The day moves pretty fast, so channeling your inner Ferris and meticulously planning your Chicago tour is key
Never mind, it’s a Saturday. It’s a day off — specifically, “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”
As an adopted Chicagoan and longtime John Hughes devotee, I’ve always wondered whether it’s possible to do everything Ferris accomplished as he dodges school in the 1986 film. He knocks out a trip to the top of the Sears Tower, the Chicago Board of Trade, a fancy French lunch, a Cubs game, the Art Institute, the Von Steuben Day parade and the beach, then races on foot through his North Shore suburb to get home by 6 p.m. Even with the help of movie magic, it seems like a stretch.
If you’re going to think like Ferris, though, you have to believe that no challenge is insurmountable. With the help of my friends Vasilios Niphoratos and Alyssa Edes, who played Cameron and Sloane, respectively, we set out to check off Ferris’s itinerary.
Given real-life time constraints and logistics, we had to make tweaks to fit every activity. First, it’s nearly impossible to find a parade and a home game for the Cubs on a weekday, but on Saturday, Sept. 10, we found both a game and the actual parade from the movie.
I scheduled our visit to the Art Institute for the morning because it didn’t make sense to go to Wrigley Field and then back downtown. Other locations are no longer around; the floor at the Mercantile Exchange has closed, and Chez Quis is a fictional restaurant set in Chicago’s ritzy Gold Coast.
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It may seem antithetical to Ferris’s laissez-faire attitude, but the key to completing this marathon of events is meticulous planning. I used Google Maps to estimate our time of arrival at each location and drove my own car; my only regret is not renting a convertible for such a picturesque day.
Just because Ferris never looks rushed in the movie doesn’t mean this is a leisurely day. If you want to see everything on his list, you’ve got to keep up the pace. At the same time, you should remember to take a minute to appreciate what you’re experiencing. After all, as our hooky-playing hero says: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
My inner Cameron awakens. It’s about an hour before my alarm rings. I’m worried that I’m going to sleep in and mess up my carefully planned schedule. This is not a Ferris attitude at all! I try to stifle the anxious energy and go back to sleep.
I drive 20 minutes from my neighborhood, Roscoe Village, to pick up “Sloane” in North Park, then scoop up “Cameron” in Rogers Park by 8:30 a.m. We’re all in the appropriate movie attire — a sweater vest for me, a Red Wings jersey for Vasilios and white-fringe jacket for Alyssa.
We take Lake Shore Drive downtown to the parking garage in the film, at 172 West Madison Street. By the time we arrive, it’s about 9 a.m., and we walk 10 minutes to the Sears Tower, now called the Willis Tower. Our reservations for the Skydeck are at 10 a.m., but we check in at 9:30 to stay ahead of schedule.
We bypass the photo ops that litter the winding path to the Skydeck and board the elevator up to the 103rd floor. The entire stretch of the lake from the northern suburbs to Indiana glitters under a brilliant sun. We search for the spot where Ferris, Sloane and Cameron press their heads against the glass and look down at the bustling city, which looks so peaceful from above. As we’re staging the shot from the movie, we spot a small plaque on the wall to our left.
“You are standing where Ferris, Cameron, and Sloane were iconically filmed in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986).”
We skip the glass boxes on the Skydeck’s westside ledges and descend on the elevator. Our next stop is the Art Institute, but the museum doesn’t open until 11 a.m. We decide to kill some time by stopping at two other spots featured in the movie.
Even on a weekday, it’s no longer possible to reenact the trading pit scene, which was shot at the Mercantile Exchange when it was located at 30 S. Wacker, according to Sinhué Mendoza, director of communications for the Chicago Architecture Center. Both that trading floor and the original Board of Trade floor are gone, Mendoza told me in an email. The only pit that remains today is the Eurodollar area at the CME, which has taken over a small space next to the former Board of Trade floor.
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The Board of Trade was on our route to the museum, so we took a moment to appreciate the art deco gem, with its imposing statues depicting agriculture and industry. Movie buffs will also recognize the shot of the building down LaSalle Street from the Joker’s standoff scene with Batman in “The Dark Knight.”
We continue east toward the museum and turn on Dearborn Street at Federal Plaza. In the film, Ferris crashes the parade on Dearborn, while Cameron and Sloane share a heart-to-heart as they walk by Alexander Calder’s giant “Flamingo” sculpture in the plaza.
We arrive at the museum with time to spare. We head straight to Georges Seurat’s masterpiece of pointillism, “A Sunday on La Grande Jatte,” where Cameron stares into a little painted girl’s eyes and his own soul. As we ascend the steps of the atrium, we spot another man wearing a Gordie Howe jersey and a woman wearing a fringed jacket. Another Cameron-and-Sloane pair has beaten us there.
I’ve visited Seurat’s painting a few times in the past, and it’s difficult — if not impossible — to get the same alone time with the piece as Cameron. Luckily, we’ve arrived at the museum just as it opens, and there’s only one other person in the room besides the security guard. Gallery 240 houses several Impressionists’ works and another statue featured in the museum montage. But many works featured have been moved to other parts of the museum, so an exact re-creation isn’t possible.
If you’re planning on catching each piece that Hughes spotlights, you won’t be able to fit them into a jam-packed Ferris day. The director featured 40 works in that segment, notes Kelli Marshall, founder of Chicago Movie Tours. Marshall leads a 75-minute “The Art of Ferris Bueller” tour, which focuses on how the artwork relates to the characters and Hughes himself. Her favorite piece from the movie is Marc Chagall’s three-paneled, blue-stained glass work “America Windows.” Sloane and Ferris kiss in front of the middle window with a bird in flight, which symbolizes freedom, she said.
We hold hands in front of Auguste Rodin’s “Adam” in the atrium and head to the Toulouse-Lautrec painting. As Alyssa positions us for our photo, another Ferris enters the room wearing the character’s color-blocked gray jacket. Dax Durbin, 12, and his mother, Melissa Mattingly, are visiting from Portage, Ind. Mattingly gives me a nearly identical itinerary for the day but with one big variation: With a tight schedule and the absence of a real Chez Quis, they reserved a table under Abe Froman (the Sausage King of Chicago) at Chez Moi in Lincoln Park for dinner instead of lunch.
“I’ve been watching the movie forever now, and they were planning it before I was even born,” Dax told me.
It will take nearly 20 minutes to walk back to the garage. We exit the museum and hail a cab on Michigan Avenue. We pick up my car, drive over to the Gold Coast and grab a table at Fig & Olive around noon. Our hostess isn’t at all snooty and smiles as soon as she recognizes our outfits. We enjoy brunch on the patio above Oak Street overlooking chic stores such as Chanel and Van Cleef & Arpels.
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We leave the restaurant and grab our car from the valet around 1:30 p.m. No issues here because I’m driving my Mazda, which isn’t cool enough to steal. It should take about 30 minutes to get to the Von Steuben parade, but we hit some traffic on Damen Avenue. Once again, my inner Cameron bubbles up. I worry we won’t find parking, when suddenly Vasilios finds an open spot on Damen.
We park and skip over a few blocks to Lincoln Avenue. The Von Steuben parade once proceeded along Dearborn before moving to Lincoln Square, a historically German neighborhood on the North Side.
The parade is supposed to begin at 2 p.m., so we scan the street for a suitable float to crash. We spot the float for Dank Haus, the German American Cultural Center in Lincoln Square. There are a few women in dirndls gathering around the float, a little boy wearing lederhosen and another woman holding a long-haired dachshund. It’s perfect.
The three of us approach them in our very obvious costumes and ask if I can hop on their float. Not only do they agree, but they tell us they were looking for a Ferris! Everything is going our way — just like in the movie.
I jump aboard, and they cue up the Beatles’ “Twist and Shout.” It’s thrilling and a bit unnerving standing on the float (try twisting and shouting on a moving vehicle), but now I’m fully in character. I hear cries of “Save Ferris!” from parade watchers and apartment windows as we glide down Lincoln Avenue.
I catch a glimpse of Vasilios and Alyssa pointing at their wrists. We’re cutting it close on time, so I hop off at Lincoln and Eastwood. We run back to the car and drive to Wrigley.
With about an hour left in the game, we snag parking and arrive at Wrigley Field just in time catch the jumbotron outside playing the seventh-inning stretch. Our seats are way up in the 400 level; I purchased the cheapest tickets, knowing we would have little time for the game. Ferris would never accept such a shoddy view on his perfect day, so we walk to the 100 level, just behind third base. An usher waves us off from the first three seats we attempt to sit in, but then Vasilios spies another usher and asks if we can grab some open seats.
“If they’re behind me, I won’t look,” he tells us.
It’s the bottom of the eighth, and the Cubs are losing to the Giants. Still, it’s a glorious day to enjoy the friendly confines. At the start of the ninth, I convince my friends that we should get the real Wrigley experience and spend the last inning in the bleacher seats. We race over to the other side of the stadium and ask an usher to let us in, but he refuses. Just when I’m about to fold, we look up at a staircase leading to another bleacher entrance. We walk by confidently and nod to one of the ushers. Suddenly I see him stopping Vasilios. The usher is giving him a cup for his beer.
We walk out onto the sun-drenched bleachers overlooking the outfield. A bachelorette party sees us and goes wild. The bride-to-be is wearing a veil, and her group joins us to reenact one of the still shots from the movie. I almost think we’re going to catch a ball, too, when one of the Giants throws one into the crowd. Sadly, it lands several feet to the left of us. You can’t get everything you want.
Despite a Cubs loss, we couldn’t have asked for a better time. We rush out past the Harry Caray statue and hustle to our car. It’s going to take about 50 minutes to drive to Glencoe Beach, where Cameron has his freakout over the mileage on his dad’s car. My only logistical mistake is choosing the “shorter” route on the GPS that takes us west to Interstate 94 instead of east toward Lake Shore Drive. The latter route goes up Sheridan and winds through Evanston and Glencoe — it’s one of the prettiest drives in America and shouldn’t be missed.
We arrive at Glencoe Beach. While Ferris and Sloane take Cameron here to relax, we’re already at ease. The view from high above this North Shore beach is pristine. People are swimming and enjoying the last breath of summer. I could sit here for the rest of the evening, but we have one last stop.
We drive 10 minutes to Cameron’s house, cruising along gently rolling hills past palatial homes in Glencoe and Highland Park. As we’re inching down Beech Street, we come to a hill in a forested area. Suddenly we spot the glass garage perched precariously above the woods. The stark, mid-century-modern home is undoubtedly Cameron’s.
At this point, it’s not likely that Ferris would have had time to leave Cameron’s after they killed the car, drop off Sloane, then run home and jump in bed by 6 p.m. For us, though, we succeeded with our day off.
In the end, I’m not quite sure how we pulled it off. Did everything go our way because of good luck? Or did we channel Ferris’s buoyant optimism? I’d like to believe part of the magic came from impersonating Hughes’s hero. Chicagoans and visitors instantly recognized us and wanted to help us create the perfect day off. It might sound ridiculous, but “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” stirs both nostalgia and a certain civic pride for Chicagoans. After all, the film was Hughes’s love letter to the city.
It’s true the secret to a successful day off is careful planning. But the real takeaway is no matter where you travel, go with great friends. Find people who will be silly and game for anything. Break a rule or two. You might find out that it will be the best day of your life.
Assigning and editing by Amanda Finnegan. Photo editing by Monique Woo. Video editing by Hope Davison. Design by Alexis Arnold. Copy editing by Carey Biron.