On the way to get our new puppy (more on that exciting news later!), I found myself in Chicago with a day and a half to kill. So, what to do? Chicago has a lot going on so there are literally tons of options. And, like most people, when I only have a little time somewhere, I obviously want to make the most of it. At the same time, I have learned not to kill myself trying to do absolutely everything I want to do (a tough lesson to learn!) so I do a little research before I arrive to maximize my stay, always making sure to leave open some time in case I stumble upon something fabulous.
Like most people, I’m all about experiencing the best a city has to offer, meaning what can I see/do/eat there that I can’t easily do at home or anywhere else. I have been to Chicago many times, but surprisingly hadn’t experienced some of the things that the city is best known for—like their architectural boat tours (think of the scene in My Best Friend’s Wedding) and their world famous deep-dish pizza.
Eating in Chicago
We arrived early afternoon and even though it was technically early spring, it was chilly and not surprisingly, windy! (FYI: I did learn on the tour that the nickname “Windy City” has nothing to do with weather…it’s about politics…of course!)
After checking in to the Park Hyatt on North Michigan, we headed over to the RL (Ralph Lauren) restaurant across the street. Always ask the Concierge for recommendations (and reservations) on where to eat but don’t listen when they tell you “Our restaurant here is great..”
While that may be the case, when you have limited time, get out of the hotel! My Dad taught me that lesson early on.
RL didn’t disappoint . As you might expect, the interior is fabulous, very clubby and Ralph Lauren-y and the food was good, too, especially the Chicken Milanese—a classic preparation with shaved parmesan, arugula and baby tomatoes. And I loved the french fries!
Shopping in Chicago
Chicago has some really interesting shopping areas and unique boutiques a bit off the beaten path, but I didn’t have time for that this trip, so I stuck to the main drag, The Magnificent Mile. Here’s something I try to avoid while on a short trip: I don’t go into stores that I have at home. Of course, there are exceptions (like a big fat sale) but in general, drifting in and out of stores I visit frequently has very little appeal to me. Instead, I concentrate on places that I can’t visit as readily. In my case, that meant a trip to the Uniqlo store, a place I always find interesting.
While I don’t buy a lot of clothes there, Uniqlo is a great place for simple basics and fun, inexpensive gifts. This time, it was all about graphic tees. I snapped up Keith Haring, Mickey Mouse, Hello Kitty (I have a friend who is obsessed) and Star Wars versions. We also grabbed a lightweight down jacket because it was colder than expected. Way less than you’d pay for a comparable coat….love a bargain! http://uniqlo.com
Then, it was on to Jonathon Adler http://jonathonadler.com and Eataly http://eataly.com. If you’ve never been to an Eataly (NYC is the first one I went to) you are in for a treat. Choose deliciousness from different parts of the store (artfully prepared pizza, fish, meats, desserts) and be prepared for an experience. You can also buy different Italian products and cool kitchen-y things.
After that, we just walked around, checking out the beautiful storefronts (love the Burberry “plaid” store) and amazing architecture. As you’ll find, I really do think that the best way to get to know a city is to simply walk around and pop down streets that look cool.
Trust me, if I don’t get super lost, neither will you (I couldn’t love Google Maps more) After all that walking around, we were hungry so it was good that we took my sister’s advice and had made reservations at Gino’s East for Pizza. We have a joke in my family that while we are on vacation and sitting down for lunch, we’re already talking about dinner. It must be the Mediterranean in us!
As I mentioned earlier, I had never had deep dish pizza in all the times I have been to Chicago. Shocking, right? Truthfully, I am more of a thin-crust girl, but figured I had to give it a try and it was delicious.
At Gino’s, we started with a great Autumn Salad, then went for the pepperoni and mushroom deep dish. A small is more than enough for two. Yummy. And the graffiti is too cool. ginoseast.com
Full Day in Chicago
We did an Architectural Boat Tour in the morning (it was a little warmer and the sun actually came out…bonus!) and found it to be really worthwhile. You’ll see things you can’t while walking and learn about the history of Chicago and its different buildings that line the river. There are various lines that do this tour; they are all about an hour and you have your choice of departure times. We booked online and saved a few bucks.
Chicago has decent theatre and this trip we got tickets to Hamilton. I had seen it, but my husband hadn’t. It was incredible again and I actually think I got more out of it the second time around. We had time for a quick lunch pre-performance at a little unassuming place right near the CIBC Theatre called The Marq, aptly named because it is located in the landmark Marquette Building. This restaurant was beyond our expectations. The fried chicken sandwich was fantastic…from the sauce to the pickles to the brioche bun. They also do a riff on a Waldorf salad with cranberries, blue cheese and bacon. Complete yum.
More waking around, then….dinner. Yes, in reading this, it seems like all we do is eat, but I did average around 15,000 steps each day so I felt a little less guilty. Dinner was Sunda, which always seems to be on a best-something or other Chicago restaurant list. Sunda features New Asian inspired food and is very veggie friendly. We started with brussels sprouts (good, but be warned, the serving is huge) and Tiger Shrimp Tempura (fabulous with candied walnuts and honey aioli) and then classic Pad Thai with Chicken and Shrimp. The “Ridiculous” dessert looked just that with vanilla icecream, ginger carrot cake, caramel and walnuts. Other notables: The Lemongrass Beef Lollipops, the Miso Bronzed Black Cod and a comprehensive list of sushi and sashimi. I recently recommended the restaurant to a work group and they apparently loved it, too.
After dinner, we needed a walk so we checked out the nighttime light show (Art on the Mart) on the river. So cool! You can log on to get the whole experience with sound, but we opted just to hang out and watch. Tons of colorful graphics displayed on the buildings. This was truly a highlight of the 36 hours. It seems like there’s always something going on down there…don’t miss it. See you next time!