panini at lunch) or Bocca della Verita (best antipasto).  Then, you can hop back on the train going South (if you're downtown), and wah-la, home-again-home-again jiggety jig! Train rides are $2.25 each, so you could do all this for about $12 in transportation.  You can get a card at the elevated train station. 


Chicago Jazz:  The Green Mill Lounge
Blues:  Kingston Mines
Night Club:  Excalibur
Hipster/gay dance club: Berlin

Downtown Dining Adventures

Memorable high-end experiences for our culinary extremist friends and family.  Reservations required!
Alinea Best molecular gastronomy in the country. Supposedly a once-in-a-lifetime meal.
Rick Bayless' Frontera Grill Very popular Mexican restaurant using the TV star's menus.
Sushi Samba Jim & Ez recommended, very romantic and lively!
Carnivale Latin fusion food in a colorful and exciting atmosphere. Try the ceviche.
Spiaggia  Serious Italian.  Ask for a view of the lake when you make a reservation.

Please also see additional excellent (and more affordable) dining under "hotels."
We are also so excited to be hosting lunch on our vow renewal day at our favorite French restaurant in the city.  Hope you enjoy. 

So much to do, so little time! Have fun!