Chicago Trip Report

Well I was hoping to post a picture of some “Halfway Bars” this afternoon, but the recipe turned out to be a dud and the bars went into the trash. I’m still kind of bummed about it, but rather than sit and stew I decided to post a trip report. Sorry it doesn’t include any recipes, but if you’re going to Chicago you may find it helpful. It’s one of our favorite cities and I can’t wait to go back. If you’ve been, feel free to add your favorite stops in the comment sections.

Day 1 — We started our trip in the Loop area where we enjoyed a late dinner at The Gage, a pub style restaurant with a UK inspired menu which includes things like  Scotch Eggs.  None of us were very adventurous with our orders, though.  Todd got fish & chips, I ordered Amish chicken and Fuzz had fried zucchini.  The food was good, but I now wish I’d ordered something a little more unusual like one of the hamburgers made with English cheese and a malted bun.   Guess we’ll have to go back!

Day 2 —  The next morning we got up early and took a walk from The Hilton Chicago to Soldier Field where we found a little park called The Children’s Garden.  Todd made some Gowalla spots and we headed back to the hotel to check out and store our luggage.  We were moving hotels later that day — not because we didn’t like the first one, but because I like dividing the trip between the loop area and Magnificent Mile. 

But we were still down in the loop area and spent the morning and rest of the afternoon at The Art Insitute.  With an 8 year old you have to kind of skim the surface the best you can and keep moving, but we managed to see the Impressionists, American Art,  and Thorne Miniature Collection which were our prime draws.  The Art Institute’s Ryan Education Center also had a special Kids’ area where they allowed children to paint their own masterpieces.  The theme was “Express Yourself” and images of Jackson Pollack and other modern artists were set out as inspiration.  If you have kids, make sure to check the schedule and go when the education center is having a special event.  It’s a nice break from looking at paintings all morning.  Another nice break is the Garden Cafe located in the museum itself.  It’s a perfect little cafeteria style restaurant — clean, sunny, lots of good choices for lunch (healthy and hearty) and just a nice place all-around.

Okay, so once we’d finished with the art institute, we skipped on over to Millenium Park and took pictures of The Bean….  


…Todd was very proud of this one.

After The Bean, we picked up our luggage and headed north to the second hotel — The Four Seasons Chicago.  I’ve only stayed at a Four Seasons one other time and it was on someone else’s dime.  We paid for this visit and it was worth every penny. The view was spectactular, the pool was big and uncrowded and the concierge was fantastic.  They treated Fuzz, whose birthday is next week, like a little princess.  Every day she’d come back to a new surprise in the room — toys, fancy cupcakes, popcorn, notes and special bath stuff for kids. 

bath stuff

She love this hotel and I think they have found a new customer for life.  

Fancy Desserts

Dinner that night was Todd’s favorite, Gibson’s.  It was packed on a Sunday night, but the crowd was diverse, lively, and happy.  The steak was the best I’ve had in a while and the service was friendly and genuine.  We had such a good time we were sad to leave, but we bagged up the rest of our massive piece of carrot cake (note:  This month’s Saveur has a recipe for one that looks strikingly similar) and ambled back to the hotel.

giant carrot cake

Day 3 — Naturally, we had to visit the Lincoln Park Zoo.  We did a lot of walking and saw the seals, gorillas, and big cats, then spent some time at the little farm in the zoo where an egg had just hatched.  For lunch, we ate on the patio of the little zoo restaurant where they served a lot of different things including Chicago style hot dogs.  Fuzz is still talking about this hot dog.

Chicago Hot Dot

From the Zoo, we took the bus over to the Wrigley Building to ride the Wendella Boats.  When we got there we saw the boats weren’t covered and that the sun was beating down, so we bought tickest for  5:30 trip the next day, then walked over to Trader Joe’s to buy goodies — Mint UFOs, Ginger Cats, Thousand Layer Crackers — important things like that.  And then we went back to our hotel for a swim before dinner at Cafe Spiaggia – one of my other favorite Italian places in Chicago.  I’ve never eaten at the actual Spiaggia and would like to someday, but the cafe is just perfect for us.  It’s casual, the room is pretty, they serve the BEST olive oil (and olives) and the pasta is excellent.  But back to the oil, I wanted to buy some but it’s $42 a bottle.  It probably would have been worth it in hindsight, but at the time I figured I’d order it from my source in Tuscany ;). 

Day 4 —  This was our last full day, so the family went to The Museum of Science and Industry and left me to wander aimlessly about the city.  After spending the morning trying on clothes that didn’t fit right and getting frustrated, I bought some books at Border’s, picked up lunch in Bloomingdales little restaurant Forty Carrots (they have THE BEST frozen yogurt)  then went on a long walk through my old neighborhood to see how much it had changed.  I also walked through Old Town and stumbled upon The Oil Shop where I bought some Italian olive oil which was a bargain at $16.00 and almost as good as Spiaggia’s which was $42.   What’s great about the store is the clerks will guide you from oil to oil and help you choose one based on your flavor preferences — bitter, buttery, fruity, etc.  

That evening we took a Wendella Boat architecture tour which was a lot of fun.  We’d intended to take the river  tour, but the captain of the boat didn’t show up (scheduling conflict) so we got put on a tour that went in the river and Lake Michigan.  I’d taken this tour before, but had forgotten a lot of Chicago history, so it was a good refresher and a nice way to spend an evening. 

For our last meal, we decided to try our luck at Frontera.  Ha Ha Ha Ha.  We stopped in at 8:00 and found the wait to be 2 hours.  We didn’t have a solid back-up plan and ended up at Keefer’s.  I was tired of steak by that time, but Todd is never tired of steak and said his was great.  We all enjoyed the atmosphere and they did serve some excellent cheesecake.  I have to say, I was bummed we didn’t eat more ethnic food while we were there so again — have to go back.

The next day we came home.  I made red velvet cake, paid some bills, put the registration sticker on my car, took Fuzz to the orthodontist, did laundry, baked,  shopped for groceries, supervised installation of blinds, paid more bills and am READY TO GO BACK.  Just kidding.  School’s about to start. 

It’s been an interesting summer.

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  1. says

    I love Gibson’s too! It is always a good time. Sound like you had a blast in Chicago. It is one of my favorite towns.

  2. says

    Chicago is so much fun when you go with someone who KNOWS where to go…otherwise I think I’d never know where to visit first! My niece went to school there and goes back quite often, so sometimes I tag-along with her and it’s so much fun! She knows all the good places to eat, shop, and the museums there are all so neat! I do love a Chicago Dog too! Just not quite the same when we try to make them at home! I’m glad you had a great time…makes me want to go for a visit!!

  3. CindyD says

    Have you been to the Shedd Aquarium? We were just to the Monterey Bay Aquarium and agreed that the Shedd was much better.

  4. says

    Steph, Gibson’s really is fun. I’ve been a couple of times, but I think I enjoyed it even more with a kid in tow. There were lots of other children there that evening but there were also lots of dates, tourists and families celebrating. So the people watching plus the great service and food make it worth the money.

    Kerstin, I used to live there too. I love it, but Winters are rough.

    Nancy, you are right in that it’s best to go with someone who knows their way around. However, if you go to Chicago and don’t know a soul you can make friends in minutes. People are so friendly. But it is a big city and if you want to see the good stuff, it’s best to have a plan.

    Cindy, we’ve been to the Shedd a number of times but we skipped it this trip. There just wasn’t enough time. We like the Shedd a lot — especially the dolphin show. The trainers are really nice and they’ll take the time to talk with you after the show if you have questions. The Beluga whales are fun to see as well.

  5. says

    Thanks for this trip report! I love to read about my town (I have lived downtown, and now Lincoln Square) from a traveler’s viewpoint.

    About the Art Institute, keep in mind that the Modern Wing has a separate education center, fine dining restaurant, and gift shop, as well as a coffee bar.

    As to Frontera Grill, no one can get in, and the locals aren’t too happy about it. Go down the block to Bayless’ newest, XOCO (shoh-koh) which is counter service, so you can get tamales or just a churro and chocolate. Really good.

    Come back soon!

  6. KAnn says

    Sounds like a fabulous trip, Anna! Chicago is a great town (I lived there as a teenager) and I love to visit but I sure prefer Colorado! I would love to visit one of Rick Bayless’ restaurants someday. The carrot cake looks divine…I have finally perfected my favorite recipe for the Denver altitude.

  7. Louise says

    Looks like you had a great trip. I cook out of Rick Bayless’ cookbooks. Guess I’d have to be satisfied with that. 🙂

  8. says

    The photo of Fuzz in the Bean is amazing! The Art Institute, and now the Bean and Millenium Park are my favorite spots in Chicago. I feel lucky to live nearby. Your photo of the Chicago dog “through the garden” as we say, is the best I have ever seen! And we have yet to make it to Rick Bayless’s places. The wait is always hours. One of these days..

  9. says

    Sounds like a great trip. The Four Seasons DOES look really nice! The Art Institute is great and I am glad you took the Architecture Boat Tour… we took the same trip a few years back and I enjoyed it so much. Suddenly, I am craving a hot dog and some carrot cake. Thanks for sharing your trip details. Fun stuff!

  10. Hilary Purcell says

    Todd is right! The picture of Fuzz, Todd and you next to the Bean is very creative! Fuzz is precious!
    Can’t wait to go to Chicago! Thanks for the report!

  11. Carrie says

    So happy to hear you enjoyed your trip to Chicago. We live in Lincoln Park (down the street from Caryn’s which I think you visited last time). Chicago in the Summer is the best…and you can’t top The Four Seasons!

  12. Katherine says

    Glad you had a good time. I love living here and happy to hear people enjoy visiting! Next time at the zoo I will be eating one of those hot dogs… yummy!

  13. Suzy says

    I used to live in Chicago and my first job as a pastry cook was at Spiaggia. Did you have dessert?
    We just went back for a visit in June and also had a dog at the Lincoln park Zoo AND took the architecture tour on the river. . .we have a 5 year old so we were also trying to find kid-friendly spots. We always take a horse and carriage ride and top it off with ice cream at the Ghirardelli shop by Water Tower. Next trip I’ll steal some of your ideas!

  14. says

    You bet we had dessert! We ordered gelato, which is hit or miss at most restaurants. Spiaggia’s was excellent. If you don’t mind the trip south, the Museum of Science and Industry is a lot of fun for little kids. Also, the Shedd Aquarium is great. We didn’t have time to go this trip, but Fuzz missed seeing the dolphins. Oh, the Children’s Museum at Navy Pier is really good too.

  15. says

    Great trip! I’ve taken a couple college trips to Pacific Garden Mission on State Street (I think they just moved across town though.) The mission trips were organized by a classmate friend of mine who used to be a homeless crack addict whose life was turned around at that place. You would never, ever know it now, what a changed man!

    I have some great memories walking those Chicago streets! Last time I was there it was St. Patty’s Day and it was fun to see firsthand the river tinted green!

  16. says

    So glad you had a great time! I love the Gage so much. It’s where I point all visitors to. Definitely go back – their burgers are highly underrated and I seriously think it’s one of the best burgers I’ve ever had. Come back soon!

  17. says

    Chicago is the best!!! It looks like you really enjoyed yourself! Too bad about Frontera Grill, next time you are planning a trip and want to score a table use There is a Frontera To Go at the Macy’s on State Street and If you fly American Airlines, there is a great Tortas to go by Rick Bayless!

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