Five Fun Things to Do Near McCormick Place

McCormick Place can often feel like a very nicely-appointed island in the South Loop. Its relative distance from downtown’s hot spots can leave both visitors and locals attending a conference or trade show at a loss. If you’ve got a few hours to spare during your conference, what are some fun things to do near McCormick Place? How does one pass the time before your coach bus back to your downtown hotel arrives? Good question – glad you asked, in fact, because we’ve been working on a list of five fun things to do near McCormick Place.

#1. The Century of Contrasts South Loop Walking Tour

century of contrasts south loop walking tour
The Century of Contrasts South Loop Walking Tour shares interesting spots near McCormick Place, like the leafy and historic Prairie Avenue District. Photo by Marie Rowley.

Our new architecture walking tour shows you many of the fascinating things to do near McCormick Place. The Century of Contrast South Loop Walking Tour, which we’re offering to the public on August 24th, starts at McCormick Place’s Marriott Marquis. You don’t even have to leave the convention center campus to join us! From there, the tour explores nearby sites of interest like Motor Row and Prairie Avenue, Chicago’s first neighborhood of mansions. This South Loop tour goes from brand-new gleaming skyscrapers to the very oldest building in the city. Those stark contrasts, and all the changes in between, show a huge swath of Chicago history and architecture. Tour guests also step inside the opulent Glessner House, which is always worth a visit when you’re in the South Loop. This walking tour is perfect for convention groups looking for a private group outing to explore Chicago history near McCormick Place.

#2. Visit the Second Presbyterian Church of Chicago

things to do near mccormick place 2nd presbyterian church
The stunning Arts and Crafts interior of the 2nd Presbyterian Church is a must for any ‘to-do’ list near McCormick Place. Photo by Teemu008 via flickr.

Another interesting thing to do near McCormick Place is a visit to the grand Second Presbyterian Church of Chicago. Built with donations from the merchant princes who lived on Prairie Avenue in the Gilded Age, this was once the most fashionable church in Chicago. A fire gutted the original Gothic Revival design in 1900, so the church interior was remodeled in an Arts and Crafts style by congregant Howard Van Doren Shaw. Working with local artist Frederick Clay Bartlett, whom we discuss on the 1893 World’s Fair Tour, he created a masterpiece. The simple, hand-crafted decoration and glorious Tiffany windows are unlike any other house of worship in Chicago. The church’s visiting hours are from 1-3pm on Wednesdays, 5-7pm on Thursdays (part of the neighboring Farmers Market), 11am-3pm on Saturdays, and immediately after worship at 12:15 on Sundays.

#3. Shop at the South Loop Farmers Market

south loop farmers market fun things to do near McCormick Place
The bustling South Loop Farmers Market can be a welcome escape from McCormick Place. Photo by Kendall Karmanian, courtesy of the South Loop Farmers Market.

You sure don’t have to go far to get from #2 to #3. The South Loop Farmers Market is held in the parking lot of the Second Presbyterian Church. How convenient! The market is “an independent market which aims to improve the availability of a diverse range of high quality foods.” You’ll find food fresh from the fields of regional growers, alongside prepared dishes from select local restaurants. The market often features live music and tours of the Second Presbyterian Church. It’s a perfect South Loop neighborhood evening. The farmers market runs from 4-8pm every Thursday through September 26th this year. Timing may be tricky for conference-goers, but it’s definitely one of the great things to do near McCormick Place.

#4. Walk to the Chinese American Museum of Chicago in Chinatown

forgotten Chinatown Chicago contemporary Chinatown night
Visiting Chinatown is one of our favorite things to do near McCormick Place. Image via Wikimedia.

Chicago’s bustling Chinatown is less than a mile from McCormick Place. You can easily hail a cab over there, but we suggest walking over on Cermak. You’ll get to peek at Michigan Avenue’s Motor Row and ogle Bertrand Goldberg’s, er, unique Hilliard Towers along the way. Chinatown’s main gate at Cermak and Wentworth marks the entrance to the “old Chinatown,” which has thrived here for nearly a century. The Chinese American Museum is just a few blocks past the gate. It tells the story of Chinese emigrants and residents in the Midwest from their origins in the 1800s down to the present day. Learning about one of Chicago’s diverse neighborhood’s is a great thing to do near McCormick place. You will also be quite close to some delicious food.

#5. Dine at The Spoke & Bird and Relax in the Chicago Women’s Park and Gardens

chicago women's park and garden jane addam helping hands
The “Helping Hands” sculpture is one of the most memorable parts of the Women’s Park and Garden. Photo by Marie Rowley.

Our Century of Contrast South Loop Walking Tour ends just next to one of the area’s best spots to relax and reflect. The Spoke & Bird offers delicious and locally sourced breakfasts, salads and sandwiches. You can enjoy them with coffee-based drinks or a glass of wine or beer. After your meal on the patio you can proceed directly to the Chicago Women’s Park and Gardens. Surrounding the Clarke House, which is the oldest house in the city, the park offers an oasis of green space. You can relax in their landscaped grounds or contemplate “Helping Hands,” a memorial to Nobel Peace Prize-winner and Badass Chicago Woman Jane Addams. It’s a great place to unwind amidst the myriad things to do near McCormick Place.

A Growing Amount of Things to Do Near McCormick Place

We’re just scratching the surface with this piece. The whole South Loop neighborhood near McCormick Place is going through big changes these days. The opening of Wintrust Arena and ongoing revitalization of Motor Row have led to the powers that be trying to whip up a “McCormick Square” entertainment district. Seems safe to say that it’s no longer an archipelago of conference halls.

– Alex Bean, Content Manager and Tour Guide

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Ellen

Private Tour Coordinator and Tour Guide

There is no shortage of things to discover in Chicago—I love being an urban explorer and uncovering its hidden places. I have an MA in Public History from Loyola University Chicago, and I have worked as a museum educator and kindergarten teacher. My desire to learn new things fuels my passion for educating others, which I get to experience every day as a Chicago tour guide. I live in the northern neighborhood of Rogers Park.

“Our guide Ellen was exceptional and gifted with a great personal touch.”
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Jen

Tour Guide

Whether you are a first-time visitor or a lifelong resident, the vibrant history and modern majesty of Chicago never ceases to amaze. I’m a graduate of Columbia College with an M.A. in Interdisciplinary Art. I’ve worked for many years as an educator at City Colleges of Chicago. As tour guide at Chicago Detours, I integrate my enthusiasm for culture and architecture with my passion as an educator. West Town/Noble Square area is home for me.

“Jen was a perfect storyteller and kept us spellbound for hours.”
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Elyse

Tour Guide

With our Chicago neighborhoods, vibrant cultural institutions and nearly two centuries of larger-than-life stories, there’s never a dull moment here! I’m a fifth generation Chicagoan and a graduate of Washington University in St. Louis. In addition to guiding tours, I’m a creative writer and amateur genealogist. I also enjoy the city’s dynamic theater scene. You can also read overlooked stories from 19th-century newspapers on my “Second Glance History” blog. I live in River North.

Anthony

Tour Guide

Chicago is unique as it always evolves into the future while holding on to the past. I’m fascinated by how people latch on to old architecture but happily pave over others. My background is in theater and performance and I’ve been a tour guide here for more than 10 years. Currently I’m finishing my Master’s in Public History at Loyola University because I love to teach the history of this scrappy city. I’m in the Edgewater neighborhood.

Marie

Operations Coordinator and Tour Guide

Chicago’s history is so fascinating, you could spend a lifetime uncovering its secrets…I’m willing to give it a try! I have an M.A. in US History from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas and then pursued doctoral studies in Urban History at the University of Illinois at Chicago. I love to learn new aspects of Chicago’s rich history and then share my knowledge as a tour guide with Chicago Detours. I live in Ravenswood.

“Marie was a bubbling fountain of information and contagious enthusiasm.”
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Sonny

Operations Coordinator and Tour Guide

As a fourth generation Chicagoan, I have been living and loving Chicago by bike, on foot, public transit or automobile. I am a graduate of UIC where through the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs, began my eagerness to understand the nature, history and impacts of urban planning and development. It is incredibly rewarding to give back to this wonderful city by helping out in the office of Chicago Detours. I live in the incredibly diverse neighborhood of Albany Park.
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Alex

Content Manager and Tour Guide

Chicago has so many neighborhoods, buildings, and by-ways that it’s hard to go long without seeing something new, or something familiar from a new angle. I studied Cinema History for my M.A. from the University of Chicago. I’ve worked as a culture writer for various publications and as an educator of the humanities at the City Colleges of Chicago. I’m thrilled to share my love of this city’s busy past and unique architectural spaces with Chicago Detours. I live in the Chicago neighborhood of Lincoln Park.

“Alex was fascinating to listen to. He clearly knows his history and it shows.”
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Amanda Scotese

Executive Director and Tour Guide

I’m an interpreter of personal stories from the past and the city’s landscape. I love to imagine what originally happened inside old unmarked buildings, and what forces have shaped their design. I studied Chicago history, architectural history, and anything Chicago-related through my M.A. in the Humanities at the University of Chicago. My love for stories was enriched by my B.A. in Literature from the University of Michigan. I’ve written travel articles for publications like Rick Steves’ Italy best-selling travel guides, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, and The Chicago Food Encyclopedia. I live in the Chicago neighborhood of West Avondale.
“You can TELL Amanda is hyper-passionate about doing the research and getting the story that nobody’s heard before.”
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