Traveling to Chicago for BEA this year? Totally new to the city and don’t know what to do/where to go? Then this Chicago edition of the BEA Part of It series is just what you need!
Four years ago, Estelle from Rather Be Reading started the BEA Part of It series — a little guide for everyone who was travelling to NYC for BEA. She wanted to share her home with everyone who was visiting and point out some of her favorite spots, give ideas for places to go, and recommend things to do. Since BEA is in Chicago this year, I thought it would be a nice tradition to continue for first-time/infrequent visitors to the Windy City and with Estelle’s blessing, BEA Part of it, Chicago edition was in the works!
This year, I’ll be sharing some of my favorite Chicago attractions along with some other Chicago area friends: Katie & Kylie from The Polished Page Turners, Heidi from YA Bibliophile, and Jaime & Erin from Fiction Fare! Keep your eyes peeled for their Chicago-themed posts throughout the rest of April and into May!
I grew up in (and still currently live in) the Chicago suburbs so I’ve been in and out of the city pretty much all of my life! I wanted to share some of my favorite spots and recommendations for things to see while you’re in the city for BEA this year!
THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT CHICAGO
- It’s not really that windy. The “Windy City” actually was a reference to “hot-air” politicians back in the 1800s. (Although that might still be true today.)
- Weather. May in Chicago… could be anything! Chicago weather is a bit unpredictable but I’d say bet on nice spring weather (50s, 60s).
- Chicagoans. Most of the “Chicago accents” you hear on TV are extremely exaggerated! Though I have been told I do have a slight Chicago accent.
- Public transit. The Metra and the El (the subway/elevated train) are commonly used forms of public transit. I’d say for most things you can probably use a taxi or an Uber to get from place to place. Unless you’re going a fair distance, you probably won’t need to use the trains and I don’t really recommend the bus system. (Also in part because I’ve just never taken it.)
- McCormick Place. If you’re trying to find places around the conference center, I’ll be honest… it’s kind of in a dead zone. There aren’t a lot of restaurants or places nearby and you’ll likely have to take a cab/Uber to get places. It’ll be a pretty long (and possibly unsafe) walk if you try to hoof it anywhere from McCormick! (Trust a person who has accidentally made a nine mile walk down the lakeshore once time… Just take a cab.)
- Like New York, Chicago has many different neighborhoods. If you’re looking for places near McCormick, I’d suggest looking in: South Loop (NOT THE SOUTH SIDE), The Loop, Magnificent Mile, River North, West Loop.
PLACES TO EAT
- Pizza. Chicago is known for its deep dish pizza! If you want to try some, my favorite place is Lou Malnati’s. Another option is Gino’s East (which is also great but I like Lou’s a bit more). If you’re staying near McCormick, I recommend the Lou Malnati’s on State Street. There are also locations for both in River North.
- Burgers, Sandwiches, Hot Dogs. One place I’ve been to several times is Rockit Bar & Grill in River North. It’s a few miles from McCormick but I’ve always loved the food (standard American fare) and there’s a great beer selection too. They have a fun rock & roll theme going on and the menus are bookended in old record covers. Buddy Guy’s Legends is a little bit closer and there’s a strong cajun & blues theme. There’s live music (actual shows at night that may require tickets but free during the day/dinner time). Another Chicago staple is Portillo’s, famous for their hot dogs and cake shakes! They’ve expanded into a few places now but it’s almost strictly a Chicago establishment.
- Italian. Quartino Ristorante is a fantastic place for Italian and it’s also a wine bar. The dishes here are meant to be shared! Order any plate off the menu and you’ll get a medium sized sampling (it probably won’t fill you up) and the idea is to order a whole bunch of different things and share them with the table. We went here for a birthday recently and it was a lot of fun! It’s a little bit fancier than just casual dining (price and attire).
THINGS TO DO
- Museums. The Art Institute is the museum I’ve frequented the most (usually because we went there for many school field trips). It’s really neat to explore — plus, you can pretend you’re in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Also near by is the Museum Campus — The Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium, and Adler Planetarium are all right next to each other. (Also by Soldier Field!)
- Millennium Park. Millennium Park is a great place to walk around and see some traditional Chicago staples like The Bean, Grant Park, and Buckingham Fountain. It also surrounds the Art Institute! You can also take a walk down the lakeshore and just enjoy the view.
- Navy Pier. I haven’t really been to Navy Pier as a destination (mostly walked through it) but it’s a classic Chicago attraction! Check out the Ferris Wheel!
- The Sears Tower. Okay, so they renamed it The Willis Tower. It’ll always be the Sears Tower to me.
- Nightlife. Howl at the Moon is a dueling piano bar in River North. I’ve never been but I know several people who have been many times!
- Baseball. The Cubs are in town during BEA week! There’s a night game on Wednesday the 11th and an afternoon came on Saturday the 14th if you’re still in town. Wrigley Field is a little far but easily accessible by El (That’s how I get there!) and if you’re a big baseball fan, Wrigley is such a historic landmark (and just a really fun place overall).
- Shopping. The Magnificent Mile is famous for its shopping! There are tons of stores to choose from, lots of restaurants in the area, and other attractions.
- Theater. Check out a comedy show at Second City, a showing of Chicago at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, or Disenchanted at Broadway in Chicago!
- The Beach. Yes, the lake does have a couple beaches! The water will still be freezing so I don’t recommend getting in the water but you can visit Oak Street Beach or North Avenue Beach on the North Side!
I feel like that’s a lot of info and so little info all at the same time! There’s so much more to Chicago BUT other museums, restaurants, and attractions are just so far away from McCormick Place and I’m guessing most people in town won’t want to travel TOO far in a city that they don’t know well. And truthfully, BEA takes up so much of the day and every year I’ve been I usually want to see people at night so this should be plenty to fill your Chicago time throughout BEA week! Hope these help! I can’t wait to hear about some first-time Chicago experiences!!
And if you’re going to BEA for the first time ever, I also have a post sharing my own personal experiences and tips for what to wear/bring/do!
So You’re Going to BEA For the First Time?