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The best attractions in the South Loop

Escape the sea of skyscrapers and explore attractions in the South Loop, including beautiful parks and prestigious museums

Photograph: Nick Ulivieri
“Destination Solar System” takes visitors to the Adler Planetarium on a journey through space.

The South Loop may not contain the iconic skyscrapers that loom over the northern half of downtown Chicago, but the area is something of an entertainment mecca, boasting some of the best Chicago museums, top jazz clubs, the gigantic McCormick Place convention center and beautiful parks. It's also the home of Solider Field, where Chicago Bears fans gather to tailgate and cheer on the team from the stands. Head downtown and explore some of the best attractions in the South Loop.

RECOMMENDED: Our complete guide to the South Loop

Attractions in the South Loop

Adler Planetarium

Though it’s staffed by world-class researchers at the forefront of their field, the museum’s real draw will always be the virtual-reality trips through time and space in the Sky Theater, which features the "highest resolution and quality possible." Themes usually center around the known and unknown universe and how humans have engaged with it throughout history. The recently rennovated "Mission Moon" exhibit allows visitors to see the Gemini 12 capsule and learn more about the early days of the space race.

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Museum Campus

Buddy Guy's Legends

If you want to see Guy perform at his own club, stop by in January when he takes over the schedules. If you show up the other 11 months of the year, you may well see him sitting at the bar, overseeing the whole operation: he’s more than just a name on the sign outside. There are acoustic blues sets on Fridays and Saturdays at 6pm. And if you like Louisiana cuisine, the kitchen has just what you need. The club had been due to relocate ever since the land was granted to Columbia College in 1999. More than a decade later, the move finally happened, with Buddy moving his joint into the former, bi-level digs of the HotHouse.

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Loop

Chicago Women's Park and Gardens

Located in the South Loop, Chicago Women’s Park and Gardens honors the contributions that women have made to the city throughout its history. The space also holds the Clarke House Museum, which was built in 1836 for Henry B. Clarke.

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Near South Side
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Clarke House

Before the likes of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe or even Louis Sullivan started putting Chicago on the architectural map, this 1836 Greek Revival–style home, graced with a four-column portico, symbolized the first national architectural style. It also lays claim to being the city’s oldest house.

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Near South Side

The Field Museum

Recommended

Founded to house the biological and anthropological collections assembled for the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, this massive natural history museum still packs ’em in with more than 30 permanent exhibitions covering 300,000 square feet. Inside the permanent displays, you can see glowering dinos, marvel at ancient artifacts from a royal Egyptian tomb, undergo a lesson in cannibalism in the “Pacific Spirits” gallery or take a stroll through the newly rehabbed Halls of Gems and Jade.

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Museum Campus

Glessner House Museum

Anchoring the Prairie Avenue Historic District, this enduring structure is the only Henry Hobson Richardson home left in the city. Romanesque, fortresslike and defined by medieval architecture typified by rough-hewn stone and arched entryways, it had a notable influence on the early careers of Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis Sullivan.

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Near South Side
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Grant Park Skate Plaza

This three-acre skate park in the South Loop features a selection of rails, ramps and benches that are perfect for practicing tricks or observing the action. The plaza offers a place for skateboarders, bikers and inline skaters to congregate without drawing the ire of law enforcement and building managers.

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Grant Park

McCormick Place

Hosting popular events like the Chicago Auto Show, C2E2 and the Chicago Marathon Health & Fitness Expo, McCormick Place is one of the city's premiere leading convention centers. More than 3 million visitors step into the lakeside facility each year, which includes an on-site hotel, six ballrooms and the 4,000-seat Arie Crown Theater.

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Museum Campus

Ping Tom Memorial Park

Originally a railroad yard, Ping Tom Memorial Park is named for the Chinatown resident who was the leading force behind the creation of this community space. Thanks to its location directly next to the Chicago River, the park is a popular spot for kayaking. The most recent addition to the park is a state of the art fieldhouse, which houses a gymnasium, fitness center and an indoor pool.

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Armour Square
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Shedd Aquarium

Anchoring the aquatic offerings at this 75-year-old institution are enduring favorites such as piranhas, frogs and snakes of the Amazon; rays, turtles and moray eel of the Caribbean; frightening predator sharks and, the most storied of them all, a 100-plus-year-old Australian lungfish believed to be the longest-living fish in any aquarium in the world.

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Museum Campus

Soldier Field

Home to the Chicago Bears, the city’s football stadium is where groups like the Rolling Stones and U2 play when the weather’s warm and they’d rather not be cooped up in the United Center. The arena also hosts the Spring Awakening Music Festival, featuring lords of the dance music like Skrillex and Afrojack.

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Museum Campus

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