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1. Millennium Park – It’s beautiful and directly across the street from the Hotel. Head north just a bit to hit Cloud Gate (aka “The Bean”). Simply put – you don’t get credit for having seen Chicago without having your photo taken with “The Bean”. And if you have kids with you and/or are considering coming back with kids… head over the really cool bridge to check out Maggie Daley Park... perhaps the coolest children’s playground I have ever seen.
2. Garrett Popcorn – Right there with “The Bean” is Garrett Popcorn. You have to get the “Chicago Mix”, and, yes, it’s addictive. Also, it doesn’t save well… so if you plan on bringing it home as a gift (which is a great idea), make sure you get it the day you are leaving and/or purchase it at O’Hare (assuming that’s the airport you are leaving from).
3. Willis (Sears) Tower Skydeck – Not only does the Skydeck, which is easily walking distance from the Hilton, provide the absolute best views of Chicago at 103 floors up… but you can walk out on a ledge and look straight down. And… for those power transmission junkies out there (should be anyone reading this blog post)… be sure to also look up when you are standing on the ledge. You will see that the ledge is actually hung on rails (to allow the ledges to pull back for window washing systems)… and, if you look carefully enough, you should be able to spot a few familiar orange label couplings above your head.
4. Chicago Cubs Playoff Games – While I certainly can’t advocate blowing off the Welcome Reception on Thursday night (assuming the series goes to 5 games)… if you are in town Tuesday or Wednesday night and don’t mind cashing in your entire retirement account to get tickets… yes, the Chicago Cubs are in town in pursuit of the National League title. And, for those of you who value your retirement savings… the excitement and energy in Chicago is currently off the charts. Go find a local bar to watch the game at and celebrate with the locals. While there order a Chicago style hot dog (don’t make the mistake of putting ketchup on it!) or an Italian Beef sandwich.
5. Chicago Deep Dish – Everyone has their favorite and their own opinion… but if it were up to me, I’d recommend walking or taking a cab north up Michigan Avenue to the original Pizzeria Uno (or their sister location across the street, Pizzeria Duo) at 29 E Ohio Street. Of course, Chicago has some of the world’s finest restaurants of all varieties (from Rick Bayless’s Mexican restaurants to Giuliana & Bill Rancic’s RPM Italian to too many world class steak houses to count)… so, if you want to go a bit more upscale, I certainly won’t hold it against you.
6. Architecture Boat Tour – Chicago is certainly known for its skyscrapers, and there is no better way to learn about them than from one of Chicago’s many fantastic boat tours. While there are many to choose from that are excellent… the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s is one of the most respected.
7. The Art Institute of Chicago – Directly across the street from the Hilton and just a bit north, this museum has an unbelievable breadth and depth of exhibits to enjoy. While I believe they certainly had to have done some heavy lobbying, one of the museums many claims to fame was that it was rated the “#1 Museum in the World” by Trip Advisor last year.
8. Museum Campus Chicago – Whether you would like to check out one the world’s finest natural history museums (the Field Museum - which includes Sue the T-Rex), one of the world’s finest aquariums (the Shedd Aquarium), or planetariums (Adler Planetarium)… they are all a short walk (or cab ride) south east of the Hilton.
9. Michigan Avenue Shopping – From the Hilton, head north up Michigan Avenue and across the river… and you will soon find yourself surrounded by some of the biggest (and priciest) retail shopping anywhere. And if you find you need a quick bite in the midst of blowing your retirement savings (assuming you didn’t already blow it on the Cubs game)… the foodlife food court in Water Tower Place (835 N Michigan Avenue) is out of this world cool.
10. Chicago Blackhawks & Bulls Games – I listed this last because the United Center is a bit far away from the hotel, home games are generally at inopportune times, and both teams are very early in the season. If nothing else, these teams will provide something fun to watch while socializing with other PTDA members at the bar. Getting to the details now… the Blackhawks have home games on Thursday night (which nobody better go to because it is the same time as the PTDA Industry Summit Welcome Reception) and Saturday night (which nobody better go to because it is the same time as the PTDA Industry Summit Speakeasy closing event). The Bulls have pre-season home games on Tuesday (open if you get into town early) and Friday night (overlaps offsite hospitalities/dine-arounds). And if you are wondering about the Chicago Bears... they've got an off week.
11. PTDA Office Tour - For those who may not be aware, PTDA is headquartered in Chicago, just over a mile away from the Hilton at 230 W. Monroe Street. Now the PTDA staff is going to be more than busy running the Industry Summit during the event itself, but if you are in town either before or after... it might not be a bad idea to call and ask to see the actual physical location of your organization. (Note: The PTDA offices are in a skyscraper building with security, so you will need to coordinate your visit with PTDA staff in advance should you wish to visit.)
So that's my first cut at a list. What other big "must do" things did I miss? If you've got one, please let me know in the comments below. Looking forward to seeing everyone in just a few days!