Thursday, July 29, 2010

Chicago for Visitors - The Minimum

I frequently get asked about what to do in Chicago, where to stay, etc. Each time, I create a customized list. Following are my recommendations for a great Chicago experience without breaking the bank. We know this because we've done it - 95% of the photos below were taken by us. 

Places to Eat
Whether you have children or not, the glass, 2-story McDonald's on Ohio Street is a fun stop. It's right next to the Hard Rock and Rainforest Cafe and about a block from Ed Debevic's.

Our family loves Portillos for their hamburgers, hot dogs, and fries. It too, is next to McDonald's (across from Walgreen's and across from the 8-story Sports Authority. Their drive thru is an experience, especially at lunch - don't be put off by that long line of cars down the block. They are fast and efficient and that lineup tells you something good is on the other end! 
For a traditional Chicago style pizza, our favorites are Lou Malnati's and Uno's Pizzeria. (No preference - just don't have a personal photo of Uno's.)

Of course, you must not leave Chicago without a visit to Garrett's Popcorn. Get the 'Chicago Mix'. Trust me, you will love it!!

We love to eat at Baisi Thai at 900 N Michigan for a great, inexpensive Thai or sushi meal. Britni Spears has eaten there with her kids, too. Be sure to sit by the windows with a view of the lake, the Hancock Building and it's right across the street from The Drake Hotel.

4th Presbyterian on Michigan Ave
Walk down Michigan Ave on the 900 N side. A block up is 4th Presbyterian Church. Walk into the archway to their garden. It's a touch of Heaven in the urban mecca that is Chicago. 
Turn around and look up at the Hancock Building to get a view of the modern skyscraper juxtaposed against a century old church.

Hancock Building
People tell me you can go to the restaurant in The Hancock and get great views for the price of a hot chocolate. 
We have a membership to the Observatory. I can tell you the 360 degree views are divine. You can also look into Oprah's condo next door (white granite building called Water Tower Place).

Water Tower Place
Stop into Water Tower Place to a. say you have been in Oprah's building, b. to take the escalator from the Main Lobby to see the jumping water fountain (right next to the escalators), and c. to buy a cupcake at Sacred Grounds in the food court on the mezzanine level (near the restrooms). I think they have the best cupcakes in Chicago. If you have a girl, you will want to check out the American Girl store.

Speaking of the Divine Ms O, be sure to drive over to Carpenter and Randolph to see Harpo Studios. We were standing in front of The O Store to take this photo.

Carriage Rides
The horse and carriage rides are delightful and relaxing. If you go for a carriage ride, you pick it up in Water Tower Park (across from the Hershey's Store and Ghiradelli Store. Be sure to check out the multi-purpose drinking fountain for horse, humans, and dogs! It's cash only, so come prepared.

Michigan Ave
Walk along Michigan, taking in the sites. Stop at Disney Store to pick something up for the kids (Closes at 8 pm). Stop in at The Apple Store and take a picture with the glass staircase. 

It's okay to let the little (and big) kids play with the ‘toys’.

Keep walking down Michigan to take in the beautiful buildings, the amazing plantings and floral sculptures that is our scaled back flower beds along the boulevard and the center median.

Walk to the Tribune Tower and look at all of the pieces of other buildings along the walls outside. They are each marked for where they came from. Kinda cool. You can 'touch' the Alamo, for example.

LEGO Store
Ooops! I forgot to have you go to the LEGO store on the 3rd floor at 520 N Michigan. The kids (big and little) can create at several LEGO building stations. It's not just about blocks. LEGO sculptures are life sized and the city sculptures are to scale. Also, if you need sunglasses, pick up a pair at the sunglass stand on the 2nd floor. Ladies, Sephora is in this mall...

Wrigley Building and Tribune Tower
The Wrigley Building is on the left (West) side of the photo and on the same side of the street as the LEGO Store. The Tribune Tower is on the right (East) side of the photo. 
Trump Tower
Cut through the Wrigley Building to see the Trump Tower from the bottom to the top. When you are standing on the street level, the frosted glass floors are...parking garage. That's pretty standard for Chicago, unlike Toronto where parking garages are 7 stories in the ground.  

Head back across the street and go down the stairs to walk along the river for a few minutes. You can take a water taxi at a crazy cheap rate. It’s fun and worth it. 

You can also do an architectural tour – incredible knowledge and absolutely worth every penny. Oh, I should mention, this is the area where the river gets turned green on St. Patrick’s Day.
That's enough of that goodness. Head back up 'cause you have to keep going. Unless of course, a movie, like Transformers 3, is being filmed, and they have the Michigan Ave bridge up with bombed out looking cars...

Cross over the bridge and keep walking on Michigan Ave. 

In about 2 more blocks, you will hit the start of Millennium Park. 

Walk it all!! On Michigan is where you can go ice skating in the winter. 

Bring your own skates to skate for free or rent a pair. In the summer, it is an outdoor cafe. 

Millennium Park includes: 
The Crown Fountain (4-storey faces on a huge video screens with water kids play in between. 

The Bean – a.k.a. The Bean, a shiny, metal kidney bean shaped sculpture you can walk under. 
And do all manner of silly with

Pritzker Pavilion with it’s large grassy area under speakers which provide perfect sound placement for the concerts held there frequently. 

Many concerts are held here

People enjoy laying on the grass to read a book, have a picnic, or take a lunchtime nap!

Beautiful during the day and magical at night.

Lots of sculpture and art installations throughout. 
You can even sit and walk on art!!
Walk up the ramp to the Art Institute. 

To the East is a view of Lake Michigan and the yacht club.

To the West is a view of Michigan Ave

Once there, you can sit on sculpture and check out the skyline view. Oh, and use the restroom...
Head back down the Art Institute bridge and take a right.  

Visit the gardens that are an oasis with water features and plantings – bunnies live there! 

Keep going to take the snake bridge – it’s bridge art that you are walking on!!

Head over to Buckingham Fountain and a little further to Grant Park. Buckingham Fountain is one of the largest fountains in the world and was featured in the opening of ‘Married with Children’. 

The fountain is equally spectacular day or night.

Grant Park is where President Obama gave his election acceptance speech 

and where Lady Gaga performed during Lalapalooza.
You can walk down from Grant Park to check out the Art Institute of Chicago. 

You can see original art work and the brush strokes of the greats like Degas, Monet, Matisse, etc.

This is my favorite piece. She reminds me of my mother.

If you want an experience in parking, it's worth the $27 to park at the Hancock Tower - parking is up about 7-8 stories in a frosted glass circular tower then there is a bridge over to the parking garage where you then go up a few more stories until you find parking. And they check your trunk for bombs and explosives first.

Regardless of which parking garage you choose, you MUST, MUST, MUST keep your parking ticket WITH YOU. You pay at the box IN THE LOBBY, BEFORE you get back to your car.

Do NOT take a chance on not paying for street parking. Read ALL signs very carefully. You WILL be ticketed and towed. We don't mess around here. 

State Street
State Street is very important as well. The Chicago theatre is located on State at Lake St. You might be able to tour the theatre. Check their website for times and rates. Or buy tickets to a show! Very grand theatre. Beautiful inside.

Check out Macy’s (formerly the Marshall Fields building) for their window displays – especially in December!! Walk inside to the cosmetics department. Keep looking up for the first and largest Tiffany glass ceiling installment in the world. It is a blue and gold mosaic. Not sure? Ask a cosmetics person. 

Next, head on up to F.A.O. Schwartz to check out the beautifully crafted toys. 
Macy’s is the 2nd largest department store in the world and is a historic landmark. It is beautiful inside. Go to the men’s department and look for the elevator lobby there. When you look up, you can see about 9 stories.

There is lots of shopping to be had in Chicago. Stores close at 8:00 pm!!!! We are not New York – we sleep. I am not a shopaholic so I’m not going to give you the scoop on that. I can tell you that State Street and Michigan Ave have some of the best stores in the country. Burberry, Chanel, Ralph Lauren, etc., you can walk into their stores and get a far bigger selection than just a few racks or a counter at Macy’s in your hometown.

Navy Pier
Navy Pier is an oasis. It's Chicago's version of a boardwalk. 
Navy Pier reminds us of our trips to Florida. 

I suggest you take a bus there. About a dozen buses lead to Navy Pier. Cabs are available in abundance out front. Parking rates are ridiculous at Navy Pier in my opinion – spend the money on the fun, not the parking.

Before you even get into Navy Pier, there is a park with a water fountain designed by the same designer as the Bellagio fountains in Las Vegas. 
Except this one is more kid-friendly.

You can eat at Bubba Gump Shrimp Company, see IMAX movies, the Children’s Museum is located at the top of the elevator. 

Don’t miss the jumping water fountains that jump from one planting to the next – they are across from the entrance to the Children’s Museum. 

Head downstairs to buy Garretts Popcorn – a must!

Outside at Navy Pier, ride the Ferris Wheel, there are a few amusement rides the kids will love – including a merry-go-round. 

Don’t worry, there is a beer garden for the adults… 

Check out the stained glass museum, enjoy a funnel cake, and enjoy the Fun House - or just the mirrors outside.

Ride the Windy Pirate Ship – the guys are great and it’s a fun, educational experience sailing on tall ship on Lake Michigan. 

Navy Pier has fireworks on Wednesday and Saturday evenings in the summer, weather permitting. 

Be sure to walk down to the end of the Pier and take a picture with the huge anchor. If you are with someone you love, this is the perfect place for a kiss.

Speaking of a perfect place to kiss, Museum Park Campus is where you want your Chicago skyline photo op. 

Head out to the Planetarium and park in the metered parking. 
Look at how much our kids have grown since our move here 2 years ago!

Walk down to the edge of the water. Beautiful at sunrise, anytime during the day, and magical at night.

Museums are a must when you visit Chicago. The Field Museum of Natural History, the Shedd Aquarium, and the Adler Planetarium are located in Museum Park Campus, along with Soldier Field, where the Chicago Bears football team plays.
Adler Planetarium
Even the grown ups love the Planetarium
There are always great new shows for all ages to enjoy and learn from. 
NASA exhibit. It's so interactive and educational. I think I had as much fun here as at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral!!
Such concentration!

We have miles and miles of lakefront that wraps around the outside of the Planetarium and the Aquarium, and extends along our beach shoreline. The surface is perfect for running, cycling, roller blading, walking.
Great views while you exercise!
Or, just want to play on one of our many beaches!

Field Museum
Home to Sue the T-Rex
I know this photo is not a great ad for our city, but come on, what are the chances of seeing a cab on fire outside the Field Museum?? 
Main Hall of The Field Museum

Lions and tigers and zebras, oh my!

Shedd Aquarium
The dolphin show is so much fun!!!!!!

Museum of Science and Industry
This train set is HUGE and to scale and covers Chicago, Seattle and points in between. 
My favorite thing to do on my birthday is to go to the chicken hatchery. I could stand there all day watching baby chickens hatch on our shared birthday. 
LEGO models of towers in Chicago and around the world, both actual and proposed.
I'm not sure if kids are allowed to do this, 
but mine do all the time!
Our son is Titanic obsessed. 
He chooses to believe this is the Titanic.

Where to stay in Chicago...
Widney Loft is closed to house guests. 
I'm working now and it really is a lot on me and the family.

Pretty much anything North of 35th St and East of Ashland Ave is fine. This is broad because there are places in Wicker Park or Bucktown that are between Western and Ashland that are great, for example. 

If you want downtown, you are going to look for neighborhoods such as River North, Streeterville, Gold Coast, Lincoln Park, Old Town, South Loop (NOT to be mistaken for South Side or South Chicago, which you do NOT want), West Loop, Greek Town, Little Italy, University Village.

Okay, that is Chicago in a nutshell. Now you know why people go home EXHAUSTED after visiting us. We run them ragged!! And that's not all we show them either!!

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