There are numerous non-tourist things to do in Chicago if you want a break from the normal tourist attractions.
Chicago has an unparalleled streak of having the most foreign visitors, drawing millions of visitors from all over the world every year.
Many of us would rather break away from the crowd and engage in some innovative, non-tourist activities in Chicago.
It would be a mistake not to check out some of the city’s less popular locations.
Chicago is a city of neighborhoods, and some of the finest things to do in the Windy City are found away from the tourist trail.
In this blog post, I shall explore a number of non-tourist things to do in Chicago.
Non-Tourist Things to Do in Chicago
Explore Street Art in Chicago
The city of Chicago is famed for its architecture, museums, and food but it also has an amazing street art scene.
Pilsen Murals: The Pilsen neighborhood in Chicago is home to colorful murals that reflect the neighborhood’s rich Latino culture. You can take a walking tour of the murals or just wander the streets and stumble upon them.
The 606 Trail: This elevated trail used to be an old railroad track and is now a public park. It features murals and graffiti art along the way.
Wicker Park: This area is famed for its street art scene that features murals, graffiti, and street art installations. You can take a walk around or join a street art tour.
Chicago Cultural Center: This stunning building in downtown Chicago hosts a variety of art exhibitions, including street art.
Exploring the street art scene is among the best non tourist things to do in Chicago.
Take a Boat Trip
If you happen to be in Chicago during the summer, you must take a boat trip and swim.
You will have the opportunity to admire the magnificent structures and renowned architecture of the city.
Although renting a canoe downtown is an option, it is very touristy.
A private trip is advised because it is uncommon and exciting.
Chicago Boat Rentals is located right next to Estate Ultra Bar, near the far end of the Chicago River near the tourism route.
If you’re seeking to rent and operate a boat yourself, your choices are limited, and this is probably your best option.
You can get your own personal vessel there, available for you and 8 to 12 other people to experience Chicago’s tranquility.
Here are a few popular boat tours you may want to consider:
Chicago Architecture Center River Cruise – This 90-minute cruise is led by expert docents and highlights over 50 significant buildings along the Chicago River.
Wendella’s Signature Lake and River Tour – This 90-minute tour takes you through the Chicago River locks to famous Lake Michigan, showing you beautiful views of the city’s famous skyline.
Shoreline Architecture River Tour – This 75-minute tour highlights the history and architecture of Chicago’s famous landmarks and takes you up close through the downtown skyscrapers.
Seadog Lakefront Speedboat Tour – For a thrilling Chicago boat ride experience, consider the Seadog Lakefront Speedboat Tour. This 30-minute ride takes you on a fast, fun-filled tour of the Lakefront.
Taking a boat ride is among the best non tourist things to do in Chicago.
Visit the Music Box Center
Music Box Theatre in Chicago is a historic movie theater that features independent and classic films.
It is located at 3733 N. Southport Ave in the Lakeview neighborhood of Chicago.
You can catch movies on top of other special events and concerts hosted at the theater throughout the year.
The Music Box is a popular venue for film festivals in Chicago, including The Chicago International Children’s Film Festival and The Asian American Showcase.
Watch out for “Whitey,” who oversaw the Music Box Theatre from its debut night until 1977, when he passed out on the sofa in the lobby and never awoke.
He is still rumored to be pacing Aisle 4.
Visiting the historic theater is among the best non tourist things to do in Chicago.
Go on a Drive and Explore the Hidden Gems of Chicago
Lake Shore Drive is one of Chicago’s, or even America’s, most popular drives.
However, on a good day with lots of traffic, it’s arguably more of a parking lot than a thrilling drive.
There exists a unique and more laid-back alternative drive that will allow you to not only explore the city’s neighborhoods but also discover some of the best hidden gems.
Instead of taking a boring journey down the road while staring off into the distance, it is advisable to take a trip through the mysterious but stunning Emerald Necklace.
It is a greenway made up of 26 miles of luscious, charming Chicago roadways that was constructed in the 1800s.
Emerald Necklace links the city’s public squares and pleasant gardens.
Start in Lincoln Park and head west along Diversey Parkway until you reach Logan Square for the finest results.
From that point forward, you’ll see sight after sight.
To get to Gage Park, start traveling south.
On this route, you’ll pass by a number of city parks, including Garfield, Humboldt, and Douglas, but the finest is yet to come.
After arriving at Gage Park, continue traveling east on Garfield Boulevard to arrive at the destination of your journey through the Chicago Park District.
Jackson Park and Washington Park, the city’s two crown treasures, can be seen there in all of their splendor.
That is how a native would explore Chicago and definitely going for a drive in among the best non tourist things to do in Chicago.
Relax at the Beach
The beaches in Chicago offer visitors a serene and tranquil setting.
Anyone can be enthralled by the scenery, with high skyscrapers and enormous structures towering over the sandy shore.
Chicago offers over 20 public beaches along the beautiful shore of Lake Michigan.
Each beach features its unique vibe and amenities.
North Avenue Beach might be the place for you if you’re searching for a relaxed atmosphere.
This beach has a wide stretch of sand, beach volleyball courts, and a bike path.
It’s also a popular venue for summer events and music festivals.
For a quieter beach experience, consider visiting 12th Street Beach.
This beach is located near the Adler Planetarium and offers a calm environment, perfect for reading a book or taking a nap.
Montrose Beach is perfect for those looking to bring their furry friend along.
This beach is dog-friendly and offers a designated area for pups to run and play in the sand.
If you’re in the mood for some adventure, consider renting a jet ski or a paddleboard at Oak Street Beach.
Unwinding at the beach is among the top non tourist things to do in Chicago.
Take in the Sights
The newly renovated Chicago Riverwalk and the 18.5-mile Chicago Lakefront Trail are two of the city’s most popular tourist destinations.
They are regarded as the cutting-edge method of viewing the city’s landmarks from above, particularly Lake Michigan and the Chicago River.
However, as Chicago draws more and more visitors each year, both sites are becoming increasingly famous.
The 606, an urban, elevated hiking path, is one of Chicago’s best kept secrets and is comparable to New York’s High Line, which was made public in 2015.
It is a 2.7-mile path that runs alongside what was once a railway route.
During the summer, the 606 is alive with activity and links four of Chicago’s most fun neighborhoods.
Additionally, you’ll be 17 feet above street level and able to see the Windy City from above.
Furthermore, there are bars and excellent restaurants nearby!
Visit Graceland Cemetery
Graceland Cemetery is a historic cemetery located in the north side of Chicago, near the Lakeview and Uptown neighborhoods.
This cemetery was established in 1860 and provides a peaceful final resting place for some of Chicago’s most prominent citizens.
Visiting Graceland Cemetery can be a unique and fascinating experience.
It’s not just a cemetery, it’s also a beautiful park with many historic monuments and a fascinating history.
Visitors can take guided tours or explore the grounds on their own.
One of the most notable features of Graceland Cemetery is the stunning architecture and sculpture work throughout the site.
Visitors can admire intricate carvings, stonework, and statues, many of which are the work of famous artists and sculptors.
There are many notable individuals buried at Graceland Cemetery, including Marshall Field, Philip Armor, and George Pullman.
Visitors can pay their respects to these prominent figures and learn about their contributions to Chicago’s history.
Visit OZ Park
Located in the Lincoln Park neighborhood, this park is named after the famous children’s book “The Wizard of Oz” and features several unique attractions that pay tribute to the beloved story.
One of the most recognizable features of OZ Park is the large bronze statue of the character Dorothy and her dog Toto.
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was first released by Chicago’s George M. Hill Company in 1900, and author L. Frank Baum resided in the Lincoln Park neighborhood in the 1890s.
In 1976, a small neighborhood park close to his house was named in his honor.
It has statues by John Kearney of the Tin Man, Cowardly Lion, Scarecrow, Dorothy, and Toto.
A number of walking paths wind through the park’s lush vegetation and exquisitely designed gardens.
These paths are ideal for a leisurely jog, bike trip, or stroll.
Visit the International Museum of Surgical Science
The International Museum of Surgical Science is the only surgical museum in North America, and it is located in a 1917 mansion in the Gold Coast area.
It boasts a large collection of surgical artifacts, art, and manuscripts, dating back to ancient civilizations.
The museum has several exhibits that cover various types of surgeries like transplant surgery, neurosurgery, orthopedic surgery and history of anesthesia.
It features over 7,500 objects related to the field of surgery, including surgical tools, anatomical specimens, and medical illustrations.
The museum also holds temporary exhibitions, lectures, and tours in addition to the regular ones.
Visiting the museum is is among the best non-tourist things to do in Chicago.
Shop at Woolly Mammoth Antiques and Oddities
Looking for a one-of-a-kind or unusual gift, possibly linked to death, or simply a peculiar shopping experience?
Woolly Mammoth Antiques and Oddities in Andersonville specializes in vintage and antique taxidermy and medicinal paraphernalia, among other oddities.
After inheriting a set of teeth, owners Adam and Skye Rust came up with the idea for the shop, telling Time Out Chicago, “We stock these things for a selfish reason: to make ourselves more comfortable with dying.”
One of the things that makes Woolly Mammoth Antiques and Oddities so special is the atmosphere.
The store is a bit dark and mysterious, with interesting trinkets and treasures tucked away in every corner.
Shopping at this antiques shop is definitely among the adrenaline-filled non-tourist things to do in Chicago.
Go Biking in Chicago
Biking is an increasingly common way for both locals and tourists to experience Chicago.
Biking is an important part of the city’s efforts to encourage sustainable transportation options.
In Chicago, there are numerous bike paths and trails, including the renowned Lakefront Trail, which runs for 18 miles along the shore of Lake Michigan.
This path is popular among both commuters and recreational riders because it provides stunning views of the lake and skyline.
The city has also extended its bike lane network in recent years, adding more protected lanes and signaling systems to keep bikers safe.
Some bike trails also pass through renowned city spots, with restaurants and shops close for bikers to enjoy a quick break.
Cycling in Chicago, while difficult, is guaranteed to be an exciting and enjoyable experience.
Biking is among the best non-tourist things to do in Chicago.
Final Thoughts on Non-Tourist Things to Do in Chicago
There are infinitely many non-tourist things to do in Chicago.
Chicago offers numerous options for non-tourist activities that are equally exciting and enjoyable as the popular attractions.
There’s something for everyone in Chicago, whether it’s experiencing the city’s lively street art scene, watching a movie under the stars, going on a food tour, or visiting unique museums.
These activities not only provide a different perspective of the city but also allow visitors to interact with locals and experience Chicago’s authentic culture.
So, next time you’re in the windy city, make sure to try out some of these non-touristy things to do and discover all that Chicago has to offer.
Learn More About Chicago and Other Cities
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Chicago a walkable city?
YES. Chicago has a walkable downtown and many walkable neighborhoods, all of which are linked by excellent public transit, including the 'L' and Metra Rail systems. Take a stroll through Millennium Park, buy on the Magnificent Mile, or set sail on the Great Lakes from the Navy Pier.
What is the number one tourist attraction in Chicago?
The number one tourist attraction in Chicago is the Navy Pier, which is a 3,300-foot-long pier on the shores of Lake Michigan. It features amusement rides, restaurants, theaters, and museums, and it attracts over 8 million visitors each year.
What food is Chicago famous for?
Pizza, hot dogs and Italian beef sandwiches. Chicago is famous for its deep-dish pizza, Chicago-style hot dogs, Italian beef sandwiches, and Chicago-style popcorn (which is a mix of caramel and cheese popcorn).
What are the three things Chicago is known for?
Architecture, food and mob history. Chicago is well-known for its architecture, food, and mob history. It is well-known for its museums and cultural treasures, making it a tourist hotspot. Finally, the city of Chicago is well-known for its major sports teams. Whatever sport you favor, the Windy City has a spectator sport for every season.
What month is best to visit Chicago?
April-May or September-October. Overall, the best months to explore Chicago are late April to May or September to October. Late spring is an excellent time to visit this enchanting metropolis. With temperatures beginning to climb, May will frequently see days with temperatures exceeding 70 degrees. Fair weather can also be expected in September and October.
What are the three nicknames for Chicago?
Windy City, Chi-town, or the City of Big Shoulders. Given our city's rich history, the long list of colorful Chicago nicknames should come as no surprise! Call it the Windy City, Chi-town, or the City of Big Shoulders—but one nickname has seen an especially interesting evolution over the years: the Second City.