In the city that claims the first skyscraper in the world constructed in 1885, Willis Tower now checks as the second tallest building in the Western Hemisphere (after One World Trade Center in New York City).
233 S. Wacker Drive
Chicago, IL 60606
Completed in 1974, it took 2,000 workers three years to build the massive office building which is now the second tallest building in the United States. It was designed by Chicago’s own Skidmore, Owings & Merrill for Sears Roebuck and Company, which was the largest retailer in the world in the late 1960s. Many of the Chicagoans who still call US Cellular Field “Comiskey” probably refer to the 1,450 ft. behemoth building as “Sears Tower.” An imposing 110 stories tall, the building boasts its own zip code (60606), and don’t worry about the window washers- six robotic machines are mounted on the roof and clean all 16,100 windows. Over 100 companies work out of the building, including United Airlines, Schiff Hardin, Chubb and E-Trade.
The Willis Tower is easy to get to, located near bus lines, the Blue, Brown, Orange, Pink, Purple, Red Lines on the ‘L’ and subway system, and it’s a short walk from Ogilvie Transportation Center and Union Station. Obviously, it’s easy to spot from anywhere in the Loop with its twin antenna towers upping its height to 1,730 feet.
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Up In The Air
On a clear day, you can see as far as 50 miles away from Skydeck Chicago on Willis Tower’s 103rd floor. Step outside on The Ledge, four glass floored balconies that extend about four feet from Skydeck, over 1,350 feet over Wacker Drive. For $22 ($14 for kids), your general admission ticket includes access to exhibits, Reaching for the Sky theater presentation, the elevator ride to Skydeck and The Ledge, glass floor balconies. Weekends, especially in summer, can be packed, so consider Early Bird and Fast Pass admissions. Fast Pass admission allows you to bypass the interactive exhibits and the theater presentation to reach the Skydeck quicker; fast pass entry is $49. Purchase Early Bird admission (available on Saturdays and Sundays only) to gain entry before the attraction opens to the public. There are a limited number of tickets sold per day; early bird admission is $65. Skydeck is open 365 days a year, so there’s a way to get out of the house when the relatives visit over the holidays.
Sky High Dining
You might think that there would be a tourist magnet of a restaurant or two in the tallest building in the city (in a city jammed with stellar eateries). Located on the 66th and 67th floors of the Willis Tower, The Metropolitan Club of Chicago, while offering exceptional views, is a private, members-only program. The lobby level offers chain sustenance from Starbucks, Corner Bakery, Dunkin’ Donuts and the like. Market Creations Cafe, located in a number of other Chicago office buildings, offers a Vegas-esque buffet of American comfort food (roasted turkey, mac and cheese, pasta) plus Americanized Asian food and an attractive salad bar. You can get breakfast and lunch by the pound at French Accent which may or may not be an incentive to belly up to the bar.
Willis Tower and Skydeck do offer private dining options year-round like Pie in the Sky, Breakfast in the Sky and Picnic in the Sky, so you can sup on Chicago style pizza 103 floors up. It could make an impressive date or a cool, although pricey, surprise for the family. There’s a seven table per evening maximum, and advanced reservations are required.
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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.