Travel Guide: 24 Hours in Chicago

Tropical fish at Shedd Aquarium Chicago Summer
The Bean Cloud Gate at Milenium Park Chicago in the Summer

Back at it again with another Travel Guide! I'm so excited to write this post because Chicago is one of my favorite cities. Since it's only a 3.5 hour drive from my house, I visit a few times a year. Lately, I've been finding myself heading to the city for just one day. There's so much to do that it can be really overwhelming, but I've compiled a list of my favorite "must-do's" when you only have 24 hours in the city!

Exterior of Shedd Aquarium in the Summer
Shedd Aquarium exhibits, Shedd Aquarium Fish, Sea Urchin, Sucker Fish
Exterior of Shedd Aquarium in the summer

S H E D D  A Q U A R I U M

1200 S Lakeshore Dr, Chicago

I have loved Shedd Aquarium ever since I was a little girl. I still remember the first time my parents brought me here - it's still just as exciting as it was back then. It's definitely worth a visit whether you're an adult going there with your friends, or a parent visiting with your family. There truly is something for everyone!

Shedd Aquarium exhibits, Exotic frog at aquarium, tropical fish
Shark, baby shark, tiny shark, Sharks at Shedd Aquarium Chicago
Tropical fish, fish exhibit at Shedd Aquarium Chicago, Shedd Aquarium special exhibit limited time, Jellyfish exhibit Chicago

This huge aquarium on the shores of Lake Michigan boasts 8 amazing exhibits: Amazon Rising, Polar Play Zone, At Home on the Great Lakes, Abbott Oceanarium, Caribbean Reef, Wild Reef, Waters of the World, and Underwater Beauty (a limited-time exhibit). My most recent visit was a few weeks ago with my sister. We had such a fun experience - Shedd Aquarium never lets us down!

Shedd Aquarium Chicago, alligator, crocodile, gator, baby crocodile at Shedd Aquarium chicago
Jellyfish exhibit, Shedd Aquarium Chicago, Things to do in Chicago, Nemo in real life, Clown fish at aquarium

I want to share a little more about the special exhibit going on now, Underwater Beauty. I was beyond excited to come to Shedd Aquarium to see it. The aquarium hosts the most beautiful, one of a kind exhibits - you can definitely tell that a lot of thought and love goes into them. They are free to get into with regular aquarium admission. Underwater Beauty is all about sharing the beauty of ocean animals and the spectrum of colors they create.

Underwater Beauty Special Exhibit Chicago Shedd Aquarium
Underwater Beauty Special Exhibit Chicago Shedd Aquarium
Underwater Beauty Special Exhibit Chicago Shedd Aquarium

From the website, "Watch jellies pulse, eels ribbon and a rainbow come alive with reef fishes. In Shedd's new special exhibit, 100 species from around the world embody living art shaped by the unmatched forces of nature and time". It's hard to pick a favorite from this exhibit, but I think mine was the spotted sea jellyfish. They are such a pretty blue color with white dots that look like pearls. You can learn more about the exhibit HERE - it's an absolute must-see.

Shedd Aquarium dolphin show, Shedd Aquarium Chicago aquatic presentation
Shedd Aquarium dolphin show, Shedd Aquarium Chicago aquatic presentation

We also got to see the Aquatic Presentation in the afternoon. I don't think I've ever seen this show before, and it was really cool! They had beluga whales, seals, and Pacific white-sided dolphins doing tricks with their trainers. The show is free, and it's really fun (and educational). 

Shedd Aquarium dolphin show, Shedd Aquarium Chicago aquatic presentation
Shedd Aquarium Chicago, crocodile, alligator, gator, baby crocodile at Shedd Aquarium Chicago
Shedd Aquarium Chicago, Eel, eel at aquarium, Things to do in Chicago with kids, tropical fish Shedd Aquarium

Shedd Aquarium remains at the top of my Chicago favorites list. You're not getting the whole Chicago experience if you don't stop here! Every time I visit I have a great experience, and there's always something new to look at. The Underwater Beauty exhibit was one of my favorites they've done. What I love most about ocean life is the range of pretty colors, and this exhibit did an amazing job showcasing that.

Giordano's Stuffed Pizza Deep Dish Chicago

G I O R D A N O ' S

223 W Jackson Blvd (there are a few other locations as well)

I hate pizza, but man do I love Giordano's. I never understood why my parents were so obsessed with their pizza (my dad literally orders them online and ships them to our house) until I tried it for myself. Giordano's pizza is lifechanging. It's classic Chicago-style deep dish pizza with a yummy flaky crust, loads of cheese, and the sauce on top. They are a little pricey, but they're worth every penny. I can't resist stopping here every time I'm in Chicago. Just a tip - when you eat at the actual restaurant, you have to wait about an hour to have the pizza made for you. They also offer frozen ones to go (I always bring a freezer bag or cooler so I can take a few home with me). Writing this post made me want to throw the one I currently have in the freezer in the oven for dinner!

Chicago City Skyline from water
Chicago Shoreline sightseeing tour water taxi navy pier shedd aquarium
Chicago skyline from water, chicago water taxi, cheap things to do in Chicago

S H O R E L I N E  S I G H T S E E I N G  W A T E R  T A X I

Shedd Aquarium or Navy Pier

This was a new discovery that I wish I would have found earlier. Shoreline Sightseeing offers a water taxi in a loop between Shedd Aquarium, Navy Pier, and the Chicago River. They have a little booth right outside of Shedd, so you can start your next adventure as soon as you're done with the aquarium. It's only $8 a ticket, and it gives you the most beautiful views of the Chicago skyline. It's a pretty short ride, but it gives you some amazing photo opportunities, and it's really fun!

Shedd Aquarium Chicago exterior from water, water taxi Shedd Aquarium, Navy pier, Chicago skyline from water, Navy pier from water
Navy pier ferris wheel chicago

It can get kind of chilly out there (even in the summer), so I would recommend bringing a light jacket if you don't want to tough it out. I really loved this boat ride, and I can't wait to do it every time I go back. We rode from Shedd Aquarium to Navy Pier so we didn't have to walk 2 miles - it worked out perfectly! 

Shake Shack Chicago, pride month shake, shake shack shakes

S H A K E  S H A C K

Home to my all time #1 favorite cheeseburger on the planet, Shake Shack has a bunch of locations all over Chicago (and the country) for your eating pleasure. Yes, you read that right, this is my FAVORITE cheeseburger of all time, which is a pretty prestigious award. The shakes are pretty bomb too, hence the name. June was pride month, so when we visited last time they had a special shake that tasted like birthday cake - it even had sprinkles. It's a good thing they don't have a Shake Shack near my house, or I would eat there every day for every meal. I can't adequately express my love for Shake Shack! 

The bean at millenium park Chicago, the bean, Chicago skyline

T H E  B E A N  A T  M I L L E N I U M  P A R K

The giant mirrored Bean at Millenium Park is a Chicago icon. Technically it's called Cloud Gate, but I've always called it the Bean! Thousands of people flock here every day to get an iconic Bean picture. It's free and it's a really cool piece of art to see. Millenium Park is also a beautiful place to walk around and enjoy your day. In the winter, they have an ice skating rink in front of the Bean, which is SO cool! I probably have dozens of pictures in front of the Bean throughout my life. Fun fact: the inside of the Bean is mostly wooden!

Grant Park Chicago, exploring Chicago, Buckingham Fountain Chicago, Central Park Chicago, Chicago's Backyard
Grant Park Chicago, exploring Chicago, Buckingham Fountain Chicago, Central Park Chicago, Chicago's Backyard

G R A N T  P A R K

Grant Park is also commonly known as "Chicago's Front Yard", and with good reason. This is another recent discovery I made, and I wish I would have found it a long time ago. This huge park is nestled between Shedd Aquarium, the Field Museum, the Bean and Lake Michigan. It gives off major Central Park vibes (with way less people) and has great views of the city. In the center of the park is Buckingham Fountain, which is a great photo-op. 

Grant Park Chicago, exploring Chicago, Buckingham Fountain Chicago, Central Park Chicago, Chicago's Backyard

I don't even have words for how beautiful the landscaping in this park is. I could spend a whole day walking through and exploring Grant Park. It was super hot when we were there in June, but I didn't want to stop exploring the park - that should be a good indication of how awesome it was, since I hate being outside in the heat! They have a little cafe and people on bikes selling ice cream scattered around. I love the vibe here! It is easily one of my new favorite places in Chicago. 

Chicago skyline from water, Chicago city skyline view, Summer in Chicago

Chicago, I love you! I'm not really a huge fan of big cities, but something about Chicago always draws me in. I've lived near the city my whole life, but I still find new experiences and have amazing adventures every time I visit. It's always exciting to hop in the car and drive South for 3.5 hours and spend the day(s) exploring. Leave a comment if you've ever been to Chicago, and what your favorite activities are!

*Thank you to Shedd Aquarium for sponsoring this post. All photos and opinions are my own. 

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