Fun things to do in Chicago

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Most Viewed Things to Do in Chicago

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    Great walkabouts

    by goodfish Updated Feb 3, 2012

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    This MetrowalkZ guide can be picked up for free from visitor services in the Cultural Center and Chicago Water Works, and maps out eight fun walks through various parts of the city. They are easy to follow and provide some background about the magnificent architecture, fountains, churches and historic landmarks you'll see along the way. We took several of the routes in the guide and were happy we had it in hand to fill us in on the good stuff. I'll cover some of the best of that stuff in separate tips but here are a few tidbits from our rambles:

    Carbide and Carbon Building: incredible 1929 Art Deco gem of black granite and marble, rich green terra-cotta, and lavished with brilliant gold-leaf trim. Now the Hard Rock Hotel, this is probably my favorite piece of architecture in Chicago.

    The Rookery: stunning light-filled atrium with a fascinating floating stairway and beautiful white marble, gold-scrolled embellishes designed by Frank Lloyd Wright - who officed there around the turn of the century. This is a must for anyone with an interest in architecture.

    Harold Washington Library: postmodern structure of nebulous design that people seem to either love or hate, it has enormous and very interesting roof ornamentation symbolic of wisdom and knowledge (owls).

    Marina City: early 1960's twin towers that were the tallest residential buildings in the world at time of construction. They were designed to be self-contained communities with shops, offices, entertainment facilities, elevated parking and, yes, a marina on the river level.

    You may also download the walks (printed or mobile) from the website below before you go. Downloadable tours include three not included in the pamphlet and cost $2.99 for PDFs of all eleven but are free for mobile devices.

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    • Architecture
    • Hiking and Walking
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    St. Michael of Old Town

    by goodfish Updated Feb 15, 2012

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    This is an interesting Romanesque-style Roman Catholic church; particularly so because it's one of the few structures to partially survive the Great Fire of 1871. Located in Old Town - on the city's north side - it was established by German immigrants and the 200-ft. spire was the tallest in Chicago until 1885. Stepping through the doors of the sturdy, red-brick exterior, you're immediately transported into an airy world glimmering with gold, silver and delicate pastels, and illuminated by jewel-toned windows. Five ornately hand-carved and painted altars serve the devotions of St. Mike's faithful under a gracefully arching ceiling supported by slender, gilt-embellished columns: lovely. This is a highly recommended stop for visitors of any faith during a tour of the historic Old Town neighborhood.

    See the website for hours, masses and musical programs by the church's choirs and guest musicians. The church is free but donations are gratefully accepted.

    Special note: a family of peregrine falcons has been nesting for years behind the statue of St. Michael over the front doors so keep an eye out for the icon's feathered friends!

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    Amazing Grace(land)

    by goodfish Updated Oct 17, 2012

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    I like to wander a cemetery in every city we visit as they're great escapes from the noise and bustle and often offer a few interesting history lessons besides. Graceland is the resting place of many of Chicago's most notable architects as well as a few mayors, industrialists, philanthropists, inventors and developers. Established in 1860, it was also the relocation site for some of the remains disinterred from City Cemetery - previously located in what is now Lincoln Park - when fear of ground water contamination and disease from overcrowding closed that burial ground shortly after the Great Fire.

    Some of the more famous of Graceland's inhabitants include: Marshall Field (retail); William Kimball (pianos); Louis Sullivan, John Root and Daniel Burnham (architects); George Pullman (sleeper cars); Phillip Armour (meat packing); Cyrus McCormick (industrialist); Allan Pinkerton (private investigation); and Charles Dickens' brother, Augustus.

    Gates are open daily from 8:00 - 4:30, and free maps can be picked up at the office during operating hours (vary - see website.) Note that only still photography is permitted: no filming, tripods or bipods allowed, and please keep a respectful distance from burial services occurring during your visit.

    If you have time, take a stroll through smaller but equally as old Wunder's German Lutheran cemetery just across the street from Graceland's gates.

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    A Beautiful City Beach: Oak Street Beach

    by deecat Updated Aug 12, 2007

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    Photographs:

    1. Dee standing on the sandy beach called Oak Street Beach.
    2. Allan just finished testing the temperature of the water, which was quite pleasant.
    3. Morning scene of Oak Street Beach.
    4. Underpass that leads to Oak Street Beach.
    5. Kids on the concrete portion of the beach [they had been jumping into the lake].
    You can see the ferris wheel at Navy Pier in the distance

    While in the city, we walked from our hotel down Michigan Avenue until we found the underground passageway to the Oak Street Beach. It makes it so easy to get to the beach in a short amount of time without any hassles.

    This is a wide, long beach that has stretches of concrete which serve as breakwaters on the north and the south ends. Lake Shore Drive is west of the beach. Volleyball courts exist beside sunbathers, sand-castle builders, tourists, and businessmen on lunch breaks.

    Note: Public restrooms are locasted in the underpass beneath the lakefront path [6am to 11 pm}.
    See photograph #4, the underpass.

    There is no parking for this beach, but the people in the surrounding buildings, tourists from the hotels, and workers on break use it regularly.

    Note: the nearest subway is: Chicago at 800 N. State Street, about 1/2 mile.

    Lifeguards are on duty from 9am until 9pm from Memorial Day until Labor Day.

    There is a restaurant called The Oak Street Beachstro which serves steak, seafood, salads, pastas, and sandwiches.

    We saw skaters and bikers on the walking path as well as mothers pushing their children in strollers. It appears to be a popular and "trendy" place.

    The beach is also quite pleasant in the evening for strolls along the beach...quite romantic.

    Related to:
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    • Romantic Travel and Honeymoons

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    Reid Murdoch Building

    by deecat Updated Feb 21, 2007

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    Please click to see this panoramic photo

    The Reid Murdoch Building has been used in many different ways and has been called by many different names. It was built for the Reid, Murdoch, and Company wholesale food operations, and this building is one of the last remaining warehouse structures along the main branch of the Chicago River. In 1955 it was reused for City of Chicago offices. (including a municipal court!) It is certainly a contrast to the row of modern riverside buildings.

    It is an 8-story steel and concrete structure with a red-brick facade trimmed with dark-red terra cotta and a broad expanse of windows. There is a lion's head emblematic of the company's Monarch brand name.

    There's a 3-story clocktower over the central bay (typical of large industrial buildings erected around the turn of the century).

    When LaSalle Street was widened in the 1930's, the western 20-foot bay of the building was razed. Originally, on the building's north side, there were 40X240-foot freight train sheds for two sets of railroad tracks. The river side was for docking facilities, and the pedestraian promenade still extends along the Chicago River at street level.

    The architect, George Nimmons, was associated with the Prairie School of architecture.

    My daughter's wedding reception was held in this building in July, 2004. It was then Bob Chin's Restaurant. Today, it has been turned into another restaurant called Fulton's on the River.

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    Chicago City Hall and the County Building

    by deecat Updated Feb 10, 2007

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    I was even surprised that I had not ever been inside of Chicago's City Hall or the County Building!

    Chicago City Hall is the official seat of government for the city of Chicago. It is located adjacent to the Richard J. Daley Center & the James R. Thompson Center. Its main entrance is on LaSalle Street. Here, you will find four relief panels which consist of city playgrounds, the park system, public schools, & the water supply system.

    This, of course, was not the first city hall, but it was dedicated in 1911. It is an 11-story structure in the classical revival style. It takes up the west half of an eleven-story structure which, by the way, takes up an entire city block!

    The other part of the building is called The County Building and is occupied by the County Office. It concerns various offices of Cook County.

    Chicago City Hall has within it: the mayor's office, the city clerk and the city treasurer of Chicago. Also it contains offices of aldermen/women of Chicago's wards, chambers of the Chicago City Council, and other city departments.

    Interestingly, Chicago City Hall has a Green Roof which was completed in 2001. It is a rooftop garden that was designed to test different types of green roof systems for their cooling and heating benefits. This area is not usually accessible to the public, but from at least 30 other taller buildings, one can see it.

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    Chicago for less

    by goodfish Updated Apr 20, 2012

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    I'm not a fan of passes as they often require cramming a lot into limited time frames to make them worthwhile, and a lot of that is stuff we really don't want to see. We did spring for this one as it was good for nine days, covered sightseeing of interest to us, and included entrance to some special exhibits plus "fast line" privileges. You may either purchase one in advance or at any of the attractions it lists.

    To know if a pass is worth the price you need to do the math: look at the attractions it covers, go to the websites of those attractions that interest you, jot down the comparative entrance fees (i.e. fast pass entrance; museum +Omni theater, etc.) and then compare the total against the cost of the pass. CityPASS offers admission to a choice of five hot spots:

    Shedd Aquarium
    Skydeck and The Ledge
    The Field Museum
    John Hancock Observatory OR Museum of Science and Industry
    Adler Planetarium OR Art Institute of Chicago

    Our five picks would have totaled $152 individually so the $76 (adult) passes saved us $76 apiece: 50% off non-pass entry fees PLUS gave us line-skipping privileges. Sweet! See the website for current prices, children's passes and purchase details.

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    Montrose and Wilson Beach

    by deecat Updated Jun 28, 2007

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    One of the most wonderful things about Chicago is Lake Michigan & the beaches that line it.. One of the biggest of these beaches is the North Side Montrose & Wilson Avenue beaches. They simply run together. On Sunday, June24, 2007, Allan & I visited the Montrose Harbor & the Montrose/Wilson Avenue Beaches

    Wilson Avenue Beachis one of the few spots where you are able to launch non-motorized watercraft such as a kayaks into the lake. There is a beach house with a concession stand, bathrooms, & a cafe. The park next to the beach has a nature area & soccer fields.
    It was once a private beach & is officially located at the 4600 North block. It is free, and there is street parking as well as lots.

    The red line stops at Wilson or Lawrence. for Montrose Avenue beach only on weekends and holidays [the regular terminal is Montrose and Marine Drive]. But Montrose Avenue beach is within walking distance of the #81 Lawrence that terminates at Wilson and Marine.

    The Montrose Beach/Wilson Avenue Beaches have a play lot for children, a six-lane boat launch for fast entry into the lake. Fishing is also popular at Montrose Beach [The pier & Park Bait Co. Bait Show are within walking distance.] There's a soccer field, a skate park, the Corinthian Yacht Club [601 W. Montrose] for sailing & racing. There is also a 15-acre Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary [Magic Hedge], a popular bird-watching location.

    You can play beach volleyball, there are tennis courts & baseball diamonds in the adjoining park.

    Probably the most popular area is the dog area that is fenced in from the bank to the waterline, but the rear of the beach isn't completely surrounded by the tall fence. You need a permit from the city to let your dog off-leash.

    Of course, this is just 1 or 2& of many beaches along Lake Michigan in Chicago, but this one is not very crowded and is family friendly, kid friendly, & dog friendly in spots.

    Open: 9:00 a.m.-9:30 p.m. daily

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    Bend in the River: 333 Wacker Drive

    by deecat Updated May 24, 2005

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    Between 1979-1983, the architectual firm of Kohn Pedersen Fox designed a 36-story skyscraper at 333 Wacker Drive where the Chicago River splits into its Northern and Southern Branches. To design a building on the restrictive site was quite a feat.

    In my opinion, they did a magnificent job using blue-green curved glass that mimics the curve in the Chicago River at this point. I love the way other buildings reflect in the glass surface. Some people claim that when the sun sets, the building is bathed in a "fiery display". I've never been there at sunset, but I imagine it is quite a sight!

    The other side of the building is what most people never see. Whereas the river side is "a sweeping arc of glass", the rear side of the building has to adhere to the city's street grid; thus, it uses a parallelogram that is notched to create more offices with corner windows.

    The building's base is made of Vermont marble and granite and forms an elongated X across the front of the building.
    The green glass curve seems to "hover" above the city. In all actuality, part of the building does overhang the sidewalk at two of the edges (at the point where 333 West Wacker's support columns are visible).

    This building was in the Ferris Beuler's Day Off movie as Ferris' father's office. It will also be appearing in the newest Batman Movie.

    This elegant building was voted Favorite Building by readers of the Chicago Tribune in 1995 & 1997.

    333 West Wacker last sold for $100,000,000.00...even though I love it, I don't think I could afford it, huh?

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    Unique Design of River City, Private Community

    by deecat Updated May 24, 2005

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    While on an Architectual Chicago River Tour, I saw for the first time River City Apartments on the Chicago River. This has become a world-renowned Chicago landmark because River City is distinctive in design, luxurious, and located right on the river.

    This complex might look familiar because it was designed by the same architect who did Marina City, Betrand Goldberg. He originally wanted a series of three cylindrical towers 72- 85-stories high, all connected by sky bridges. Goldberg is famous for high-density housing concepts and river locations. As in the Marina City project, Goldberg again used the river as his focal point for urban redevelopment.

    The Chicago Planning Commission refused the plan; instead, the development is two low-rise (17stories at its highest point), concrete apartment buildings, "serpentine in form" mimicing the confluence at the river's south branch. This project was designed to connect with Dearborn Park to the east and Chinatown to the south.

    Ultimately, River City will extend a mile in length, housing 3,000 people.

    It certainly has a "futuristic" look even though it was completed in 1986. Its distinctive window shapes as well as its curved design set it apart from most urban developments. What views the apartment dwellers have of the Chicago River and the skyline of Chicago itself.

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    WENDELLA BOAT TOURS

    by LoriPori Written Jun 24, 2011

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    Perhaps the most fun thing we did at the Chicago VT Meet is to go on the combined 90-minute Lake and River Tour on WENDELLA BOAT TOURS.
    After purchasing our tickets - $25.00 U.S. - we got in line and as soon as we were let on to the Boat, most of us headed upstairs to the open seating section. Hans and I got a seat at the back of the boat, as well as many others. Our boat left at 11:00 a.m.
    First we had a narrated tour of Chicago's River with all the magnificent buildings, including the Trump Tower. We passed under many "street" bridges including Dearborn Street, LaSalle Street and Washington Boulevard.
    Then we came to Navy Pier area and we were heading for the Lake. It was a bit on the misty side but still absolutely wonderful. The wind on our faces felt so good. We saw a beautiful masted ship out on the Lake as well as many personal watercraft and Water Taxis. Even saw another Wendella Boat pass by.
    All in all - a very enjoyable experience with our fellow VT members.

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    The Marquette Building

    by deecat Updated Jul 26, 2008

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    On a Saturday afternoon in July of 2008, VT friends Dabs [Kristi], Matcrazy1 [Matt] and Matcrazy0, along with me, deecat [Dee] were touring around Chicago after our VT lunch at Red Apple (a Polish Buffet). Kristi noticed a very great building on Dearborn Street, so we decided to go inside. What a treat that turned out to be!

    The lobby of this building, The Marquette Building, is a "memorial rotunda in honor of Pere Marquette". Marquette was a French Jesuit explorer, as well as a missionary. He explored what was then (1674-75) called "Illinois Country, including what is now Chicago."

    The mosaic panels that surround the lobby depict scenes from the French exploration of Illinois.
    Above the elevator doors, you will see sculptured heads of Indian chiefs of the Mississippi Valley as well as French explorers. Edward Kemeys did these. By the way, we learned that the mosiacs were done by Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company of New York!

    The building itself is one of the few remaining buildings that represents the "Chicago School of Architecture". This architecture features steel columns and spandrels in the construction of buildings. The Marquette Building is a great example of this architecture and is considered a landmark in Chicago.

    The Marquette Building also features "innovative window treatment that has come to be known as Chicago Windows". These windows have an expansive horizontal design that lets the light come in; thus, they provide a great improvement in lighting and in work efficiency in the workplace.

    Starting in 2002, a huge restoration project began at the Marquette Building with the job of bringing it back to its original form. It included the return of the cornice that encircles the top of the building; cleaning of the buildings facade; the double-hung windows will be removed, restoring them to the original 1896 wood and glass windows; and masonry repairs are almost complete.
    This work is being done by the owners, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

    Be sure to see all the photographs:

    1. Display Board introducing The Marquette Building.

    2. Mosaic panel of scene from French exploration of Illinois.

    3. Bronze panel abopve elevator of Indian Chief.

    4. First floor lobby.

    5. Part of the explanation of the restoration found on the first floor with excellent, detailed displays.

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    Rent a Bike

    by deecat Updated Sep 4, 2008

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    Another new experience for Allan and I during our latest visit was to rent bikes and cycle on the LAKEFRONT TRAIL.

    Our hotel was less than a block from the Millennium Park and the McDonald's Cycle. Also at that location is a place to rent bikes called "Bike and Roll". [They also have rental places at Navy Pier, North Avenue Beach, Riverwalk, and Foster Beach.] You are also able to reserve a bike online.

    Bike rentals start at $8.00 per hour. They have over 500 bikes, and they also provide helmets and locks, which are included in the cost. Besides renting by the hour as we did, you can also rent for half a day [4 hours], full day, and even multi-days.

    We rented what is called a Comfort Bike because of its ease of use and its comfortable seats. We also took the $2.50 insurance for each bike.

    The Lakefront tour which we took is their most popular ride. It is an 8-mile/13 km round trip, takes from between two or three hours. This is such a great way to enjoy the scenic lake front. You are able to see gardens, beaches, lagoons, and architecture. Oh, by the way, a self-guided audio tour is also available.

    At this same location, you can also rental Segways for $25.00 per hour. I also noticed that they have neighborhood tours and "Bikes@Nite Tours".

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    Gardens of the Magnificent Mile

    by deecat Updated Aug 12, 2007

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    It was such a delight to walk down Michigan Avenue and see the wonderful gardens along the sidewalks. But even more delightful was being able to stop and observe the public art installations of torso dressing forms that were designed by fashion design students from the Illinois Institute of Art-Chicago and the Academy of Design and Technology as well as established designers from district retailers.

    This is such a "cool" idea to mix the beautiful gardens along Michigan Avenue with fashion design [which represents the incredible retail stores along this same street.

    Sponsors of this event include Nokia, 101.9fm "The Mix" radio station, and Moore Landscapes, Inc.. All the signs that accompany the art installations say"Nokia presents "Gardens of the Magnificent Mile" June 27-October 15.

    Photographs:

    1. "American Beauty" where the skirt is made of artificials roses.

    2. "Charming" by Maria Hyman, Tiffany and Company.

    3. "Cultivating Knowledge" by Stanley Smith from Oak Street Designs, Loyola University-Chicago.
    Of course, the books that make up the skirt represent knowledge. Note the play on the word "Cultivating" which one associates with gardening.

    4. I cannot remember the name of these two, but it has something to do with mother and child.
    I thought it was quite clever.

    5. This photo illustrates how elaborate some of the gardens are between the sidewalk and the street all along Michigan Avenue

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    Prudential Plaza

    by deecat Updated Sep 4, 2008

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    Photos:
    #1Dee in front of fountain in outdoor Prudential plaza.
    #2Flowers blooming in the outdoor Prudential plaza.
    #3Allan pointing out "waterfall feature" in outdoor Prudential plaza.
    #4Steel sculptures of a deer family in outdoor Prudential plaza.
    #5Distance shot of outdoor plaza north of Prudential Plaza I-II.

    I doubt if anyone else on VT lists Prudential Plaza as a must see. I had not really seen it before we stayed at the Fairmont Chicago Hotel and had to walk through this plaza behind Prudential Plaza I [formerly the Prudential Building] and its linked building Prudential Plaza II.

    The actual plaza occupies a full city block with two buildings: a renovated existing 41-story One Prudential Plaza (the old 1955 Prudential Building) and the construction of a newer (1990) 64-story Two Prudential Plaza Building. In addition, there is the one-acre outdoor plaza and a five-level underground parking garage.

    Locals call this "Pru Plaza", and I found it most interesting where an old and new building are connected and surrounded on the one side with the beautiful outdoor plaza with its water features, gardens, and sculptures.

    Prudential Plaza is also connected to an underground network of pedestrian walkways that provide direct access to hotels, the Metra Randolph Street Station, subway and elevated lines, and retail services. Chicago Pedway.

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Comments (1)

  • riorich55's Profile Photo
    Mar 19, 2013 at 1:58 PM

    As I was writing some tips for a city just west of where I live this morning I found out about this interesting event happening in June this year.

    I wanted to let anyone who lives in the United States and any visitors to the U.S. this summer that there is a very unique event going on. Lincoln Highway is not as well known as its other old U.S. Highway (Route 66), but is actually older (1913 vs 1926) then its road cousin and actually does travel through the middle of the country from coast to coast (New York to San Francisco). Route 66 actually starts in my hometown of Chicago and heads to California.

    Anyway here is a link and a bit of a description for anybody who is interested. www.lincolnhighwayassoc.org/tour/2013.com

    "Join fellow historians and tourists for the Official Lincoln Highway Centennial Tours, headed for Kearney, Nebraska from each coast, for the centennial of America’s first paved transcontinental road: the Lincoln Highway. Antique cars, Classics, muscle cars, ’50s cars, trucks, motorcycles, street rods, and modern cars are welcome to participate.

    You will travel the original alignments of the Lincoln Highway covering many miles of two-lane history, four-lane progress, and even gravel scenic beauty. Travel from America’s urban centers, through pastoral farm lands, over breathtaking mountains and rolling prairies.

    Travelers from the East will start at Times Square, the heart of America’s most vibrant city. You will travel through ivy-covered college towns such as Princeton, New Jersey, and the Amish country of Pennsylvania. From Pittsburgh’s steel and beer brewing industrial history, you will travel through Ohio’s diverse agricultural and commercial mix. Indiana takes you through more Amish farm land, South Bend’s Notre Dame and automotive history and on to Illinois. From Illinois you will travel to Iowa’s farmland across the Mississippi River into the prairies of Nebraska and on to the Centennial celebration in Kearney at the Great Platte River Arch Museum.

    Western travelers enjoy beginning their journey in the urban centers of San Francisco and Oakland, California. After traveling through the state’s agricultural Central Valley you are exposed to the magnificent Sierra Nevada Mountains and Donner Pass before dropping into the deserts of Nevada and the Great Salt Lake of Utah. Climbing the mountains out of Salt Lake City, you will enter the wide open spaces of Wyoming and on to historic Cheyenne for an overnight stop. This is followed by your easterly trek into Nebraska and eventually joining the rest of the travelers from the east for the grand parade of cars into Kearney on opening day."

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The quintessential American city, Chicago offers world-class culture with zero attitude. You'll see Chicago at its best if you visit during the summer or fall. Summer offers a nonstop selection...

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