New Year’s Resolution: Four Ways to Explore Chicago

I dedicate myself every year to a list of New Year’s resolutions, but they seem to dissolve by February. But this year I got smart and chose a fun resolution: to better explore Chicago architecture and history with some sightseeing in my own Chicago back yard. Previously, this yearly New Year’s resolution has been thwarted due to busy schedules and frankly, cost. So I did some research on ways to explore Chicago with my busy schedule and also do it on the cheap.

1.  CAF lunchtime Talks

One big hurdle in accomplishing this New Year’s resolution is first to create a proper list of these places to explore in Chicago. So why not get the scoop from architecture experts? The Chicago Architecture Foundation offers a Lunch Talks @ CAF series that allows you to pop in and explore topics about Chicago architecture and Chicago’s built environment and it fits in to your lunch break if you work downtown. These weekly Wednesday lectures from 12:15pm-1pm are free to the public and you can bring your lunch! Munch, learn, engage and go.

2. Free days at Chicago Museums 

Hitting up a museum might not fit in to a lunch break, but you don’t have to spend all day and it doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. Most of Chicago’s museums are free or offer free museum days to Illinois residents with proof of residency. A full list of free museums and museums with free days can be found at the Chicago Public Library website. Here is a list of a few of my favorites and their free days:

3.  Volunteer

Why not tackle two New Year’s resolutions at once? Volunteering, another popular New Year’s resolution, can get you free access to explore cool exhibits, events and spaces at your favorite Chicago building, museum or organization. In the spirit of the new year the Chicago Volunteer Expo is held annually and this year is on Feb 16th at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum in Lincoln Park.

So you get to explore a museum, sign up to volunteer, then potentially visit another museum as a volunteer!

4. Explore Chicago on your lunch break

The cheapest way to explore Chicago architecture is to be your own tour guide. Take 30 minutes at lunch and walk down streets you’ve never traversed before. You can make notes as you explore buildings that intrigue you so you can look them up later in the Encyclopedia of Chicago, an online resource for Chicago history and architecture. Or explore Chicago’s underground Pedway with our handy map.


For a short guided tour with a docent, the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust offers lunchtime tours of the Rookery building for only $5. These cheap, 30-minute tours are available on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.

Photo Credit: Kate Joyce

If you want to explore Chicago in more depth, our Loop Interior Architecture Tour lasts two hours and the ticket price includes deals to other great things to do in Chicago.

Have fun exploring Chicago!

– Jenn Harrman, Marketing Manager and Tour Guide


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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.”


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.”


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.


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.


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.”


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.
“Sonny was extremely knowledgeable about all things Chi-town.”
Wade K


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.”
Katie K

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.”
Shelby F

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