Tips for Visiting Chicago with High School Group?

I’m headed for Chicago in two weeks (Yes, a Dopefest is planned - please join us!). Most of my visit will involve touring Chicago with a group of high school students from late Saturday afternoon until mid-day Thursday.

I’m looking for recommendations from Dopers on what to visit, tips on how to visit well-known landmarks with a group (there will be 13 of us). My best friend is the teacher leading the group and she’s planned an itinerary, but I want to do a reality check on it and make sure we’re getting the most out of the week in Chicago. The group is part of an exchange program and they’re coming from Germany; all the students are 18.

Here are the stops my friend has planned - anything we should skip or add? Any caveats for going there as a group? Any recommendations for eating cheaply as a group? Would it be worth it to get a Go Chicago Card?

[li]Museum of Science and Industry[/li][li]Sears Tower (yes, I know, go to Hancock instead…not sure if I’ll be able to talk them into it)[/li][li]Arts Institute[/li][li]Concert at Millenium Park[/li][li]Architectural Tour (not sure which one she’s planning on)[/li][li]Nike Town (anything nearby I/we should stop by or substitute for those not fascinated by the prospect of an afternoon there?)[/li][li]Shedd Aquarium (She’s allowed a a whole day for this; will it really fill up a day?)[/li][li]Day trip to Indiana Dunes[/li][/ul]

I’ve read through lots of threads (I’ll link later) and note that Navy Pier and the Field Museum are missing from her planned list. Any other places (preferably low-cost or free) we should consider?

Thanks in advance for any advice you can offer!


I can’t see you spending a whole day at the aquarium. Add in the Sears tower to the day you visit the aquarium. Maybe somebody else thinks the aquarium is good for an entire day, and they should post it then.

Aquarium is good for 2-3 hours, no more. Personally, I think I could spend most of a day at Science & Industry, but I dunno, I haven’t been there for 20 years. I was at the aquarium maybe 5 years ago.

When I was in about 8th grade, I took an interesting trip to Chicago with a church youth group. It was a shorter trip with a focus on urban issues, especially income inequality. They took us on tours to the Cabrini Green housing project and the Ritz Carlton hotel, so we could see the tremendous contrast. Maybe something like this could be done as a “unit” in their longer visit? Most of the kids in the group I was in were from Minneapolis, which may not seem that different from Chicago today, but back then Chicago had gang activity and Mpls. didn’t. We did some of the standard Chicago tourist stuff, too, but years later this is the part that stays with me.

  • Rock and Roll McDonalds
  • Millenium park, yes there’ll probably be a concert there, but take time to see the sculptures and crazy modern “fountains”
  • Lincoln Park zoo? Bahai temple? Northwestern University campus?
  • boat ride? Watertower place (with John Hancock building)?
  • definitely Field Museum. Since you’re at the Aquarium, the group could walk there (via the pedestrian underpass), or also walk out to the planetarium - but you’ll probably burn them out doing more than one or two per day
  • Art Institute? there’s some famous paintings there…

I couldn’t imagine spendng a whole day at the Shedd (altho some days that line out front looks like it might take the major part of a day!)
The Field is right next door - not even under an underpass, so the 2 of them are a natural. Trying to hit all 3 - the Field, Shedd, and Adler Planetarium would be overkill IMO. And my impression is that Adler tends to be the least kid-entertaining (unless they are astronomy geeks). If skyshows are your thing, tho, by all means give it a shot.

I’m not a big fan of Navy Pier - think it is really over-rated and little more than a tourist trap. Obviously mine is the minority opinion, tho, as it is one of - if not the - biggest tourist attraction.

Nike Town is smack dab in the middle of N Mich Ave. Lotsa pricey shopping there and abouts, altho on the Ave itself it is all national stores - so no different than what you might find in many large cities/upscale malls. I believe there is a Sony flagship, but I’m no shopper. In the same general area is the Tribune Tower which has a relatively new Freedom Museum. I’ve never been, but some of their exhibits have sounded interesting. Another neat thing is the Trib Tower itself, which has all these little architectural fragments of famous building and sites worldwide set into it around the base. Just E of Mich Ave is the Museum of Contemp Art. I’m not a huge fan, but you might want to think about it.

What is really cool about most of what you list is that it is so close together. The Art Institute is literally across the street from Millenium Park, and maybe a mile N of the Museum campus. The shops and Hancock are just a short walk N on Michigan Ave across the bridge. And you can take a boat from the Shedd to Navy Pier. You can combine those activities in any way you wish.

Lincoln Park Zoo is kinda neat and an easy bus ride N. And right near LPZ are the Notebart (sp?) Nature Museum and the newly redon Chicago History Museum (name? Used to be Chicago Historical Society). I’d think any/all of those far better use of your time than Fucking Nike town. Of course, if you wanna give these kids an accurate impression of Americans, you might as well emhasize our infatuation with consumer goods! :wink:

They might have fun taking an el or bus S or W for a meal in Chinatown or Greektown.

There’s ton’s of architecture all around. I’d think you could read up enough to tell the kids a bunch just while walking about. Lots of times the kids I see walking around on those architecture tours look mighty glassy eyed.

One thing you may find fun are the architecture tours that are on a boat on the river. Some awareness of the river might be kinda cool, because it is basically the only reason Chicago exists in the first place.

Do have have more info about what the goal of this trip is, and what the kids would like to do? That is, is this a Fun Graduation Trip, or more of a cultural tour and a chance to practice English? If the later, I’d skip Nike Town and maybe not schedule too much time on Mag Mile – IMHO high end shopping doesn’t vary too much around the globe. I think Greektown is a good idea, or maybe even consider Pilsen for Mexican. Andersonville is also another off-the-typical-tourist-path neighborhood. Anyhow, if you’re looking for recs for cheap ethinic restaurants, just speak up!

Either way, I would definately recommend the Frank Lloyd Wright home and studio tour in Oak Park. He has a number of homes in Oak Park, if your interested its shouldn’t be too hard to find a self-guided walking tour as well.

I totally agree, I went there once for the beer garden when we just turned 21, but since I’ve never heard a single local say, “Hey lets go to Navy Pier to hang out!” In contrast, I know people who go to Millenium Park events all the time.

Find the Chicago Qwicki Mart, if it’s still up, and go have some Slushies and Crusty-Os.

For a quick side trip from the Art Institute, walk 3 streets north to the Chicago Cultural Center (old main library) and see the mosaics and Tiffany dome (largest in the world) of Preston Bradley Hall.

At the other end of the center is the GAR Rotunda and Hall, which also has a stained glass (non-Tiffany) dome.

Anyone with opinions on the Go Chicago Card? I’ll be there Friday and Saturday on my own, mostly, and am thinking it will probably be worth it for me.

Recommendations on cheap ethnic eats would be greatly appreciated, sugar and spice.

Thanks for all the responses. They pretty much confirm what I was thinking (I went to the Shedd aquarium maybe 15 years ago and knew we didn’t stay more than a few hours, but couldn’t remember if I felt like we’d missed anything big).

For those of you who have asked: the kids are my friend’s students (she’s an English teacher). Other than they’re in the college-prep track (Gymnasium) and probably fairly well-to-do (they live near Stuttgart), I don’t know much about them. I’m mostly there to hang with my friend and my goddaughter and be a back-up chaperone in case of emergency.

I’m going to ask my friend which architectural tour she was planning on. She doesn’t have a lot of time to do background and prep work that might be helpful, so I was planning to do some of the homework (I think it’s interesting).

I think they might be more interested in Pilsen than Greektown. I imagine that many of them have been to Greece (it’s a standard vacation destination for Germans), so it wouldn’t be quite as exotic to them as Pilsen might be.

Other recommendations?

Based on previous threads, I’m going to seek food advice over here, as well.

Any other sites that will help me find info?

Thanks again to everyone!


Not knowing Chicago, but knowing school groups and a little of dealing with German ones…
The architectural tour sounds like a good idea. Ask the average European to tell you anything about Chicago’s history, and you’ll get ‘click…brrr’ as an answer. For a group headed in the university direction, this will hopefully be of interest.

On a similar train of thought, the Sears Tower is probably worth incorporating, because for a few it will be the one thing they’ve heard of, and is certainly not like anything to be found in Europe.

Not even knowing what ‘Nike Town’ is, it sounds like a waste of time. We have a few McDonalds in Europe, y’know? :slight_smile: Similarly, although they will probably claim to be desperate to do nothing but shop, they’re going to find that many major stores are rather familiar. So perhaps schedule a few hours for this, but don’t go out of your way.

Indiana Dunes - good call. Had to go and Wikipedia that one, and started reading with interest (realising I had vaguely heard about them before), which perhaps sums it up!

Yep, look at LTH Forum’s Great Neighborhood Restaurants for your cheap(er) eats. Not a bad spot on the list.

One of my favorite summery things to do in Chicago is hit up Taylor Street for Italian lemonade at Mario’s and Italian beef at Al’s. I’m actually not a huge fan of Al’s, but Mario’s & Al’s in the summer is what I’d call a defining Chicago experience. Problem is, I’m not sure there’s a hell of a whole lot to do in that area other than get a beef & ice.

I agree with most of the advice, especially Dinsdale. Science and Industry is a must, if only for U-505. A German-American neighborhood might be worth a visit, to show them how people from their country contributed to the US. (Lincoln Square comes to mind as a possibility.)

The other suggestion I have would be checking the calendar for festivals.

Link to calendar of festivals:

Oddly enough, the Lincoln Square German American Fest is Sept. 7-9. It’s fun, in a semi-cheesy way.

Perhaps I’m jaded, but I’ve always found the dunes boring as hell. It’s just big hills of sand next to the lake. If you’re into that sort of thing, I always prefered Warren Dunes up the road in Michigan.

If you’re telling them about the river, be sure to tell them that it leaks (or at least it did once) and that the bridges fall up. :slight_smile:

The Rock n’ Roll McDonald’s is the best McDonald’s ever. Not only is the decor interesting (and very American, although the Beatles are there, too), but I was also very impressed with how well the place was run and the customer service. When I visited Chicago, we stayed in a hotel across the street from the Rock n’ Roll McDonald’s and ate there every morning. I liked it better than the Hard Rock Cafe (which is very nearby) :).

I’d forgotten about the Rock 'n Roll McDonald’s till JohnGalt mentioned it above. I’ve stayed near there before as well.

Anyone else with experience of the Indiana Dunes?

Thanks again for all the suggestions…keep 'em coming!


Oh! I wanna go!
Seriously this thread has helped me a bit as well.
I’m going up on Sunday to pick up a girl from our youth group from the airport somewhere around midnight and was just going to drive up after church and spend the day playing tourist.
I live about two hours away and you’d think I’d have been there more often as an adult. Went every year with my grandmother as a child. I would love to find my aunts old neighborhood, but have no idea what area she lived in. I know it was near an airport.
I think I’m going to go to the planet arium and the Shedd!
Going to check the dopefest thread now. I’ve never been to one and not sure how many Iowa dopers we have anymore so Chicago would be close.

Sorry I have nothing to add, just wanted to say thanks for inadvertantly helping me as well. :wink: