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.
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.
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
Back on the Mag Mile, continue exploring.
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.