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Open House Chicago

by Oct 10, 2018

It is no secret that free/cheap is my jam.  This coming weekend (October 13-14, 2018) is one of my all-time favorite free things to do in Chicago.  I like it so much that I would even recommend that people from out of town plan their visit for this!  Chicago has some really amazing architecture, sort of the silver lining of the great fire.  Building from the ground up created a well-designed city with unique structures.  I’m sure you’ve looked at some of those buildings when you are walking around downtown and thought, “if the outside is this awesome, I wonder what the inside looks like?!”  Well, this weekend you get your answer, and it is Open House Chicago!

Open House Chicago (OHC by the true fans) is organized and run by the Chicago Architecture Center (CAC).  Each year they contact some of the most amazing buildings in Chicago and coerce them into opening their doors to the public.  FOR FREE!!!!  It only happens one weekend a year (during the second weekend of October) and it involves so much fun planning!  (or not– you could just head down there and hope for the best).  But I get out the map (and obviously a glass of wine) and check areas to see what buildings are open and when and work out my own walking tour.  Each year I shift us to a different area of the city to explore new buildings.

Basically, you plan your day from the CAC website and head from building to building like a scavenger hunt then wait in line with other architecture lovers and get to walk through some of the most amazing stuff.  The upstairs of the House of Blues SHOULD NOT BE MISSED.  There are countless churches that can be toured without the necessary conversion attempts.  You get to enter a bridge house along the Chicago River and renovated hotels and consulates and see what the view looks like from the AON building and peak into the Chicago Athletic Club.  There are fantastic views and hidden gems and stained glass and basement vaults and so many cool things to see… you can take as long as you like or rush from place to place.

I don’t really want to share this next tip because it is too great, but if you buy a CAC membership (I think ours was like $80), you get to skip the lines.  You feel like a total A-List Celeb as you flash your pass and walk right in front of this snaking group of people (who are all kind of glaring at you)… Not to mention, there are a few locations only open to members and you get to see a lot more stuff.  I’ll also add that the other CAC member benefits are pretty awesome too.  They run free tours around Chicago led by sincerely knowledgeable docents.  Everyone’s favorite is the River Boat Architectural Tour.  The city looks entirely different from the Chicago River and the history of the buildings is so interesting, especially enjoyable since there is beer on the boat.  The riverboat isn’t actually free, but it is to buy one / get one free with CAC membership.  I really like supporting the Chicago Architecture Center and the price of membership is totally worth it to our family.  Okay, truth.  The membership is worth it for the hubs & me — we actually don’t bring the kids on this outing.  I think at least one of them would really like it but I need them to LOVE IT.  This day is so much fun for me that I don’t really want to worry about the kids or pointing out interesting things or explaining history.  I just want to do this for me.

The selfie on the right has a rough story.  I am the Selfie Queen.  I’ve been doing them with film LONG before it was a thing.  There was a selfie contest at Open House Chicago and my hubs and I both posted a pic.  My hubs won first place with that picture.  I’m thrilled we won… just a little jilted that it was technically him who won.  That said, he does graciously give credit to me for my fantastic and unwavering tutelage and for requesting that he post and hash-tag a picture… and I let the whole thing slide anyway because I love the Mission Style Tiffany lamp that we won SO MUCH.

Miscellaneous Advice, Randomness, or Minutia:

  • We usually end up walking around 10 miles (because I am a little tiny bit Type A)
  • Lines can get pretty long, especially as the day wears on so plan the stuff you really want to see early
  • We drive into the city.  It is actuallly cheaper and faster to Spot Hero a place and traffic isn’t bad on the weekends
  • Also, make sure you like the people you are going with.  Lots of downtimes to chat
  • The lines are less if it is crappy out, so we go rain or shine or sleet.  Lots of it is inside anyway
  • Always a good idea to Yelp for lunch in the neighborhood you are exploring
  • An hour of planning before the big day makes things go a lot more smoothly with less confusion
  • The CAC has a nice little museum and gift shop.  It is right on the river and worth stopping in
  • If you like architecture at all.  This is the thing to do.  I know it comes at a busy time of year but it is worth clearing a day.