Looking for a weekend getaway? Thinking about how to make travel more sustainable, in general? Here are a few tips to explore Chicago, Illinois in a more sustainable way.
There’s a “usual suspects” list of must-see Chicago attractions that get thrown around quite a bit. Whether it’s the Bean, Wrigley Field, Navy Pier, or any number of obligatory things to do while you’re in the Windy City. Your mileage might vary on these endeavors, but Chicago is also becoming a destination for travelers who want to “live like a local.” The stellar food, nightlife, and music scenes are becoming major draws of Chicago. One thing that doesn’t get talked about enough is Chicago as an eco-friendly travel destination.
While it may resemble a concrete jungle as much as any urban metropolis, Chicago has made significant strides in recent years toward becoming an eco-friendly city. City officials have been prioritizing sustainability and environmental initiatives for decades, and you’ll find that an eco-friendly trip to Chicago is very doable.
The biggest thing that Chicago has going for it is its extensive public transportation network. The famous “L” train system serves most parts of the city, and bus routes cover almost the entire city. If the weather is great (big if), Chicago is also very bike-friendly. Chicago’s restaurant scene has fully embraced vegan food and sustainability efforts, so it’s easy to find a plant-based meal in just about every neighborhood. There are also plenty of environmentally-conscious activities and attractions to visit during your trip.
One of the best ways to reduce carbon emissions is to get around on foot or on a bike. If you’ll be propelling yourself around the city, you won’t want to have to lug your bags around all day. Luckily, it’s easy to find convenient luggage storage in Chicago, where you can drop the bags off while you explore the best of the Windy City’s eco-friendly offerings.
Best ways to get around Chicago
While Chicago is a fairly drivable city compared to New York or Los Angeles, there are plenty of sustainable ways to navigate the city. Here are a few:
Chicago has one of the most extensive public transportation systems in the country. Operated by the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), there are train lines and bus routes that cover almost the entire city’s geographical footprint.
Most of the popular tourist and business districts are directly served by the “L” train system, which is all routed through “the loop” downtown. CTA bus routes cover the rest of the city and are a very affordable way to get around.
Chicago is (almost to a fault) very flat, making it an easy city to navigate on two wheels. In recent years, Chicago has developed a robust cycling infrastructure of designated bike lanes and trails throughout the city.
Divvy, Chicago’s bike-sharing program, is an extremely popular method of transport. During the summer, you can’t miss the thousands of blue bikes being pedaled all over town. This is a great way to get around quickly and conveniently while limiting emissions.
Chicago’s neighborhoods are pedestrian-friendly and easy to navigate, and it’s generally the quickest way to get around buzzy tourist hotspots and popular nightlife destinations. Depending on your itinerary, you should be able to take the train or a bus to most places and cover the rest of your trip on foot.
Electric scooters have become VERY popular in Chicago as an eco-friendly mode of transportation. Lime is the most popular service where you can rent an e-scooter to get to and from popular brunch spots and explore neighborhoods.
Vegan restaurants and bars
The windy city may be primarily associated with hot dogs and herculean portions of pizza, but Chicago has a solid vegan restaurant scene. Eating an entirely plant-based diet is one of the best ways to reduce your carbon footprint and minimize animal cruelty. Here are a few notable options for eating vegan while you’re in town:
The Chicago Diner
A beloved institution, The Chicago Diner has been serving up vegan versions of diner classics since 1983. From classic burgers (that you can’t tell are vegan) to hearty brunch scrambles, this menu offers familiar favorites without the guilt.
This laid-back hipster hangout in Wicker Park offers an extensive menu of vegan comfort food. Their seitan wings and vegan mac ‘n’ cheese are both famous among locals, and this cozy spot is an awesome place to have a few drinks as well. During the summer, their back patio is one of the hottest tables in town.
Demera Ethiopian Restaurant
While not exclusively vegan, Uptown’s Demera offers a wide range of vegan-friendly options that showcase the incredible flavors of Ethiopian cuisine. This authentic neighborhood spot features lentil stews, vegetable curries, and injera (fermented flatbread), all of which fit into a plant-based diet.
Located in the incredibly lively West Loop neighborhood, Bad Hunter has a vegetable-based menu of inventive modern dishes. The menu isn’t entirely vegan, but there are plenty of options, and they’re known for delicious craft cocktails and natural wine.
Sustainable activities in Chicago
With a stunning lakefront and plenty of parks, there are plenty of ec-friendly things to do during your trip to Chicago. You just have to know where to look!
Explore the city by bike
Chicago’s incredible lakefront trail offers amazing views of the skyline along with beautiful Lake Michigan. If you want to see the whole lakefront, you can pedal your way up and down in less than an hour. There is also the 606 trail that runs through uber-trendy neighborhoods like Wicker Park and Logan Square.
Garfield Park Conservatory
Located on the city’s West Side, the Garfield Park Conservatory is one of the most underrated attractions in the city. The Conservatory’s greenhouses are filled to the brim with lush greenery and exotic plants from around the world. There are various themed gardens and a serene atmosphere to enjoy. During the winter, the humid greenhouses will bring you back to life!
Take a kayak tour instead of a boat tour
The Chicago Architecture Tour is one of the obligatory tourist attractions that come highly recommended. While it’s a solid activity, a greener option would be renting a kayak and exploring the Chicago River without a carbon footprint.
Support local farmers’ markets
Many of Chicago’s neighborhoods host a farmers’ market on weekends. If you want to stock up on local goods and buy supplies for a picnic, head to popular pop-ups like the Green City Market or Logan Square Farmers Market. Even if you don’t buy anything, the people-watching is too good to pass up.
This post was written in collaboration with Bounce luggage storage.
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