Photograph by Melanie Stetson Freeman, The Christian Science Monitor/Getty Images
Read Caption

The dense skyline of Chicago intertwines public green spaces.

Photograph by Melanie Stetson Freeman, The Christian Science Monitor/Getty Images

See Chicago like a Nat Geo Explorer

From architectural wonders to urban oases, the Windy City will blow you away.

Chicago is home to beautiful architecture, loyal sports fans, a food scene that keeps you yearning, welcoming locals, and diverse neighborhoods. Those who visit feel the hectic energy of a big city but with a warmth akin to southern hospitality. Chicago’s lakeshore is unrivaled in all four seasons.

Travel for good

Urban Rivers is creating a wildlife-first, mile-long river park known as the “wild mile,” located in the North Branch of the Chicago River. Our park boasts a series of floating gardens, habitat installations, access points, and educational initiatives with the aim of creating a robust wildlife sanctuary in the heart of Chicago. Since we began working on our park in 2015, we’ve surpassed many challenges. Now with partners ranging from National Geographic to the Chicago Department of Planning and Development, our team faces new challenges and inspiration. As we implement more advanced technical supplements within our park, we’re open to those who want to make change and create. Come join our group of enthusiastic volunteers on the Chicago River!

What's in my bag

One of the more interesting tools I carry in my bag is an Ultimate Survival Technologies Spork Multi-Tool.

View Images

Loyal sports fans cheer on the Cubs in Wrigley Field.

Traditional crafts

As an avid shopper and thrifter, I think the Pilsen and Bucktown neighborhoods are the best places to get unique items. Some of my favorites for thrifting are the Brown Elephant resale shops, Ragstock, and Second Chance Thrift.

Local etiquette

Do not put ketchup on your hot dog, root for the wrong team at the wrong bar, consider anything other than Lou Malnati’s as proper Chicago pizza, or talk during an improv show (unless you want to be brought onstage).

Do dance with new friends, go to a show at Neo Futurists theater on Sunday night, see a Cubs game in the bleachers, visit the lakefront via boat, kayak the Chicago River, take an architectural boat tour (you won’t be bored), and check out Sound-Bar for funky beats on the weekends.

Take a class

Learn to sail on Lake Michigan.

View Images

Lou Malnati's offers cheesy, deep-dish pizza with a butter crust.

Savor the flavors

This is a hard question to ask a former sous chef, but here are my top five restaurants: Chilam Bilam, where the menu changes every few months, for Mexican food; Sunda for Asian fusion; Lou Malnati’s for pizza, particularly the deep dish easy cheese with butter crust, well done; Mana Food Bar for its vegetarian menu, especially the bibimbap; and the BYOB Irazu for Costa Rican dishes.

Head off the beaten path

For live music, check out the open mic night on Sundays at the Kingston Mines blues club. For the best subs in town, head to Bari Italian Deli.

View Images

See 32,000 animals in the Shedd Aquarium.

Cultural heritage

Get outside

Lincoln Park is so amazing to see in the summer. For a particularly beautiful part of the park, seek out the Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool.

Zachary Damato is a co-founder of Urban Rivers and Niwa. Follow him @UrbanRiv and @GetNiwa.