Tour Chicago’s Michigan Avenue like a local
I used to live near Michigan Avenue, or the Magnificent Mile, and saw it as my mall away from home — endless stores, some good restaurants and countless tourists. Tourists who stop in the middle of the sidewalk (or a busy street) to look at tall buildings, proclaim TGI Friday’s fine dining (and don’t tip), and generally just don’t get it. “It” being how to enjoy the Mag Mile like a local might, and come home with more than the typical memories. Here’s my take.
Keep an eye on your valuables. Whether your wallet or purse, be sure it’s not easily snatched or items can be grabbed from it. Try to consolidate bags or better yet, put them back in your room. Don’t put them down just to look in the mirror, and don’t lose sense of your surroundings while watching a street performer or in a crowd — it’s prime pickpocketing time.
Ditch the car. Even if you drove here, leave it at the hotel and walk, learn our public transit or take a cab. The loop and Michigan Avenue are incredibly busy with both pedestrians and cars, so make it easy on yourself and others.
GPS it. Know your “must-sees” and track them in Google Maps or my recent fave, the Triposo app, which allows you to save routes. A big unwieldy map screams “tourist,” and makes you a target for thieves. Be discreet, and of course, don’t be afraid to ask for directions.
Ditch the conference name badge. You may be proud of whatever impossible acronym conference you’re a part of, but it marks you as a tourist. At least toss it in a bag till you get back to the Sheraton.
Make a plan for the stores you love. Nordstrom is always a must, even though we have a number of them spread throughout Chicagoland. The Michigan Avenue store’s shoe department is to die for! And who knows, you may need a new pair after you’ve walked enough.
And don’t forget the deals: Though there’s everything from Ralph Lauren to Burberry, you can still find bargains. Neiman Marcus’ Last Call has surprisingly reasonable prices on current trends and TJMaxx and Marshall’s can fill in gaps or get you that rain poncho you might suddenly need (our weather is unpredictable). Don’t forego some of our more unique stores (found only in some cities), like Dylan’s Candy Bar, Uniqlo (coming soon), Zara and TopShop. And forego Starbucks for Argo Tea, which is just tastier and a Chicago original.
Check out Nordstrom Rack, where I found bliss skincare products, just one of a variety of designer beauty and clothing goods.
Find unique beauty wherever you are. Your vacation photos don’t need to be of the Disney store or the largest Victoria’s Secret you’ve ever seen. Look for unique opportunities and step away from Michigan Avenue. Our neighborhoods are eclectic and teeming with unique restaurants and shops. Streeterville and Lake Michigan are also east of you, just north is River North and west is the West Loop, all burgeoning with restaurants, galleries, boutiques and more.
Try the local foods, and branch out. We know our Chicago-style pizza, hot dogs and Italian beef are perennial favorites, but look for other options. Greektown for kabobs? Japanese BBQ in Streeterville (Gyu-Kaku and a must)? Pilsen for goat tacos or perhaps even Korean hot wings (Take Me Out and I’m not kidding, they’re divine!)? French Bistro in River North (Cyrano’s Farm Kitchen and just lovely).
Or, just nosh. We’ve had Mario Batali’s Eataly for a few years now, and it’s perfect for a few simple noshes and a glass of wine, Nutella crepes, espresso, or some amazing treats to take home.
Check out the art installations from local Chicago artists. These change fairly often, usually seasonally, and look great after dark.
Make nice with the local cops.
Don’t walk out into traffic. As locals, we’re professionals. We know when to stop and when to walk. If you’d like to make it back to your plane intact, please follow the traffic signals and traffic cops.
Try something other than the tourist traps. I’ve noticed hotel concierges often have the lowdown on good eats, but leave out a few. I recently asked one for sushi spots, and the results, Sunda and Niu, were killer, but I’d have added in Kamehachi and some further afield are a bit less scenester. And tip the server appropriately, 15-20+% — everyone’s making a living here and what’s suitable back home may not be here.
Always check out Tiffany’s windows. They’re always inventive and beautiful, and of course, stop in if you have a moment.
Don’t just stop in the middle of the sidewalk, or street. We realize we have lots of big buildings, but be aware of your surroundings and know people are likely walking behind you. Walk off to the side, or better yet, on the street side of the gated plants — most have a decent sized area that’s free of stifling growds. And don’t walk 4-5 or 6 abreast — you’re not a marching band and it’s ever so nice to make room for everyone.
And don’t get sidelined by street performers. Some are great, but it’s another pickpocketing opportunity.
Have a sense of humor. We’re all human, and many people may be rushing someplace or doing their own thing. Friendliness and a ‘Sorry!’ never hurt anyone.