Music floats on summer breezes in southeastern Highland Park, a suburb in Lake County, IL north of Chicago and on the North Metra train line. That is where you will find Ravinia Festival, summer host of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and dozens of concerts from classical and folk to pop and jazz.
But if summer won’t work plan to go this fall when “Hamilton” returns in mid-September. See more schedule info at Chicago Theater and Arts.
Either way, summer and fall are good times to yell and gobble hotdogs and cheesy fries or nachos at Wrigley field for a Cubs game or at Guaranteed Rate Field for a White Sox game.
Chicago’s museums also are interesting destinations this year.
The Art Institute of Chicago is holding a blockbuster van Gogh exhibit. called “Van Gogh and the Avant Garde: The Modern Landscape,” it runs May 14 to September 4. If you are driving, Route 66 actually starts on the south side of the museum but the sign for it faces the Art Institute across Michigan Avenue. AIC is at 111 S. Michigan Avenue.
With the recent change of England’s royal family, now is perfect to see “First Kings of Europe at the Field Museum. It’s 1400 S. Lake Shore Drive on the city’s Museum Campus with the Shedd Aquarium and Adler Planetarium.
BTW, Lake Shore Drive is now called Jean Baptiste Point DuSable Lake Shore Drive to honor its first non-native settler.
Three must stops:
TheChicago Cultural Center, covering a Michigan Avenue block from Randolph to Washington Street, was once the city’s main library and called the “People’s Palace.” its marble staircase and mosaic walls at the Washington Street entrance and cultural information room at the Randolph Street entrance, plus art exhibits on almost every floor are all worth stopping time.
Millenium Park sits across Michigan Avenue from the Cultural Center. This is where you find the city’s famed Bean., also called Cloud Gate, the Pritzker Pavillion/lawn with Frank Gehry’s sculptural bandshell and the Crown Fountain of Jaume Plensa’s interactive, “spitting” water. There is also a stairway to an upper floor of the Art Institute’s Modern Wing.
The location of the Chicago Architecture Center on the Chicago River just south of Michigan Avenue is great for taking its famous river boat tour. but it is also a building to visit for a build-out of the Chicago Fire and the upstairs exhibits.
Tip: Don’t try to do everything in one or two days.
Local volunteers have been taking visitors and residents through neighborhoods, popular tour sites and lesser known gem locations since 2002.
To celebrate them on the 6th Annual International Greeter Day the city is inviting the public to Explore Chicago Sept 18, 2021 with any of three personalized guided classic tours from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. CT.
The tours: The Loop, Historic Chinatown and Chicago Riverwalk, will meet at Millennium Park at the southwest tent that borders the great lawn. Scavenger hunt experiences will be included at 10:30 and 11:30 a.m. and at 1:30 p.m. Tours are free and pre-registration is not required. Walk-ups are welcome.
In addition to the International Greeters Day event, Chicago Greeters have launched three new initiatives 2021.
Welcome to Our Neighborhood Walks
Led by diverse groups and organizations, the tours highlight community’s unique stories, top attractions and under-the-radar finds.
Instagreeter Downtown Meet Ups
Designed to offer visitors a quick, flexible tour option, these one-hour tours of Chicago’s downtown Loop neighborhood depart from the Chicago Cultural Center’s Welcome Center on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays with no reservation required.
Self-Guided Greeter Tours
Presented by Bank of America, these self-guided itineraries provide visitors and locals with curated, virtual tours designed by local experts to showcase each neighborhood’s unique history, culture and hidden gems. Through video, blog, and social content, this series spotlights six Chicago neighborhoods.
For more information about the Chicago Greeters program, visit Chicago Greeter.
Tucked into the northwest corner of Illinois is the historic Mississippi hillside town of Galena. Its gorgeous fall color draws visitors from mid-September to Halloween, so if going then, book your stay now (weekdays are better).
But the shops, the mid-to late 1800’s structures, charming inns and good food make Galena a fun break in the routine pretty much any time of year. (Folks come here to ski Chestnut Mountain even if not every shop is open)
An easy three-hour drive from Chicago on I 90, the vacation begins when turning before Rockford onto US 20, General Ulysses S. Grant Highway when the four-lane expressway becomes a scenic two-lane road.
As you wind through the hills of Stephenson and Jo Davies Counties, you may realize you are on a ridge with grand vistas of lush valleys.
Although you can continue north through Galena to cross the Mississippi at East Dubuque into Iowa (and go the Field of Dreams baseball movie destination), Galena is a getaway destination, itself.
Go back in time
Indian tribes roamed the area. then it was settled by French traders and explorers. However, the town flourished in the early 1800s when galena ore (lead) boats plied the Mississippi River. It then became a gateway west when Ulysses S. Grant’s family lived and worked here in the mid-1800s.
Galena was on the stage coach route (there still are some stage coach signs). Then by 1854, the rail line went through making it a natural stop for Abraham Lincoln who used the balcony of the Desoto House Hotel on Main Street to campaign for John Fremont in 1856. The Desoto House was also the campaign headquarters for Grant. Go in to see its staircase and ask about a tour.
A couple of other good stops are the old railroad depot on the south side of the Galena River. It houses the Galena Area Tourism Bureau. Also on that side of the river is Gen US Grant’s home built for him as the town’s favorite son.
Ask about walking tours when at the depot. The Galena Historic District covers about 85 percent of the city and includes some 800 properties that were added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1969.
Think food, boutiques and quirky shops when strolling downtown Galena’s Main Street.
When pulling onto the street from US 20 I spied the cheese and wine store that I knew was there. But the unknown treasure was Red’s Iron Yard and Wholesale Barn a few stores down. I loved the roosters and birdhouses in front. My husband was drawn to the antique toy trucks in back.
Another fun store was Celebrity Hats on the other side of the street. Go in. Find your style.
Among the taste treats on the street were two chocolate stores and a patisserie that also did cocktails and sandwiches. Really. Called Bread & Vine, it did good macarons, lovely desserts and yummy sandwiches including a Croque Monsieur and savory croissant with smoked salmon.
There are a couple of chains but most of the stores are unique.
Some folks journey to Galena just for the Fried Green Tomatoes restaurant. You do need a reservation. The place is that popular. I made ours before leaving town. It is known for its steaks but we chose seafood because we know everything there is well prepared and we had meat before we left. The front of the restaurant is on Main Street but its outdoor space is behind it where people park. This end of the street is blocked off for outdoor, curb and street side tables.
Also good is the historic Desoto House. It has three restaurants that are open at different times of the day. For lunch we did the Green Street Tavern where I had the best garlic French fries ever tasted with a delish pulled pork sandwich. My husband had an apple and mixed berry salad with walnuts and a raspberry vinaigrette .
Our dinner the night before we left was at Frank O’Dowd’s Irish Pub & Grill at the Irish Cottage where we were staying. I liked their beer battered cod and seasoned Irish chips. My husband liked the traditional corned beef.
Galena has several B and Bs. Check the Galena Country tourism stay/site for ideas. We liked the Irish cottage for its first-floor patio suites but there were several other places that also looked good including the Goldmoor Inn which is a Select Registry on the road to Chestnut Mountain and the Chestnut Mountain Resort. Both have good views and friendly service.
Even though Mother’s Day isn’t until May 9 in 2021, reservations fill fast so now is the time to figure out something special. The ideas listed here: Stay, Play, Eat, Treat, Spa and Ooh La La, can also apply elsewhere so consider them a guide. For parts two and three in this series visit Chicago Theater and Arts and Dining Out-Eating In.
Book a room or suite at the Deer Path Inn, a historic 1929 hostelry that would fit well in a British town but actually is in Lake Forest, IL. Ranked No 1 Resort Hotel in the Midwest and 18th in the world, according to Travel & Leisure, it s a block from the town’s historic Market Square and Metra train station.
Or reserve a room with a view at Sable at Navy Pier. A new hotel in the Hilton Curio Collection it features Offshore, supposedly the world’s largest roof-top bar. Outside the door, stroll Navy Pier which reopens April 30, 2021 and ride its famed Centennial Wheel (Check ahead for ride tickets).
Relax on a scenic boat ride that starts on the Chicago River near Michigan Avenue. Among the choices are the popular architectural tours on Wendella and the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s River Cruise on the First Lady.
Or stroll the paths, scenic water features and see what’s blooming at the Chicago Botanic Garden. Go online ahead of time to get a parking pass because there is timed entry and Mother’s Day is very popular here.
Or enjoy a French Toast Flight at Batter and Berries in the Lincoln Park neighborhood. BTW they also have delish omelets, breakfast sandwiches and waffles.
Pick up a cake, torte or pastry from a great patisserie. Hard to decide what to get when looking at the lineup of cakes, croissants and chocolate treats at Ambrosia, a European style patisserie in the northwest suburb of Barrington.
The same is true of Vanille a French patisserie in the Lincoln Park neighborhood.
Get Mom a gift certificate for the Peninsula Spa Chicago. She can use the pool before or afterwards or just sit along side it to view the Magnificent Mile. Hotel.
Or get a gift certificate for the Midtown operated spa at the Hyatt Lodge, Oakbrook. The Lodge has nice grounds and spa.
Ooh la la
Say Happy Mother’s Day as if it were Valentine’s Day with candy and flowers.
The Chicago area has several good candy shops. Among them is Sweets in Lake Forest that is also known for its ice cream and Amy’s Candy Bar in Ravenswood. Both are local favorites that may become your new go-to place.
For flower arrangements and plant pots with a little oomf to them check out Phillip’s and Athena.
Typically, Open House Chicago is a visit in-person experience that involves entering historic and interesting places in and around Chicago.
In 2020, the year of Covid, places of architectural and historic significance are visited outside on mapped trails and sites or virtually thanks to a beautifully constructed app made available through the Chicago Architecture Center.
You could but don’t have to journey to Chicago by plane, train or auto. The app allows anyone, anywhere, to visit the places, hear narrations, read about historic sites and see what they look like inside and out.
Be warned, once started on this journey it becomes addictive. However, it only lasts 10 days, from Oct. 16 through Oct. 25, so better start now before the experience is gone.
What to expect
The app includes explorations of more than 20 Chicago neighborhoods, ranging from Oak Park, Lincoln Park, Wicker Park, Rogers Park and Hyde Park to Bronzeville, Chinatown, Pullman, Beverly and Evanston.
If you are interested in Open House Chicago, you likely already know that Oak Park is home to several structures designed by famed architects such as Frank Lloyd Wright and George Maher. The Neighborhood section not only takes you there but it also has a trail to follow.
In Oak Park, it is the Frank Lloyd Wright; Portrait of a Young Architect Trail of seven houses he designed early in his career.. Click on the speaker to narration about the house by Adam Rubin, Chicago Architecture Foundation’s director of interpretation
In the Pullman neighborhood built by George Pullman to house his workers, you learn that its history is important from a labor and urban planning standpoint and you visit its Queen Anne Style Hotel Florence, an Illinois State Historic site.
Then check out the Tied Houses on the Pullman Trail that include the Schlitz Row Brewery Stable.
In the Evanston neighborhood, the “explore like a local” section takes you to the Mitchelll Museum of the American Indian in Evanston and the Illinois Holocaust Museum in Skokie.
You may get the idea that you can become addicted to the app’s explorations. But for a good demo of how it all works go to zoom/rec/play. And if interested in public programs visit Programs.
There are so many choices of how to explore the city and environs that Open House Chicago really is a travel experience.
Settle in for an unusual video that takes viewers from the Charleston Museum founded in 1773 to when Chicago’s Field Museum obtained Sue in 1990.
Thanks to “Riches Rivals and Radicals: 100 Years of Museums in America” a part of the Great Museums film series, you can travel from the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s “live” museum to the 2004 Smithsonian Museum of The American Indian with stopovers at the National Museum of Air and Space, The Isabella Stewart Gardener in Boston, the DuSable Museum of African American History in Chicago, the Institute of Texan Cultures in San Antonio and the Exploratorium in San Francisco.
Add in NYC’s Met and MOMA, Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Boston’s Children’s Museum, Michigan’s Greenfield Village, Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry, the US Memorial Holocaust Museum in D.C., New York’s Botanical Garden, the Milwaukee Art Museum and the National Zoo to see the breadth of the definition of museum and how museum architecture has changed.
It’s all on You Tube, so, refill the morning beverage cup, get comfortable, and visit youtube/watch/feature.
You get the gist of this escape. It’s a trip back to mid last century architecture and homes of famous people who wanted to be within a director’s calling distance of LA studios or not too far from Las Vegas stages.
A mere 119 miles southeast of Los Angeles and about 230 miles from Las Vegas, Palm Springs, CA sits on the always sunny (more than 350 days) western edge of Coachella Valley in the Colorado Desert. The events just mentions are a few of the dozens of tours and activities taking place in and around Palm Springs during the town’s annual Modernism Week, Feb. 14-24, 2019.
The bonus is two, really good shows in the Palm Springs Convention Center. Feb. 15-18, 2019. One is the high-end, Art Palm Springs. The other is a dealers’ Modernism exhibit. Feb. 15-18.
The week, actually 10 days, celebrates the area’s reputation for having more mid-last century homes than anywhere else in the world. Here, old homes are not torn down but are instead, preserved for people who appreciate mid-1900s designs. Indeed, the National Trust for Historic Preservation put the area on its America’s Dozen Distinctive Destinations architecture list in 2006.
Modernism Week happens twice a year, October and February. The fall event is small but the February one runs out of tickets to some of the popular tours and lectures. Check Tickets to see what is left and snap them up before you go.
Do a bus tour
Definitely get tickets for the Premier Double Decker Architectural Bus Tour. Taking about 2.5 hours, the bus drives around Mid-Century Modern neighborhoods, and past Desert Spanish estates.
Knowledgeable guides tell stories about the stars and are likely to explain that the Palm Springs area was chosen because of what was then the studios’ “two-hour rule.” Actors had to be available within a couple of hour’s driving time for film and photo shoot calls..
It’s where tour guides have been known to say, “There is Frank Sinatra’s home, Twin Palms. When he was ready to party he hoisted a Jack Daniels flag between the palms.”
Mid-century architecture is so valued that the much photographed gas station at the foot of the area’s Tram, is on the tour as a re-purposed Visitors Center.
Presidents Dwight Eisenhower and Barack Obama have gotten away from cameras here but it is also a resort and golf area for folks who like its year-round summery weather.
Go to the Convention Center shows
At the Modernism Show, wander around the booths of dealers who specialize in 20th century design movements to see furniture and accessories similar to what your parents or grandparents cherished that are now back in style.
At the Art Palm Springs show check out the post war and contemporary art works.
Shop, Visit Galleries, Relax
There is so much to do during Modernism Week, that you should schedule in down-time. Stay awhile to explore the area, shop the boutiques and art galleries. One of the best galleries is Heather James in neighboring Palm Desert. Oh, and get in some golf and spa time. The Greater Palm SpringsVisitors Bureau has lots of ideas.
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 [email protected] 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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Here are some ideas of where to go and what to do whether visiting Chicago from out of town or planning to take advantage of the city if living in its metropolitan area.
Take an architecture tour
Chicago is known for its architecture – whether it’s the fabulous Louis A. Sullivan Auditorium Theatre at Congress Parkway west of Michigan Avenue, the Rookery designed by Danial Burnham and John Root, with a grand atrium redesigned by Frank Lloyd Wright on LaSalle Street or the Aqua Tower, an undulating multi use building designed by Jeanne Gang and her Gang Studios on North Columbus Drive that includes the Radisson Blu hotel.
The Architecture Foundation does excellent art deco and other walking tours and has a good boat tour on the Chicago River. There are also other good architecture boat tours such as those done by Wendella.
See movie and TV filming sites
Chicago is a popular movie and TV location site. A really great way to see the city is to take the Chicago Film Tour.
More than 80 movie and TV shows have been filmed in Chicago including The Dark Knight, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Sting, Spiderman, The Fugitive and North by Northwest so the tour goes from Wrigleyville on the Northside to China Town south of the loop and lots of places in between.
It takes close to two hours but while on the bus you also get movie shots on a TV monitor and background information from very knowledgeable guides.
Combine Millennium Park with a lunch break
You’d never guess that any eyesore once used by the Illinois Central Railroad could be turned into the gorgeous 24 plus- acre park of gardens, walkways, remarkable sculptures, fountains, art work and public concert spaces that is Millennium Park.
The park stretches along Michigan Avenue from Randolph Street on the North to Monroe Parkway on the South. But what first catches the eye is the interesting stainless steel ribbon-like top of the Jay Pritzker Pavilion designed by Frank Gehry. Its lawn is covered by an artistic sound grid.
Stroll the park to see the Lurie Gardens, the sculptures by Chaikaia Booker in the Boeing galleries section of the park (up now through April 2018, the 50-foot high towers of the Crown Fountain desiged by Jaume Plensa (the towers have changing faces of Chicago residents and the tower spits water into a wading area and the park’s famed Cloud Gate, better known as The Bean.
A 66-foot long elliptical sculpture by Anish Kapoor, The Bean is where visitors go to take selfies. Chicago’s clouds and skyline are beautifully reflected on the Bean’s polished stainless steel surface.
Leave the park by way of the Nichols Bridgeway, a long pedestrian bridge going from the park up to the Renzo Piano restaurant and the Bluhm Family Terrace in the Art Institute of Chicago’s Modern Wing. The restaurant, named for the architect Renzo Piano who designed the Modern Wing and the Bridgeway, is a terrific lunch spot with a view of the city. But you need a reservation.
If you haven’t snagged one go out onto the Terrace to snap photos and go back down to the park where you might be able to get a table at the Park Grill below the Bean.
Enjoy Chicago’s music scene
If you like blues, jazz or folk, find out who is at The House of Blues, Andy’s, Green Mill or The Hideout. For classical programs check Orchestra Hall, the Civic Opera House and the Harris Theatre. Also look up the Pritzker Pavillion in Millennium Park, host of the Blues Fest, for free concerts.
Indulge in a short but wonderful “staycation”
Lots of hotels downtown Chicago have a workout room however few have the space for a good-sized pool and a great spa. Stay and book a spa treatment at the upscale, Oriental influenced Peninsula Hotel overlooking Chicago’s Magnifenct (shopping) Mile on North Michigan Avenue and swim in its half-Olymic length pool. You can also order drinks and lunch there.
Or stay at The Langham, a five star hotel on the Chicago River with British roots. Aside from a fine lap pool and spa, the hotel is known for its traditional tea, good services and spacious rooms. Located in a former Mies van der Rohe skyscraper on Wabash Avenue, the hotel is also well situated for downtown and Magnificent Mile exploration. When reserving ask about the room’s views.
Chicago really is a terrific destination even for a few days. Enjoy!