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.
If not interested in flying or taking a long driving trip this Labor Day Weekend, consider making Navy Pier your destination.
Now that Hilton has built The Sable Hotel on Navy Pier, it makes sense to stay where fireworks fill the sky Wednesdays and Saturdays through Labor Day Weekend, delicious dishes please all ages, music and entertainment is free on the Lake Stage and the Beer Garden, movies are shown at the Lake Stage Lawn in Polk Park across the Pier’s entrance through \August, and the Centennial Wheel is a ride you’ll want to take each day of the stay.
After dining at Harry Carey’s Tavern or Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville Bar and Grill, take in the views and while sipping well-crafted cocktails at the Offshore Rooftop and Bar, possibly the country’s larges rooftop terrace.
If there Aug. 28, 2021 spend the evening at Navy Pier’s Lake Stage to watch Resurgence, a program showcasing Chicago’s black dance companies. Look for times, tickets and other entertainment options at Cultural Attractions & Public Spaces.
If getting out on the water that lies just outside your door is too tempting to miss while staying so close, check the cruises that pull right up to the Pier.
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 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.
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.
Now is a good time to plan a visit close to home, a day’s drive out or a little further away because lots of travel destinations are beginning to open and gas is still in the budget range.
Restaurants and bars have opened their outdoor seating areas. Among them is The Loyalist at 177 N. Ada Street near Randolph Row. It has had walk-ins but will likely be taking reservations beginning Wednesday, June 24,2020. If you go: expect more French style choices.
Millennium Park and Lakefront
Yes, you can visit Cloud Gate (The Bean). If you go: take selfies and don’t touch it. Most of Millennium Park is open but masks are encouraged as is social distancing.
The same goes for the lakefront which isopen as of today, June 22, 2020 to movers, not sitters. that means walkers, joggers, cyclists.
Tucked into northwestern Illinois near the Wisconsin and Iowa borders is the charming town of Galena. There are lots of good B&B and restaurant choices because rolling hills, historic homes and fun shops make the town a popular summer (and fall) destination.
Memphis, TN has a lot to offer as vacation destination. However, if interested in understanding more about the global Black Lives Matter movement then visit to the famed museum based at the Lorraine Motel, 450 Mulberry St, where Martin Luther King Jr was shot. The museum plans to reopen July 1, 2020.
If you go: you will need a timed ticket and have to wear a face covering. For tickets and other information visit National Civil Rights Museum.
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:
Ask a friend, ask a lover or ask a few people to join you to celebrate the Feast of Saint Valentine Feb. 14. It’s just nice to have a fun day in the middle of winter. Since Feb/ 14 comes on a Friday in 2020, celebrate the end of the week or the beginning of a fun weekend.
The ideas listed here are for Chicago but they could be adapted anywhere by substituting a local cooking class for No. 1, a decadent chocolate dessert for No. 2 and a different activity for No. 3. They range from pricey but yummy to free.
The Peninsula Chicago’s Shanghai Terrace is doing a Dim Sum for Lovebirds cooking class and dinner from Feb. 10 through Feb. 16. It includes a Chinese tea degustation, a class led by Chef de Cuisine Elmo Han and ends with a three-course dinner. The cost per couple is $888 but there is a less expensive option Feb. 15 only. It’s the two-hour Valentine’s Day Cooking Experience. At $480 a couple it includes tortellini making and a three-course lunch of oysters, pasta and dessert in The Lobby. (Gratuity and tax not included).
Peninsula Chicago is on Superior Street at Michigan Avenue. To make reservations or for more information call (312) 573 6620, toll-free at 1 866 288 8889, visit Peninsula Chicago or email reservations
The restaurant is not just among Chicagoan’s fave when it comes to hot dogs or Italian beef. It’s chocolate cake ranks among the town’s top dessert choices. So Portillo’s is shaping it famous cake into a heart for Valentine’s Day. A the single-layer chocolate iced cake, the treat will be available at Chicago area locations Feb. 7-16, but can be pre-ordered beginning Jan. 14, 2020 by visiting portillos.com or calling 1-866-YUM-BEEF.
In addition, 100% of the purchase price of each Portillo’s Heart-Shaped Chocolate Cake sold between January 14 and February 16 (capped at $25,000) will be donated to the American Red Cross. Portillo’s is supporting the American Red Cross Biomedical Services to ensure a safe and reliable blood supply is available for patients in need.
Heart-Shaped cakes will be available for purchase in-store February 7-16. Guests are encouraged to pre-order the cakes beginning on January 14 by visiting portillos.com or calling 1-866-YUM-BEEF.
Skate against the Chicago skyline or skate under the stars. Ice skating at Chicago’s Millennium Park below Cloud Gate (The Bean) is a popular winter activity encouraged by background music and a concession stand of hot chocolate. The skating is free. Visitors can bring their skates or rent, or use the rental free of charge if staying at a Hilton.
The historic Palmer House at Wabash and Monroe Streets, just west of the Art institute and Millenium Park is a Hilton. So is The Wit, a popular millennial hotel by Doubletree at State and Lake, a couple of blocks west.
Up the experience by doing lunch at Terao Piano which is a short walk up the bridge from the park to the third floor of the Art Institute of Chicago or an elevator ride up from the museum’s Monroe Street entrance. Those entrances to the restaurant don’t have a museum charge. Or do dinner in the Park Grill right there at the skating rink.