With a population of 2.7 million people and roughly 1.4 million standup comedians, Chicago holds its own internationally as a hub of highbrow culture and dining. The city is known worldwide for its signature deep dish pizza which has long blanketed and buried entire neighborhoods under thick layers of cheese.
Thankfully, the rate at which Cubs fans are still gratuitously reproducing after their big World Series win is continuing to ensure a well-populated and prosperous Chicago of tomorrow.* Street musicians, tacos, someone peeing on the El — all these classic city experiences are waiting for us all.
If you’re living here and have a family interested enough in your life to want to witness that for themselves, you know that Chicago is a great place for a parental visit. There are lots of parents in Chicago, so they’re in good company. And parents love doing fun things, so, lucky for you, there are at least six days worth of age-appropriate activities in the city before you run out of things to do, say, and feel.
My own parents popped into town recently; below is a list of what we did, so it’s what you should do, too. Do not stray from the list.
9 p.m. — Lula Cafe
When I was little, I used to think that any place that was referred to as a “hole in the wall” literally could not be accessed by any other means than crawling through a large hole, hand-chiseled Shawshank style, into the solid outer wall of a building. It was such an exciting concept.
I still have yet to discover a true “hole in the wall,” but Lula Cafe keeps my warped childhood dreams alive, even with its regular door. Situated so close to Logan Square’s namesake public square you could spit hard and have it land on a hipster mustache, Lula Cafe is a must for anyone who loves food or is alive. The restaurant’s rotating seasonal menu ensures not only optimal ingredient freshness, but also maximum Baby Boomer confusion: My parents had to look up a significant number of unfamiliar food terms on their phones. We eventually decided to order mostly things we were already aware existed. I ordered a fat pasta with beef tongue which are two things that can in fact be combined.
1 p.m. — Navy Pier
Navy Pier is a must-see on any Chicago trip. The inverted nipple of Lake Michigan, as I refer to it (“So … the lake is the breast?” – my mom), is an actual pier filled with rides, food, and meeting spaces for important mansplainers. It’s known best for the giant Ferris wheel that costs fifteen whole dollars to ride. I like to think of it as Chicago’s very own London Eye. Or maybe better: “Chicago’s Big Toe.” Riders get a superb view of the city, all from the luxury of an enclosed eight-seater pod, shielded from the intense Chicago wind that will inevitably knock the whole thing over into the lake. I can affirm that the view from the top makes the perfect backdrop for selfies that perpetuate a grand illusion that you can fly or are very, very tall.
9:30 a.m. — Frank Lloyd Wright architectural bus tour
What has four wheels, a median age of 55, and is filled to the brim with disdain towards Millennials? Easy: the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s Frank Lloyd Wright bus tour!
The Beyoncé of the middle-class Baby Boomer’s world, Frank Lloyd Wright draws polo-clad crowds from all over the world to his former home and studio in Oak Park, Illinois. The home itself is a beautiful case study in structural and aesthetic innovation, as was the haircut of the patriarch of a very bored Alaskan family also on the tour. (I was both enraptured and frightened as I watched what can only be described as a handful of noodles draped over a cantaloupe make its way through one of the most famous historical sites in the country.)
Even if you don’t have the same opportunity to witness that, the bus tour is still worth your money, your time, and the mild inconvenience of having to listen to old people complain about the fan noise in the bus, then about being hot after it’s turned off, and then again about not being able to hear when it’s turned back on.
12:30 p.m. — Garfield Park Conservatory
If you’ve ever wanted to be groped by a plant, look no further than the Garfield Park Conservatory. They’ll touch your butt with or without your permission, and you’ll probably like it. This botanical celebration is an incredible way to experience every climate in one day. Each room boasts hundreds, if not thousands of species of plants native to areas all over the globe. There’s the Prickly Popsicle Room, the House of Noodlehangers, Indoor Florida, you name it.
Each plant room leads to another plant room and then another until you’ve found yourself foraging for food and contemplating your mortality in a seemingly endless forest. And if the green majesty of the Earth isn’t your cup of tea, maybe try a goat yoga class or crashing a wedding in Horticulture Hall. At the Conservatory, something for everyone.
5 p.m. — Koval
I’m no whiskey connoisseur, but Ravenswood distillery Koval definitely makes whiskey. You know, that liquid that has 18 different names but is essentially all the same thing in different shades of brown? I once went to an informal blind bourbon tasting hosted by a few friends of mine where I had the opportunity to taste Old Rip Van Winkle 10-year aged bourbon and the only descriptive phrase I could muster was “tastes like couch.” I came for the gin.
Koval’s showroom offers one-hour tours multiple times a day, making it a great last-minute activity for indecisive people like my family. For ten dollars apiece we enjoyed a brief yet thorough explanation of the distilling process, some market insight, and a series of tastings administered through an intimidating government-sanctioned measuring syringe. Individually, each tasting was the volumetric equivalent of a monopoly thimble, but all of them together were enough for me to gag/shiver my way to a nice buzz by the time the tour was over. My parents are now too embarrassed to take me with them anywhere ever again.
10 a.m. — Bang Bang Pie & Biscuits
I can never say enough good things about Bang Bang. They took in a very hungry Annie in while I was on one of my first solo trips to Chicago and they’ve held a very special place in my heart ever since (my arteries, to be specific). I’d been talking it up for days before my parents even landed.
“Buttery biscuits,” I whispered to my mother over the phone. “Runny poached eggs. Seasonal jam. AVOCADO. HAAMMMM!!!”
“Honey,” she said, “That sounds lovely. But it’s one in the morning and you’re screaming.”
Bang Bang’s biscuit breakfasts are the perfect combination of flaky and gooey, healthy and deadly (in the medical, not metaphorical sense). They’re essentially an open-faced sandwich filled with a combination of meat, veg, and poached egg (or simply butter and jam if you’re feeling pastoral). Pair it with a slice of Bang Bang’s award-winning pie, available in at least five seasonal flavors at any given time, and then get ready for the most satisfying coma of your life.
4 p.m. — The Second City
The Second City is a Chicago staple, like hot dogs without ketchup and drinking heavily on stoops. I’d been itching to see one of their shows since I moved to Chicago around this time last year. Aside from that time I made actual, prolonged eye contact with Tim Meadows at an iO Theater performance of The Improv Shakespeare Company, I’d never felt so close to my comedy idols as when my parents and I finally took in a show.
We saw a Sunday matinee of one of the Best of Second City revues, a six-member, half-improv, half-sketch-comedy, all-bonkers bonanza. The women, making up four out of the six members, dominated the stage for the majority of the show. Confident, strong, hilarious — all the things I strive to be.
1 p.m. — Art Institute of Chicago
If the art world was the crew of a large wooden ship, the Art Institute of Chicago would sit at the helm. Centrally located on Michigan Avenue in the Loop, the Art Institute of Chicago is a world-class cultural mecca. Fame breeds rumors, however, and the Art Institute is certainly not immune from widespread falsehoods. As a student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), and thus an expert on our mother museum, it is my duty to set the record straight:
- Yes, there are 8,000,000 bees living in the museum walls that are released once a year to terrorize visiting executives from The Whitney.
- No, the museum does not deflate at night and then re-inflate upon the rising of the new day’s sun.
- No, the gift shop does not sell human remains.
- There may or may not be on display in the Modern Wing a long video of a man cleaning a chicken.
- Yes, the museum is accessible by a vast network of tubes and tunnels that lead exclusively to and from Panera Bread locations.
- Yes, the lion statues flanking the main entrance are named Left Eye and T-Boz.
- Yes, the miniatures room will instantly make you cry *~*because so smol*~*.
Be sure to take some time to visit the Art Institute and lend your support to the museum’s mission to inspire and educate. This has been an advertisement for the Art Institute of Chicago. This whole thing.
6 p.m. — Johnny’s Grill
The end of the day brought us back to the heart of Logan Square and ready to eat again. Situated right next to Lula Cafe, Johnny’s Grill is another cozy breakfast-lunch-dinner spot. Fresh pastries and confections, as well as a full bar (via the neighboring Mezcaleria accessible from the dining room), make Johnny’s Grill unique and not awful.
Next time you’re there — which will be at some point on a Friday because you’re not going to stray from this list — you should get the homemade pop-tart. It is the size of your face and will not disappoint you like every lover you’ve ever had. Relationships spoil, unlike food which stays good forever.
*In all seriousness, come August 3, 2017, a wave of babies is going to hit Wrigleyville and I don’t even want to think about what that parking situation is going to be like.