5 Of Chicago’s Best Hidden Gems

September 26, 2015 7:00 AM

Navy Pier, the “Bean,” the Art Institute, Wrigley Field — been there and done that, and done that again? A world class city like Chicago gets that way by offering showstoppers as well as the small and quirky, the hidden and high up. There are armloads of hidden gems here, but these certainly shine enough to get the attention of tourists and locals.
(Photo Credit: naturemuseum.org)

(Photo Credit: naturemuseum.org)

Judy Istock Butterfly Haven
Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum
2430 N. Cannon Drive
Chicago, IL 60614
(773) 755-5100

Have you noticed Monarch butterflies flitting around Chicago? Just like bees, butterfly numbers seem to be dwindling, so it’s wonderful that locals and visitors to an urban area can peek into a place like Judy Istock Butterfly Haven, a sanctuary for the glam flyers that was around long before others of its ilk around the country. Although the Nature Museum is crawling with kids, the haven is warm and inviting for humans of all ages to see and interact with more than 75 different species of butterflies, checking in at around 1,000 on any given day. A true respite from the daily din.

InstaGreeter Walks
Chicago Cultural Center’s Visitor Center
72 E. Randolph St.

Chicago, IL 60601
(312) 744-6630

Chicago is certainly less expensive to tour than New York City and Los Angeles, but those cab rides, museum admissions and dinners in our roster of great restaurants add up. Being free is just one reason InstaGreeter Walks are great — time is another. There’s no need to register and be pressured to meet another deadline, and the walks around the downtown area and (seasonally) Millennium Park and Uptown are only an hour long. Available on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, the outings turn you on to Chicago history,waterways and landscapes, public art, nightlife and more. 

(Photo Credit: International Museum of Surgical Science's Facebook)

(Photo Credit: International Museum of Surgical Science’s Facebook)

International Museum Of Surgical Science
1524 N. Lake Shore Drive
Chicago, IL 60610
(312) 642-6502

Tucked into one of the few remaining Gold Coast mansions on Lake Shore Drive, the intriguing International Museum of Surgical Science is an institution which many Chicago natives are unaware of and fewer have visited. Ready your mettle for four floors of fascinating artifacts and exhibits that map the history of medicine and surgery. If your significant other still tells his stitches story as if he were a warrior in the ancient Greek state of Sparta, show him what he’d be forced to bear if it were 1815 instead of 2015. A glance at the Austrian amputation saw with a reversible blade circa 1500 could quiet the hypochondriacs in the group, there’s medically themed modern art for the aesthetes and architecture fans will want to know that the mansion is listed in the National Register and the Illinois Register of Historic Places. Get a souvenir from the gift shop. How about a life-size, reasonably priced lumbar model of a herniated disc?

Related: Best Hotel Gift Shops In Chicago

Chicago Detours
30 E Adams St., Suite 425
Chicago, IL 60603
(312) 350-1131

There are certainly numerous ways to see the city: on a Segway, river boat or even a kayak, but you’ll get the guide book tour spiel about this building and that one. Chicago Detours offers unusual, lively outings that focus on Chicago legends, food, culture, history, music, architecture and even a historic pub crawl peppered with “forgotten stories of entertainment history.” Your whip smart tour guides will let you in on the Billy Goat hex on the Cubs, prohibition and the gangsters who profited from it, nightlife in the 1960’s and tons more. The architecture and pub tours are always on the docket, but keep your eyes peeled for any of the specials which have included Jazz, Blues & Beyond Bus Tour — a spicy tour of Chicago’s Indian cuisine, culture and community — and another that explores the arts in Logan Square.

Streeterville Social
Loews Chicago Hotel
455 N. Park Drive
Chicago, IL 60611

As far as hidden gems go, it’s up there. Streeterville Social, opened in June of 2015, beats any terrace trumpeted by other hotels. And Chicago can boast about some cool rooftops, from Vertigo Lounge at the Dana hotel to ROOF at theWit. It actually resides on the third floor so it’s not technically a rooftop, but it offers compelling views of the lake and the Mag Mile area at its southern end, including stunning architecture reflected in a dreamy fashion across the facades of adjacent buildings. In a city of breathtaking views, what makes this so special? Streeterville Social also offers park-like appeal for adults: trees and a grassy area for lawn games like croquet, bocce and life-size Jenga; bars with spirits to amplify the fun; cabanas for a little privacy; swingy basket chairs; and inventive street eats like Bahn Mi, spiced nuts and churros — without being on the street dodging traffic.

Related: Best Theaters In Chicago

Jacky Runice has been a columnist with the Daily Herald Chicago since grunge music and flannel was the new black. Her fingers and gray matter have been busy as travel editor of Reunions Magazine; penning a column that was syndicated around the nation via Tribune Media Services. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.