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.
Best Spectator Sport
For a quintessential Chicago summer afternoon, ride the "El," or elevated train, to historic Wrigley Field (1060 W. Addison St., 773-404-2827). While you're here, take in a Cubs game; buy a bleacher ticket and sit beneath the hand-operated scoreboard.
Best Splurge Dinner
At Spring (2039 W. North Ave., 773-395-7100), a hot new restaurant in Chicago's bohemian Wicker Park district, Chef Shawn McClain prepares light, Asian-inspired seafood dishes that diners rave over. The sunken, feng shui-appropriate interior occupies a former bathhouse, and the original white-glazed wall tiles are there to prove it. Don't miss McClain's nori- wrapped salmon or delicate desserts.
Best Treats for Gourmets
Even if you don't sign up for classes to learn knife skills or how to roll your own sushi, you'll love shopping at the Chopping Block (1324 W. Webster Ave., 773-472-6700). The former Lincoln Park home that houses the shop retails a range of unique housewares and quality kitchen tools. And though you can't buy any namesake cookware at the slick new Calphalon Culinary Center (1000 W. Washington St., 312-529-0100), you can practice everything from making basic stock to throwing a paella party.
Best Architectural Tours
The Great Fire of 1871 cleared ground for what would become some of the country's most influential architecture. See the city's landmarks and stretch your legs on one of the Chicago Architecture Foundation's walk-ing tours (312-922-3432, www.architecture.org). The two-hour Loop stroll takes in downtown landmarks, including the Chicago Board of Trade and architect Louis Sullivan's Auditorium Building. The foundation offers 75 other itineraries around town, including the popular expert-guided Chicago river cruise. Ten miles west, in the leafy suburb of Oak Park, the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio (708-848-1976, www.wrightplus.org) rents taped tours and provides maps of the neighborhood, where visitors can stroll past the impressive facades of 26 Wright-designed buildings.
Chicago's lakeshore draws cyclists and skaters in concentrations large enough to cause weekend traffic jams on the North Side. To sightsee while exercising, visit Bike Chicago (312-595-9600, www.bikechicago.com) and rent a bicycle or skates. Point your wheels south of Navy Pier on the Lakefront Trail. You'll pass by Buckingham Fountain and the Field Museum campus, which also includes the Shedd Aquarium and Adler Planetarium. Skyline views on your way back north are stellar.
Best Jazz Club
New Orleans invented it, but jazz took off in the wild Chicago of the 1920s and '30s. And it's still an important part of the local music scene. Catch such great native acts as Kurt Elling and Patricia Barber at the Green Mill (4802 N. Broadway, 773-878-5552). The former speakeasy, filled with vintage murals and cozy booths, dates back to the days of gangster Al Capone. And despite the seemingly obscure uptown location, every cabbie seems to know the way.