Live the island life without leaving the Windy City.
Summer has finally kicked into high gear, which, for most of us, means every available weekend is spent at the beach. And while Lake Michigan is no substitute for the ocean, you can enhance your beach time with these island-influenced activities.
For an authentic Hawaiian lunch, Aloha Eats (2534 N Clark St, 773-935-6828) in Lincoln Park should be your first stop. Many former residents of Hawaii, including Carol Wallack, the chef at Hawaiian-influenced restaurant sola (3868 N Lincoln Ave, 773-327-3868), swear this is the place for fast—yet healthy— Hawaiian food. Instead of cliché offerings like pineapple and poi, Aloha Eats features a rice-packed menu that includes curry-chicken katsu (panko-breaded, boneless chicken with curry gravy) and the kalua pork (pulled pork that’s tossed with stewed cabbage). Order carry-out and bring the meal to the beach to create your own impromptu luau—hula dancing is optional.
If it’s a different kind of island cuisine you’re craving, mon, look no further than Ja’ Grill (1008 W Armitage Ave, 773-929-5375). The Jamaican joint (think jerk chicken and fried plantains) may be nestled among Lincoln Park’s quiet boutiques, but step inside and the Carribean rhythm is gonna get you. Head upstairs for the bar/restaurant area, and dance off your meal downstairs to live reggae music.
We’re sure no one will confuse Sound Bar (226 W Ontario St, 312-787-4480) with an island getaway, but its “Tropical Wednesdays” bring a little heat to downtown nightlife. The weekly party in the club’s main room focuses on salsa, merengue, bachata and reggaeton (as well as hip-hop and other club music) spun by DJs. Elsewhere in clubland that night, Sushisamba Rio (504 N Wells St, 312-595-2300) hosts Cafe Com Leite, featuring Brazilian beats each week at 9pm.
If you’re looking for more of a kitschy Polynesian bar experience, Trader Vic’s (1030 N State St, 312-642-6500) is a must. The revamped tiki bar (original home to the mai tai, mind you) is all about cheesy Hawaiian shirts, steel-drum music and delicious cocktails such as the strong gin-and-passion-fruit tipple. Or head to North Riverside for the popular and divey Chef Shangri-La (7930 W 26th St, 708-442-7080). This part tiki bar, part Cantonese restaurant, part your grandparent’s basement brims with island paraphernalia—like tiki bar booths, blowfish hanging from the ceiling and a blue fountain.
Flowers are a huge deal in the tropics, and they’re also a big draw at the Lincoln Park Conservatory (2391 N Stockton Dr). This season’s free exhibit at the North Side botanical destination is the Summer Tropical Show, featuring a lush backdrop of assorted plants, that thrive in warm and humid weather. Not to be outdone, the Garfield Park Conservatory (300 N Central Park Ave, 312-746-5100) offers a similar free exhibit through the end of September.
Of course, the number one pastime in Hawaii-—after luaus, we’re guessing—would have to be surfing. And since the Park District recently lifted the surfing ban at Montrose and 57th Street beaches, it’ll likely soon become a popular activity in Chicago, as well. Stock up for gear (such as Quicksilver board shorts, Roxy bikinis, surfboards and wet suits) at Windward Sports (3317 N Clark St, 773-472-6868), the city’s only surf shop. (Mall mainstay Pacific Sunwear doesn’t count.) The store also offers private windsurfing lessons ($75/hour), which will give your beach experience even more island cred.