Nov 5, 2023 - Things to Do

A guide to Chicago's best hidden gems

Image courtesy of Lauren Viera

A new glove-compartment-friendly book featuring hundreds of Chicago's hidden treasures launched this fall.

Why it matters: For longtime locals, many spots in "The 500 Hidden Secrets of Chicago" won't feel like big secrets, but they will help fuel a bunch of fun adventures around the city.

  • And for Chicago newbies, it's a gold mine.

State of play: Author Lauren Viera's book is part of a national series that breaks down city recs into handy top 5 lists.

  • These include 5 vinyl record shops, 5 bars with free live music, 5 hip hotels and 5 swimming spots — you get the idea.

What she's saying: Viera knows that not all her recommendations are secrets to locals, but she tells Axios she highlighted "spots that deserve a closer look or a different perspective."

Axios asked Viera to share her top three secret spots.

The Library at the Ambassador hotel

White couches in front of a chair and table set bordered by wood columns with framed pictures.
The Library at the Ambassador Chicago—part of JdV by Hyatt. Photo courtesy of the Ambassador Hotel.

This room in the Gold Coast's Ambassador offers a cozy spot for guests to lounge in all day.

  • Though it used to feature breakfast and evening drinks, those are now available only in the restaurant.

O'Hare Multi-Modal Facility

Sculpture of very large hands connecting.
Hank Willis Thomas and Coby Kennedy, "REACH," 2023. Photos by Nicole Harrison, courtesy of For Freedoms The Art Newspaper

This brand-new rental car facility at O'Hare features art curated by Theaster Gates including "REACH" by Hank Willis Thomas and Coby Kennedy.

  • Viera adores "Palimpsest," which she calls "a gloriously colorful large-scale tapestry by local multidisciplinary artist Nick Cave."

Pickwick Place

Brick alley with illuminated sign reading "coffee" and string lights overhead
Pickwick Place. Photo: Carrie Shepherd/Axios

This quaint alley off East Boulevard Jackson between Wabash and State was home to a stable in the 1850s.

  • Over the last century, the building at the end of the alley has hosted restaurants and cafes, the latest being the charming Hero Coffee Bar.

We also compiled a few of our favorite hidden gems in the city.

Northwestern law school courtyard

Sidewalk between granite archway surrounded by trees.
Photo: Monica Eng/Axios

When you need to escape the downtown noise, visit this idyllic courtyard at Northwestern's Pritzker School of Law off Chicago Avenue near the lake.

Nathan Manilow Sculpture Park

Huge sculpture of a lumberjack on green grass in front of blue sky with clouds.
"Paul 2006" by artist Tony Tasset. Photo: Carrie Shepherd/Axios

Sometimes the best secrets are hiding in plain sight. The Nathan Manilow Sculpture Park in University Park is one.

  • Huge sculptures weave perfectly into 100 acres of open prairie. It's an oasis.

Northerly Island

Photo of a skyline and flowers
Northerly Island. Photo: Justin Kaufmann/Axios

There is nothing better than visiting a place that has so much history, yet people don't seem to remember it. To me, that spot is Northerly Island.

  • The city has done an amazing job preserving the landscape, while serving up amazing views of the built and natural environment.
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