Usually, early September is a busy time for any Boothie. During a non-COVID-19 year, the first year students are all over the world meeting classmates during their Random Walk trips and second year students are either leading those trips (my partner and I were supposed to lead the Portugal Couples trip, RIP) or traveling with other classmates. While the pandemic has really put a damper on some of the big, pre-term trips that normally occur, one silver lining is that Boothies have really been able to take better advantage of Chicago and some of the drivable destinations nearby. Even as someone who grew up just 30 minutes away from the city, I’ve expanded my knowledge of what’s available within city limits (even while adhering to social distancing guidelines). Here are some of my top recommendations:
Kayaking on the Chicago River
Over the last couple of years, kayaking on the Chicago River has become very popular. The river itself is pretty calm and they also allow you to kayak within the breakwater on Lake Michigan. There are several companies on the river and lakefront to rent Kayaks for a relatively cheap and easy day on the river. You can even splash your friends to remind them to stay six feet away!
Architectural Boat Tour
Probably one of the most famous things to do in Chicago – the Wendella Architecture Tour has been around since 1935. During Covid, they have the outdoor spaces opened with distancing for a safe way to spend a day on the water. Just sit back and learn about the buildings that make of the iconic skyline of Chicago.
For those that don’t know the geography of Chicago, the east side of the city sits on Lake Michigan (which since you can’t see the other side, makes it look a little more like an ocean when you see it) and there is a river that cuts east to west across the center of the city about three blocks from where the majority of Boothie’s live. The city recently renovated the pedway along the river (named the “Riverwalk”) that you can take all the way to the lake if you want to. Lining the Riverwalk are restaurants and bars, mostly outdoors, for socially distant dining.
Biking on the LakefrontTrail
Chicago is home to an 18-mile bike path that runs along its beaches and, because of zoning laws, there are no buildings to the east of it (minus one that somehow snuck in near Navy Pier). This path, for both bikes and pedestrians, runs all the way to Evanston where you can jump on Sheridan Road and make it all the way to the beautiful Bahá’í Temple in Wilmette if you want to.
Greek Town Restaurants
Greek Town has some incredible restaurants on Halsted and each one has a massive outdoor patio. One of them even has a retractable roof. Between the food, atmosphere (and free valet parking), Greek Town is an easy neighborhood to explore. In addition to Greek Town, Chicago has many different fantastic neighborhoods: Pilsen, China Town, Wicker Park, Lincoln Square (and obviously Hyde Park) are a few more that have their own “downtown” strips.
One staple of the Midwest is to go to an apple orchard for apple picking, fresh apple cider and warm apple cider donuts. While you’ll need to rent a car, this is a great outdoor activity to do with a small group while remaining conscious of social distancing.
Rent a House In Michigan (or Wisconsin)
There are some truly beautiful spots in Michigan and Wisconsin to rent a house on Lake Michigan or another lake for a few days. Places like New Buffalo, MI (about an hour outside of Chicago) are known for some great wine tasting venues and Door County, WI is known for its cherries and chocolate fudge. This has been a relatively cheap and easy way for small groups of Boothies to have fun in their quarantine bubbles this summer. During non-pandemic times, many of the Big 10 school campuses are also close drives and fun towns to explore. While I am strongly biased toward Ann Arbor, MI and Madison, WI (I went to University of Michigan and my wife went to University of Wisconsin undergrad), I suppose the other campuses could be fun to visit as well.