The Magnificent Mile. Millennium Park. Wrigley Field.
You can probably name a hundred reasons for a weekend trip to Chicago. What you might not know about the sprawling metropolis of nearly three million is that amid the skyscrapers, steakhouses and stadiums is a host of opportunities to get active outdoors.
At the center of Chicago's interesting activity network is the Lakefront Path, a dream version of Columbus' Olentangy Greenway Trail. The busy multiuse path connects lovely Lake Michigan to a bustling downtown, and as summer wanes, it's the perfect place to start an outdoor adventure in the Windy City.
Lincoln Park Zoo
2001 N. Clark St.
Opportunities for picnicking, baseball and tennis abound within the necklace of parks that line the Michigan shore. There's an added treat at this North Side hangout: Iranian leopards, Geoffrey's marmosets and about 1,200 other wild creatures. The world-renowned conservation facility is open every day and is always free.
1603 N. Lakeshore Dr.
Numerous bike shops and tour companies rent cycles throughout the city, providing helmets, locks and neighborhood maps. At its North Avenue Beach location, Bike Chicago outfits all kinds of riders with mountain, comfort, cruising and road cycles. A high-end road bike goes for around $125 per day, a nice hybrid about $35. Make sure to call for autumn hours.
Oak Street Beach
1000 N. Lake Shore Dr.
Great cities have their own logic. Oak Street Beach has its own palm trees. It's one of many Gold Coast attractions built atop landfill and refuse from the Great Chicago Fire. It's a noted spot for sand volleyball, swimming and checking out young hotties. Lifeguards can be testy during the summer, but they're gone after Labor Day. Party on.
600 E. Grand Ave.
Boat tours abound at this collection of shops, restaurants, bars and outdoor hangouts. Half-hour skyline tours stay on the lake, while architecture tours troll down the river, generally for an hour. They're a bit Clark Griswold-y (Russ?!), but a trip on the azure is worth it. It seemed that cheaper fares could be found further out from shore.
South Shore Cultural Center
7059 S. South Shore Dr.
Fall bird migration is rumored to be amazing at South Shore's nature sanctuary, partly because several years ago Chicago instituted the "Lights Out" program, in which buildings dim their lights at night during fall and spring. A trail system runs through sand dunes, wetland and prairies, allowing you to see myriad species that use the Mississippi Flyway.
Inside the Second City
Chicago offers plenty to enjoy after a long day of swimming and biking. Here are a few suggestions for enjoying the great indoors.
Lunch: Every neighborhood is lined with a variety of restaurants. While in Lincoln Park, grab a window table at The Pasta Bowl, 2434 N. Clark St., for delicious pastas and salads. Couples can lunch for around $30.
Drinks: There's really nothing special about Frank's, 2503 N. Clark St., and that's why I like it. It's a comfy, well-worn lounge - the kind of place people went before they became obsessed with gimmicks and giveaways. Also, it's open until 4 a.m.
Dinner: Named for the rodent star of The Ed Sullivan Show, Topo Gigio, 1516 N. Wells St., is a lively, authentic Italian standby in historic Old Town. It's also my new favorite restaurant. Follow the panzanella salad ($8) with the hand-rolled garganelli with porcini mushrooms and sausage ($14). Then die happy.