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.
Avoid the heavy road traffic of Labor Day Weekend by taking your well-deserved escape mid-September to mid-October.
The scenery, shops hiking paths and wine trails of the northwestern edge of Michigan from Frankfort and Sleeping Bear Dunes to Leland and Traverse City are snapshot perfect. And they follow state and local Covid protection protocols.
Cities from LA to Memphis and Chicago and New York to Washington DC and Atlanta are celebrating MLK Day today, the third Monday of January. The day has been officially observed to honor the civil rights leader in all 50 states since 2000. It is an American federal holiday so schools, banks, post office and some business are closed.
Celebrations to honor Martin Luther King Jr range from service projects and parades to concerts and free museum visits.
If in DC go to the Marin Luther King Jr Memorial and watch the Peace Parade from 11 a.m to noon ET on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue and Milwaukee Place. The annual Martin Luther King Jr. Parade features musical performances, dancers, and members of civil rights organizations fighting for equal rights.
If in Chicago, you can spend quality time at one of the following events:
Maybe it’s the talk of the Chicago Bears’ training camp. Or maybe it’s the ads for back-to-school supplies and end-of-summer sales. All of a sudden I’m thinking about where to go for a fall getaway that is withing six hours of Chicago. Planning the trip now helps get through the “dog days” of summer.
If riding a motorcycle consider being able to get a Dainese D-Air Racing Suit that will inflate its embedded airbags if a crash is imminent so that it protects you from injury. And how about being able to put on a Iridescence collar that reacts to the feelings and moods of people you encounter.
Those are just a few of the extraordinary items in MCI’s “Wired to Wear” exhibition up now through May 2020.
What you see are real items of clothing and accessories embedded with useful or fun technology that has been developed by companies and individuals in several countries. They don’t yet fill your favorite sports or clothing store but some items can be ordered and others will likely be available sooner than fashionistas expect and futurists predict.
“It’s coming. We have been monitoring t his for a few years. It’s gaining speed,” said MSI Director of Collections Kathleen McCarthy, the museum’s head curator.
McCarthy points out that some of the clothing designs might not be as far out as some people think. “We’ve seen some similar items on Project Runway,” she said. (For a look at some of the apparel that appeared on the Bravo, then Lifetime, back to Bravo series go to Project Runway.
Her presence to guide me around the exhibit actually was introduced by a barking sound.
“Some of the pieces that were developed have personal motivation,” she said walking over to a jacket. “The person who designed this was moving with her husband to London from rural South Africa. He was worried about crime so she made him this jacket that can approximate people’s nearness and barks.”
McCarthy then walked over to a Smart Tattoo exhibit. “Other items were developed for commercial purposes or creative experiences.
As she explained the two arm tattoos mounted on a wall, a couple of youngsters went over to them and touched different sections of the tattoos to produce different sounds and colors. Designed by Microsoft, tattoos are a conductive technology that can be worn on the arm. “They turn the body into an interface,” she said.
She believes that a robotic dress kit is on the horizon that can adapt what is worn to different social situations. “People will say, “Oh, I can just adapt my clothing.”
She explained. “You will be able to change the look of what you’re wearing by changing its shape. You can start out creative, then change it to practical for a work out, then later change to become playful.”
Wired clothing? “Its practical and playful,” said McCarthy. “It will become an active partner in life. There is a relationship between us and clothing.”
DETAILS: “Wired to Wear is at the Museum of Science and Industry, 5700 S Lake Shore Dr, Chicago, through May 2020. For tickets, hours and other information call (773) 684-1414 and visit MSI Chicago.
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 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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Stop for a bite at the Garden View Café where you can eat indoors or outside on a deck with a view.
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).
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 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.
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@example.com 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.