Local Attractions of Chicago, IL
One of the more breathtaking scenes on the lake is this tall ship approaching the docks at Navy Pier. The 148-foot four-masted schooner (and its new sister ship, the Windy II ) sets sail for 90-minute cruises two to five times a day, both day and evening. (Because the boats are sometimes booked by groups, the schedule changes each week; call first to confirm sailing times). The boats are at the whims of the wind, so every cruise charts a different course. Passengers are welcome to help raise and trim the sails and occasionally take turns at the ship's helm (with the captain standing close by).
Adler Planetarium and Astronomy Museum
The building may be historic (it was the first planetarium in the Western Hemisphere), but some of the attractions here will captivate the most jaded video-game addict.
Your first stop should be the modern Sky Pavilion, where the don't-miss experience is the StarRider Theater. Settle down under the massive dome, and you'll take a half-hour interactive virtual-reality trip through the Milky Way and into deep space, featuring a computer-generated 3-D-graphics projection system and controls in the armrest of each seat. If you're looking for more entertainment, the Sky Theater shows movies with an astronomical bent; recent shows have included Secrets of Saturn and Mars Now!
Arlington International Racecourse
With its gleaming-white, palatial, six-story grandstand and lush gardens, this racecourse is one of the most beautiful showcases for thoroughbred horse racing in the world. Its storied history stretches back to 1927, and such equine stars as Citation, Secretariat, and Cigar have graced the track. The annual Arlington Million (the sport's first million-dollar race, held in mid-Aug) attracts top jockeys, trainers, and horses and is part of the World Series Racing Championship, which includes the Breeders Cup races. Arlington's race days are thrilling to behold, with all of racing's time-honored pageantry on display -- from the bugler in traditional dress to the parade of jockeys.
Art Institute of Chicago
You can't -- and shouldn't -- miss the Art Institute. (You really have no excuse, since it's conveniently located right on Michigan Ave. in the heart of downtown.) No matter what medium or century interests you, the Art Institute has something in its collection to fit the bill. Japanese ukiyo-e prints, ancient Egyptian bronzes, Greek vases, 19th-century British photography, masterpieces by most of the greatest names in 20th-century sculpture, and modern American textiles are just some of the works on display, but for a general overview of the museum's collection, take the free "Highlights of the Art Institute" tour Saturday and Sunday.
Auditorium Building and Theatre
A truly grand theater with historic-landmark status, the Auditorium gives visitors a taste of late-19th-century Chicago opulence. Because it's still a working theater -- not a museum -- it's not always open to the public during the day; to make sure you'll get in, schedule a guided tour, which are offered on Mondays at 10am and noon.
Designed and built in 1889 by Louis Sullivan and Dankmar Adler, the 4,000-seat Auditorium was a wonder of the world: the heaviest (110,000 tons) and most massive modern edifice on earth, the most fireproof building ever constructed, and the tallest building in Chicago. It was also the first large-scale building to be lit by electricity, and its theater was the first in the country to install air-conditioning. Originally the home of the Chicago Opera Company, Sullivan and Adler's masterpiece is defined by powerful arches lit by thousands of bulbs and features Sullivan's trademark ornamentation -- in this case, elaborate golden stenciling and gold plaster medallions. It's equally renowned for otherworldly acoustics and unobstructed sightlines.