I have safely returned from not one, but 2 trips to Chicago. The first time was for a mini-family vacation and the second was for Lollapalooza. I was also there for a few days last summer with a girlfriend of mine and we did a whirlwind tour and hit a lot of the tourist hotspots. Time to report in, so to speak.

For anyone planning a trip to Chicago, don’t feel obligated to stay downtown. The city has an excellent transit system, so as long as you have a bus stop or El (subway) station within walking distance, you’re golden. I’ve stayed as far out as Evanston and was not more than half an hour away from the heart of the city. I’d also recommend buying an unlimited CTA pass on their website. They have 3-day and 7-day passes and are the best option if you plan on using their transit instead of driving everywhere. It’s a lot easier than trying to track down $2.25 in exact change each time you need to hop on a bus.

Now, what’s there to do in Chicago, you ask? A lot, let’s be honest. There’s Museum Campus, shopping on Michigan Ave., the Sears/Willis Tower, etc. etc. etc. When I was there last year we got CityPass, which back then got you into the Shedd Aquarium, Adler Planetarium, Museum of Science of Industry, the Field Museum and either the SkyDeck at Sears/Willis Tower or the observation deck at the Hancock Building. Now apparently you get to choose between Adler and the Art Institute. And all this only costs you $76! You’re saving about $80, so it’s really the best economical choice you can make.

Here’s a quick rundown of what I thought of everything:

– Shedd Aquarium: It’s the most popular tourist attraction in Chicago. That was glaringly evident when we were there last summer. I love aquariums. If there’s one to go to where ever I am visiting, I want to go. But it was near-impossible for me to enjoy it because there were so many people there! And it wasn’t just families that were clogging it up. It was enjoyable, don’t get me wrong. I mean, there was a baby beluga! How can you not enjoy that? But the crowd level was definitely detrimental to my visit. Either be prepared for the summer tourist crowd or go during the other seasons when tourism is at lower levels.

– Adler Planetarium: Nicely done, but I wish I had the option to go to the Art Institute last year like they have now. The exhibitions are presented very well, I am just more drawn to art museums. It’s also a sad state of affairs in our educational system when a grown woman answers all the elementary-level questions in the Sky Theater show when any average kid should be able to answer it by high school. But I digress. If you’re a science geek like me, there is plenty to enjoy.

– Museum of Science and Industry (MSI): Love it! There’s so much to see and do here! There’s the Science Storms exhibit, which I loved! There’s a giant Tesla coil to simulate lightning and a wave simulator tank to demonstrate how tsunamis form. My personal favorite was a periodic table where you would place a pog onto an element, combine it with pogs placed on other elements and see what kind of reaction you would get. Examples: 1 Na pog and 1 Cl pog will give you salt, 2 H pogs and 1 O pog will give you water. For the life of me I can’t remember what gave you this reaction, but you can also get a volcanic explosion and some other explosive material. I think I spent half an hour alone just playing at this table. But that’s just scratching the surface.

– Field Museum: Whoa buddy is this museum a big one! Another one of my favorites. It’s home to Sue, the largest, most complete T-rex skeleton ever found. There’s loads of things to do here, from the Ancient Americas exhibit to Evolving Planet to the Hall of Gems.

– SkyDeck: This is the observation deck at Sears/Willis Tower. It’s technically called Willis Tower now, but it’ll always be Sears Tower for me. It’s a 60 second ride to the top and has some beautiful views of downtown Chicago. If you have the stomach for it, there are these glass boxes that extend out over the street so that you’re standing 103 stories up in the air. It’s a trip, let me tell you. I have yet to go to the observation deck at Hancock, but from what I understand there is a bar there. 🙂 It’s also on Michigan Ave. so you’re closer to the lake and can get a view of the shopping.

– Wrigley Field: Home to the Chicago Cubs! It’s not so much about the game at Wrigley, it’s an experience. Instead of building a baseball stadium and developing the area around it, Wrigley was plopped down in the middle of an already existing neighborhood. If you go during baseball season, I’d pick up some tickets and enjoy an afternoon/evening of baseball and some beers.

– The Art Institute: A wonderful way to spend a day. They have quite a collection! They’ve got pieces from all of my favorite artists…Monet, Picasso, Dali, Van Gogh. It’s also home to pop culture icons “American Gothic” and “Nighthawks.” I only got to spend a couple of hours there, but it’s easy to hit the big stuff in that time frame. I will definitely be spending more time there next time I’m in town.

– River Architecture Tour: We went on a Wendella cruise of the river and lakefront. It starts in the shadow of the Wrigley building and Trump Tower and takes you along the river. The guide will point out various buildings and rattle off some fun factoids about them. If you like pretty buildings, I’d give this a go.

Now, as far as Lollapalooza is concerned…

Wow, what a trip. It was one of the best weekends over my life by leaps and bounds. I didn’t get to see a lot of the smaller bands like I originally intended to, but I wanted kick-ass seats for the headliners – Muse, Eminem and Foo Fighters. Seeing all 3 of them made it worth the trip. Like I’ve been telling everyone now that I’m home…despite getting soaked to the bone twice, muddy, bruised, kicked by crowdsurfers and spraining an ankle, I had an excellent time. I think it’s a sign of a good weekend at a rock concert if you come back broken, bruised or remember the weekend in a haze. The whole weekend I was wondering why I haven’t been there before. I’ve even gone ahead and booked a hotel for next year! I’m ready to do it all over again already. There are some handy tips I will pass on for my sake next year and for those who plan to go in the future. A) Bring water. You’re allowed to bring 2 bottles in a day, so save yourself from paying $6 a bottle and bring your own. They also have Camelbak refill stations, so that’s another smart way to go. B) Plan for all types of weather. Bring what you need to get you through heat and rain because you’ll be going through both at some point. C) If you’re uncomfortable in crowds,  or can’t handle being outside and on your feet for hours on end, save yourself the time and money and don’t go. Also, for the women out there, please don’t think of this as an opportunity to show off your fashion sense. You will get sweaty and muddy and all-around gross. If it rains, your hair is going to get ruined and your makeup will run. Just save yourself from looking like a tool. It’s a rock concert, not a fashion show. Wear something comfortable that you don’t mind getting stinky and dirty in. I for one will think more highly of you. Believe me, I saw less and less glitz and glamour as the weekend progressed.

Now, for a bucket list of things left that I haven’t done: the gangsters tour, a Segway tour, the Lincoln Park zoo, a show at Second City, the Chicago History Museum and a Bears game at Soldier Field. Someday soon I’ll be able to knock all that off my list of things to do and see.

1000 Places to see Before You Die on these trips: 5 completed.

Up next, a trip to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter!