The city that first imagined skyscrapers, elevated trains, Cracker Jack, and the Ferris Wheel is a work-hard, play-hard kind of town. Those who know the city in February understand why it goes outdoors in August. Here's your guide to healthy summer pursuits in the City of Big Shoulders.
Best Out-of-Town Pizza (Web Exclusive)
The famed Chicago-style pizza purveyed by Uno, Gino's East, and others easily wins the calorie-density-on-a-crust contest. To lighten up, give Piece (1927 W. North Ave., 773-772-4422) a chance. The thin, chewy, East Coast-style pizzas come in three models -- plain, white, and red -- and topping choices include the usual suspects as well as more exotic selections such as clam and broccoli raab. Veggie options and appetizing salads give you good-health clearance to sample a house-made microbrew.
Best Spa (Web Exclusive)
Balancing fitness and relaxation, the Peninsula Spa (108 E. Superior St., 312-573-6860, www.peninsulaspachicago.com) elevates guests to skyline level in a window-wrapped gym on the Peninsula hotel's top floor. Treatments favor ancient Chinese practices incorporating massage, meditation, and breathing. Frequent visitors book one-on-one N-Stretch (neuromuscular) sessions to alternately tighten and lengthen muscles to improve flexibility. For full use of the facilities, book a room at the hotel or sign up for a spa package.
Best Dining with a View (Web Exclusive)
For a true sylvan delight, scout out North Pond Cafe (2610 N. Cannon Dr. 773-477-5845). Tucked into an Arts and Crafts-style house in Lincoln Park, the restaurant overlooks a duck pond and offers a panoramic view of the downtown skyline. Chef Bruce Sherman stresses organic and local ingredients in dishes like sauteed halibut with glazed baby beets.
Best Hidden Gems on Navy Pier
You can't miss the 15-story Ferris Wheel on Chicago's Navy Pier ( www.navypier.com), the former industrial wharf that juts into Lake Michigan. Tourists are drawn to the Pier's carnival-like attractions, which often overshadow its better features. Lining the Pier's indoor corridors, for example, are such attractions as the one-of-a-kind Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows, which showcases 150 artworks in decorative styles from Victorian to modern, including fine examples of prairie style and Tiffany. The Chicago Shakespeare Theater (312-595-5600, www.chicagoshakespeare.com) recently built a 510-seat courtyard-style theater on the Pier, where it presents lively versions of the Bard's classics.
Once you've worked up an appetite, skip the funnel cake and stop into Fox and Obel Food Market (401 E. Illinois St., 312-410-7301), a new gourmet retailer one block west. Lavish to-go options include sliced blackened tuna, boxed sushi, artisanal breads, and imported cheese. A cafe serves indoor diners, but for the best views, pack it back to the picnic tables on the Pier's less commercial east end.