About Margaret Hicks

I'm Margaret. I'm an author, a tour guide, a traveler and a whole bunch of fun.

10 Things NOT to do in Chicago

Tourist season is on it’s way and there are lots of articles listing the wonderful things to do in Chicago. Just last week I posted about Free Things To Do In Chicago. So this week I thought I’d change it up a little bit. Here’s my list of….

10 Things NOT To Do In Chicago:

  1. Put ketchup on your hot dogs. We all know that when you put ketchup on something it tastes like ketchup.The Chicago dog is a finely-tuned machine, a work of art of sorts. Would you put ketchup on your Stradivarius? No. No you wouldn’t so don’t put it on your dog.
  2. Go to the restaurants you go to at home. I know it’s easier sometimes. I know how it is in another town and sometimes you just want what you know – but I beg you! Even if it’s just a casual place, like maybe you’re getting your Chicago Dog from Max’s.
  3. Assume Deep Dish is the only pizza. The truth is, we eat Tavern-Style Pizza – it’s flat and crispy and cut into squares. That’s what we eat. Oh and we also eat Pequods.
  4. Be afraid of the CTA – The trains will get you where you need to go with relative ease. Don’t be afraid of the buses either – that’s some real Chicago right there.
  5. Stick to the “big” sports teams. You know what’s fun? A Chicago Fire game or a Chicago Sky game.
  6. Just stay in the Loop. Get out into the neighborhoods! That’s where Chicago really shines.
  7. Go to only Second City. Look, I’m the tour guide at Second City and I freaking LOVE that place. But Chicago’s comedy scene is huge. Try IO or ComedySportz (especially if you have kids with you, they’re clean!) or the Annoyance (they are NOT clean, beware!).
  8. Cross the street against the light like those crazy New Yorkers. If you look closely you’ll find that we obey street lights. That’s because we have crazy cab drivers. Sometimes you’ll see locals jay-walking but this is after YEARS of experience. Trust me, that ONE second you’ll get across the street earlier is not worth it.
  9. Not go to the lake. I’m amazed how many tourists do not engage with the lake. Bring your suit! Head down to Oak Street Beach or North Ave Beach for a major urban beach experience. Get drinks, play volleyball or go swimming! Chicago is a beach town baby!
  10. Just stay on the north side or the Loop. There is so much awesomeness on the south side. There’s the Oriental Institute and the DuSable Museum. There are great neighborhoods filled with art and culture in Bronzeville & Pilsen and spectacular views from Promontory Point.

What are some other things not to do in Chicago?

Things NOt To Do In Chicago

My Favorite Free Things To Do In Chicago

There are a few phrases I hear from tour guests all the time:

“I had no idea it was so lovely here.”

“I can’t eat anymore.”


“There are so many free things to do!”

Here are my five favorite free things to do in Chicago:

The Cultural Center

I pretty much end every tour at the Cultural Center. I do this because it’s a great finale but also because I cannot pry people out of there. I’m all the way down at the bottom of the stairs ready to go and my guests are still up staring at the Tiffany Dome like Cindy Brady looking at the camera.

The Set at Second City

I give tours at Second City and I have great pride! Second City is so Chicago, it is so precious to this city, I get emotional. So even if you can’t make a show, you can go watch the Mainstage or the ETC performers play FOR FREE if you catch the improv set after the main show.

Free Things To Do In Chicago

This photo cracks me up. What am I doing?

The Greeters

YAY FOR THE GREETERS. Seriously. If you’re visiting here from out of town and you have your head together enough in advance, you can get a tour guide FOR FREE. And these aren’t standard guides, the Greeters are experts. These are volunteers who give tours in the parts of the city they love the most. You can set up neighborhood tours with them and you can get real specific. FREE.

The Pedway

I know, I KNOW. But come on. Grab a map, some nuts, berries and plenty of water and head down into the Pedway for an adventure. Then, when you get sufficiently confused, call me and I’ll tell you how to get out. 🙂

The Crystal Gardens at Navy Pier

Now, Navy Pier might not be the first place I’ll tell you to go hang out, but! The views are lovely, the Ferris Wheel is intense and the Crystal Gardens are gorgeous. They’re pretty in the summer, but if you’re wandering Chicago around the holidays or in the winter – get thee to the Gardens! Warm and pretty and filled with oxygen – the Crystal Gardens is an awesome way to wile away some time.


Columbus IN – Oz for Architecture Nerds

Columbus IN, where is that? I mean, I went to college in Indiana – Butler University –  a place one might go to school if they are interested in Pharmacy or Dance. Both of Margaret’s really strong points, no?

Most certainly I’ve driven through, in and around Indiana for many years but it was only recently that I heard about Columbus IN.

A mythical town, filled with architecture from the greatest architects of their time?

I can’t believe it took me even this long to make it, but make it to Columbus I did and I’m so pleased.  It was completely worth it and I walked away with a new motto. So, total bonus.

Columbus IN is a town of about 45,000 people and it’s a playground of great architecture. How did this happen? What is up with this town?

It all starts with the hiring of Eliel Saarinen to design the First Christian Church in 1942. This was a surprising design for a church, square and bulky, it surprised people:

After that, the beauty of Columbus IN comes from a man named J. Irwin Miller who worked for Cummins Engine Co. Miller believed that architecture made a difference, that it would influence the people who lived there. He needed a town that high-level MIT grads would want to live in, he needed to make his town attractive and only wanted the best. In his words? “Mediocrity is expensive.” (New motto!)

He said, if the school board picked out of five architects listed, he would pay the architect’s fees and 10% of the project would be paid by the foundation, not taxpayers.

The town still works like this, with decisions made by a public officials and because of that, Columbus IN is freaking fantastic. Here are some of my favorites:

City Hall – Skidmore, Owings and Merrill – 1981

How cool is this? In Chicago, we know SOM as being the designers of the Sears Tower (ahem.). The mirrored entrance does a fine job of highlighting the courthouse across the street. It’s also a really grand feeling to walk up to this building, like you’re the Queen of Columbus – I swear to pete. Columbus IN

The Republic Newspaper – Skidmore, Owings and Merrill – 1971

Single story, glass building, so Miesian, so Chicago, I noticed it right away. The clear walls also added to the idea of transparency so you could see what was happening in your newspaper building. It used to be that the big yellow printing presses were right in the windows like a piece of functional art.

Here’s a bus stop. Seriously. Even the bus stops are freaking cool.

Cummins Corporate Headquarters – Kevin Roche & John Dinkeloo & Associates – 1973

Goodness. How is this for absolute gorgeousness? The lines, the shading, the lighting, the shadows and it all works. In Chicago we know Kevin Roche for the Leo Burnett Building.

The Cleo Rogers Memorial Library – I.M. Pei – 1969

I FREAKING LOVE THIS BUILDING. I love how pretty it is and I love the people out in front sleeping on it. It was kind of a chilly day but those bricks must have felt delicious. I love the red. I love the horizontal. Love it, love it, love it. The sculpture is “Large Art” by Henry Moore. Chicago has a Henry Moore sculpture too.

What’s so amazing here is that these are just a few of the buildings. The whole town is done up, there are 77 sites listed on the brochure.

If you head to the Visitor’s Center, of course they were very helpful, you can buy a map for 3$ and they also offer walking tours. HOW COOL.
I’ll be back Columbus! Overnight this time, so I can see all of it. ALL OF IT.


The Chicago Fire Soccer Club

The Disaster! Tour is one of my favorite tours (they’re all my favorite, don’t fence me in) but it really is.

I love watching people’s faces as they hear the stories and how into it we get. I love how we feel compassion and fear and anger for people 100 years ago.

And how Chicago bounces back from the fire – this is my new favorite anecdote, it makes me cry:

On the Monday morning of the fire, a man was found carefully examining the bricks of the ruins of Reynold’s Block (Dearborn and Madison streets), picking them up gently and “feeling” them. When asked by an observer to explain his conduct, he replied:

“I was just seeing if they were cool enough to build with again”

GUH. That one really. Yikes.

I do the Chicago Fire first because we all know it’s coming! We all know the fire is going to be on the Disaster Tour, so I do it first to get it out of the way.

And then when I tell people that the fire is just, not even close, to our biggest disaster in terms of lives lost – they know they’re in for a hell of a ride.

SO! I am pleased as punch for this announcement!

The Chicago Fire Soccer Club

Each tour guest on the Disaster! Tour gets a special present from The Chicago Fire Soccer Club!

YES I’M SERIOUS. This is their 20th season and we’re all celebrating!

This is the best. I’m so excited. Check it! (the hat is mine, the pin is YOURS!):

So, buy some tickets, come see me, get a pin – be a rockstar.

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