that place: chicago, the easy weekend escape

With its’ location in the heart of America, the Windy City is an easy jaunt for most travelers.  A major airline hub and home to O’Hare, one of the world’s busiest airports, numerous nonstop flights daily are available from most major US cities. The fares for these flights are also generally easy on the wallet making Chicago a great choice for a weekend escape. Booked with only a few weeks notice Delta, American Airlines and United all offer flights from New York for under $200. Once you’ve arrived the easiest way to head into the city is by taxi which will cost around $40 depending on your final destination. If the cost of a taxi is a little rough on your wallet, the CTA Blue Line runs between the Loop and O’Hare every 15 minutes 24 hours a day and 7 days a week.

Many visitors to the city never make it past the attractions of downtown, making it a convenient neighborhood to call home for your trip. If downtown Chicago seems like the place you want to be, the Elysian is the hotel for you. A five star luxury hotel that still manages to venture into the hip side of things, rooms at the Elysian are not cheap at around $475 a night. Understandably, the Elysian can not be for everyone (myself included). theWit  and PUBLIC Chicago are more modestly priced properties (between $130-200 per night). The contemporary hotels provide hip digs, relaxed luxury and the convenience of location. Guests at theWit have access to a superb rooftop during the summer months, and though a DoubleTree by Hilton space, the space retains a boutique feel. Want to ride bikes along the lake? Well you’re in luck if you are staying at the PUBLIC- the hotel keeps bikes for its guests to enjoy.

around chicago

Chicago is easy to appreciate: its picturesque skyline calls across the waters of Lake Michigan, a first impression that soon reveals world-class museums of art and science, miles of sandy beaches, huge parks and public art, and perhaps the finest downtown collection of modern architecture in the world. The hundreds of attractions Chicago claims are impossible to squeeze into a weekend trip. This past weekend, Nicole and I decided to take a trip out west and visit some old friends.  Luckily for you, my weekend excursion has allowed me to navigate through the ideal two days below.

No trip to Chicago is complete without a walk through the Loop, the central business district and home to much of the city’s finest architecture. To really learn about the skyscrapers that dominate the skyline take Chicago Architecture Foundation‘s “Historic Skyscrapers” tour, which begins daily at 10AM and is just $16 . Though we didn’t make it to any, the Art Institute is perhaps your best choice if you can squeeze one museum in. Across from the Chicago Architecture Foundation, it is easy to pop into while wandering downtown. As the city’s most prestigious cultural institution the museum houses a magnitude of quality work, the must see’s of which include the Impressionist collection and the galleries of European and American contemporary art. Admission to the museum is $18 with the doors open 10:30AM- 5PM everyday but Thursday when the museum entertains guests til 8PM.

one of my favorites: “American Gothic” by Grant Wood, 1930, american art gallery 263

After a quick trip to the Art Institute your day of downtown Chicago continues. Just north of the Art Institute is one of the city’s most popular gathering spots. Check out the massive video-screen faces on the Crown Fountain, then take a walk around (and under) Anish Kapoor’s bean-shaped sculpture Cloud Gate otherwise known as “the bean”. The Pritzker Music Pavilion, designed by Frank Gehry, features the architect’s signature ribbons of silver steel; Gehry also designed the adjoining serpentine bridge.

bean close-up… can you spot me?

Around the corner from Michigan Ave and the Magnificent Mile it is a clear choice to round out the day with a little of Chicago’s finest shopping. The 14-block stretch of Michigan Avenue from the river to Oak Street is shopping central, a dense concentration of high-rise malls, designer boutiques, and practically every mass-market clothing brand. Even if you’re not a shopper, it’s worth a stroll; busy at almost all hours, it’s great for people-watching.

Being the foodie that I am, dinner at the Girl & the Goat was a must. Run by Top Chef  season four winner Stephanie Izard a reservation at the bustling restaurant takes a few months notice but is thankfully welcoming to the walk-in customer. The fun and funky spot focuses on mingling Mediterranean and Asian flavors with local ingredients. The best part is the menu is meant for sharing, meaning everyone gets to sample plenty (and in our case, perhaps a little too much :) ).

girl and the goat interior, open kitchen, nicole and adam

various goat treats clockwise from left to right: goat loin, green beans in fish sauce, escargot ravioli, shisito peppers with parmesean and miso, kalbi-style short ribs, baby octopus with beans and pistaschio, goat chorizo flat bread

If your visit to Chicago coincides with the warmer months of summer your second day in the city should begin at Navy Pier. Though touristy and often crowded the pier is a Chicago landmark filled with energy. During Halloween and Christmas be sure to stop by to experience one of the piers many seasonal festivals. A visit to the pier on day two is more than sufficient to wrap up the obligatory “tourists” Chicago. A cultural center and one of America’s largest, it’s the nooks and crannies of the city that are often most interesting. Check out Armitage Avenue for a chic yet smaller and more personal shopping scene. Getting to Armitage is easy: take a taxi to the corner of North Avenue and Damen Avenue, then walk north along Damen (the main shopping district is concentrated between Halsted Street and Racine Avenue) If you’re not shopped out yet, finish up the day with a walk through Bucktown, home to the city’s highest concentration of edgy clothing boutiques. It feels grittier than Armitage Avenue, and that’s part of the appeal for the cool kids who live here. Over in Wrigleyville, take a stroll down Southport Avenue mix of restaurants, cool clothing boutiques and cafes. Of course, the neighborhood of Wrigleyville gets it’s name from the venerable ivy-covered home of the Chicago Cubs. The second oldest major league stadium in the US and part of Chicago lore a game at Wrigley Field is quite the experience. Die hard fans fill the bleachers and the roars of the crowd can be heard from blocks away.
The permanent sights of the city are part of its’ fabric but there are also numerous events that travel through weekly. Time Out Chicago is a great resource for those planning an visit and wanting to know what’s going on during their stay in the Windy City. While Nicole and I were in town so was Beer Hoptacular!. Held at the Aragon Ballrom, over 100 different craft and specialty beer varieties supplied by 35 breweries were on tap for sampling. Stopping by to judge the brews for ourselves was a clear must. Joined with a few thousand other imbibers we made our way from station to station…

our day of beer, my favorite brew of the day: woodchuck hard cider’s winter brew

refueling after beer: my beloved jimmy john’s “turkey tom”, chicago favorite harold’s fried chicken

Chicago has something to offer for everyone. Whether the solo traveler, young singles, a family or non of the above the city is not one that will bore.

Some local favorites if you have the time:

  • Alinea Believe the hype and book well in advance. Chicago’s most exciting restaurant demands an adventurous spirit and a serious commitment of time and money. If you have four hours and $210 to spare, the tasting menu showcases Grant Achatz’s stunning cutting-edge food. Certainly a treat, Alinea will not disappoint. 1723 N. Halsted St., Lincoln Park, 312.867.0110, Wed- Sun dinner only
  • Calumet Fisheries Chicagoans in the know say this little shack-sized restaurant on the west bank of the Calumet River serves some of the best seafood in Chicago. Fish and shellfish here are smoked over a natural wood fire after marinating overnight. Go for salmon and shrimp, both local favorites. 3259 E 95th St, South Deering, Mon- Wed & Sun 10AM- 9:30PM, Thurs- Sat 9AM- 9:30 PM
  • Take in some blues With blues music pioneers like Big Bill Broonzy, Tampa Red, and Memphis Minnie blazing the blues trail through the city, Chicago has become synonymous with the music genre.  Hear the Chicago-style for yourself at various venues across the city. Those attracting the top in local and national talent include B.L.U.E.S., Buddy Guy’s Legends and Lee’s Unleaded.
  • Troll for treasures On the last Sunday of the month in season more than 200 stalls line Randolph Street selling furniture, jewelry, books, and more at the Chicago Antique Market. There’s also an Indie Designer Fashion Market, showcasing one-of-a-kind wearables by up-and-coming local designers

Have your own Chicago tips to share? Leave a comment and let us know!

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