The husband and I just got back from a weeklong trip to Chicago. I'm posting a Trip Report in hopes that it helps other travelers discover the treasures of the Windy City. I'm hoping I don't make this too long or boring.
As my name suggests, I am a DIEHARD Philadelphia Phillies fan. Every year, I drag the husband (well, not really...) out on a different road trip to see them play. This year was the baseball diamond mecca of Wrigley Field. We were really excited about this trip, considering we had never been to Chicago before. The following may contain observations about the city that all may not agree with, but it’s just our opinion. We thoroughly enjoyed our trip although there was a mishap or two. There were a couple splurges along the way but basically it was budget minded. We were fortunate that we had great weather while out there.
How we got there – We used Southwest Airlines for the second time with no problems. As long as you know how this no-frills airline works, the low price tickets can’t be beat.
Where we stayed – We stayed in the Red Roof Inn Chicago Downtown- a block from N. Michigan Ave (AKA Magnificent Mile). A fully detailed review of the property is posted in the Hotels section of this site. Suffice to say we were very happy with the place, considering the location and the fact that hotels across the street were charging twice the price. We usually prefer simple accommodations.
How we got around – We used the Chicago Transit Authority, baby! (No, not the band.) I am very envious that Chicago has a very advanced public transport system in place – much better than Philadelphia’s. We bought a 7-day pass and could travel on Elevated Trains (El) and buses unlimitedly. We also used our legs – a lot. Details will follow later on.
The food – I did a lot of research on food and it didn’t disappoint. In fact, we didn’t have a bad meal all trip and were usually stuffed. This was one of our favorite parts of the trip! A full review of two of the places – West Egg Café and Sweets and Savories – are posted in the Dining section of this site. I used research from Tripadvisor, Chowhound, Metromix, Menupages and last but not least Rachael Ray. Ray’s food recommendations have never steered us wrong. It also doesn’t hurt that she reminds me of my best friend.
Now the details:
Day 1 8/20 – Look Up in the Sky … It’s Us!
We are not morning people. Getting up at the unbelievable hour of 5a to make our 8:35 a.m. flight was not fun. My saint of a mother-in-law gave us a lift to the airport and we checked in. We boarded our flight from Philadelphia and took off and landed in Chicago Midway without incident – thank God. We found out that our luggage had made it with us – hoorah! After collecting the luggage, we made our way to the El and picked up our passes. During the ride to the city, it was obvious that my sweetie was extremely tired, even with us gaining an hour with time change to Central. I had too much adrenaline. Using the instructions found on this site, we transferred and got to our station of Grand. We then walked the couple blocks to the Red Roof Inn.
Our first impressions of Chicago were that it was a lot like Philadelphia’s downtown. The blocks were spaced about the same and it was quiet for a Sunday. Chicago, unlike Philadelphia though, seems to have embraced modern technology in some aspects. Many things such as public transport were happily automated. If Manhattan is on caffeine, then Chicago is on decaf. We also came to the impression that Chicago has quite a problem with panhandling and soliciting. It seemed like every block there was someone else. We’ve traveled a lot – and this problem was the worst in Chicago. It seemed way worse than Los Angeles and even Manhattan. This may seem mean but it’s the truth.
The Red Roof did not have our room ready so we stored the luggage in their closet. After a breather, we decided to make the John Hancock Observatory our first stop. We went to the top to enjoy the views from above – the F-16s performing in the Air and Water Show were entertaining.
Both of us were starved and so we went to Giordano’s to try some authentic Chicago pizza as our first food. We got one with extra cheese and sausage. It was delicious and it was definitely worth trying the real thing there.
By then the hotel was ready for us. We were dead tired. At this time, my hubby collapsed into bed and proceeded to sleep until the next morning. I shopped a little bit on Michigan before calling it a night.
Day 2 8/21 – Loop-de-Loop
Today was a roller coaster day. We started the day by having breakfast at West Egg Café, one of many times. Usually my husband got a Carl’s Cool Creation – an egg white scramble with veggies and chicken. I usually got blueberry and cashew studded pancakes.
After breakfast, we headed down to meet our Chicago Greeter. I was very excited to get a Greeter. Chicago Greeter is a free program in which a local takes you on a tour of specific sites or theme. Or so we had hoped. We had asked for a Chicago Fire tour, considering our interest in history. However, our greeter did not have the knowledge we had hoped. She told us that there was a monument and a small museum that wasn’t very good. But she never took us there for us to judge for ourselves. It was disappointing. She took us on a tour of the Loop area instead. We saw Millennium Park, Grant Park and Marshall Field’s, all things I had planned later in the trip. It was still nice to get an insider’s view on things and it was a free service.
After this, we decided to have another Chicago delicacy – a Chicago style hot dog – at Gold Coast Dogs for lunch. These have onions, tomatoes, mustard, relish, sport peppers and celery salt. They were very good – despite my aversion to onions. Next we took a Wendella boat tour of the city – the Combined Lake and River one. Listening to it was interesting and relaxing and he wound up talking more about the fire than the Greeter did.
We headed back to the hotel and got changed for our splurge dinner. It was at a French restaurant called Sweets and Savories in the Lincoln Park neighborhood. It was a 7-course dinner for $50 per person. We found it to be an excellent value nonetheless – this might be the only time in our life we could try foie gras or truffles. One of the dishes we had was a foie gras risotto topped with truffle – yum-o! We got into a conversation with a local and he wound up giving us a lift back to the El.
Day 3 8/22 – Surf and Turf
This morning I woke with an unnerving feeling. We did not have our digital camera with us that we had at the restaurant last night. After checking with the restaurant and our new friend, we determined that the camera was left at the Fullerton El stop, likely lost forever. It was the definite down part of the trip but in reality it could have been much worse. We bought disposable cameras for the duration of the trip.
Breakfast was at the West Egg Café of course. This day’s items were a trip to Oak Street Beach and North Avenue Beach. It was relaxing being able to take out my book and sit on the beach with the hubby alongside me. It’s cool that Chicago can have beaches alongside skyscrapers. At some times, we forgot where we were. My husband loves chess and was ecstatic about finding the Chess Pavilion near North Avenue Beach. He loved the feeling of playing a live person – usually he plays online. I had ambitious plans for this day but we never got to the Lincoln Park Conservatory.
After changing at the hotel, we went to Wrigleyville and had dinner at a place called Bar Louie, outside the stadium. Then to our first game at Wrigley Field to see my beloved Phillies. The wind was blowing in. What a place! The ivy, the scoreboards, the history! Our seats were in the lower level and purchased the first day of sale. And the Phillies won to top it off 6-3! They had recently acquired a veteran pitcher and he pitched great that day. There were a lot of Phillies fans there in attendance. We hung around outside for a bit before the panhandlers made us uncomfortable. Upon arriving at the El platform, we saw Phillies bench coach Gary Varsho.
Day 4 8/23 – It’s Green, No Blue – Heck, All the Colors of a Rainbow
Breakfast was at West Egg Café again. On this day, I decided to drag my hubby to another zoo. Not the zoo you might think. My favorite animal is the elephant and I take every chance to see them in person. I have been to zoos in San Diego, Philly, Bronx, DC and London England. I had heard that the free Lincoln Park one did not have them so we went out to the suburb of Brookfield instead. You can get to this zoo from Metra regional rail line. We did the smart thing and brown-bagged our lunches, which we got at Subway. We were very impressed with the zoo- they even had dolphins and wolves, two animals we usually don’t see.
We barely made our Metra train back and arrived at Halsted Street for the evening’s activity. First we strolled a part of the Lakeview neighborhood. This part of Lakeview was a predominantly gay and lesbian area. The store windows were very friendly to browsing – I had to keep myself from going into boutiques. The people in this area were extremely friendly and we even ran into a couple girls we saw at the game the night before.
We were in this area because the husband enjoys electronic music and we decided to take in Blue Man Group. He is a grad student and was able to get half price tickets two hours before show time.
After picking up the tickets, we went to the Rachael Ray restaurant pick of Ann Sather. It was great here- for $11 we got a starter, delish cinnamon rolls, chicken croquettes and a dessert. We were stuffed. The windows here were great for neighborhood people watching – BTW.
Blue Man Group – what a show! It was great interactive fun. At shows people usually sit on their hands – these guys make you get involved. The show was definitely worth the money.
Day 5 8/24 – Of Mabry and Monet
This day’s breakfast was someplace else because we wanted to be in the Wrigley Field surrounding areas for our day game. I chose to go to the Rachael Ray restaurant pick Kitsch’n in the neighborhood Roscoe Village. Once again the pick hit a home run. I had some great banana pancakes and he had a breakfast burrito.
We left breakfast and headed a couple streets to Addison. Somewhere along the way Roscoe Village turned into Wrigleyville because we got heckled. We took a bus down Addison to see the Phillies play a day game in Wrigley Field. It was great because we were at a day game at Wrigley. Our seats were in the lower level and purchased the first day of sale. And the wind was blowing out! Unfortunately for us, it was favoring the Cubs. They beat the Phillies 11-2. When the Cubs lost the previous three games, the fans were very quiet. Yet once they won, they talked smack. We were very happy to be there, regardless. Currently our record in attending road games is a winning one.
We went back to the hotel to finish our dessert from Ann Sathers as a snack. After that, we headed down to the Art Institute where they were having a free admission day. We are not art connoisseurs, but we enjoyed the juxtaposition of the quiet art gallery after the raucous game. I took him to all the highlights (or so I think) – American Gothic, Nighthawks, The Child’s Bath, Paris Street and A Sunday on La Grande Jatte were paintings we saw.
We left the gallery and found another chess game outside Millennium Park! My husband played a couple games and donated some money to a local youth group hosting it. It was a nice surprise.
We both like jazz so we headed to Andy’s Jazz Club for dinner. The music was great, the food was decent but the service left a lot to be desired. We couldn’t believe we only had a few days left.
Day 6 8/25 - Walk Like an Egyptian Mexican
The day started with another breakfast at West Egg Café. From there we hurried to the Field Museum where we had tickets for their King Tut exhibit of artifacts. The admission – which let us into the general museum as well – was one of the more expensive things on our trip and we got the audio tour. We reserved these tickets in advance because we didn’t want to miss out. It was worth it. Since we both like history, we found the exhibit to be fascinating. I had heard it was small yet it took us a couple hours to go through. After the exhibit, we went to the Evolving Planet display. We got another couple hours in there before taking a break. This exhibit goes from the Big Bang to current day. We took a lunch break at McDonald’s – not that exciting I know. At 2 p.m. we took a highlight tour with a guide. She took us to a Native People’s exhibit and then thru a pyramid display, among other things. There is so much in this museum! It doesn’t help matters that my husband and I are the type to read every card, too. After the tour, we finished the Evolving Planet exhibit just in time for close. My hubby was very disappointed to find out that brontosaurus was no longer the name of a dinosaur. “First they take Pluto away as a planet, then they take the name brontosaurus away?” he exclaimed.
After the museum, we went to the hotel to freshen up. We decided to have dinner at the restaurant Frontera Grill, owned by the chef on the PBS show Mexico: One Plate at a Time. It was haute couture Mexican – not Tex Mex! There was a long wait to get seated and it was the second most expensive meal of the week. But we really liked it. I didn’t recognize everything on my plate – I had black bean goat cheese enchiladas. The hubby had a seafood soup. The margarita was strong! Dessert was divine – he had flan and I had a Mexican chocolate pecan pie. We thought the place – despite the wait- was worthwhile. We can only hope that real Mexican food tastes as good.
Day 7 8/26 – Bad, Bad Leroy Brown
The day started with a visit to our favorite breakfast place. After that, we went souvenir shopping for a bit at Water Tower Place. I didn’t get as much as I had hoped. I picked up a Garrett Popcorn tin and some Frango mints but that was it. My hubby was more successful.
After the shopping was over, we went on the El and headed to the South Side for the day. I will preface this by saying that my husband and I attended college in inner-city Philly and we were used to this type of climate. Other tourists may not feel as comfortable as we were walking around these areas. It all depends on your attitude. We decided we were going to check out the University of Chicago’s campus- where my sister-in-law attended. The campus is beautiful but was an expected quiet considering it was a Saturday. We headed to the Smart Museum of Art first – a tiny gallery that’s housed on their campus. Most of the artists we didn’t recognize but they did have some Auguste Rodin, Diego Rivera and some interesting Asian art. After the museum jaunt, we chilled in a campus bookstore and took in the ambiance. The last thing we did on the U of Chicago home was a visit to the Oriental Institute Museum. This museum deals with the Middle East and not the Far East. We wished we had done that sooner – there was some interesting history displays there about ancient Iraq. Both museums were happily free.
We headed to dinner at Valois cafeteria in Hyde Park neighborhood surrounding the campus. This place was recommended personally by a friend of my sister-in-law. The food was homey, and cheap and we stuffed ourselves again. Hubby had a Reuben while I had baked chicken.
From there, we took Metra to the 27th street station in hopes of catching a bus to Comiskey Park #2 for the White Sox-Twins game we had tickets for. We could not find the bus stop and wound up walking about 6 blocks in the Bronzeville/Illinois Institute of Technology area before we found a shuttle bus. Comiskey Park #2 was very nice but very typical of newer ballparks. We got upper level seats through Ebay. For this game we were neutral since we’re Phillies phans. The White Sox wound up losing the game in extra innings, due to a hit from a Twin who is coincidentally an ex-Phillie. After the game, the ballpark had fireworks – somehow fitting for our final night in Chicago.
Day 8 8/27 – You Mean it’s Time to leave Already?
Alas, this was our last day in Chicago and not a full one. We somehow got up obscenely early and checked out. We had our final breakfast at West Egg Café – boohoo! We made our way to the El and got to Midway in time for our flight home, which was incident free. Our bags arrived safely again – hoorah! – and we got picked up by my saint of a sister-in-law. Then we realized that one of us had work the next day and one of us had work AND grad school.
Thank you for reading if you are this far. I hope this helps future travelers to the Windy City. We can’t wait to go back when the Phillies play the White Sox!