Archive for the ‘Destinations’ Category

How to do a three day vacation in Chicago this summer

Chicago is high on the list of travelers destinations. (Photos by J Jacobs)

Chicago is high on the list of travelers destinations. (Photos by J Jacobs)

Known for years as Carl Sandburg’s “City of the Big Shoulders” for its stock yards and freight crossroads, Chicago has metamorphosed into a foodie and festival city. It’s also a cultural arts city, an architecture city and shopping city. Indeed, there’s enough to do here to fill a week but when all you have is three days it’s helpful to have a plan. Just remember to figure in downtime even if your walking shoes are comfy.

 

BTW, if you want to link your visit to one of the city’s famed free festivals in Millennium Park, Grant Park or along Lake Michigan, you might want to check these 2019 dates. The Chicago Blues Festival is June 7-9  in Millenium Park. Taste of Chicago is July 10-14 in Grant Park. Chicago Air and Water Show is Aug. 17-18 at North Avenue Beach north of the downtown and the Chicago Jazz Festival is Aug 31-Sept. in Millennium Park, the Chicago Cultural Center and other venues.

 

The Chicago Peninsula pool overlooks Michigan Avenue's Mag Mile. (J Jacobs photo)

The Chicago Peninsula pool overlooks Michigan Avenue’s Mag Mile. (J Jacobs photo)

First Day

 

Consider splurging and booking into the  Chicago Peninsula Hotel at 108 E. Superior St.

 

The rooms and service plus the wellness area’s pool and spa make a stay here really feel like a vacation. And that is before you realize how close you are to good shopping, good food, good museums and good theater.

 

When you walk out the hotel door you turn the corner onto North Michigan Avenue’s Magnificent Mile. Walking either way, north to Oak Street or south to the Chicago River, you will find Cartier, Lester Lampert, Rolex, Swarovsk,Tiffany & Co. and  David Yurman, plus  Burberry, Bottega Veneta, Bulgari, Chanel, La Perla, Louis Vuitton, Ralph Lauren, Salvatore Ferragamo and Giorgio Armani.

 

And that doesn’t even count Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue or the indoor upscale malls of 900 North Michigan Shops that include Gucci,  Lululemon Athletica Michael Kors or Water Tower Place (835 N. Michigan) which has  the American Girl Place, Candyality, Clark Shoes and Coach or The Shops at North Bridge (520 N. Michigan)  with BOSS Hugo Boss, Armani Exchange, Ermenegildo Zegna, Louis Vuitton, Stuart Weitzman and Vosges Haut-Chocolat.

 

But before heading out you may want to see if you can get tickets to the Ham Exhibition. That’s the immersive, 360 degree, interactive, multi-room exhibit that tells more and shows more about the “Hamilton” musical’s featured characters, their history and background than you find in the show. The exhibition is in a temporary building on Northerly Island on a strip of land just south of the Adler Planetarium. It’s up now through sometime this fall (rumored to leave sometime in September).

 

Ham exhibition is a walk through US historic founding. (Photo courtesy of the Ham Exhibition)

Ham exhibition is a walk through US historic founding. (Photo courtesy of the Ham Exhibition)

 

Also think about what else you want to see that needs tickets.

 

Chicago is rich in theater options. There are about 250 theater companies in the Chicago area but if you want to stay in your theater-area you might want to get tickets downtown to a Broadway in Chicago  musical or a show at award-winning Goodman Theatre or at Lookingglass Theatre in the Chicago Water Works building.

 

Also check with the Chicago Architecture Center to find out what tours are available while you are in town. A really popular one is the boat tour on the Chicago River but the others are also good and interesting, including a walking tour of the city’s art deco buildings.

 

Now, have fun shopping. The malls mentioned have places to eat lunch but if you are at Water Tower Place check the many choices on the Mezzanine.

 

Whew! All that planning and shopping the Mag Mile deserve a time-out swim in the Peninsula Pool or a spa visit before thinking about dinner.

 

The hotel’s cuisine is excellent but if you want to do cocktails and then go out consider the hotel’s Z Bar for its views, music (and food) or go over to the Fig & Olive on Oak Street for cocktails and their crostini appetizers.

 

For dinner, if you didn’t stay at the Z Bar or Fig & Olive, but are interested in upscale Italian/Mediterranean cuisine, snag a reservation at Spiaggia. Chef-Partner Tony Mantuano’s multi-award winning restaurant at the corner of Oak Street and North Michigan Avenue.

 

Frank Gehry's designed Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park has music festivals but the lawn in front is a place for exercizes early in the morning and where people relax later in the day. (J Jacobs photo)

Frank Gehry’s designed Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park has music festivals but the lawn in front is a place for exercizes early in the morning and where people relax later in the day. (J Jacobs photo)

Second Day

 

Breakfast. Just outside the hotel door and to the left at the corner is the Peninsula’s French café, Pierre Gourmet. You may think you are going there just for really excellent croissants and coffee but you are likely to order more after seeing the menu and deciding to take something back to your room. The café is a favorite neighborhood place to stop for breakfast, lunch and mid-day breaks.

 

Depending on if or when you have tickets for the Ham Exhibition or a Chicago Architecture Center tour, make Day Two a Millennium Park/Museum Day.

 

No matter which tour you take or exhibit you see, spend time at Millennium Park on Michigan Avenue between Randolph and Monroe Streets. You can walk or take almost any bus from around the corner of the Peninsula Hotel south on Michigan Avenue to Randolph or Madison Street.

 

That overblown steel ribbon you’ll see in the park is the top of the Frank Gehry designed Pritzker Pavilion.

 

If you are an early riser and didn’t run along Lake Michigan this morning before breakfast, consider joining a workout in Millennium Park on the Great Lawn by the Pritzzger Pavillion.

 

Then do breakfast across Randolph and Michigan at Free Rein next to the Saint Jane Hotel.

 

The Bean is a popular selfie site in Millennium Park. Photo by Jodie Jacobs

The Bean is a popular selfie site in Millennium Park. Photo by Jodie Jacobs

 

But go back to Millennium Park, home of Chicago’s famed “Bean.” Actually called “Cloud Gate” by its British sculptor Anish Kapoor,  the Bean is where tourists and residents alike do selfies, take each others pictures, snap photos of the skyline relected on its 110-ton elliptical shape and walk through its concave arch.

 

Don’t leave without seeing the Crown Fountain whose giant faces “spit” water into a zero-depth wading/reflecting pool . Designed by Spanish artist Jaume Plensa, the fountain consists of two, 50-foot glass block towers with changing faces of real Chicago residents.

 

You might have noticed that the Art Institute of Chicago is across Millennium Park’s Monroe Street side.  The museum’s  blockbuster summer show running only to Sept. 8, 2010, is the gorgeous  “Manet and Modern Beauty.” Purchase tickets to the museum and the show ($7 extra) when you visit.

 

To see a  part of the museum that won’t cost anything, walk up the Nichols Bridgeway that starts in Millennium Park and reaches an upper level of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Modern Wing. Go inside and then back outside but on the The Bluhm Family Terrace.

 

Here’s a great place to take in the skyline and see Millennium Park from above. The Terrace also features  temporary modern sculptures. To leave, take an elevator or escalators down to Griffin Court in the Modern Wing.

 

Nichols Bridgway from Millennium Park up to the Modern wing's terrace and restaurant. (J Jacobs photo)

Nichols Bridgway from Millennium Park up to the Modern wing’s terrace and restaurant. (J Jacobs photo)

 

If at the museum near lunch time try to reserve a table at the back of the Terrace at Terzo Piano. The food by Spiiaggia’s Tony Mantuano, and the view, part of Modern Wing architect’s Renzo Piano’s plan, are terrific.

 

Another good Millennium Park neighborhood eating choice is Park Grill below the Bean in Millennium Park near the Crown Fountain.

 

You can easily spend a day at the Art Institute of Chicago but even if you have just an hour or two pick up a gallery map or the Art Institute’s app to see “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat, “Water Lilies” by Claude Monet,  the “America Windows  by Marc Chagall and “Woman Descending the Saircase” by Gerhard Richter.

 

However, here is another tip: Go downstairs the main part of the museum to the Thorne Miniature Rooms  to see 68 incredible doll-house-size replicas of European and American interiors including a cathedral.

 

Your day of surprises isn’t up yet. Cross Michigan Avenue to what is sometimes called “The People’s Palace.” It is the Chicago Cultural Center (formerly the main public library), home of good art exhibits, lectures and concerts but for your quick visit, home of spectacular mosaics and stained glass domes.

 

Chicago Botanic Garden is actually in suburban Glencoe, about a 25 minute drive north of Chicago. (J Jacibs photo)

Chicago Botanic Garden is actually in suburban Glencoe, about a 25 minute drive north of Chicago. (J Jacibs photo)

Third Day

Make it an outdoor botanic and music day in Chicago’s northern suburbs.

 

Dive or take a train on the Union Pacific North Line from the Ogilvie Transportation Center on Madison Street to the Braeside station in suburban Highland Park.

 

From Braeside, a Highland Park stations, cross Lake Cook Road to wander the path west through a Cook County Forest Preserve across Green Bay Road to the Chicago Botanic Garden, 1000 Lake Cook Road, Glencoe.

 

Or drive there from Chicago along Lake Michigan from Lake Shore Drive to Sheridan Road. You will pass Northwestern University in Evanston, the gorgeous Bah’ai Temple in Wilmette, through the winding ravines of Winnetka/Hubbard Woods, past North Shore Congregation Israel designed by Minoru Yamasaki to the stoplight at Lake Cook Road. Go west two more lights to the Botanic Garden. The garden is free (except the butterfly building), but there is a parking charge if you drove.

 

Owned by the owned by the Forest Preserve District of Cook County and operated by the Chicago Horticultural Society, you can view it by the numbers,: 27 gardens and four natural areas, 385 acres, nine islands and six miles of river-pond shoreline. Or just go and wander into its Butterfly and Blooms building which re-opend the end of May and goes through Sept. 2, 2019 on the north side of the Garden.

 

Then visit a wonderful Japanese Garden, fragrant Rose Garden, fun Model Railroad Garden, interesting greenhouses with different climates and the nearby Bonsai patio. Snap photos by the fountain in the lake and if there on a Saturday or Sunday check out  the Chef series in the Regenstein Fruit and Vegetable Garden.

 

Stop for a bite at the Garden View Café where you can eat indoors or outside on a deck with a view.

 

Ravinia Festival in Highland Park is the summer home of the CSO. (J Jacobs photo)

Ravinia Festival in Highland Park is the summer home of the CSO. (J Jacobs photo)

 

Plan to spend the evening at Ravinia Festival, a historic music venue that opened in 1904. Ravinia is the summer home of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra but also does pop concerts.

 

It is within walking distance of the garden if you took the train to Braeside.  Walk back to the station, then follow a path or the street north along the tracks to the Ravinia Festival gate.  There is a ticket charge to enter the grounds or sit in the Pavilion that varies according to the program. Classical is cheaper than pop. A train stops at the Ravinia Festival to return to Chicago’s Ogilvie station.

 

It almost doesn’t matter what is going on there when you’re in town because merely going is an experience.

 

Guests come from all over northern Illinois and adjoining states to picnic on the grass and listen to music under the stairs. You will see everything from elaborate setups of candelabra to small blankets and chairs. Ravinia rents chairs so don’t worry about sitting if you don’t get a Pavilion ticket

.

If you drove, get around the Ravinia Festival lot charge by going to the Highland Park stations of Braeside, Ravinia (not the festival one but a neighborhood station) or downtown Highland Park to take the free shuttle. You can buy food at Ravinia for a picnic or dine in one of its restaurants (reservations suggested).

 

You could spend Day Three in Chicago because there are world class museums on the museum campus and you could visit Navy Pier, a popular Chicago destination where you can take a boat ride or you could visit the Lincoln Park Zoo and eat at The Patio at Cafe Brauer.

 

But if visiting the Chicago area in the summer the Chicago Botanic Garden and Ravinia Festival should be on the must-do list.

Happy travels!

 

Chicago summer zoo news

 

Of course Chicago is filled with places to go, many of which you can find at Choose Chicago for the day or week you will be in town.

But put one of its zoos, Lincoln Park or Brookfield, on the do list.

 

Lincoln Park Zoo

Baby gorilla born on Mother's Day at Lincoln Park Zoo. (Photo by Christoper Bijalba and is courtesy of (Lincoln Park Zoo)

Baby gorilla born on Mother’s Day at Lincoln Park Zoo. (Photo by Christoper Bijalba and is courtesy of (Lincoln Park Zoo)

 

Founded in 1868, the zoo is a fun, free, destination in Lincoln Park, a grassy stretch of ponds, boats and conservatories along Lake Shore Drive just north of the city’s famed Magnificent Mile.

 

Go to Plan Your Visit to figure out all you want to do. Open 365 days a year, you can fit zoo attractions into half a day in this 35-acre zoo. But definitely visit the Regenstein Center for African Apes because a baby was born to Rollie, a western lowland gorilla on Mother’s Day.

 

The baby has joined the zoo’s group that also encompasses females Bana and Bahati and juveniles Bella, Nayembi and Patty. The newborn joins a troop of seven individuals, including adult females Bana and Bahati, and three juvenile females Bella, Nayembi, and Patty.

 

“It’s really amazing to see this family group grow and adapt,” said Curator of Primates Jill Moyse. “Lincoln Park Zoo’s last gorilla birth was in 2015 when the troop welcomed newborn Bella. It’s an exciting time to visit Regenstein Center for African Apes where you can see different life stages of the gorillas from newborn infant to full-grown silverback.”

 

Lincoln Park Zoo is at 2001 North Clark St., Chicago, IL 60614. For parking, hours, bus transportation and more information call (312) 742-2000 and visit LPZoo.

 

 

Brookfield Zoo

Snowflake, an albino alligator visiting Brookfield Zoo. (Photo by Kelly Tone and courtesy of Chicago Zoological Society.

Snowflake, an albino alligator visiting Brookfield Zoo. (Photo by Kelly Tone and courtesy of Chicago Zoological Society.

 

Brookfield  Zoo is in the southern suburb of Brookfield. Opened in 1934 it is operated by the Chicago Zoological Society. A year-round destination it is open every day.

 

The zoo is so large you will need a whole day to see everything but if coming the summer of 2019, do stop to see Snowflake, a 16-year-old albino American alligator in The Swamp habitat that is visiting from Florida’s St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park where it returns in September.

 

According to Brookfield officials, albino alligators are extremely rare with only about 100 existing in the world. Easily subject to predators, they have ivory-white skin and pinkish eyes.

 

Brookfield is worth visiting even though it charges admission. General admission is adults: $21.95, seniors 65 and older $15.95 and children age 3 to 11 15.95. Deduct 1 $ in each category ordered online. For ticket information that covers special exhibits and online ordering visit CZS/tickets.

 

Parking for Brookfield Zoo, a 216-acre destination that includes several winding paths, fountains, eateries and gift shops, is at two gates: North Gate Main Entrance 8400 31st Street (1st Avenue and 31st Street), and South Gate Main Entrance 3300 Golf Rd, Brookfield, IL 60513  Visit Directions and CZS and Brookfield Zoo/Home for more information.

 

 

 

Four National Parks for the vacation do list

 

Memorial Day is almost here. If you haven’t figured out where to spend some of you summer vacation days think National Parks.

Sure there are the ones you always hear about out west – and they are definitely worth visiting. But expand your horizons to other areas of the country.

Check out the National Park Service website for places you can get to in, say, a day and half with Find a Park.

To get you started here are some choice NPS destinations doable from Chicago ranging from an island and dunes to forests and mountains..  BTW April 20-28, 2019 is National Park Week.

Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk Beach at the Indiana Dunes. (Photo courtesy of the National Park Service)

Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk Beach at the Indiana Dunes. (Photo courtesy of the National Park Service)

Indiana Dunes

Just around Lake Michigan, a little more than half an hour from Chicago next to Porter IN, the fomer Indiana Dunes State Park was recently given National Park status.

Extending 15 miles around the southern part of Lake Michigan, the park is a birders destination, but with 50 miles of trails, this is also a great place to hike if you like dunes, water views, forests, prairies and even rivers.

For visit tips see and stop at the Indiana Dunes Visitor Center, 1215 N. IN Hwy 49, Porter, IN 46304. For information call  (219) 395-1882 or (219) 926-2555 and visit NPS Plan.

 

Stop for a photo op in the park. (J Jacobs photo)

Stop for a photo op in the park. (J Jacobs photo)

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

You know about traffic jams but if you drive through this national park you will likely encounter “bear jams,” the phrase the locals use to characterize the stopping of cars to take photos when bears cross the road.

A second item to know if you go is that Gatlinburg, where you may start your park tour, is home to a large artists community. So save time to do “The Loop,” the eight-mile Tennessee Heritage Arts & Crafts Trail.

In the park visit the Mountain Farm Museum, Cades Cove, Cataloochee, or the Roaring Fork area to see farms, churches and homes built by early settlers. You might see black bear, white-tailed deer and turkeys crossing the road or at Cades Cove and Cataloochee.For sweeping mountain views drive up Clingmans Dome or Newfound Gap.

The Park Headquarters is at 107 Park Headquarters Road,  Gatlinburg, TN 37738. For more information call (865) 436-1200 and see NPS Plan Your Visit. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is about 585 miles (about a 9.5 hour drive) from Chicago.

 

Camping photo at Isle Royale National Park. (Photo courtesy of National Park Service)

Camping photo at Isle Royale National Park. (Photo courtesy of National Park Service)

Isle Royale National Park

If looking for a breath-taking, backpacking, boating or fishing experience check out Isle Royale, MI , a National Park island in Lake Superior. Wheeled vehicles not allowed. Camp out or snag a room at Rock Harbor Lodge.

Drive to a departure town such as Houghton, Michigan about 400 miles from Chicago and 200 miles north of Green Bay WI. Visitors then take the NPS’ Ranger III boat over to the Isle. Different boats go from other towns.

Transportation services go there from Houghton and Copper Harbor, Michigan and Grand Portage, Minnesota.

Houghton is off of US-41 at the base of the Keweenaw Peninsula. For more information and tips visit NPS Plan. For Houghton and Isle Royale info call (906) 482-0984.

 

Sleeing Bear Dunes National Lake shore bluffs are 400 feet above Lake Michigan. (J Jacobs photo

Sleeing Bear Dunes National Lake shore bluffs are 400 feet above Lake Michigan. (J Jacobs photo

 

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

The park is beautiful any time of year. Visit in the fall to do its Pierce stocking Scenic Drive or in the winter if you like to snow shoe. Or visit in the spring when birds and wild flowers fill the woods. Come back in the summer to hike or bike the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail. The park’s Port Oneida Rural Historic District features late 1980s farm life and crafts.

Do climb the immense sand dunes. The dunes at Sleeping Bear, town of Empire and at Pyramid Point are on bluffs about 400 feet above Lake Michigan.

The clue about what to see and do is the word Lakeshore. There are 65 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline plus inland lakes and streams. Park Headquarters are at 9922 Front St., Empire, MI 49630 Park Headquarters call (231) 326-4700 or try the Philip A. Hart Visitor Center (231) 326-4700, ext. 5010. See NPS Visit to plan the trip.

Adjacent towns such as Glen Haven, and Leland further north on the Leelanau Peninsula, are fun to visit. So is boating out to South Manitou Island for its lighthouse.  The park has campgrounds. Click here for accommodations and attractions and to plan your visit. Add a couple of days to visit the wineries and towns on the Leelanau Peninsula.

Sleeping Bear Dunes is about 331 miles, about 5 1/2 hours, from Chicago.

 

 

 

Tulip Time returns to Holland

Tulip Time is almost here in Holland, Mi. (J Jacobs photo)

Tulip Time is almost here in Holland, Mi. (J Jacobs photo)

After a bruising winter it’s time to go to a town that celebrates brightly colored flowers with dancing, art, music and windmill-ground flour. No passport needed.

It’s Holland, MI where everything Dutch is celebrated year ’round but where when May comes tulips line the streets and the town is in festival mode.

Plan now to visit because accommodations fill fast. Tulip Time is May 4 through May 12, 2019. Week days are  less crowded but to catch the events you want, check the schedule.  To see the schedule visit Tulip Time events.

Dutch dances begin May 2, Tulip Town Tours, the artisan market and Art in Bloom, Tall ships, Tulip Time Quilt show are May 4.  But many of these events continue through the festival.

 

Tip: Don’t limit your time to just the main festival site.

Windmill Island has an authentic, working windmill. (J Jacobs photo)

Windmill Island has an authentic, working windmill. (J Jacobs photo)

My favorite stop is Windmill Island Gardens on the edge of the downtown.   It has a real, from-Holland, working Dutch windmill. There is also an antique children’s carousel and replica Dutch buildings. For Tulip time there is a Dutch Trade Fair and Dutch food.

Next are two places  on the outskirts of town near the highway that feature gardens and Dutch goods: Veldheer’s Tulip Gardens /DeKlomp Wooden Shoe & Delft Factory where you can watch shoes being made and delft painted, and Nelis’ Dutch Village Family Theme Park  & Wooden Shoe Factory which is geared to kids.

 

Accommodations I like the Courtyard by Marriott Holland Downtown and CityFlats Hotel that is also downtown. To see more choices visit Holland  Hotels.

Dining. I haven’t had a bad meal there. Among my faves are Alpenrose Restaurant and Curragh Irish Pub.But walkthe main street, 8th Street, and explore. There are lots of boutiques and good restaurants plus good sculptures to see and photograph.

Go. Enjoy!

Jodie Jacobs

 

 

 

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