Chicago Trip Report

I’m finally getting around to the Chicago trip report. This post doesn’t include recipes, but it might come in handy should you find yourself considering a trip to Chicago. If I have time tonight, I’ll throw in some links.

I lived in Chicago for three years after college. It was my first big city experience, but I was young and had barely enough money to pay the rent and eat. It’s nice going back and being able to buy things at the stores where I could only window shop. I love shopping, even when I come home with nothing. If you are like this also, you’ll want to stay near North Michegan Avenue, otherwise known as The Magnificent Mile. There’s a Neiman Marcus, Saks, Macy’s, Lush, Ann Taylor, Disney, Crate & Barrel, a couple of little malls with more stores and many more along the busy street. It’s a shopping mecca, anchored with fun things to do for non-shoppers. At one end, there’s a beach called Oak Street Beach and the other end is the river. Beyond that is the loop, where you’ll find businesses, Sears Tower, some theatres (Wicked is still there), Field Museum, Adler Planetarium, Shedd Aquarium and many, many other things to amuse you should you be traveling alone or with children.

Backtracking. We flew in on a Sunday, took a $40 cab ride from the airport to our hotel, Westin on North Michigan Avenue. I generally like Westins, but this one wasn’t one I’d recommend for a family of three. The rooms are very small and the walls are thin. After two nights, we checked out and went to Oprah’s place. And by that, I mean The Omni on Michigan. It’s a great hotel — very good value for the money and perfect if you like to spread out or are traveling with family. A deluxe room with a large bathroom, living area, bedroom and nice view runs around $259.00 a night. If you give up the lake view and opt for a lovely view of the FCB Building, you can pay less. Another bonus is that The Omni is steps away from a Trader Joe’s, which is a nice benefit for anyone who isn’t lucky enough to have Trader Joe’s in their city.

We really enjoy staying in this area because it’s close to everything. If you want to save money, you can stay down in the loop, but it doesn’t have quite the same feel to it. Personally, I like the neighborhood-like feel of the Near North area or Streeterville which are, respectively, east and west of the Magnificent Mile. Staying in that vicinity also puts you a little closer to attractions farther north such as The Lincoln Park zoo, which has an incredible gorilla exhibit, the beach (as mentioned), Second City and other comedy venues. Another place not too far from The Magnificent Mile is Navy Pier, which you’ll definitely want to visit if you have kids. Many of the boat rides depart from that area, which along with being a real pier, has a few amusement rides and The Children’s Museum. Very close to Navy Pier you’ll also find Fox & Obel’s, which will make your head spin if you like food and cooking. I had to have some quality alone time there while Todd and Fuzz visited the Children’s Museum, which is free for children 15 and under on the first Monday of every month. That was the day Todd and Emma went and she came home with loads of trinkets donated by Target – a company based in the Midwest.

Come to think of it, there were other free things as well. The Lincoln Park zoo was completely free. It’s changed a lot since I was there and while it’s not as big as Birmingham Zoo or San Antonio Zoo or London Zoo (zoos I’ve been to in the past two years) it rivals those zoos in terms of the way it educates and the quality of the exhibits. They have some unusual animals for one thing but mostly, the signage is well written and the animals look really happy to be there. It’s obvious that the people who work there love their jobs and are dedicated to keeping the place a top notch facility.

Another attraction we visited was the top of the Hancock Tower. It’s more conveniently located than the Sears Tower and not quite as crowded. If you are staying nearby, buy yourself an elevator ride to the observatory deck. From the top of the Hancock, you can see as far away as Wisconsin. We bought tickets for the viewing area, but if you want to make an evening of it they have a nice bar and restaurant too. I’ve never eaten there, but I have had a few drinks in that bar.

Speaking of restaurants, we ate very well. Since we spent most of every day walking, we were always very hungry at night. Below is a re-cap of where we ate. With a six year old in tow, we skipped places like Spiaggia and Alinea and opted for places we thought would be fun for all of us.

For lunch, our favorite stop was Food Life. Food was good, but mostly we liked the concept of being able to walk around to different stations and buy food with little fake credit cards. It’s a great for families on the go. Mity Nice Grill, in the back of Food Life, looked comfortable as well. We didn’t eat there, but I walked through it to get to the ladies room.

First night: Italian Village down in the loop. This reminded us of the Mexican food restaurant at Epcot – San Angel Inn. Only this was Italian. The room is decorated like an Italian village at night – dark with twinkling lights and Italian villa scenery. Atmosphere was cozy and prices were fairly reasonable. I only had pasta so I can’t evaluate the food very well, but my pasta was good and Todd’s chicken Vesuvio was cooked perfectly. They had other typical Italian fare one the menu – chicken marsala, lasagna, a sage chicken dish that sounded good. I’d go there again with kids or a group. However, I’m more likely to try the fancier restaurant housed in the same building, Vivere.

Second night: Gibson’s. We enjoyed Gibson’s because it’s a prime people watching spot – very loud, right in the middle of Rush Street and a happening place even on a Monday night. And by happening, I mean with people of all ages – families, business people, dates. Not just scary trendy people. The servers were efficient and friendly and the hostess gave us a booth on request. It was a Monday night, but still very, very crowded so make a reservation. The prime rib was more flavorful than others (and larger) and my filet was pretty good. Not the best I’ve ever had (that was at Shula’s in FL) but still very good. I have nothing bad to say about the food and I’d happily eat there again if only to try a different cut of beef and eat more of the desserts. We had a hot fudge Sundae, but I’ve heard the carrot cake is excellent.

Third night: Japonais. This restaurant is right between River North and River West. It’s also a block or so away from Cabrini Green, the once-notorious housing project featured in the horror movie Candy Man. Make sure you bring that up while dining. Maybe watch Candy Man before you go eat at Japonais just to make your meal that much more interesting. This is why I don’t write trip reports often. Back to the business. The sushi was very, very fresh and the server was friendly and accommodating. The crowd was very young. I was probably the oldest person in the room. Other than feeling old when I left, I loved the place.

Fourth night: Wild Fire. This restaurant reminded me of a Houston’s restaurant, but bigger, a bit more upscale and more open. It was a good place to take Fuzz, so I’m giving it a thumbs up as a place to take well-behaved children.

So that was our trip. I’m looking forward to going back. Rates are a lot cheaper in the winter, so if you can deal with the cold, you’ll save a bundle. However, Chicago is wonderful place to be in July – especially if you are from Texas or another place where the temp hovers around 90.

There’s more I could talk about, but I have to go.

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  1. cookleitz says

    The Children’s Museum is also free every Thursday night form 5-8. I believe one museum in town is free every night of the week from 5-8. A great restaurant to try is Bacino’s. We go to Chicago the second week of December every year. Some years I’ve not even needed a coat and other years, we’ve sat in the hotel and watched the blizzards roll in. In December, there’s a great outdoor German market – Christkindlmarket – at Daley Plaza.

  2. says

    Ah, sitting in a hotel and watching blizzards roll in. That’s one thing we won’t be doing in Texas. Second week of December sounds like a good week to go — hotel rates are probably pretty good as well.

  3. cookleitz says

    We usually stay at the Hyatt, which is at the opposite end of the Magnificant Mile as the Omni. We’ve also stayed at the Sheraton, which is right across the river from the Hyatt. We usually get a rate of $159. While my husband is in his (boring) meetings all day, Trevor and I spend our days up and down Michigan Avenue. We had always spent a day at Marshall Fields, but I boycotted in 2006 when they became Macy’s. We’ll see how I feel about it this year 🙂

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