Archive for the ‘Chicago’ 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.

 

 

 

First in series that updates “downtown” Chicago hotels

 

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

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

As a Chicago-based  travel writer I’m constantly receiving notices of new hotels going up, remodeling taking place at older, established hotels and changes being made regarding check-in conveniences, a TV’s room information and hotel  restaurant options.

They range from comparatively inexpensive to high end, large, convention-sized lobbies and meeting rooms to boutique size with small lobbies and little meeting space. And from casual, pick up and go breakfast bars to open-kitchen designed trendy-food emporiums.

There are about 25 ot choose from just in the Loop, another 13 hotels on and near the Mag Mile (Northern Michigan Avenue from the Chicago River to Oak Street (Oak is also considered the Gold  Coast). Another 25 hotels are in the River North Area just west of Michigan Avenue.

All of that means Chicago visitors have an abundance of choices.  Some travelers may consider that good news. Others might find it overwhelming. Fortunately, Choose Chicago, the city’s tourism website the hotel category is broken down by area type and other options.

But travelers should be aware that even when supposedly speaking the same language, hotel and room descriptions translate differently to listeners and speakers.

Having unpacked in all sorts of accommodations in the US and abroad, I have found that words such as roomy, with a view and convenient to sights and shopping, may mean one thing to a traveler and something different to hotel managers and public relations or sales agents.

I found out that a view of the Eiffel Tower in Paris or Lake Michigan in Chicago meant if you walked out onto the balcony and craned the neck you probably could glimpse the famed structure or crammed into a corner of the room and stood on tiptoe you could get a glimpse of Lake Michigan.

The big question is – are new and remodeled hotels meeting the needs and wants of business and vacation visitors today? The first quarter of the 21st century saw big changes in electronic communications and food and exercise trends.

Please give input in the comment area or send an email to jjtravelsmart@gmail.comof what you look for in a hotel. Email addresses will not be shared. Comments will be helpful when looking at other Chicago hotels.

The hotel series will look at new and updated downtown Chicago hotels starting with Aloft Chicago Mag Mile and  Hotel Julian,  two boutique hotels that opened in October 2018.

 

Aloft Chicago Mag Mile and Hotel Julian

If looking for a new boutique hotel that is near some of downtown Chicago’s sights you will find two excellent options in Aloft Chicago Mag Mile and Hotel Julian.

I liked them both for different reasons but what surprised me when visiting them when they opened was room size. They both were what people in real estate use when describing small houses – cozy.

Compared to some hotel rooms I’ve stayed at in good European hotels, the rooms probably could be described as spacious but Americans might describe them as efficient. The room sizes and accompanying narrow desk and closet space are following a trend I’ve noticed in other recently redeveloped Chicago buildings turned into hotels such as the London House.

What the two hotels lack in room size, and size is merely a judgment call, they make up in good vibes and good location.

 

Aloft Chicago Mag Mile

Aloft Chicago Mag Mile goes for modern art decor (Aloft photo)

Aloft Chicago Mag Mile goes for modern art decor (Aloft photo)

The hotel sits where the Museum of contemporary Art resided before it moved a few blocks north. It does not overlook Michigan Avenue in spite of its title but it is a few blocks east so is within easy walking distance of the Water Tower Place (indoor shopping mall), the John Hancock Building’s 360 Observation Floor, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Navy Pier (Includes Chicago Shakespeare Theater), Lookingglass Theatre and the Dreihaus Museum.

Restaurants of all cuisines and price points are also nearby.

For” time-out” from running around, the hotel has a pool, an airy fitness center that has two Peloton Bikes, a lobby where board games are set out ready to use and a bar where people in the neighborhood stop by.

Meet Corgan, a robot "bowtler" at Aloft Chicago Mag Mile. (Photo by J Jacobs)

Meet Corgan, a robot “bowtler” at Aloft
Chicago Mag Mile. (Photo by J Jacobs)

Its restaurant, Re:Fuel, is basically a pick-up and go type, self-serve food bar available 24-7 and WI-FI is free throughout the hotel. A hotel guest looked comfortable working on his lap top in the food bar area.

The vibe here is fun. Corrigan, a robot “bowtler” instead of a butler, mingles with lobby guests, tells jokes and when programed at the desk, delivers items to rooms upon request. there is also music on Friday and Saturday.

Visitors who appreciate modern art and good design that incorporates light and bright colors in halls, nooks, rugs and in room and lobby spaces will find this hotel to be a comfortable home while in the city. Aloft Chicago Mag Mile is  at 243 E. Ontario St., Chicago, IL 600611

 

 

 

 

Hotel Julian

Hotel Julian room. (Hotel Julian photo)

Hotel Julian room. (Hotel Julian photo)

The hotel has moved into and risen in the historic Atlantic Bank Building on the west side Michigan Avenue just north of Millennium Park.

Designed by famed architect Benjamin Marshall and completed in 1916, it had just 12 of its originally planned 17 floors built.

Now, the Oxford Capital Group that recently redid the London House building as a hotel at Michigan Avenue and Wacker Drive, has beautifully redone the terra cotta clad structure and added five floors with floor to ceiling windows.

Confined by the building original bones, public and private spaces are narrow but from the gourmet “About Last Knife” dining space to the contemporary-designed rooms the descriptive word could be “sleek.” High ceilings make the rooms look and feel larger than they are. The fitness room is small but has a Peloton Bike.

Some rooms at Hotel Julian have a partial view of Millennium Park. (J Jacobs photo)

Some rooms at Hotel Julian have a partial view of Millennium Park. (J Jacobs photo)

A side benefit of adapting needs to space is that instead of an ironing board rooms have steamers. In our family this means not having to hang clothes in the bathroom and turning the shower to hot.

Positioned in the market as a luxury hotel, it has Frette linen and robes and Panpuri bath products designed for the hotel.

Named for the patron saint of travelers, Hotel Julian is well situated for visitors who want to see the Art Institute of Chicago or Cloud Gate (The Bean) and activities in Millennium Park while in town.

It is also near the Theatre District’s shows at Goodman TheatreChicago Theatre and the Broadway in Chicago productions at the Ford Oriental Theatre, all a few  blocks  west of the hotel.

Hotel Julian is at 168 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, Illinois 60601

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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