The Hancock may not be quite as famous as the Willis (nee Sears) Tower, but it’s more central to the Loop and River North than its taller brethren. A high-speed elevator carries passengers to the observatory in 39 seconds, and on a clear day, you can see portions of the three states surrounding this corner of Illinois (Michigan, Indiana, and Wisconsin), for a radius of 40 to 50 miles. The view up the North Side is particularly dramatic, stretching from nearby Oak Street and North Avenue beaches, along the green strip of Lincoln Park, to the suburbs that trace the shoreline beyond. During your visit, you’re given a handheld PDA that delivers a “Sky Tour,” using audio and video to highlight features of interest across the skyline (kids get their own version). The Skywalk open-air viewing deck, surrounded on all sides by a safety screen, allows visitors to feel the rush of the wind at 1,000 feet. In spring of 2014, the Hancock launched its latest feature, Tilt, a glass and steel enclosed platform that actually tilts forward, while holding eight people, to give better views of the surrounding city. It’s enough to get your heart rate going, that’s for sure, and does so without feeling gimmicky or taking away from the experience (like, say, a roller coaster would). There’s also a cafe with an adjoining kids’ play area if you want to linger over a cappuccino and snack. Allow 1 hour.
Tip: “Big John,” as some locals call the building, also has a restaurant, the Signature Room at the 95th, and a bar, the Signature Lounge, on the 95th floor, which is one floor above the observation deck. To get there, you don’t have to pay for the elevator ride up. You simply pay for a soda or beverage to sip while taking in the view in a more relaxed fashion.