I was born in Chicago. I may have moved around a lot, but I came back to Chicago for college (Northwestern), and I’ve lived here ever since. I. Love. Chicago. It’s an awesome city for so many reasons, and every time I head downtown, I remember again why I love it. And I wish for just a moment that I were still young and single and living in the city itself, walking to work, heading to festivals every weekend, and taking full advantage of the fun it offers.
Instead, I live just outside Chicago itself and visit. Regularly. But it’s still a visit. My husband isn’t from Chicago and doesn’t know it quite like I do, and the wee ones are too young to have experienced all it has to offer. I feel obligated to act as tour guide, and this past weekend, my entire family took the train down to Chicago to play tourist for the day. The best part? The wee ones had fun and want to do it again!
I love that Chicago offers so many transportation options. When I lived in the city, I had a car, but I could easily have done without one. And looking back, I sort of which that I hadn’t had one and had saved the money I spent on insurance, gas, parking, and more for something else. It isn’t just the Metra that goes into the suburbs. The bus system is fantastic, too. And the el is still one of my favorite ways to get around the city. The wee ones have ridden on the water taxis (yes, water taxis), but they haven’t done the el yet or the free trolley that goes from Navy Pier to State Street and more. Yes, there are still more adventures ahead of us.
On Sunday, however, we took the Metra into the city and walked the rest of the time. It was a lot of walking, but the wee ones managed it, partly because we kept stopping at such cool places along the way! This wasn’t quite the MasterCard Priceless commercial, but the way I was selling it to the wee ones, I sort of felt like it was!
Our goal was to get into the city early enough to hit the Walnut Room at the top of Field’s (ok ok ok, it’s technically a Macy’s, but if you’re from Chicago, it will always be Field’s) on State Street. They have the most gorgeous, huge tree every year, and the food and service are fantastic. With the kids’ meals “only” $8.95, it was a fun splurge we were willing to indulge in, if the wait wasn’t too long. The Sunday before Christmas was going to be questionable, even with us getting there before 11am. We walked straight there from the train, and still the wait to get a page to wait for a table was 45 minutes long. The wait for a table was easily over 4 hours, so we decided to admire the Walnut Room and come back on a day that wasn’t so filled with tourists. The tree was as beautiful as ever, and I’m glad the wee ones got to see and enjoy it!
The other reason we wanted to stop at Field’s was to check out the windows. Every year, the windows are decorated for Christmas all along the outside. It’s now just on the west side of the building, but the whimsical creations were as fun as ever. The wee ones were delighted to see how different they were. Since we got there so early, it wasn’t super crowded around the windows and we could see them easily. It was a hard choice, but the wee ones finally decided on their favorite window.
From State Street, it’s easy to see the sign for the Chicago Theater. Just like Macy’s buying Field’s and changing its name, there are other changes in Chicago. The Chicago Theater is no longer just the Chicago Theater. Now it’s sponsored by Chase, which makes me sort of sad…. It’s still one of my favorite iconic landmarks though. It’s a gorgeous theater inside, too, with old fashioned red velvet seats in an intimate setting that really makes you feel a part of whatever show you’re seeing. And yes, I have this ornament hanging on my tree!
It’s only a short walk from State Street to Millenium Park, which houses the Bean. I have to admit that I’d never actually seen The Bean (really Cloud Gate, but no one calls it that) before. I’m not sure how I’d missed it, but I made sure we all saw it this time. One of the neat parts about Millenium Park is that there is always something to do there. There are amazing concerts there at the Pritzker Pavillion, many of which are free. There is also the Lurie Garden with hands on workshops for families. In the winter, however, the focus is on ice skating just in front of The Bean, where ice skate rental is $10, though you can bring your own skates and do it for free, as there is no charge for admission.
After we had fun watching the skaters – and debating whether we wanted to skate ourselves – we decided that we wanted to go visit The Bean itself. It is never empty near The Bean, but it’s easy to get close to it and take a ton of fun pictures. You can touch the surface of The Bean and see all the distortions that the curved surface creates. The wee ones were fascinated. They’ve already asked to come back – and there are tons more photos we want to take with them there.
It isn’t just Millenium Park that has seasonal fun in Chicago. We discovered that the Hancock Building has a model train setup right now. So of course we had to go, given that Mister Man is building a model train set with Grandpa. The Hancock is a great destination in and of itself, with The Cheesecake Factory on the bottom to the Observatory up on the top. Santa and Mrs. Claus are available for viewing in the Observatory. You have to pay the fee to get to the Observatory, but once up there, you can get a free photo with Santa, free face painting, and a child’s ticket to the Shedd Aquarium – another of my favorite places in Chicago. The train set was pretty cool, however, with several different setups that included lots of fun detail from Superman and Harry Potter flying in the sky to Thomas the Tank Engine and buildings that feature local attractions.
The wee ones had only one request for our day. They wanted to stop at the Disney store to look for Puffles, so of course we had to oblige them. And we stopped at both stores – the one on Michigan and the one on State Street. I made my request that we stop at Garrett’s Popcorn Shop, another Chicago tradition. As always, the line was outside the door, but it moves quickly, so don’t let that dissuade you. When we went in and the workers gave us samples while we waited, we discovered that Garrett’s has gingerbread popcorn for the holidays. It unfortunately ended on December 24, but watch for it next year. It was beyond amazing. We bought the largest bag they had, and there’s barely any left. They’ll have spicy cheese for Valentine’s Day, and you can bet that I’ll be heading back there to try that out! You can’t visit Chicago and not hit Garrett’s. Trust me on that one.
We couldn’t miss the Kristkindlmarket in Daley Plaza. Yet another reason I #LoveThisCity is because there are constantly amazing festivals in Chicago. There are ones all summer long, but there are plenty during the winter, too. Daley Plaza has a wonderful farmer’s market during the warmer months, but from Thanksgiving to Christmas, it hosts the Kristkindlemarket, a holiday bazaar set up to look like a European village. There are all sorts of amazing imported goods from olive wood ornaments to carved wooden smokers (for incense) to handmade toys and more. I’m always interested that so many people are there not just to shop but to eat and drink the authentic German foods. We were still full from our lunch, so we didn’t have anything but oh did the strudel look good. And the Bavarian pretzels. And the sausages. Next year, we’re definitely going to have lunch there!
There’s so much more about Chicago that I love than just the things to do. There is so much history here, from the sidewalks that show where Fort Dearborn used to be to the intricate detail in the architecture, especially at the tops of buildings. You can’t even see much of it unless you’re looking out from another building, but the architects put so much love and attention everywhere – and I adore it.
It isn’t just the buildings that are special. The bridges that span the Chicago River are beautiful metalwork drawbridges that raise up when boats need to go beneath them. There are set hours in the summer when boats are allowed to go through so that rush hour traffic isn’t constantly disturbed, but it’s such a cool site to see tall boats sliding through the river past the upraised bridges. Even the cement work that supports the ends of the bridges is special, with statuary engraved onto each of them. Just seeing those makes me smile.
The people in Chicago are part of what makes it so special, too. It’s easy to pick out who is a tourist and who isn’t. And it isn’t just those who know when to jaywalk and when to wait for a light to turn. The street performers keep things interesting, too. You have the standard mimes and musicians – many of which play the same three songs over and over again. And then there are my favorite. It’s the kids who’ve got talent. It’s just a paint bucket and some drumsticks but the amazing rhythms that these kids and teens can generate from them always make my smile and put me in a better mood. They aren’t exactly legal, so they get chased away often. In fact, within two minutes of me snapping this photo, two officers came and – politely – moved the bucket brigade along. But I still got my fix.
I’ve lived in and around Chicago for a long time. I know that there are always changes, with new stores opening and others closing. I used to live mere blocks from the now torn down Cabrini Green. Neighborhoods change, and even the downtown is always changing. I once naively thought that the skyscrapers had been built and that the downtown landscape at least was rather static. I was wrong. There are always construction projects downtown, which amazes me that there can be that much change. The wee ones were fascinated to see the cranes that are used to build skyscrapers. When I told them there were cranes atop the buildings, they were expecting to see the normal cranes with treads that they see around our neighborhood. Not quite!
That didn’t surprise me. But yet, even living in Chicago as long as I have, there is still always something that can surprise me because it is such a vast and diverse city. When we were at Kristkindlmarket, we saw a small gas fire with a metal fence blocking it from pedestrians. And around the flame huddled pigeons of every shape and size. There was one on the far side that didn’t move in the entire time we were watching, and we feared that he’d gotten a little close and roasted, until we saw him blink. I still haven’t quite figured out why this is here. Or how the birds figured out that this is the place to be. But it’s just another thing that brings a smile to my face when I hang out in Chicago. Because I really, really #LoveThisCity. It’s priceless.
What do you love most about your city? What should I take the wee ones to explore next in Chicago?
I am a member of the Collective Bias® Social Fabric® Community. This shop has been compensated as part of a social shopper insights study for Collective Bias® and MasterCard. All opinions remain my own, as always. #CBias #SocialFabric #LoveThisCity