Guide To Chicago, Off The Beaten Path

  The Chicago Temple Building

The Chicago Temple Building

The offbeat travel site Atlas Obscura (which seems to pop up everywhere these days, have you noticed that, too?) has named April 16 Obscura Day, and is publishing guides to events/places in 31 different states in 26 different countries.

The site’s Chicago guide has some intriguing options, including a class on “Grave Robbing 101” at the Chicago History Museum, tours of Graceland Cemetery, a pedway adventure and more.

It inspired me to pull together my own list of favorite, off-the-beaten path spots in Chicago. Here are seven of them.

Here it is.

The Skyscraper Church. First Methodist Church at the Chicago Temple is a 170-meter skyscraper built by the famous firm Holabird & Roche in Gothic style at 77 W. Washington. The church is on the first floor, and you can lose hours staring at the stained glass windows, which are back lit (and have Chicago scenes/themes) to look as though they go through to the outside of the building (they don’t). Above, there’s the Sky Chapel. True to its name, it towers 400 feet over street level, tucked below the building’s spire. I was lucky enough to attend an incredible architecture tour here, and got to see the pastor’s house, which is about as high up as the Sky Chapel, along with a gorgeous terrace, which looks down on our fair city. Tours are available Monday through Saturday at 2 p.m. and Sunday after each worship service.

The Secret Lives of Objects. Of all museum exhibits I’ve ever seen, this ranks near the top. Go see it at the Chicago History Museum! The gist: museum employees went into storage at the museum and found an object that they thought told a good story. The objects sit in a dark room under a spotlight and the descriptions read as though the objects themselves, are speaking. There’s the lamp that started the fire in the Iroquois Theatre killing more than 600, the colt revolver used to raid Harper’s Ferry, a dipper cup used to bail water from a lifeboat of the Titanic and more. The most chilling, to me, was a pair of wire glasses: “We witnessed a horrible murder,” it says. The eyewear belonged to Nathan Leopold, who, along with Richard Loeb, shocked the nation by murdering 14-year-old Bobby Franks in Chicago in cold blood in 1924. “We were left behind. We were the evidence. We were at the trial. We saw everything.” Goosebumps.

King Spa & Sauna. I will say that I am not a spa person, and, therefore, King Spa doesn’t exactly relax me, but god do I love it, in theory. The Korean-style spa, located in Niles, costs $30 for 24 hours (I still want to do a 23 hours and 59 minutes in King Spa story….), and that gets you access to the whirlpools (divided by sex, no clothes allowed) and eight different huts that vary by temperature or theme (salt, amethyst, charcoal, heat, rocks and more). There’s a cafeteria for a bibimbab break, a movie theater, a TV/nap room, facials, massages and more. Oh, and each person is required to wear a uniform that’s provided: pink t-shirts/shorts for women, gray for men. It adds to the offbeat charm.

Galos Caves. While we’re on the quirky-spa theme, let’s talk about Galos Caves. These are salt caves located inside the Jolly Inn Banquet Hall & Restaurant. Picture a small room covered in white, shiny stalactites. Imagine a floor buried in salt. Envision a curious little sand castle salt area for kids in the corner. And add in a handful of cheap white patio lounges. At $15 for 45 minutes, it’s worth the story it’ll give you.

Puppet Bike. This is one of those things that, before I moved to town, made me fall in love with Chicago. I mean, a guy created a fully functioning puppet stage, complete with curtains and music, on top of a bike (check out this video to fully appreciate it), which he manages to pedal around town between impromptu performances. Sure, the puppets often look like they could use a bath. But still. Puppet Bike!

Wooly Mammoth. “Off beat” and “taxidermy” go hand-in-hand, and you can find an amazing offbeat taxidermy/oddities shop called Wooly Mammoth in Andersonville. (My husband lobbied pretty hard to have stuffed giraffe or something or other at our wedding. We did not have a stuffed giraffe at our wedding.).

Stand-up Comedy Karaoke at Hidden Cover. I haven’t done this. I’m not sure I want to do it. But I want to witness it: comedy stand-up karaoke at Hidden Cove. It’s a little-known fact that you can select an old comedy routine and then recite it, karaoke style, for the dive bar masses. I learned about it from a hilarious This American Life episode. One day. One day.

Got some Chicago favorites? I want to hear them!

Kate Silver