The Field Museum and Shedd Aquarium are both cool. Not sure if that's too touristy for you. Both are right dowtown on the lake.
The Chicago Botanic Garden is nice as well. Although it may be early in the year for that. I'd call or check their website first to see what exhibits they have.
Which is the best Marriott in downtown Chicago in your opinion? I am part of a major conference next January and want the best, not just the conference hotels (thought they usually include Marriotts) esp after my experience in Boston. I need to be accessible to the N. Michigan Avenue area, but know Chicago well (though distantly) to get around from a short distance away.
I don't know if you're into sports at all, but the Cubs and the White Sox transcend mere sports, so if you'd like a different kind of cultural experience, that might be an idea. I lament the demise of Comiskey Park (where I was on many occasions, despite being primarily a Red Sox fan), and have never been a Cubs fan. But my ex husband was, so I can't say too much for them except that you'll learn how to root for a team that gives you great hope then loses it all. Until recently, all of us in New England felt that way.
It's actually been some time since I've been to Chicago, but there are some historical old buildings near the turn northward toward Evanston that survived the Chicago Fire. And a great shopping center in the same area. And if it's nice weather, Lake Michigan!
I have not stayed downtown often. When I travel to Chicago for recreation, we have enough friends and family in the area that someone always wants us to stay with them. When I travel for business, it's mostly in the suburbs. I have stayed at the Renaissance Chicago North Shore which was nice. That's a little far north, though.
I stayed at the Blackstone before it was a Renaissance (at least I assume it is the same Blackstone...the picture looks familiar). I was impressed by the public areas but disappointed in our room. It was large but felt "tired". I'm hoping that Marriott updated it when it became a Renaissance and the photo gallery seems to indicate as much.
Versel, Amanda and Professor
Although I have lived in Alaska and California for the past 25 years, I'm a Chicago native and my company is headquartered there. So, I frequent the place on at least 5 or 6 business trips each year.
Professor, there are numerous Marriott-brand hotels just north of the "loop". Most are on or just off Michigan Boulevard between Wacker Drive and North Avenue beach. My preferences are the Chicago Renaissance (Wacker Drive at State Street) and the Chicago Marriott on north Michigan Boulevard. The Renn is a relatively new hotel. However, while the recently-updated Chicago Marriott has been around awhile, it has a fabulous location (next door to the American Girl store, etc.) but does have the small 1970s bathrooms.
Both of these hotels are just north of Millenium Park which is part of the immense Grant Park on north Michigan Avenue. They are both within walking distance of other Grant Park attractions, including Buckingham Fountain (don't miss the free colored light/water show most evenings) and the Grant Park "Bandshell" music pavillion (don't miss the free outdoor summer concerts).
Grant Park is also food-central for Chicago's famous "Taste of Chicago" in which every Chicago restaurant that is anybody purveys its tasty wares from temporary tent-locations to the thousands that come to Grant Park every summer for this one week of gastronomic madness. It is food-for-money, but the food is great. Nothing can compare to a Chicago deep-dish pizza or a Chicago bratwurst!
A longer walk or short bus ride south takes you to the Field Museum of Natural History, the Shedd Aquarium and the Adler Planetarium, incredible Chicago centers of history and science that are also in Grant Park.
In the same near-north neighborhood as the Renaissance and Chicago Marriott you will find a good selection of other Marriott branded-hotels --- check the website directory and maps.
I believe the "Taste of Chicago" is on during that time, which means it will be busy in the Grant Park and general areas downtown. It is a good experience to enjoy some food and watch the world, but it can be crowded.
If you want to get a different perspective on the city they have some great 'archtectural river boat tours". You get some good histroy on buildings and areas near the river and some nice opportunity for pictures. The ones I have been on with visitors were all well presented (good guide).
If you can get lucky, like I was, and get upgraded at the Marriott, there is no place better! A two floor suite, looking at Lake Michigan, it just does not get any better.
The room had a huge "Bathtub", and is close to all you would desire to do.
You can see the postings on a previous Insider report.
Thanks, CountryJim and Jerry -- I'll be there in early January (typical of historians' groups) but that's my memory of where the conference hotels were in the past, but I seem to remember a 'main' Marriott that was closed to everything and was one of the conference hotels in the past.
JW Marriott Chicago - No Pool Until September
I don't know if you were considering the JW or if this enters into your decision, but I thought I'd let you know their pool is closed for renovations until September.
I'm going to be taking my son (who bases his entire opinion of a hotel on the quality of the swimming pool) to Chicago in a few weeks and I called to find out what it was like. I'm glad I did. There was no indication that I noticed on marriott.com of the closing.