5. Chicago, Illinois

photo 2 (8)Yes, the last post was from Chicago. And yes, I’m going back to Chicago tomorrow (spoiler). But I can’t skip ahead without detailing my first trip there of the year, which technically rings in as 2015’s No. 5.

The jaunt was a short one, but no complaints–it broke up the cross country plane ride from San Francisco just as I was about to lose my mind. Basically, all I did in the city was attend sporting events, but that’s par for the course.

Chicago’s stadiums are all incredibly different in a way that I love. In a sharp contrast from somewhere like Philadelphia, which has its sports venues grouped together in a complex, Chicago’s are pretty much as spread out as they could be. Wrigley on the North Side, U.S. Cellular on the South Side, the United Center on the West Side and Soldier Field to the east by the lake offer geographical diversity, which in turn lends itself to fanbase diversity and completely different game-going experiences.

I’m pretty biased against the Cubs, but I’ll begrudgingly admit that all the city’s stadiums are worth a visit, if not for the venues themselves–my beloved U.S. Cellular is about as indistinct as they come–than for the neighborhoods they’re in.

Below, a few local pre- and post-game picks…

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U.S. Cellular Field

U.S. Cellular, or “The Cell” as fans affectionately call it, may seem like it’s in the middle of nowhere– especially compared with Wrigley, which rests on one of the cities main arteries. And the truth is, it is–in some respects. You can’t wander right out of the gate and into a bar or restaurant the way you can near some parks, and the building itself is a bit isolated.

But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Upon leaving, you’ll almost instantly find yourself in a real neighborhood catering to locals rather than a scene catering to game-goers, and the general area has its fair share of gems to offer.

First, there’s Nana, a wonderful and adorable organic spot you can hit up for brunch on the way to a Sunday home game–assuming you budget extra time or go early enough to beat the line. The menu does change from time to time, so before you go, pray the chilaquiles are still on it for both your sake and mine.

After the game, Maria’s Packaged Goods & Community Bar will be waiting less than a mile and a half away on W 31st St. It may look like a tiny, amazingly curated beer shop when you enter, but don’t be fooled–behind the back door is an entire bar with both indoor and outdoor seating and one of Chicago’s best draft lists.

From there, it’s about a 15-minute walk north and east to Gio’s Cafe and Deli, which I think is about as close you can get to “impossible not to love.” Red-and-white-checkered clothes adorn the tables, which perch in the middle of a tiny market whose shelves are lined with Italian foodstuffs. It’s a homey, low-key vibe with a touch of nostalgia, serving food as good as little Italy’s without all the fuss.

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Soldier Field

Like The Cell, Soldier Field doesn’t have many businesses in its back yard. What it does have in its back yard (front yard?), however, is the city’s museum campus, comprising the Field Museum, the Shedd Aquarium and the Adler Planetarium–all very impressive. I’m partial to the planetarium because I preferred Meteor Mouse to the Egyptian tomb exhibit at the Field growing up, but you can make your own choices.

If you’ve got darkness (and chances are, if you’re at Soldier Field during football season, there’s plenty of that to go around), the view from the area at night is absolutely stunning. For that matter, it’s not bad in the day, either, as I have observed from both segway and quadcycle (yes, really).

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United Center

Both the Bulls and Blackhawks play at the United Center, meaning it’s a very trafficked spot for my family. We tend to skip the ultra-trendy West Loop restaurant scene (featuring Girl & the Goat, avec and others), but the area makes a logical stop if you’re heading westbound and looking for dinner.

If I were to ever, ever have enough time before a game, though, I’d beeline to Greektown. You can find plenty of good restaurant options (and some pseudo-Greek architecture) traveling down S Halsted St., including the campy-yet-amazing across-the-street neighbors Greek Islands and Santorini near the corner with Adams. The area is one of my favorite aspects of Chicago; plenty of cities have a Chinatown or a Little Italy, but Greektown? Neighborhoods like this one–not to mention Ukrainian Village, Scandinavian Andersonville and historically German Lincoln Square, to name a few–make this patchwork city what it is.

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One more for the Bulls

Wrigley Field

I’m not going to lie–I can’t stand this place. That doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate it as a historic stadium and worthwhile tourist attraction. It just means I’ve been there enough to know it smells like a toilet, and I’ll reserve my future visits for when the Sox are playing.

I’m equally unenthused with Wrigleyville for some of the same reasons. It’s a fratty atmosphere in which daydrinking holds more interest for most visitors than the game itself, and it can make it difficult to pay attention to baseball even when you’re trying.

But if beer is going to be the focus, Wrigley should at least offer up a couple spots to get a good one–and luckily, it does. Goose Island Beer Co.–famous for the widespread 312 (think “three-one-two”–the local area code–and not “three twelve” when ordering aloud) has two brewpubs in the city, and one of them is just a two-minute walk away from the stadium down main drag Clark St. Slightly further afield (.4 miles away) you’ll find Sheffield’s, a beer garden with good selection and outdoor seating that almost make it worth the crowds and insufferable clientele.

I don’t have any Wrigley photos, so here’s another from The Cell. Who says it’s not beautiful?

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