Five Thanksgiving things to do in Chicago

You never know what characters you will see in Chicago's Thanksgiving parade (JJacobs photo)

You never know what characters you will see in Chicago’s Thanksgiving parade (JJacobs photo)

Chicago has been named by several publications among the country’s top three destinations. Among the reasons: great theater, good food choices, world-class museums and friendly people who are willing to help with directions.

However, if visiting family or friends they also have some ideas of what to do and where to go. The problem is how to fit everything in a limited time and what ought to be done ahead of time.

A lot of Chicago holiday events start Thanksgiving weekend even when it comes early such as this year, 2018, when it feels like it is arriving ahead of time on Nov. 22.

Tip: The day after Thanksgiving is a mad shopping scene downtown and on the Magnificent Mile (North Michigan Avenue) so work up a turkey-sized appetite by spending Thanksgiving Day downtown, instead. Then, head to where-ever your feast is for your yummy reward. The next couple of days see a play or explore an area near but outside Chicago.

A Macy's State Street holiday window

A Macy’s State Street holiday window

 

  • It’s OK to watch on TV but to do something different, splurge and reserve a seat in the VIP section in front of Macy’s State Street store. Visit Chicago’s Thanksgiving parade to reserve seats. The parade is 8-11 a.m. on State Street.

 

  • Do Macy’s State Street store holiday windows. If at the parade, take time to ooh and aah at the magical scenes in Macy’s windows. Started in Chicago by Marshall Field’s the department store windows have charmed shoppers State Street. Decorated with toys since 1897 and transitioned to holiday windows with Uncle Mistletoe in 1946, peering into the windows to see the stories and themes that Field’s and then Macy’s have is a beloved Chicago-area holiday tradition.Macy’s State Street windows will be decorated from Nov. 1, 2018 to Jan. 5, 2019.
Christkindlmarket in Daley Plaza (City of Chicago photo)

Christkindlmarket in Daley Plaza (City of Chicago photo)

  • No, don’t leave downtown yet. Walk a couple of blocks west on Washington Street (south side of Macy”s) to Daley Plaza between Clark and Dearborn Streets to browse eat and shop at the Christkindlmarket. Based on the holiday market in Nuremberg, Germany, the Chicago version has also become a Chicago tradition since 1995. In 2018 it is up from Nov. 16 to Dec. 24.

 

  • Over the weekend, use the Thanksgiving theme to see and then discuss “It’s a Wonderful Life: Live from Chicago.” The production, based on Frank Capra’s film, has also become a holiday tradition at American Blues Theater, Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago. The show features an original score and holiday carols. Plus, the Bedford Falls “residents” treat the audience to milk and cookies. The show runs from Nov. 15, 2018 to Jan. 5, 2019. For tickets visit American Blues Theater.
Miniature trains wind around Chicago buildings in Wonderland Express (J Jacobs photo)

Miniature trains wind around Chicago buildings in Wonderland Express (J Jacobs photo)

  • Drive north to the Chicago Botanic Garden to fall in love with the Wonderland Express. The train themes sounds like it maybe for kids but adults love it just as much because it includes terrific mock-ups of the Chicago area’s highlights from skyscrapers  and Millennial Park’s “Bean” to Wrigley Field and from Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House, South Shore’s Cultural Center and the B’hai temple in Wilmette. Don’t worry about the “snow falling inside on your shoulder, its harmless. Do stop in the adjacent greenhouses to see poinsettias and topiaries. The Botanic Garden  is just east of Edens Expressway at Lake Cook Road bordering Highland Park.This is a timed and ticketed event so for tickets go to  Chicago Botanic WEX.

 

Plan ahead, then go for it!

 

 

 

 

October is a good month to look up

Meteor showers happen when Earth is in a comet's orbital path and comet debris fly across the sky. (NASA photo)

Meteor showers happen when Earth is in a comet’s orbital path and comet debris fly across the sky. (NASA photo)

Watch for sky shows this month. The Draconids, North Taurids (Northern Hemisphere, South Taurids in Southern Hemisphere) and the Orionids are all shooting across the sky.

If lucky enough to have a cloudless sky, very little moonlight and no street and commercial lights, you may catch a shooting star. Actually meteorites merely look like falling stars as they streak across the sky.

Light from the moon won’t interfere with seeing the Draconids that peak the evening of Oct. 9, 2018 because the moon will be in its new phase. The Taurids are around all month but don’t worry, you can still catch them Nov. 8 during the next new moon phase.

The Orionids will be peaking around Oct. 21 but the moon will be waxing gibbous (more than half) as it heads to becoming a full moon Oct. 24.

So how many meteorites might be up there during each shower?

Well, it’s hard to predict the Draconids. They may be producing only a few per hour but the good news is that you don’t have to stay up late to watch for them and some years they produce quite a show with more than 500 meteorites an hour.

Their radiant point is from the head of Draco the Dragon near the stars Eltanin and Rastaban and they are best seen when the Dragon is highest in the evening sky. The Draconid shower happens when the Earth crosses the orbital path of Comet 21P/Giacobini-Zinner.

The Taurids, originating from Taurus the Bull, are residue from the Comet 2P Encke. There aren’t a lot of them per hour and they may peak towards the end of October when the moon is still in its bright waning gibbus phase. But the good news is that they are around all month. Watch for them early morning before dawn. The other good news is that they are very bright balls of fire.

The  Orionids typically fly across at 20 meteorites per hour but have been known to quadruple that number. Look for quick streaks of bright light. They’re fast.

Best Orionids watching time is before dawn when the moon sets by 1 a.m. and meteorite numbers are highest. The particles come from Comet 1P/Halley. The Orionids are named for their radiation point which is near the constellation Orion (The Hunter). In October, Orion is best visible around 2 a.m.

For good sky reference sites visit NASA, Earth/Sky, Space and Time and Date.

 

 

Four Midwestern fall getaways within four hours

 

You don’t have to drive across country to find gorgeous tangerine and magenta vistas. Four easy-to-get-to Midwestern areas, Galena, IL, Geneva and Door County, WI and Bloomington/Brown County, IN, put on a color show that attract leaf-peepers as September merges into October. Sure there is good color throughout the region but these areas also have fun shops and good accommodation choices. You do need to make your reservation now, however, because they are not a secret. Best plan is to go during the week to avoid the crowds.

Biking around Eagle Ridge on the outskirts of Galena. (Eagle Ridge photo)

Biking around Eagle Ridge on the outskirts of Galena. (Eagle Ridge photo)

 

Galena, IL

Tucked into the northwest corner of Illinois at the Mississippi River, the town of Galena ripples down hilly streets and scenic roads. About a three hour drive northwest of Chicago, its hilly terrain is vastly different from Illinois’ Lake Michigan and prairie landscape. Leave time to  explore the Galena Territory where every road turn and over every hill there is another photo op and color-filled vista.

Shopping the town’s main street is delicious because there are wine-tasting places and yummy ice cream and candy shops. Check with your accommodations host for restaurants that have your favorite cuisine.

There are lots of good B&Bs in town and even a historic hotel. Or if looking for expansive color vistas consider Eagle Ridge Resort and Spa. Only 6 minutes from the village’s downtown in the Galena Territory, it has lots of room choices so is perfect for a family or girls getaway. Eagle Ridge also has horseback riding, hiking and biking trails and balloon tours.

Nearby, are a stage coach trail, fort and the scenic vistas of Galena’s Jo Davies County. There is usually a balloon, wine or other festival taking place in the area so with all the outdoor recreation and activities around you probably won’t need a book to fill slack time.

 

Play golf or just enjoy fall color at the Grand Geneva Resort on the outskirts of Lake Geneva, WI. (Grand Geneva photo)

Play golf or just enjoy fall color at the Grand Geneva Resort on the outskirts of Lake Geneva, WI. (Grand Geneva photo)

 

Lake Geneva WI

Do like Chicago’s upper crust used to do. Drive up to Lake Geneva across the Illinois border into Wisconsin. The town is still filled with estates but also has B&Bs and resorts. About 1 ½ hours north of Chicago, Lake Geneva has been a vacation destination since the 1800s.

Visitors can hear about the estates that border Geneva Lake. The lake here is called Geneva Lake but the town reverses that by calling itself Lake Geneva. Take a boat ride that also delivers the mail pier-side or an evening sunset cruise to hear about the estates or celebrate fall with a glass of wine.  The boat excursions are a good way to see some of the grand houses and resorts around the lake away from Lake Geneva. Motor boat rentals are also available.

To get away from the crowd after cruising shops and the lake and to see even more good color vistas, check the Grand Geneva for dinner or accommodations. It is just outside of town and the spa is a destination by itself.

A back road drive in Door County.

A back road drive in Door County.

Door County, WI

About four hours north of Chicago, the fun and scenic vacation destination of Door County is on a peninsula that pokes like a finger into the waters east of  the City of Green Bay. One side of The Door edges the watery way called Green Bay. The other side is lapped by the waves of Lake Michigan.

Bring a bike or rent one. Even though there are no traffic lights once past Sturgeon Bay where a canal allows boat traffic to cross, the car and pedestrian traffic of fall-color aficionados make moving from cute town to quaint town and good shops and restaurants to harbors and forest roads a bit slow on the Green Bay side. Driving the forests on the Lake Michigan side or crossing the peninsula between farms and fields is easier and just as colorful.

Bike or hike Peninsula State Park on Green Bay between Fish Creek and Ephraim. Go camera or smart phone ready to snap a ton of photos to download to Facebook or Instagram. To  try whitefish done the Door County way reserve a spot at a restaurant’s fish boil. Tip: check for the annual fall color festival then try to go the week before or after it for better chance at accommodations and restaurant reservations.

Hoosier National Forest in bloomington, IN puts on a fall color show. (Visit Bloomington photo

Hoosier National Forest in bloomington, IN puts on a fall color show. (Visit Bloomington photo

Bloomington/Brown County, IN

About three hours south of Chicago, Brown County’s boutique and arts-filled Nashville (no not TN) and Brown County State Park have arguably been a prime peeper destination long before other regional areas publicized their fall colors.

Possibly, it was because in neighboring Bloomington, which adds golds and oranges to its usual red and white colors, Indiana University students and their parents knew about Brown County’s fall transformation. But you don’t have to go to a football game here or take a class to become immersed in the area’s amazing fall kaleidoscope of color.

A good selection of accommodations can be found in Bloomington and Nashville. Tip: Look up IU’s football schedule so you don’t go that weekend. Better yet, go during the week anyway.

 

 

Jodie Jacobs

 

 

 

 

Five fall getaway tips

A back road drive in Door County.

A back road drive in Door County.

The itch to getaway to a colorful scenic vista is upon us. The weather is showing signs of fall with warm days and cool nights and some trees in the neighborhood are beginning to show tinges of gold and orange. But before you throw a suitcase in the car and drive off there are a few tips that could up the fall color experience.

 

1.Don’t use your neighborhood color changes as the definitive guide. Colors in states or area of your state to the north and west may be in full fall color palette or just beginning to change south or east. In the US check fall foliage map or weather map for where the foliage is turning. Some states have color reports. Among the best in the Midwest is Wisconsin.

2.Make accommodation reservations ahead of time. You’re not alone when looking for a fall destination but to avoid bumper-to bumper traffic go during the week, not om the weekend.

3. Take advantage of local Visitors Bureaus to find the best place for what you want. . As an example, Door County in northeastern Wisconsin, and Traverse City in northern Michigan (below the Upper Peninsula) and Brown County (Bloomington and Nashville) in central Indiana keep tabs on what is available and know price points and type. The visitors centers’ websites also show where pets are welcome. Also stop at the Visitors Center for a map, brochures and suggestions because GPS will work some places but not all.

4. Because you are driving, not flying, throw those extra boots, hiking shoes, jackets, sun protector hats and sprays, water bottles, first-aid kits and backpacks into the car. Don’t be afraid to bring your own pillow for a good night’s sleep.

5. Don’t forget chargers for phones, ipads, cameras or whatever other electronics you take everywhere. Also check your accommodations before you leave, they already have enough chargers from previous visitors.

Enjoy!

Jodie Jacobs

 

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