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Chicago’s Wrigley Field is more than the home of the Chicago Cubs, the lovable losers and arch rivals of the St. Louis Cardinals. Wrigley Field is an icon of Major League Baseball.

Therefore, because baseball is America’s favorite pastime, Wrigley Field is an American icon.

This year, the home of the ivy-covered outfield wall, turns 100 years old. The Cubbies are throwing a party all summer long, so now more than ever, a road trip to Chicago is in order.

From awe-inspiring architectural grandeur to rough and gritty gathering spots, with fabulous views of Lake Michigan or a brilliant skyline, Chicago lays out an eclectic and creative buffet of getaway options.

Just 350 miles to the north, sometimes Chicago feels like a universe away from Southern Illinois, but this summer, let’s celebrate America’s pasttime and Wrigley Field’s birthday with a visit to the Windy City. Here are some of the top places to see and experience.

Wrigley Field – “Meet Me Under the Marquee”

Throughout the 2014 season, the Chicago Cubs will celebrate 100 years of Wrigley Field with exciting promotions, events and collectible memorabilia. Each home stand will celebrate a different decade of the Cubs organization and the memorable moments of Wrigley Field.

The second oldest ballpark in the majors (behind Boston’s Fenway Park built in 1912), Wrigley received the nickname “the Friendly Confines” from Cubs Hall of Famers Ernie Banks based on the compact nature of the stadium. The statues of Ernie Banks and Harry Caray are as beloved as Stan Musial’s in St. Louis; but the place to meet and have your photo taken is under that famous marquee.

Located on just three acres of land and within 100 yards of residential buildings, there’s just no place like Wrigley. It was the last major league field to get lighting — in 1988 — and they still hand-turn the scoreboard. You won’t see yourself on the Jumbo Tron here; Wrigley doesn’t have one. But you will sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” in the seventh inning the way Harry Caray meant it to be sung

Starting with the home opener April 4 against the Phillies, the Cubs play 81 home games this summer, hosting the St. Louis Cardinals May 2-4, again July 25-27, and finally Sept. 22-24. Daily tours last about 90 minutes and cost $25 for adults. It’s worth it.

During nine home stands, the team will wear uniforms reflective of that decade in Wrigley Field’s history. A complete line of centennial memorabilia is already for sale with additional merchandise to be released with each of those home stands.

If you’ve never been, you’re missing one of the best reasons to live in Illinois.

The Second City Comedy Club/Theatre

Almost half the age of Wrigley Field but equally established in the legendary history of Chicago, The Second City has been in the business of making people laugh and training the super comedians of tomorrow for more than 50 years. Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Steve Carell and Stephen Colbert are among the most recent and most celebrated of Second City’s alumni. If you’ve ever been on a Norwegian Cruise and enjoyed a comedy show, you’ve enjoyed the work of The Second City-trained comedians.

The Second City now has two stages with two equally funny but different experiences. The Main Stage is the original, the classic. That’s where the likes of John Belushi and Gilda Radner performed. A few years ago, a second stage was added called the e.t.c. stage. It’s a smaller, more intimate experience. Both theaters are cabaret-style, which means you may end up sharing a table with others.

Tickets are $24 for a two hour show. Weekend shows often sell out, so make your plans early if this is a part of your Chicago getaway plan. Here’s a tip if you’re game for a late night: Each Friday, there’s a free improv set after the last show, which starts about 1 a.m.

And remember, it’s a comedy show where politics and the crazy quirks of our society are the butt of many jokes. Some occasional foul language fills the air, but no more than you might hear in an R-rated movie.

‘Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me’

If you have ever listened to NPR (WSIU, 91.9 FM) on a Saturday morning, you know this to be the funniest show on radio. However, the show is taped on Thursday nights at the Chase Bank Auditorium at 10 S. Dearborn in downtown Chicago.

Basically it’s a current events quiz hosted by the hilarious Peter Sagal and his side-kick Carl Kasell. It’s complete and total nonsense, as our daily lives often are. Tickets are $25, but you need to buy your tickets a couple of weeks in advance if you want to stand any chance of actually getting in. This is a family-friendly show, produced by WBEZ Chicago.

Chicago’s Union Station

Remember that classic scene in the movie “The Untouchables” with the baby carriage and the long marble staircase and Andy Garcia saving the baby while getting the bad guy? That scene was shot at Chicago’s magnificent Union Station, one of dozens of movies that have used this building as a backdrop.

Designed by architect Daniel Burnham, who was responsible for many of Chicago’s great buildings, Union Station opened in 1925. Yes, it’s an active train station, the fourth busiest in the nation with more than 3.2 million passengers a year and about 55 trains each day.

So here’s a thought: Take Amtrak to Chicago and avoid lots of hassles and parking fees in the city. Live life like a local and figure out what the L is all about. The L has more than 140 stops throughout the city and certainly at the big places you want to be, like Wrigley Field.

Frank Lloyd Wright Tours

Architect Frank Lloyd Wright left his fingerprint all over the Chicago landscape, which is one reason 47 million visitors come to Chicago each year, just to see his work. Several companies offer good architectural tours, but your best experience for Frank Lloyd Wright comes from the Trust that bears his name. There are a number of such tours to choose from, which range greatly in time and price.

However, if you fear that some in your group won’t be too excited about an architecture tour, just take them past The Rookery at 209 S. LaSalle in the Financial District. Built shortly after the Great Chicago Fire by Daniel Burnham and John Root, the Rookery is most famous for the Light Court — the part of the building redesigned by Frank Lloyd Wright. The space is as the name implies — an open, airy interior courtyard with an atrium ceiling and detailed mosaic floor tiles. The 11 floor winding iron staircase creates some magnificent photo opportunities.

Tours are only 30 minutes and only cost $5. But here’s the interesting tidbit about the building for those who don’t think they’ll like architecture — the exterior of the Rookery was appeared as Duncan’s Toy Chest in the movie Home Alone 2.

Chicago History Museum

Guess what? Mrs. O’Leary’s cow probably did not start the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Seriously. More than 140 years later, the woman is still getting a bad rap. And that’s one of the things you’ll learn in a tour of the Chicago History Museum, the city’s oldest cultural institution.

Because of that fire, and another one three years later in the museum itself, must of the city’s early history was destroyed. The current building in Lincoln Park has been safe from fires since its opening in 1932.

There’s some cool stuff inside, like the bed Abraham Lincoln died on, a fabulous exhibit on sports in the Windy City, and another on the infamous and not always squeaking clean politics of Chicago. The museum is particularly well-known for its textiles and fashion collection, which is the largest in the U.S. and the second largest in the world

Plan to have lunch in the North & Clark Café. The floor-to-ceiling windows provide a lovely view of the Children’s Fountain in Lincoln Park, which is just as beautiful at night as it is in the daytime hours. The light and airy space feels like an indoor picnic, a great idea in the heat of a Chicago summer.

Navy Pier/Festival Hall

Chicago’s master plan after the historic fire of 1871 included a series of recreational piers to be built on Lake Michigan near the mouth of the Chicago River. Only one was ever constructed, in 1909, and now the historic Navy Pier is recognized as the Midwest’s premiere tourist and leisure destination.

At just over a mile long, there’s always something happening at Navy Pier and no matter who is in your group, you’ll find something to please — shopping, gardens, festivals, restaurants. Pier Park includes the wonderful Pier Ferris wheel and classic musical carousels.

The Chicago Children’s Museum is here, as is a museum on stained glass. Enjoy a performance at the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre or just have your picture made with a statue of Bob Newhart.

But you can’t come to Chicago without enjoying Lake Michigan and Navy Pier is where you can catch any number of excursions out on the lake. If you really wanted to learn more about Chicago architecture, you can take a cruise specific to the skyline. There are sail-powered cruises on tall ships, dinner cruises and just low-key sightseeing cruises. 

Off the beaten (eating) track

The choices of places to eat in Chicago are mind-blowing and the list changes every day. The bottom line is you’re going to have fun and if you do it right, you’ll probably gain a little weight.

Of course, you can always have pizza and always enjoy a hot dog. Those are Chicago basics and well, really a little cliché.

Let’s try something different:

Thalia Hall, a community gathering point in the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago since 1893, is a massive stone structure modeled after the Old Opera House of Prague. Well, it has just reopened as Dusek’s Board and Beer, a funky tavern-style eatery where you can have fried chicken and ham, or monk fish and sardines. The reason you come is for the beer menu, a huge list that changes weekly. The beer cellar has a secret passage way. Ask to see it. (1227 W. 18th St., 312-526-3851)

Chicagoans love their rooftops and a great new rooftop restaurant in the River North neighborhood is Tanta. It’s one of the few restaurants in the Midwest that specialize in Peruvian cuisine. Enjoy some ceviche and Criolla Causitas on the rooftop and enjoy the fact that you’ve pushed your comfort zone on this getaway. (118 W. Grand Ave., 312-222-9700)

A great Italian restaurant with a fabulous wine selection is Sienna Tavern. Known for the truffle gnocchi with roasted cauliflower, the restaurant is the creation of chef Fabio Viviani. You might have seen him on The Top Chef. (51 W. Kinzie St.,312-595-1322)

If you insist upon pizza, La Madia in the River North neighborhood is one of those pleasant neighborhood restaurants that serves outstanding Chicago-style pizza, but doesn’t get all of the press that the big places get. (59 W. Grand Ave., 312-329-0400)

DIANA LAMBDIN MEYER is a freelance travel writer based in the Kansas City, Missouri area. Originally from Wolf Lake in Union County, Diana specializes in travel journalism.

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