Chicago by boat and bike


Get started here, with this Cubs fan.

On this trip, we saw Chicago from two great vantage points: by water and pavement.

We started our water tour at Wendella’s Boats, a Chicago fixture since 1935. We chose the Chicago River Architecture tour for around $25 plus the usual exorbitant Chicago taxes. We bought our tickets ahead online, which spared us from standing in the confusing queue at the dock. Be sure to  go to the Wendella site, and not a ticket broker, which adds at least $10 to the price, then tells you you’re getting a “discount” by buying online.We took the 4:30 PM tour, which seemed less crowded than the one that took off before us.

The boat quay is right below the Wrigley Building.

He’s got a ticket to ride!

The tour guide gave an informative discourse of the surroundings and buildings, as well as some interesting Chicago history. Even if you don’t care one whit about architecture, you get a nice tour of the second city all the way up to the locks to Lake Michigan. (Who knew Chicago had locks?) This was a great way to see a lot of Chicago in a short time (about 70 minutes, plus queue time), and get a fun boat ride.

Satisfied boat riders.

The next day we ventured out by bike shortly after 5 AM.  The streets were deserted except for a few other bikers and police, as we biked the two miles or so to Grant Park. There we joined  thousands of other cyclists to “Bike the Drive,” the once a year event when fifteen miles of Lake Shore Drive is closed to traffic and open to cyclists only. There are two 15-mile loops: north from Grant Park to Bryn Mawr and back, and south from Grant Park to 57th and back. The north loop has excellent views of Lake Michigan, Navy Pier, and the amazing LSD skyline, including the famed Drake Hotel. The south loop passes the picturesque museum campus, the formerly beautiful Soldier’s Field, now marred by the giant spaceship that landed in its center, and famous McCormick Place. The north loop has a few smallish hills, but nothing that an average biker couldn’t master; south loop is mostly flat.

Dave at the museum rest stop, mostly deserted so early in the morning.

Starting at 5:30 AM ensures a less-congested ride, and more room to stop and snap photos. Folks of all ages participate, including many who have no idea how to ride a bike safely. Watch out for hammerhead cyclists on your left, whizzing by at 20-25 mph, and little kids who’ve biked out of reach of their parents, and have no idea they shouldn’t be weaving back and forth right in front of you. You’ll get the best experience if you are fit enough for a long ride and stay alert for hapless riders around you. The north route tends to be the most crowded, but both routes get crowded after 7 AM.

Iconic Chicago skyline, heading towards Grant Park from the north loop.

This year we ventured south first and enjoyed seeing the Museum of Science and Industry grounds relatively crowd-free. We had great views of the lake and skyline on the north route, and for the first time ever stopped on the bridge to get some amazing shots of the river.

Great view of the river from the bridge.

After finishing our 30 miles in record time, we added an extra half-loop going south again. This allowed us to snap some over the road shots of the cyclists below from the bridge turn-around.

Looking north from our perch on the overpass.

We finished up at Grant Park to collect our T-shirts and enjoy music and pancakes among the thousands of others sprawled on the grass and benches in the near-90 degree heat.

Buckingham Fountain, Grant Park.

Chicago Harbor Light, framed by cyclist.

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© Huffygirl 2012

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16 thoughts on “Chicago by boat and bike

    • You are welcome. I’ve been there quite a bit, but this is the first time I’ve actually taken pictures of the buildings. I was so glad to be able to share them. Thanks for stopping in.

    • Yes, it’s a fun one Gilly. Unfortunately, only one chance a year to do it. The rest of that time that street is like a freeway and bikes are not allowed – much too dangerous.

  1. Great pictures! Remember when we first saw Buckingham Fountain when we were teenagers (going with Karpiaks to downtown Chicago, I think). I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.

    • I know, it is still amazing. I have to take a picture every time I see it, even though it never changes. They used to have fine gravel around it, but not it’s surrounded by patio blocks – the only change I can see.

  2. Loved the pictures, HG. I’ve always wanted to go to Chicago but haven’t gotten there yet. George has been many times, loves it, and promises to take me, if only for an extended weekend excursion. I’ve also suggested to my daughter that we take the train from Detroit some day when I’m visiting her in Michigan. Do you live very far from Chicago?

    • For us it is about a 2 1/2 hour drive. Depending on where your daughter is in Detroit, it could be a 5 hour drive for you. Detroit is about 2 1/2 hours east of me. I did take the Amtrak train to Chicago once – but with all the stops it took about as long as driving. The only difference was not having to look for a $25 parking spot when you got there. Some people around here drive to Michigan City,Indiana and take the south shore rail line. That is supposed to be quicker than Amtrak, have more time choices, and the station is right downtown near the Art Institute. I’ve never tried that so I don’t know how it works. However you decide to get there, you probably should plan at least an overnight if you haven’t been there before.

  3. Yes, we were going to do at least one overnight. My daughter lives in Brighton, about thirty minutes from Ann Arbor. Every time we think we’re ready to plan a trip, though, something with the kids gets in the way. I still like those grandchildren anyway.

  4. Loving these shots! We have family in Chicago and love visiting. Matter of fact I’ll be there the end of August. These photos bring back wonderful memories. Love the Wendella boat tour. We did the same one several years ago.

    • Thanks Doris. We’ve been visiting Chicago for years but never did the boat tour until this time. It really was a great way to see the city, without walking 20 blocks! I hope you enjoy your visit.

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