Cheap City, USA is a CheapTickets blog series where we show you that any city can be enjoyed on a budget if you know where to look. In this breakdown of Cheap City, USA, we take a look at Chicago.
Millennium Park and Grant Park
Let’s start with the obvious but no less essential must-see Chicago attractions. You could easily spend a whole day walking around Millennium Park and Grant Park, both free to enter and explore, but let’s go over the highlights. The famously photographed Cloud Gate or “The Bean,” might be the only thing on earth with more selfies than Kim Kardashian. Get to this one early in the day when the crowds are thin. Also check out the Pritzker Pavilion before heading south to Buckingham Fountain and the many gardens in Grant Park.
Chicago Museums: Free and cheap days
The windy city has some world-famous museums and one of the largest indoor aquariums in the world. Here are the best times to go and save a few dinosaur bones.
Lincoln Park Zoo: Always free and open year-round! Stroll through a scenery of lions, alpacas, chimps and seals.
Chicago is a funny city. It’s got some of the best improv theaters and comedy clubs in the country, producing greats like Steve Carell, Tina Fey and Mike Meyers. It’s hard to see a bad show in the 312, but here are some free, cheap and all good shows to check out:
TJ & Dave: Two critically acclaimed improv veterans play in a way that’s so impressive you’ll be trying to figure out how they did it. They are creepily in sync with one another on stage, but it’s all laughs in the audience. Wednesdays at 10:40 p.m. at iO Theater; $10.
Messing With A Friend: Seasoned improviser Susan Messing hosts and improvises each week inviting other comedians from around town to play with her. Thursdays at 10:30 p.m. at Annoyance Theater; $5.
Shame That Tune: Improvised music is like magic. You know there’s a reasonable explanation to how it’s done, yet you still suspect sorcery. This show has a game show format where guests tell embarrassing stories and the hosts turn them into “warped covers of popular songs.” Monthly performances at The Hideout; $5
The Lincoln Lodge: This show is always good for a laugh. It’s been a haven stage for emerging stand-up acts for the last 14 years. Fridays at 8 p.m. at the SubT Lounge; free (donation suggested).
Armando Diaz Experience: This show has been running strong at iO for 10 years. Founded by now-famous comedians Adam McKay, Dave Koechner and Armando Diaz, the improvised show starts with a monologist to inspire the scenes. Said guest story-teller is often a well-known comedian or celebrity. Mondays at 8 p.m. at iO Theater; $12
Kingston Mines: This Lincoln Park blues clubs lays down the live tunes every night of the week. It’s hosted blues acts like B.B. King and Carl Weathersby. The vibe is southern casual. Go on a weeknight when the cover is only $12.
The Empty Bottle: If you’re looking for the hipster Brooklyn experience of Chicago, come here. What looks like a real hole-in-the-wall operation from the outside is home to some great live music acts. Almost all shows are $15 or less.
Elbow Room: Another Lincoln Park jam factory, the Elbow Room has live music all week long. A few notable past acts include The Shins, Cage The Elephant and Joss Stone. The average nightly cover is $5.
If you don’t stand/walk/bike along the edge of Lake Michigan while you’re in Chicago, you’re doing it wrong. All of the parks and beaches along the lakefront are free. For a peaceful, beachy view, go to Montrose Beach. North Avenue Beach draws the most crowds and is a good place to join in a beach volleyball game. The lakefronts surrounding Belmont Harbor are concrete-paved steps with breathtaking views of the The Loop’s skyscrapers, and make for a great sand-free picnic place.
This living museum has over 25 different gardens including an aquatic garden and a bonsai collection. Admission to the gardens is free. You’ll have to pay for parking if you drive; it’s about a half hour drive from the city. It’s 100% free if you make a day of it and do the two-hour bike ride there, but you’ll have a great view of the lake for most of your ride.