Written by Jean Southwick.
After returning from another fabulous trip to Chicago I am making it my mission to let people know that there IS a Chicago beyond North Michigan Avenue! Its’ a great location for couples, families and singles.
Whether you are a first time or frequent visitor consider “staying and playing” in the Loop. The Loop area is basically the Financial District and the “L” is derived from the ELevated train that circles/loops the area.
Classic Travel will help you determine the right hotel for your needs. Some to choose from are Hotel Burnham, The Palmer House, Congress Plaza, Hotel Monaco, The Fairmont, The W, The Renaissance and the Hilton Chicago.
Begin the trip right and leave your car home! Enjoy taking the Amtrak train from East Lansing; you are instantly on vacation! No hotel parking fees, no tolls, no traffic hassles and no feeding the gas guzzler! If you really want to pamper yourself and family then splurge a bit and upgrade to Business Class for the return trip. You will appreciate being able to board early in Chicago for the return, plus you will have a roomier train car and it will be quiet and comfortable. Ahhhh, it is so nice. Of course you will receive a free beverage too!
Classic Travel will help you with your train reservations, but before you buy the tickets do a bit of preliminary research as you may consider also buying a Chicago Transit Card which will save some pennies if you plan to use the bus or Chicago train system. Visit www.transitchicago.com . It’s a great deal as the normal bus and train fare is $2 per ride ($1 for young children or seniors).
When you pull into the Union Station be sure to look around and visit The Great Hall. The kids will get a kick out of it and you will appreciate the history and feel the presence of our ancestors that have passed through on their way across country. If you did not purchase a sandwich on the train and are feeling hungry then take the escalator upstairs to the food court area. There are lots of yummy choices. This could be you first experience at one of Chicago’s Corner Bakery’s! One of my all time fun Chicago eating experience is Lou Mitchells on W Jackson Street across from the Union Station. Warning-you must be very hungry to fully appreciate the whole experience! When you step outside look toward Wacker Drive and Jackson Street – you will see The Sears Tower and Sky Deck! From the station you will take a short taxi ride to your Loop area hotel. Now, stash your bag, put on your walking shoes and get moving! There are places to go and things to see!
These are some of my “Must Do’s” on my first day:
1. Go to the Cultural Center on Randolph and Michigan Avenue (across from Millennium Park), where you will find the Chicago Visitors Center. Pick up coupon booklets, maps and attraction information. There is a great kid’s information area too. The helpful staff will be able to assist you with any questions you might have to plan your stay. Before you leave, take some time to explore this historic building as it was the first home of the Chicago Public Library. Stunning glass domes and marble interior!
2. From here walk across the street to Hot Tix, 72 E. Randolph St. You are very likely to find some great discounts for present day and next day shows and events. You are now in the Downtown Theatre District. Amazing! Wicked has been playing at the Ford Center/Oriental Theatre at 24 W Randolph and is still very popular. Nearby you will find the restored Chicago Theatre at 175 N State Street (they offer tours and you can see the original organ), The Goodman Theatre at 170 N Dearborn St (non profit), the Cadillac Palace and the Lasalle Bank Theatre (Jersey Boys), and the historic Auditorium at 50 E Congress. If your family is interested in film you may want to check out the Gene Siskel Film Center. For a real treat take in the opera at The Lyric Opera House or hear the world renowned Chicago Symphony Orchestra at the Symphony Center. See www.broadwayinchicago.com
3. Walk south down 224 S Michigan Avenue to the wonderful and historic Sante Fe Building and choose among a plethora of Architectural Tours offered through the Chicago Architecture Foundation. The docents are all volunteers and there is a great variety of tours to choose from. All are great! See www.architecture.org
4. Across the Street you will see The Art Institute of Chicago which is impossible to resist. If I don’t stop the first day I know that I will be back the next day!
There are many yummy places to eat in the Loop are and I always like to try new places. Try the traditional and classy Walnut Room in Macy’s on 111 N State Street. Any of the Giordanos Pizza places are very popular. Others that are recommended are Trattoria No.10 at Dearborn & Madison, and 17West/Berghoff Café.
If you want to explore historic buildings be sure to check out the castle-like red brick Rookery building on S. LaSalle Street. If you step inside you will see ironwork and a glass atrium by Frank Lloyd Wright. The Chicago Board of Trade at 141 W Jackson is interesting. While wandering around show the kids the Picasso sculpture on the outdoor plaza at the Richard Dailey Center at 50 W Washington. Depending on weather and what’s happening you almost “have” to see THE BEAN at Millennium Park. In the winter you can enjoy ice skating.
Chicago offers a City Pass, www.citypass.com. Buy the Pass at a participating museum and you have admission to the Field Museum, Adler Planetarium, Shedd Aquarium and the Museum of Science and Industry.
Your hotel concierge is a great resource! Ask which bus to take to the museums and be sure when you get off the bus to note the location of pickup area.
Wow! All this and you haven’t even made it to North Michigan Avenue! If you must have a Magnificent Mile fix remember that the Michigan Avenue bus is just steps away.
Think Chicago, think The Loop!