Hidden Gems in Chicago: Uncover Local Treasures

Chicago, the financial hub of Illinois and the city of world-class architecture, draws in about 50 million visitors every year.

Chicago dazzles, but some of its best spots stay under the radar. Locals guard some spaces from becoming crowded, but they deserve to be seen and enjoyed. 

Here is our insider guide to 10 hidden gems in Chicago that you never knew you were missing.

Key Takeaways

Hidden Gems in Chicago

  1. Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool
  2. Sulzer Regional Library’s Locked Puzzle Room
  3. Margie’s Candies
  4. Thorne Miniature Rooms
  5. Promontory Point
  6. Money Museum at the Federal Reserve
  7. Calumet Fisheries
  8. The Violet Hour
  9. Comfort Station
  10. Chicago Magic Lounge

1. Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool

Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool

The Alfred Caldwell Lily Poll was built by the famous landscape architect Alfred Caldwell in 1936.  Hidden away inside Lincoln Park, this spot is not really known or flooded with tourists. As the name suggests, this place features lovely lilies along with woodland plants, artful stonework, etc. 

Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It also has an active friend group fighting to preserve and improve it.

Whether you are a tourist or a native, this place is the perfect escape from the noise of the city. 

woodchucks

Keep an eye out for the fauna in the area, like woodchucks coming out of their dens. The best times to visit this spot are either early mornings or sunsets for a peaceful atmosphere.

Photographers can be seen here during that time to capture dawn and dusk. 

The Lily Pool was in decay for decades before advocacy and restoration efforts started in the early 2000s.

The place once drew some controversy in the 1990s over disagreements about funding, but the preservationists finally succeeded in saving and restoring this beautiful spot. 

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2. Sulzer Regional Library’s Locked Puzzle Room

Sulzer Regional Library’s Locked Puzzle Room

Love mysteries? On the second floor of the Sulzer Regional Library, you’ll find a hidden back room secured with a sturdy lock. When you get inside, the room is full of drawers with mechanical puzzles and brain teasers to solve.

While not popular, a few visitors to the library realized that such a quirky and engaging feature even exists. 

This Locked Puzzle Room is run by a passionate volunteer group called the “Friends of the Puzzle Room.” People from all over Chicago come here to test their puzzle skills.

The more experienced puzzlers recommend trying rated medium to hard for an in-depth experience. They have puzzles suitable for all ages, from preschoolers to adults.

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3. Margie’s Candies

Margie's Candies

Got a sweet tooth? You will find paradise here at Margie’s Candies. They have been making sweet treats since 1921.  They are home to famous ice cream concoctions in charming retro settings.

The most famous creation? Banana Royal! Satisfies your sweet tooth and makes the brain freeze worth it!  They have all kinds of specials, from sundaes to shakes to chocolate-dipped strawberries. 

While relatively not that famous, the place is often busy even with locals. The service is speedy, but you might have to wait during busy nights.

The interior decor in Margie’s Candies is inspired by the 1950s soda fountain days. 

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4. Thorne Miniature Rooms

Thorne Miniature Rooms

The Thorne Miniature Rooms is situated inside the Art Institute of Chicago’s arms and armor section. You will find 68 miniature interiors here, from historic styles such as Gothic churches to modern diners. 

Each fully furnished room took roughly 7-8 months to construct. The place is built by the artist Narcissa Niblack Thorne and craftspeople between 1932 and 1940. 

The exhibits feature tiny chairs, paintings, illuminated manuscripts, and ore in 1:12 scale. Over 1700 individual artifacts fill such a small space. 

The items here are crafted from precious materials like silver, gold, gems, and ivory. The place has other functioning elements such as lights, opening doors, and pull-out beds. It also has a glass floor that allows peeking down into multi-floor room boxes. 

5. Promontory Point

Promontory Point

You might already know about Chicago’s Hyde Park. Well, Promontory Point has a lakefront outlook in that neighborhood. This point overlooks Lake Michigan and the downtown skyline.

The stone stairs here lead from the grass into the water. The place has stunning sunset views and cooling lake breezes in warm months

Promontory Point is a part of Burham Park and is close to the Museum of Science and Industry. This place also hosts free yoga classes and other community events during the summer. 

The architecture of the place is also pretty cool, with the limestone retaining walls and colonnades. In the 20th century, this place was popular with beach getaways, which is evident from the vintage postcards. But now a much less known place. 

6. Money Museum at the Federal Reserve

Money Museum at the Federal Reserve

Money Museum is a free museum inside Chicago’s Federal Reserve Building. This museum exhibits the story of American currency from colonial times to the present.

They have interactive exhibits that teach currency designs, counterfeit detection, and inflation’s impact. 

You will also find rare coins and paper currency valued at millions on display.  They also feature a million dollar bill and a 14-foot cube representing a stack of one million $1 bills. 

There are also quirky displays here, such as a counterfeiter’s toolkit confiscated by the Secret Service. 

There are videos that show the US minting and printing processes. You’ll also find temporary exhibits related to money’s influence throughout history. This place is available for self-guided tours whenever the Fed is open. 

7. Calumet Fisheries

Calumet Fisheries

Calumet Fisheries is a seafood shack established in 1948.  This is the last commercial fishery in Chicago and is located on the banks of the Calumet River. 

This shack is one of the city’s most authentic eateries. This is a cash-only counter joint with a couple of picnic tables outside. 

People come here for heaping sandwiches and baskets of salmon, shrimp, catfish, and more. The seafood goes through a smoking process that makes it ultra crisp and tet moist to perfection. 

Also, sample smoked chubs, a type of freshwater fish, a midwestern delicacy. It still has its vintage warehouse aesthetics and Salt Life brand of charm.

This place was a shooting location for “The Blues Brothers” and “Only the Lonely”. 

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8. The Violet Hour

The Violet Hour

Got some patience and a password? You need them to enter this hard-to-find craft cocktail sanctuary, The Violet Hour. This intimate space has the 1920s vintage speakeasy ambiance. Only 100 people fit in its candlelit space with hand-carved wood, mirrored walls, and velvet banquettes. 

The bar program prioritizes balanced flavor profiles and precise techniques. The drink menu changes each season. Some popular drinks include the Corpse Flower with Tequila, green chartreuse, lime, and rose water. 

Reservations are not available, so arrive early and prepare to wait outside. They also have vintage bottles hidden in their reserve collection. 

9. Comfort Station

Comfort Station

The Comfort Station in Logan Square was once a place of restrooms for trolley drivers. Today,  this building is transformed into a community arts space and bar.

The Comfort Station hosts a lineup of concerts, comedies, markets, classes, and more.  The quirky bathrooms still remain intact, but now it is extra clean and decorated. 

The Comfort Station runs on donations and is powered by volunteers and creatives. There is an adjoining bar car where you can grab a drink and look at the event listings.

The outside of the building is colorfully painted and, hence, very noticeable on the block. 

The perfect place to plug into Chicago’s indie art and performance scene. All ages are welcome here for a friendly, offbeat hangout. 

10. Chicago Magic Lounge

Chicago Magic Lounge

We all need some magic, no matter what part of the world we are in. Chicago gives some evident magic through the Chicago Magic Lounge.

This place has a hidden entrance set back from the street, marked only by vintage marquees and posters. 

You’ll have to travel through soundproof doors and a secret hallway to enter the performance space. It is an intimate space to experience magic and its classic techniques up close.

They host sleight of hand, mentalism, card tricks, and more from local and visiting illusionists.

They also provide tableside magic during cocktails and dinner before the stage show. This 65-seat theater has a 20th-century parlor vibe. After the show, guests can see the Magic Bar Museum’s collection of artifacts. 

Conclusion

I hope this guide helped you ditch the tourist trap and explore some of the lesser-known spots in Chicago. Art, nature, food, and history are best enjoyed in the offbeat spots.

The list doesn’t end here, and the windy city of Chicago is much more than just a popular tourist spot. These 10 hidden gems in Chicago actually show the more authentic side of the city. 

So, escape the crowds and explore!

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