Markus Hall basks in the sun near North Avenue Beach last month. (Chuck Berman/Chicago Tribune )
Summer's here! OK, sure, it's not official till June 20, but forget what the calendar says. Open the windows. Go outside. Summer is definitely here.
With all of those saved-up vacation days begging to be used, now's the perfect time to start making plans for the three-month stretch of warm weather. Tropical climes are beckoning. California, Florida, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, the Bahamas—you can already see yourself sprawled underneath an oversized parasol, sucking down your umpteenth pina colada while your eyes search desperately for the server so he can bring you another.
Flying south for the summer like some misdirected bird is a Chicago ritual, but it doesn't have to be. Chicago's a big town—some might say it's too big—and no matter how long you've lived here, there's always room to see more.
It's usually our routines that keep us from exploring the city we love. When most Chicagoans claim to know the city "like the back of my hand," they usually mean the four or five neighborhoods they've actually stopped in. I mean, I've been to Bridgeport, but I haven't actually been to Bridgeport. (It's definitely on my list of places to explore this summer.)
I haven't eaten "The Elvis" at Hot Doug's in Avondale or the smoked trout at Calumet Fisheries near the Indiana state line. I visit the Puerto Rican Pride Festival in Humboldt Park every June, but I've never been to the parade downtown. There's the Air & Water Show in August that I've never seen, nor have I strolled the grounds of Morton Arboretum. I've been to Lolla but never Blues Fest. Already in 2012, I've cheered for the home team at two Bulls games (once in the playoffs), a Cubs game and a Sox game, but I've never been to Toyota Park to root for the Fire.
So, how does a lifelong Chicagoan who hasn't seen much of Chicago go about correcting that?
The fastest and easiest way to stay in the know on things to do and places to see in the city is by taking to the Internet—that is why Al Gore invented it in the first place. Sites such as explorechicago.org and metromix.com should be added to your "Summer Fun" bookmark list, if they aren't already.
Twitter and Facebook are also essential in carrying out a successful summertime assault on the city. You gotta spread those social media tentacles far and wide. (I try to follow every major publication or organization in the city and have them listed under my "Chicago news" feed.)
The most important part of making the most of Chicago this summer is to actually get started. Three months of urban excitement and adventure is usually the result of a snowball effect—you gotta get out there to stay out there.
I don't know why I've left so many things in Chicago undone, so many places unvisited, so many experiences un-experienced. I guess I've taken the city for granted, assuming it and all its wonders will always be there whenever I decide to take them in.
But not this time.
Summer's here, and Staycation 2012 has officially begun. Who's with me?
HECTOR LUIS ALAMO JR. IS A REDEYE SPECIAL CONTRIBUTOR.