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:
Whether coming from out of town or the suburbs, spending a weekend downtown Chicago is such a treat you’ll want to make it an annual outing.
To help with the decisions because there’s so much to do and see, here’s a two-day guide (you probably settled in to your hotel last night) of steps and options.
Choose a hotel close enough to walk to many sights shows and bus stops.
The CTA (Chicago Transit Authority has routes that can take you as close as the Magnificent Mile of North Michigan and as far as the Museum of Science and Industry near Hyde Park. St. Jane Hotel on Michigan Avenue would be an example because it is just south of the Chicago River so the North Michigan Avenue shops are within walking distance going north, it is an easy walk north to Millennium Park with its famed Cloud Gate sculpture (The Bean) where visitors take selfies, plus the Art Institute of Chicago and the Theatre District. And it is near a good bus stop.
But check other hotels and prices at the city’s tourism website, Choose Chicago.
Figure out which shows you would like to see so you can snag tickets for those you want at times you want.
As an example Goodman Theatre is once again doing “A Christmas Carol” with terrific scene design and actors and The Joffrey Ballet is doing “The Nutcracker” with exciting choreography and sets that debuted in 2017.
Find show options at League of Chicago Theatres’ site Chicago Plays
Remember to fit in downtime and coffee breaks so you and yours go home smiling, not exhausted.
Two-day weekend divided by location
Day One: South of the Chicago River
Do breakfast at Free Rein, a French brasserie with a patisserie up front that has great croissants but the restaurant also does omelets, oat meal, smoothies and other dishes. Free Rein is at 224 N. Michigan Ave. attached to St Jane Hotel.
After relaxing over coffee, stroll west and south a couple of blocks to Macy’s at State and Randolph Streets to see how the department store decorated its State Street windows this year. Cross State Street to catch the #146 Museum Campus bus on the west side of State Street, and the north side of Washington Street. At he Museum Campus you can see the dinosaurs and mummies at The Field Museum , Penguins and dolphins at the Shedd Aquarium and the Destination Solar System show at the Adler Planetarium.
Tip: The museums have shops that are good for picking up last minute gifts.
Catch the #146 bus back to State and Randolph in front of Macy’s to go up to its Walnut Room on the 7th floor for lunch and to see its three-story tree.
If you couldn’t get a reservation for the Walnut Room, you probably can sit in the bar to the side and do lunch there.
After breakfast cross Michigan Avenue at Randolph Street to walk through Millennium Park, take photos at “The Bean,”hen walk up the Nichols Bridgeway, a walkway from the park’s “Great Lawn” that goes over Monroe Street to the 3rd floor of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Modern Wing.You have a good view of the skyline and the park if you turn around. The Art Institute doesn’t open until 10:30 a.m. so linger over coffee or picture taking at Millennium Park.
Along with seeing famous paintings, visit the Art Institute’s Thorne Rooms. About seven of the approximately 100 miniature period rooms are decorated for the holidays. But all of them are fascinating.
Tip: Shops in the Art Institute’s main building and modern wing have great gifts.
Take a break with hot chocolate or soup on the mezzanine of the Modern Wing or do lunch at the Park Grill at street level of Millennium Park to watch ice skaters. Or visit the Chicago Architecture Center on Wacker Drive. Its diorama on the main floor shows the Chicago Fire and architectural places of interest. The exhibit upstairs is about skyscrapers. Both exhibits are superb and Chicago is internationally known for its architecture.
Return to the hotel to relax before heading out for cocktails, dinner and a show or go ice skating in Millennium Park followed by a casual dinner at The Gage across Michigan Avenue from the park.
If going to the Goodman Theatre to see “A Christmas Carol” consider making a reservation next door at Petterinos. The restaurant has excellent calamari and a reasonable wine list.
Day Two: North of the Chicago River
Do breakfast at Pierrot Gourmet, a European-style café and bistro similar to Free Rein but this restaurant is attached to the Peninsula Chicago Hotel at Superior and Rush Streets. If you can’t decide on ordering a dish on the menu or trying one of the pastries, eat there and take something to go. The Peninsula Chicago overlooks the Magnificent Mile
Browse the shops on the Magnificent Mile. There are individual stores such as Burberry, Louis Vuitton and Tiffany, department stores such as Bloomingdales and Nordstrom and indoor malls such as Water Tower Place, the 900 North Michigan Shops and the Shops at Northbridge.
Take a lunch break at Marisol, a new, neighborhood dining spot that is street level at the Museum of Contemporary Art a block east of Michigan Avenue. The dishes are innovative and yummy. Marisol is at 205 E. Pearson, a block east of Water Tower Place.
Restaurant access has no museum charge. However, there is a wonderful exhibit of Enrico David’s work, “Gradations of Slow Release” at the museum that is definitely worth a look
There are restaurants and food stands at the zoo. When through saying goodnight to the penguins and polar bear, head back to the hotel for a well-deserved night cap and rest.
Shop until ready to go into the John Hancock Center just north of Water tower Place for great views of the city. Take the elevator up to the 96th floor for cocktails and view or to the Signature Room on the 95th for dinner and a view. Reservations are a good idea.
The kids are saying yea, no school for a week. But what’s a parent to do when there is more to plan for than a weekend outing?
From a tomb and T Rex to penguins and planets, the Museum Campus has lots to keep families fascinated for an entire day.
Penguin antics also make visitors chuckle at Lincoln Park Zoo.
Lego is a hit at the Museum of Science and Industry and at the Legoland Discovery Center in west suburban Schaumburg.
The Centennial Wheel and musical play equipment are awesome at Navy Pier. Check them out and enjoy.
Explore Chicago’s Museum Campus
Youngsters don’t all like the same things but on Chicago’s Museum Campus at the south east end of the downtown, you can probably satisfy two different interests if you plan carefully.
Children fascinated by mummies, dinosaurs and native American tribal life will love the Field Museum while adults will likely want to detour over to its gem exhibit.
Anyone who likes penguins or pretty much anything live that moves through water will want to stop at the Shedd Aquarium across from The Field.
Budding astronomers and space explorer wannabes will want to go to the Adler Planetarium that’s further down the museum campus’ arm.
Families might be able to take in some of two places but really shouldn’t try to do all three museums on the same day.
Tip: While on the museum campus walk past the aquarium towards the planetarium .then turn around and look at the city. This is where journalists take photos of the skyline and TV broadcasters go for a super camera op of Chicago’s skyline. Your photo will look like you are out in a boat on Lake Michigan because you are on a peninsula.
Put on your minor’s hat or thinking cap at the Museum of Science and Industry
The Museum of Science and Industry south of downtown should satisfy all interests from its coal mine experience, Lego exhibit and futuristic thinking room to Colleen Moore’s Fairy Castle, the Great Train Story’s model railroads and the Mirror Maze.
Tip: On April 8 and 9 and April 15, you can also see special Robotics week events.
You play at Navy Pier
Navy Pier, a 3,300 foot long entertainment pier jutting into Lake Michigan from Illinois Street east of the Mag Mile is home to the Chicago Children’s Museum, a Ferris-type ride called the Centennial Wheel that is almost 200 feet high and ethnic festivals in its Crystal Garden.
Tip: There is also an IMAX Theater so check out its film schedule. Plus do ‘Impulse: An Interactive Art Exhibit,’ in the Polk Bros Park at Navy Pier, now through May 21. It’s a light and sound experience where visitors can try out seesaws and other play equipment that produce different tones and colors when activated.
Watch animals play at the zoo
Stroll through Lincoln Park Zoo to see two new, polar opposite, animal habitats: South African penguins in their cozy cove (It’s not icy) and Arctic polar bears in a coldly comfortable place.
Tip: The zoo and its Lincoln Park environment are fun places to spend a day so plan on eating at Park Place Café which has Mexican, Italian dishes and burgers or if warm enough, the roof top Café at Wild Things above the Wild Things gift store. .
Discover what can be done with Legos
From things to ride, play with and see in 4D to Star Wars episodes to experience, there is an entire Lego world at the Legoland Discovery Center in Schaumburg, Entry and experiences are ticketed so plan ahead because tickets are timed to prevent overcrowding, particularly during winter and spring vacation breaks.
Tip: Online tickets save money so check it out at Tickets.
All of a sudden the long weekend that includes Presidents’ Day, the third Monday of February when schools and banks are close, is only a few days away.
What would have been a good time to fly south for a short, sunny break is likely going to be too difficult to book now. Airline flights and hotel rooms in places such as south Florida are typically at a premium that weekend, if still available.
However, instead of playing the “should-have” game, think of the weekend as a fun opportunity. The following suggestions work anywhere even though the examples given are for the Chicago area.
Take a “staycation”
Nowadays all hotels have a fitness center so that would no longer be a deciding point on where to take your weekend vacation. Think about what you most want to do. Shop? Visit museums? See art and architecture? Go to the theater? Do it all?
Next, how important is a pool? Few downtown Chicago hotels have pools but some have indoor lap pools. Even fewer have a pool where children can swim all year round.
You can keep the bathing suits in the suitcase you planned for a trip south if spending the weekend at The Intercontinental on Michigan Avenue’s Magnificent (Shopping) Mile. It not only has a pool, it is historic and large. The spa and fitness area is now a part of the hotel pool area.
The hotel is nicely placed for a “staycation.” Walk north from the hotel for Michigan Avenue shops. Walk south and cross the Chicago River a few blocks to Millennium Park for ice skating and “Cloud Gate” better known as “The Bean.” A little further south is the Art Institute of Chicago. You are in a great spot to appreciate downtown art and architecture.
Cross Michigan Avenue from the hotel to take a bus to the Museum Campus’ Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium and Adler Planetarium at the south end of Grant Park. All of February is free general admission for Illinois residents at the Field. Presidents’ Day, Feb. 20, is free admission to the Adler Planetarium and the Chicago History Museum in Lincoln Park.
The city is at you doorstep when you take a “staycation” downtown. Enjoy
Binge on Oscar nominated movies
Get a jump start on Oscar night, Feb. 26, 2017 by seeing the nominated movies at your local theater.
For the kids there are the animated features: “Kubo and the Two Strings,” “Moana,” “My Life as a Zucchini,” The Red Turtle” and “Zootopia.”
Best Picture nominees are: “Arrival,” “Fences,” “Hacksaw Ridge,” “Hell or High Water,” “Hidden Figures,” “La La Land, ”Lion,” “Manchester by the Sea” and “Moonlight.” Most theaters offer advance tickets. The AMC theaters at Northbrook Court were recently remodeled with really comfortable seats and a bar to get drinks and food.
Or settle in with popcorn or pizza at home as you check Netflix or On Demand for past Oscar winners. Some are oldies. Others are just goodies.
Make a penguin and cupcake play date with friends
Go to a zoo or aquarium then forget the diet and splurge on cupcakes at places you’ve been meaning to try.
From top museums to university programs and volunteer projects there are lots of places to spend time off work or school on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Jan. 16, 2017.
MLK Day celebrates the birthday of the famed civil rights leader (Jan. 15, 1929-April 4, 1968) on the third Monday of January. It is a federal holiday so most schools and banks are closed and there won’t be any U. S. Postal deliveries.
However, Chicago’s museums are open and several are offering free general admission to Illinois residents. In addition, some of them have extended free general admission to other days the third week of January.
On the Museum Campus, that arm sticking out from Lake Shore Drive in Lake Michigan at 12th Street, look for the Adler Planetarium at the far eastern end at 1300 S. Lake Shore Dr.
The Shedd Aquarium sits in the middle of the arm at 1200 S. Lake Shore Drive and The Field Museum is by the entrance to the campus at 1400 S. Lake Shore Drive.
The Art Institute of Chicago has free programs in its Ryan Learning Center from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.. They range from performances and stories to art projects. Check out the day’s schedule here. Visitors for these programs enter the Modern Wing entrance at 159 E. Monroe St. to go to the Learning Center. The museum is also free all day for Illinois Residents. Main entrance is at 111 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago.
Several suburbs have volunteer projects taking place on MLK Day. Check your suburb.
On the North Shore, Highland Park has invited Illinois Secretary of State Jess White who was a student of Dr. King, and the Jesse White Tumblers to appear. In addition, the town has several service projects. The Recreation Center of Highland Park is the headquarters for the events. They run from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. See HP for details.
The Village of Deerfield is collecting supplies for the homeless and has organized service projects. The Deerfield Village Hall is headquarters for a Day of Service from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. For details click Deerfield.
The university has programs at its Evanston and Chicago Campuses
A play by Allie Woodson about what it means to be young, gifted and black is performed Jan. 13 at 7:30pm and Jan. 14 at 2and 7:30 p.m. at Shanley Pavilion, 2031 Sheridan Rd.
“Social Movements for Racial Justice: From the Chicago Freedom Movement to Black Lives Matter” is Jan. 21, 10 a.m. in Fisk Hall 217, 1845 Sheridan Rd. The program is an intergenerational presentation and discussion about racial justice movements in Chicago over the last 50 years. Authors of the book The Chicago Freedom Movement: Martin Luther King and Civil Rights Activism in the North will share personal experiences marching with Dr. King..
NASA astronaut Mae Jamison, a member of the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine, gives a keynote address Jan. 23, at 6 p.m.p.m. in the Pick-Staiger Concert Hall, 50 Arts Circle Drive.
NASA astronaut Mae Jamison will speak Jan. at noon at the Hughes Auditorium, 303 E. Superior St.
The big Thanksgiving weekend shopping spree is now history but there are still gifts to get and some fun outings still on the to-do list. Combine them!
For one-of-a-kind gifts, there are hardly any better places to look than in museum shops.
At the Art Institute of Chicago, the stunning ‘Moholy-Nagy: Future Present’ exhibit fills Regenstein Hall. A retrospective with more than 300 works of László Moholy-Nagy who influenced everything from advertising and manufacturing to art movements and design, the exhibit is reason enough to plan an outing before it leaves Jan. 3, 2017.
Tip: The museum’s huge gift shop in the main building and the selective gift shop in the Modern Wing are definitely places to find special items you likely won’t see elsewhere. Plus, you will benefit the Art Institute.
Dec. 3 and 4, 2016 are free admission days at The Field Museum and The Field’s regular exhibits are fascinating any time. But China’s Terracotta Warriors are there only through Jan. 8, 2017 so go before they head home.
Tip: The Field has an amazing gift shop of items from all over the world. It would be hard not to leave there with a gift (including something for oneself).
Christkindlekarket Chicago downtown on Daley Plaza, is designed to emulate Nuremberg’s holiday market, begun in the 16th century. The market opened in Chicago as a trade event in the 1990s. This is a place to visit for fun and food.
Tip: The vendors sell items not easily found in the United States such as Bavarian glass and pewter. It has expanded to include items from other countries such as Ireland and Poland so have fun browsing. BTW, Naperville also now has a Christkindlemarket.
Historic Long Grove, a north suburban village that dates from the mid 1800s, dresses up Dickens fashion for the holidays. Go for a carriage ride and to hear carolers or take a selfie by the covered bridge.
Tip: Pick up treats at the town’s famed Long Grove Confectionery, gifts at the Olive Tap and check out other boutiques for specialty items.