Shedd Aquarium is directly across from the Field Museum, on the Museum Campus near Chicago South Loop. There’s easy access from the L, and it’s a 20-30 minute walk from the canal. Because we are Members of the Virginia Zoo in Norfolk, we were able to receive ½ off Admission through the AZA Reciprocal Admissions programs. We were glad we had booked our tickets in advance because the entire Friday-Sunday timeframe was sold out by Friday afternoon.
The Aquarium was extremely busy when we arrived at 1:30pm, and we stopped to have coffee and a snack (and maybe to split an IPA) in the upstairs Soundings cafe. The view of Lake Michigan from both here and the larger downstairs Bubble Net Food Court make them good spots to get off your feet.
Our favorite animals were found in the Underwater Beauty collection. I’m always a sucker for a cuttlefish, and the seahorses in the exhibit now rank on the top of the weirdest animals we have ever seen.
The most popular attraction is the dolphin show. During our visit, the 20-minute performance was offered on the hour. Next to the dolphin tank was the Beluga whale tank, and both had underwater viewing areas in the basement (penguins and a children’s play area are also in the basement making it a congested space).
The main floor has one central Caribbean tank, with galleries surrounding it. Visitors take an elevator to see the larger tanks with sharks, rays, and coral reefs. We visited these toward the end of the day; most of the crowds had left by 4:30pm, and we were able to return to the Amazon River tanks that had been too crowded to enjoy earlier in the day.
Lincoln Park Zoo
Lincoln Park Zoo is free to the public, with opportunities to donate as you enter the gate. One of the largest habitats belongs to the lions, and they can be observed from both indoors and outdoors. Other African animals can be found along an indoor pathway that ends in a large conservatory-style hall.
The polar bears have a large compound, with an underwater viewing area and an adjacent penguin habitat. The Center for African Apes and Primate House are on southern side of the zoo. Near those houses were two animals that we aren’t sure we had ever seen before; the takin and the bactrian camel.
We also spent an excessive amount of time watching the macaque monkeys combine communal grooming and dining.
Dining in Chicago
On our first night in the South Loop we ate at the casual Burger Bar Chicago (with some of the best fried pickles we’ve ever had – sorry Baltimore). The next night we dined at Grant Park Bistro, a small restaurant across from the Art Institute.
On my first visit to Chicago we mocked the people waiting outside of Pizzeria Uno, thinking they were eating at a chain restaurant instead of getting legit Chicago-style deep dish pizza. It turns out they were actually eating at the original location that the “inside out” pizza was invented, and the chain was named after this historic landmark. So this trip we made a reservation for lunch, where we shared two personal pizzas and a salad. The wait for pizza after ordering was 45 minutes, so they were allowing people to pre-order while they waited for a table. After lunch we enjoyed coffee and gelato at Eataly Chicago. The chain of markets around the city offers authentic Italian prepared foods and groceries.
On our last night we chose River Roast for dinner. The restaurant overlooks the river, and its theme was new to me. Most tables were choosing from a shared roasted meat of some kind (chicken, roast beef, fish, etc.) that was delivered to the table in its entirety and sliced by the server, with additional sides of vegetables. We could have opted for a shared roasted squash dish, but chose personal pot pies instead. The restaurant also specializes in fine meat and cheese charcuterie boards, so it would be an especially ideal spot for a group of friends or family.