Each year for the past three years, Vern has had a business trip to Chicago that just happens to coincide with when the boys get out of school AND that just happens to be when our family reunion takes place. Usually, we drive in to my mom's in Louisville, and then Vern and I fly out to Chicago for a few days while the kids hang and have grandma time, and then we come back to spend some big family time ourselves before loading up again and heading back to NC. This year, however, we decided the older boys would likely enjoy seeing Chicago and could appreciate so much from that kind of trip.
Thank goodness, unlike the movie with a similar title to this blog post, we actually made it to Chicago without a hitch. Our multi modes of transport were enjoyable and allowed us to explore the city the way we wanted. It was an expedition.
The boys absolutely loved it...and we knew they would.
Uhhh...windy was right. A guy there jokingly told us that Chicago has four seasons: hot, cold, windy and construction. I would have to agree. It was unseasonably chilly for June when we arrived, even for Chicago--and the wind was biting. But it only managed to slow us down a tad.
We were still able to get in so much in the four days we were there. On the warmest day of our visit, we rented bikes and rode them all along the lake shore. From the Gold Coast to Millenium Park. So.much.fun.
Vern and I have had the opportunity to do the foodie thing with lots and lots of restaurants on a previous trip. We've also checked out the museums and were able to experience the city's night life. This year was a completely different take on the city for us, and we enjoyed every bit of it.
Here's a few recommendations for where to go/what to do when visiting the city with kids (this doesn't include everything, but provides a rough list):
1. Skip Willis Tower and instead go to the John Hancock Building Signature Room. Willis is expensive to go up, and once you get up there, there are just windows. At the Signature Room in John Hancock, because it's a restaurant and lounge, you can order a drink or dessert and take in the view while sitting in comfort (and sipping/eating something yummy). You also get a better view (you can see the lake and the cityscape) because of where the building is located. It's amazing. Note, however, that you must be 21 to enter the restaurant after 7 pm.
2. Eat a slice of deep dish. You just have to. Pick your spot. Gino's is a good bet.
3. Visit Portillo's Hot Dogs and chow a jumbo with everything. Do it. Trust me. If you're prone to heartburn, eat a tums or something. But don't skip out on this Chicago dog experience.
4. Shedd Aquarium. Slightly pricey, BUT you absolutely can just pay for general admission ($8) and get so much for your money. You just won't get the added shows.
5. Adler Observatory. Also can be pricey with added shows, but really a cool experience.
6. Millennium Park. All of it, not just the Bean. Please do see the Bean, but be sure to also check out the Great Lawn, the gardens and fountain.
7. Architectural Tour (on the River). A completely different view of the city. A great way to get to see some of the best in the new and old architecture that has shaped the city. Not to mention, it's really a nice experience to get to hang out on a boat and cruise down the river, which runs smack dab through the middle of the city. For a cost-effective version, without all of the factoids, pay for a water taxi to someplace on the other end of the river, like Chinatown.
8. Navy Pier. It's touristy, yes. But you have to go at least once. And be sure to walk all the way down to the end of the pier. There's live music and a kickin' beer garden on the weekends, a ferris wheel, harbor tours, food and lots of places to buy tchotchkes and souvenirs.
9. Oak Street Beach. It's amazing that nestled right there next to the massive and bustling city is a beach. Catch a few moments of sun and sand.
10. Rent a bike. We used Divvy and loved it. There are tons of stations around, so you're never very far from one, and there are so many places to pedal. For $7, it's a fantastic deal and a fun way to get around.
11. Walk the Mile. Even if you're not staying on Magnificent Mile, it's worth it to swing by and walk it. Although there's a ton of shopping to be had on this stretch of road, there's so much more. I'm not big on vacationing to shop, especially at stores I could shop whilst at home, and I still get so much out of walking and taking in all there is to do and see. The Chicago Tribune Building, the restaurants (like the Purple Pig & Howells and Hood), the chocolate (the Hershey store and the Ghirardelli store are right there) and the people watching. Love it! And of course, yes, the shopping. Even the window shopping is fantastic.
You'll notice some biggies were left out of this list, like: major league baseball (whether you're a Cubs or Sox fan), Soldier Field, The Museum of Science and Industry and the Art Institute. If you love baseball or football, or if you're able to squeeze in the museums, definitely fit it in. Our family isn't super sports crazy, so that wasn't how we wanted to spend our time. The boys weren't super keen on spending hours standing around looking at art, nor would they appreciate it at 12 and 13 they way they will as they get a tad older, so we opted to skip it. Besides, Vern and I were able to do the Art Institute on our own on a previous trip, so we were fine to skip it this go round. It IS amazing. Chagall's windows, in particular, are breathtaking.
I've also left off the list any shows and theater. There's lots and lots of really cool stuff to choose from. It just wasn't our scene this year. Maybe next year we'll grab tickets to something we can sit down and enjoy. This year, however, it was go-go-go. And so we went...and glad we did.