Chicago from the heights

When my older son turned 13 earlier this year, I knew I wanted to celebrate this milestone birthday in extra special fashion. We started making plans to have a weekend together in Chicago. We would take the train to town, see the Museum of Science and Industry, and stay in a grand old hotel in the Loop.

A friend of mine who grew up in Chicagoland suggested that we see the city from the top of the John Hancock Center, which is in the middle of downtown on Michigan Avenue. We took her up on her idea after dinner (deep dish pizza – we were tourists all the way!). I’m glad we did, because it was hands down the highlight of our trip. The observation deck takes up the entire 94th floor and offers stunning views in all directions. Here’s the view to the south. That’s the Sears, er, Willis Tower on the far right, in the distance.


Seeing Chicago from up here reminded me bluntly that my home city of Indianapolis isn’t really all that big. There are more skyscrapers in this photograph’s tiny sliver of Chicago than Indy has across its entire downtown.


I’m no Chicago scholar; I don’t know what any of these buildings are. The only reason I could point out the Sears Willis Tower above is because the little electronic “tour guide” device they gave us helped me identify it. But I studied each building and enjoyed spotting some of the earlier skyscrapers among the new.


The world’s first Ferris wheel was built in Chicago for the 1893 World’s Fair. That one was a staggering 250 feet tall and carried 2,160 people! Chicago’s Navy Pier includes a Ferris wheel; it is a mere 140 feet tall and carries only 240 people. Maybe we’ll ride it if we go back.

Chicago Navy Pier

The John Hancock Center really stands out among Chicago’s tall buildings. From the 94th floor, you can see the tops of many other buildings. Lake Shore Drive, a.k.a. US 41, hides behind these buildings.


We were so impressed with the views that we didn’t want to leave. Some smart person realized many people would feel that way and so placed a little cafe right in the middle of the floor. We ordered some gelato and just sat looking out over the city. Shortly, the sun began to set.

Chicago sunset

And the city began to light up. That’s Michigan Avenue just left of center.


Here’s Lake Shore Drive as it continues its northward trek.

Lake Shore Drive

Street lights began lighting in discontiguous sections but soon highlighted all the major arteries through town. These roads lead south.


By now, our gelato cups were empty and we felt weary after a good day in the city. It was time to return to the hotel for the night. Standing at the elevator (the fastest in North America, it was pointed out), my son suddenly exclaimed, “Fail!” Turns out he found this sign to be funny. “So if the building’s on fire,” he said, “they want us to run down 94 flights of stairs? Really? We need to submit this to failblog!”


My last trip with my sons was to Washington, DC. Read the story and check out the photos.


2 responses to “Chicago from the heights”

  1. Lone Primate Avatar
    Lone Primate

    Those are some breathtaking shots, Jim. Love that kind of thing. :) I was in Chicago about 20 years ago with relatives when I was visiting for the US Thanksgiving. Downtown Chicago reminded me a lot of downtown Toronto, except the mailboxes were blue; I really felt at home there. One thing I’ve always particularly envied Chicago is its waterfront. It just looks fantastic in any shot I’ve ever seen of it from any angle. Ours just flat-out sucks. No one can ever get their act together on it and by now they probably never will.

    1. Jim Avatar

      Thanks! I’ve been to Toronto twice, and both times I really liked how bright and clean the city seemed, at least the parts I got to see. I had a great time on Yonge St. the first time I was there. Chicago always seems gritty to me — not a bad thing, just different.

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