Travel updates for Chicago park and Galena ice cream and National Civil Rights Museum

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.

"Coud Gate" (The Bean) reflects people and skyline in Millennium Park. (J Jacobs photo)
“Cloud Gate” (The Bean) reflects people and skyline in Millennium Park. (J Jacobs photo)

Chicago

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.

 

The historic town of Galena, IL has yummy shops and good festivals. (J Jacobs photo)
The historic town of Galena, IL has yummy shops and good festivals. (J Jacobs photo)

Galena

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.

If you go:  stop at the American Old Fashioned Ice Cream Parlor, the Fried Green Tomatoes  restaurant and Galena Cellars.

Lorraine Hotel site of the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. (J Jacobs photo)
Lorraine Hotel site of the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. (J Jacobs photo)

National Civil Rights Museum

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.

 

 

Three fun Valentine ideas

 

Instead of a heart-shaped box of candy, be original and think Portillo's justly famous chocolate cake. (Wagstaff Chicago photo)
Instead of a heart-shaped box of candy, be original and think Portillo’s justly famous chocolate cake. (Wagstaff Chicago photo)

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.

Peninsula Chicago Couples Cooking Classes

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

Portillo’s Chocolate Cakes 

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.

Ice skating in Millennium Park

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.

 

 

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!

 

Before the weather changes: Try these three Chicago area terraces that have raised the bar for drinks and appetizers

 

Three Embers at Marriott Lincolnshire Lakeside Plaza

Lakeside Plaza at Marriott Lincolnshire. (Photo by Jacobs)
Lakeside Plaza at Marriott Lincolnshire. (Photo by Jacobs)

You don’t have to be staying at the Marriott Lincolnshire Resort north of Chicago to relax on its recently re-done Lakeside Plaza. You don’t even have to call its popular, reservation-only Three Embers Restaurant. Just go over there at sunset to sip a glass of Pluto’s Fury Pinot Noir from the Russian River Valley or a house recommended Merlot and nibble on the restaurant’s Burrata appetizer around the Plaza’s fire pit or at its high-top double-sided, fire-lined bar.

There is usually live music on Tuesday and Wednesday evening but the resort will also be doing Bourbon & Bonfires a special dinner and drinks event Aug. 15, 2018 that pairs Jack Daniel’s and Woodford Reserve with gourmet bites by Executive Chef Yo Chang. This event does need a reservation (Eventbrite).

Marriott Lincolnshire Resort is at 10 Marriott Drive off Milwaukee Avenue south of IL Hwy 22, Lincolnshire. For more information call 847-634-0100 and visit Three Embers food.

 

 

The Patio at Café Brauer

Views of city, Boardwalk and pond from The Patio at cafe Brauer. (Jacobs photo)
Views of city, Boardwalk and pond from The Patio at cafe Brauer. (Jacobs photo)

Not all the Lincoln Park Zoo sights are found through the main gate. South of that gate is the historic Prairie-School-style Café Brauer (2021 North Stockton). Go around behind the landmark building to discover the Patio.

Here you can sip the Patio Muscle made up of Two Brothers Vodka, Chambord, ginger beer and lime or a refreshing glass of Villa Sandi Proseco while resting the eyes on a pond, boardwalk and the Chicago skyline.

Resolve your after-work food craving with crispy calamari or tomato mozzarella pizza twists.  

Reservations are suggested. Café Brauer is at 2021 N. Stockton, Chicago. For more information call (312) 507-9053 and visit The Patio.

 

 Z Bar at Peninsula Chicago

A popular, fun trend among Chicago hotels is to open a roof-top bar. They offer good city views, interesting cocktails and are a place to meet after hours. However, one that takes on the sophisticated vibe of its globally-known hotel is the Z Bar that just opened at the Peninsula Chicago Hotel.

Z bar at Peninsula Chicago (Photo by Neil John Burger)
Z Bar at Peninsula Chicago (Photo by Neil John Burger)

Go up to the sixth floor to settle comfortably with a view of Michigan Avenue. Then study the drinks menu with an eye for something special designed by Cocktails & Culture Director Vlad Novikov.

Whether you choose a classic cocktail or one inspired by Novikov’s travels it will be an experience.

The same is true with the small-plates-food menu that includes the Daikon Frites with Chinese lap cheong, garlic and an unusual jam.

The Peninsula Chicago is at 108 E. Superior St., For more information call (312) 573-6888 and visit Z-bar.

 

 

Five favorite Chicago area alfresco spaces

How picky are you when it comes to eating outdoors when you want to take advantage of Chicago’s often too -short summer season?

If not at all picky, you might not mind cars pulling into the spaces close to your sidewalk café table. After all, sidewalk cafés are not just a Parisian thing. As soon as the weather turns balmy, lots of restaurants set out tables. Sometimes the space is marked off by planters.

However, here are a few places to consider if looking for a bumper-free, emissions-free  outdoor experience when you want to relax over brunch lunch, dinner or cocktails. in or around Chicago . The places may not be what you would expect but they’re nice for relaxing, meeting friends, lovely views and good food.

 

Lake Forest

At Market House on the Square in north suburban Lake Forest, guests favor the historic building’s (former fire station) British-style bar and dining room when there is a chill in the air. But when summer comes, it’s all about lunching or dining out on the patio. Nothing is typical here. From a tempura fish sandwich and a “griddled” burger with wild mushrooms and red pepper ranch or a poached pear salad at lunch to PEI mussels with frites or a short ribs shepherd’s pie for supper, the offerings are delish and creative. Many of the menu items come from Executive Chef Dan Marquis’ Mill Road Farms.

Market House on the Square is at 655 Forest Ave., Lake Forest, IL. For reservations call (847) 234-8800 and visit Market House.

Chicago Botanic Garden features three places to eat with relaxing views. Jacobs photo
Chicago Botanic Garden features three places to eat with relaxing views.
Jacobs photo

 

Glencoe

Instead of only going to the Chicago Botanic Garden to walk among the flowers or visit the Brazilian butterflies that are there now, plan to do breakfast, brunch or lunch ton the outdoor deck of the Garden View Café.  There is also the Garden Grille for burgers and brats and the new Rose Terrace Beer Garden that has craft beers when looking for a place to lunch or for later dining and relaxing with a garden view.

The Chicago Botanic Garden is at 1000 Lake Cook Rd., Glencoe just east of the Edens Expressway. For more information call (847) 835-5440 and visit CBG  and Chicago Botanic Outdoor Dining.

 

Chicago’s Mag Mile

Walk into Shanghai Terrace at the Peninsula Chicago and relax outdoors with a terrific cocktail and wonderful dim sum (think shrimp, Peking duck and barbecue pork). The restaurant a few floors above North Michigan Avenue, spreads outside with comfortable seating and tables as soon as weather permits.

The Peninusla Chicago is at 108 E. Superior St., Chicabgo. For reservations and other information call (312) 573- 6695 or 312-337-288 and visit Peninsula.

 

Wheaton

Who would have thought a public golf course would also be known as an event venue or for its cuisine or for its wonderful patio. But if in the Wheaton area at meal time, stop at the Arrowhead Golf Club and ask for an outside table. The club ss a public facility operated  by the Wheaton Park District that just happens to have great food and views of the course from its terrace like patio.

Arrowhead Golf Club is at 26W151 Butterfield Rd.,  Wheaton, IL  For other information call (630) 653-5800) and visit Arrowhead Golf Club.

Enjoy good food and views from the terrace like patio at Arrowhead Golf Club, a public venue. Jacobs photo
Enjoy good food and views from the terrace like patio at Arrowhead Golf Club, a public venue. Jacobs photo

 

Geneva

There often is a wait list to sit on Fiora’s patio overlooking the town but people who go early and during the week can usually snag an outdoor  table. The restaurant is in a historic building where food and ambiance make it a popular choice.

Fiora’s is at 317 Third St., Geneva, IL. For reservations and more information call 630-262-1317 and visit Fiora’s.

 

BTW Please feel free to add your own favorite Chicago area place for dining outside.