Chicago, Illinois is known by many nicknames such as “City within a Garden”, “Beirut by the Lake”, and “The Jewel of the Midwest” just to name a few.  While we have experienced a little bit of it all here, we’re discovering that there are many different sides to this urban oasis.

This past summer (August 2014) we spent two incredible weeks urban camping in the middle of the city, utilizing public transportation and cycling around this metropolis.  But, it was this final day that exposed the wild and natural side of Chicago that we really fell in love with.

The Route and Itinerary

The yellow route is Bike Chicago Part 1 and the green route is Bike Chicago Part 2 and the orange route is Bike Chicago Part 3.

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10 am – Oak Street Beach is just one of the many beaches along the lakeshore trail that’s alluring. Luckily for us, it was too early for the restaurant to be open, otherwise, we may not have ever left those blue beach beds!  We were too busy trying hard to see everything which kept us from just spending a day lounging on the beach.  In hind site…how sad! Next time, a lazy day at the beach will most certainly be a part of our itinerary. There’s a top notch cafe on the south end of the park, near South Pond, that looked absolutely fantastic…I so wish we had more time to dine (because we love food as much as we do nature).

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12 pm – Lincoln Park Zoo is a unique and spectacular FREE zoo.  Not only is it one of the only free zoos in the country, it’s also one of the oldest that dates all the way back to 1868.  They’re super big on education and conservation which makes it a great place for kids. It’s also incredibly beautiful with the old entry gates and yet the casual vibe and beautiful park like settings make it a place worthy of an entire day.  Just make sure to plan on being there early so you can see the animals when they are most active.  As you can see, noon is nap time.

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2 pm – When we headed over to the Peggy Notebaert Museum of Nature we had no idea what we were in for.  We thought we were going to check out the Butterfly Haven (and it was the highlight) but we didn’t realize just how much more there was to this little museum.  Take the time to really tour the whole facility, learn about the sustainability efforts, listen to the birds in the gardens and check out the bee populations on the roof.  Oh yea, it’s incredibly kid friendly if you’re travellin’ with little ones!

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6 pm – Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder was recommended by a lot of you and I have to say, despite the crazy huge portions and overdose of carbs, it was awesome. The food was good but it was more the history and old school ambiance that made this place worthy of the stop.  The brownstone building that houses the restaurant has quite the tale. From being across the street from where the notorious St. Valentines Day Massacre happened to its own fire that left nothing but the frame behind. It’s a classic.

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Why City Bikes?

The summer weather was so perfect we had absolutely no desire to be stuck in a car, much less traffic, dealing with expensive parking lots and so on!  Plus, these city bikes are cheap and convenient with no hassle or worry of having to find secure places to park our personal bikes. For a more detailed answer to this question and a few tips on using the DIVVY Bikes, you’ll find that in Bike Chicago Part 1.

Looking back on all of these experiences made us remember we had an amazing time and loved that we had the chance to explore so much of the city. On the other hand I also feel like we possibly crammed a little too much into each day. The wild thing is we spent two whole weeks and I still feel like we needed more time. Then again, I feel that way about most places we visit.

If you are headed to Chicago, make sure to check out part 1 and part 2 for more adventures, tips and info on the city bikes. We also have posts, videos and info from our experiences at Lollapalooza and tips on the best place to park an RV in the city.

Have you been to Chicago? Tell us your favorite stops, tips and travel stories in the comments below! I know we’ll be back.

A big thanks to Choose Chicago for hosting us and helping plan a realistic daily itinerary.