Ways to Experience Chicago Like a Local

If you’re visiting Chicago, you’ll want access to all the best attractions that really give you that local Chicagoan experience. That means—the right sights, adventures, and condiments (no ketchup on hotdogs, here!).

While it’s smart to always ask for tips from staff at your hotel, it doesn’t hurt to have some ideas before reaching the city. Plus, a few attractions require advanced notice, such as theater tickets or sporting events, so planning ahead will help make your trip smooth and enjoyable.

Here are a few tips for experiencing the Windy City as if you were born and raised.

Stay in a Neighborhood with Access to Attractions

If you’re looking to see the best-of-the-best views locals enjoy year-round and be able to easily transport to local favorite attractions and hotspots in the city, your hotel location matters. For instance, stay in the Streeterville neighborhood along the Magnificent Mile, a residential spot that attracts lots of tourists because of its proximity to the best destinations and killer views.

You can have access to luxury and boutique shopping along Michigan Avenue, architecture tours and boat cruises, the theater district, Navy Pier where you can find pop-ups of Chicago restaurants, the iconic Ferris wheel, and parks, such as Millennium Park, all within walking distance.

Eat at a Local Staple or Unique Restaurant

You can’t visit Chicago without trying some of its signature foods! Chicago is known for its classic popcorn mix (which also makes for a perfect gift to bring home to friends and family), and you can get a container right at Garrett’s on Michigan Avenue. You’ll also want to try deep-dish pizza, a local favorite for delicious comfort food. Grab a table at enduring favorites, like Giordano’s and Lou Malnati’s.

However, beyond these local spots, you can also find some hidden gems that offer unique, delicious cuisine. Some are Michelin rated and feature top chefs, while others are lesser known but also rich in Chicago’s gastronomic culture. Browse online or ask your hotel staff for inquiries about where to eat within your area.

Try Public Transportation

Chicagoans are known to be helpful with directions and recommendations, and they know driving is not the best way to get around the city. When every precious minute counts, it makes sense to take advantage of public transportation that’ll get you where you need to go in a jiffy.

Hop on the El—the elevated train that runs throughout the city, a CTA bus, or the Metra train that’ll take you to different neighborhoods in Chicago for cheap and in a matter of minutes. You can find schedules on the Ventra App and pick up a card for unlimited rides at a convenience store. If you are traveling with kids, they will love the train ride—and you will too, as kids under seven ride free! Plus, you’ll really feel as though you’re “a part of the people” then.

Ask Hotel Staff for Recommendations

The staff is there to help you navigate your trip, and as Chicago residents well versed in the top destinations and local spots around the hotel, they’ll be able to offer wonderful recommendations.

What’s more, they can help you reserve plans, too! If you’re interested in dining at a restaurant, they can set that up for you. You can also begin communication with staff prior to your trip, where they can help you plan your itinerary accordingly without worrying about last-minute challenges.

Go to a Sporting Event

The Chicago Bears, the Bulls, the Blackhawks, and more—Chicago is known for its great sports teams and the stadiums, like Soldier Field and the United Center, which draw crowds of people, tourists, and locals, alike. There’s no better opportunity to express the Chicago spirit than amongst a crowd of cheering fans rooting on their city.

Make sure to book seats and buy tickets in advance so you can guarantee some great views. And try the snacks at the stadium! Big Star at the United Center serves great tacos, and you can’t go wrong with a DMK burger at Soldier Field.

Pro-tip, Wrigley Field has an entire neighborhood surrounding it that is lively year-round, even when the Cubs are not playing. It is worth a visit, and you can also grab a bite or drink at nearby Boystown before taking in a view of Lake Michigan, about a mile east of the Stadium.

Go to the Theater or a Pop-Up Experience

Whether you’re going to Broadway, which is right in the loop or downtown area of Chicago, taking in a play or musical, or checking out other local theaters, dance schools, comedy clubs, or live musical performances, Chicago is known for its rich culture for the arts and theater. In fact, Rahm Emanuel announced Chicago as the top destination for theater for 2019!

On top of such diverse performances, Chicago also attracts pop-ups from around the world. Recently, the wndr museum landed in Chicago, and it offers a highly creative, visual, and interactive experience that blends art and science through various exhibits. Even locals have a hard time getting tickets—most days are sold out!—so make sure to plan accordingly and book tickets in advance if you are visiting Chicago.

Need a place to stay when visiting Chicago? Book your reservation now.