Sweet home, Chicago
While my true hometown is in Minnesota, Chicago is the city that feels like a second home to me. It’s the city where I spent my early adulthood. First, as a student at Northwestern University and post-graduation working in management consulting while living in the Lakeview neighborhood (see below, one of my first apartment buildings!), and later in the Gold Coast. Then, my last years were spent back in Evanston at NU again, but this time as an MBA grad student for two years.
It was during my last four years or so in this fair city that I met and dated my dear hubby. We have many great memories from our courtship like our first dinner date at Crofton on Wells, biking along Lake Shore Drive from Oak Street Beach to my apartment on Melrose Street, ordering in from Joy’s noodles on Broadway in Boys Town or eating sushi at Kamehachi in Old Town, seeing shows like Blue Man Group and going to lots of movies, playing games at the Dave & Buster’s at Clark & Division, and amazing birthday and anniversary dinners at places like Charlie Trotter’s and TRU. We both loved Chicago and what a great city for dating – so much to see and do! Whenever I visit it always brings back so many of these great memories and I feel like Chicago is kind of our place.
So, it was, as Oprah – one of the most famous Chicagoans prior to our President Obama being elected (and some even say after) – would say, a “full circle moment” earlier this week when we found ourselves back in our old stomping grounds on our eight-year wedding anniversary with our little girls in tow. We decided to combine some visits with friends with a stay in the city to experience Chicago in a new way – from the kids’ eye view! Chicago’s a great city for families and we barely scratched the surface of all there is to see and do. But nothing could beat our five-year-olds eyes lighting up when she saw the skyline and the towering buildings. She was amazed at the sheer size and activity of the city and was really taking it all in as we drove down Michigan Avenue toward our hotel. What did our vacation entail? Here’s a few highlights:
- Swimming at the hotel pool every single day – if you have kids, you know this is a must, no matter where you are traveling! This never gets old.
- Meeting our friends and their families for lunches and dinners in Oak Park, Schaumburg, and Lincoln Square – our kids had fun meeting other “big kids” while we caught up with our friends.
- Breakfast with their dolls at the American Girl Place flagship store in Water Tower Place. Yes, we have one now at Mall of America in Minnesota, but there is still something special about the Chicago store. Girls each picked out a new outfit at the store for their dolls to wear for this special occasion.
- A visit to the Museum of Science and Industry, a great place for kids this age, lots to see, do, and touch. Especially enjoyed the U-505 submarine exhibit, the Swiss Jolly Ball, and the chick hatchery at the genetics exhibit. Tip for other parents, the Idea Factory looked like a great space for the <10 yr-old set, but there are waits so we missed out, next time we’ll be sure to pay attention to get in.
- Afternoon tea at the Peninsula Hotel off Michigan Ave – of course, the girls brought their dolls to this too. The whole idea was very cute, and the setting could not be lovelier, such a grand hotel with impeccable service even for the youngest guest. However, I have to say the actual food at the tea was sort of lackluster. Not that anything was bad, but it really wasn’t that exciting. Of course, I think we’re comparing to a really outstanding tea service at the Butchart Gardens in Victoria, British Columbia, which cannot be beat! Anyway, the kids tea menu seemed great on paper: rice krispie treats, jello, little cookies, mini burgers and fries; but in actuality their takes on the classics were a bit too fancy for our little ones palettes and they ended up leaving a lot of it unfinished. They did love pouring their own lemonade from the little mini tea pots though and seriously, my little one must’ve said, “would you like another spot of tea” like 20 times throughout the meal (picked up from a scene in Toy Story 3, for those who wonder!)
- Snacks and a visit to the 96th floor of the John Hancock Tower to take in the view of the city. It was a beautiful clear day and the kids enjoyed some smoothies (and I sipped a Moscow Mule – in honor of Oprah and her great hometown) while their dad pointed out some of the city landmarks.
- The Brookfield Zoo, which we had taken them to when they were babies, but they were too young to remember. It’s an awesome zoo, very big and sprawling so we didn’t even get to all of the areas since it was a seriously blazing hot day and everyone was melting. Tip for parents: they rent strollers and wagons there, totally worth it as things are pretty spread out and even my three-year-old, who doesn’t ride in a stroller anymore, did want to ride in one there to get under the canopy out of the sun and to rest her little legs.
- Dinner at a Japanese BBQ Gyu-Kaku, in Streeterville, thanks to a reco from a friend who had been recently. It was great – excellent food, casual environment where at the early seating of 6:30 lots of families could be found with a noise-level that masked any individual “kid noise”, and relatively quick as you cook the BBQ meats at your own table. Also, the best part, you use the grill to make s’mores for dessert! Also, a pretty good value since we had a set menu for two people for $55 that included appetizers, meats, and the s’mores, and we added a couple of extras for the girls like gyoza and a garlic rice (a special) that was CRAZY good.
- Some shopping @ Disney store for the kids, and a few other spots for me, how could I be on the Mag Mile and NOT at least visit a couple of stores (during girls’ naptime)?? But, that requires another blog post for a different day!
- Lastly, a few other good places to grab food with the kids – can you see how our family trips are all about the eating too?? Corner Bakery and Oak Tree for breakfasts (the former quick, the latter full-service/leisurely), Wow Bao @ Water Tower Place, great for a quick snack or light lunch, Food Life (easy, cafeteria style, something for everyone), Sprinkles cupcakes on Walton St. just off Michigan.