The year that I turned 30 was an emotionally crazy year. There were lows, and there were highs. Having left a failing marriage shortly after my 29th birthday, I started the year devastated and heartbroken. Feeling like a failure, my little boy and I moved into a small bedroom at my parents’ home shortly after that breakup. A couple months later, things began to look up. I landed an awesome job and started dating an amazing guy named Geoff (who is now my husband). However, I also had a dearly loved grandmother whose health was failing.
My grandmother (quite possibly one of the best people to have ever lived) used to rave about how beautiful Chicago’s Magnificent Mile was during the holiday season. I had once mentioned it to Geoff that I hoped to someday see the Magnificent Mile all lit up for the holidays. And he remembered! To celebrate my birthday, he treated me to a magnificent weekend getaway in downtown Chicago – my favorite big city!
Grandma passed away shortly after my birthday. But before that very sad event, I had one lovely weekend in Chicago with my sweetheart. I think Grandma would have approved.
Some of my favorite moments from that weekend include:
We had a hotel room right downtown where we enjoyed a view of the night-time city lights from the window bench seat in our room. Beautiful!
- We strolled hand-in-hand along the Magnificent Mile in the evenings. The trees were all lit up, and the sidewalks were crowded. It was thrilling to experience the sights, sounds, and energy of the big city.
- We ate at restaurants that can’t be found in our hometown. We ate deep dish pizza from Uno’s and enjoyed a meal at the touristy Rainforest Café.
- We toured the art museum and admired the masterpieces. It is such a neat experience to be surrounded by so much beauty and genius. I was so impressed that I didn’t even mind when the coat check area lost one of my favorite scarves.
- Shopping! Christmas was only weeks away, and therefore, shopping was a must. (Plus I love shopping, and you have to do the stuff the birthday girl loves on her birthday weekend. Right?) Geoff even carried my shopping bags for me!
Geoff and I shared one of our most memorable kisses ever in a somewhat secluded area of an exhibit in the Museum of Science and Industry. Yep, this is one of my favorite museums (due to the interesting exhibits AND the nice memory).
- We pondered the wonders of the universe in Adler Planetarium, and then, we took lots of goofy pictures. That place was filled with fun photo op areas. If you know me at all, then you know that I am a huge sucker for cheesy photo opportunities.
So that’s a quick snapshot of our wonderful weekend – my magnificent birthday on the magnificent mile.
Chicago, Chicago, that toddlin’ town
Chicago, Chicago, I will show you around
– “Chicago” as sung by Frank Sinatra
While the above-mentioned getaway was quite romantic, Chicago is not just for lovers. It is a great place to visit with most anyone including friends, family, and children. We have been to Chicago on several other occasions, and here’s a breakdown of some of my favorite places in and around Chicago:
The Magnificent Mile – This stretch of Michigan Avenue is located right downtown, and it is home to several architectural wonders, museums, upscale shops and restaurants. There is something truly magical about how pretty and how busy that little stretch of downtown is. I can’t say that I would necessarily enjoy trying to navigate those sidewalks with tired small children in tow. But with a group of adults, it can be absolutely lovely. And, have I mentioned that I love the magnificent mile all lit up during the holiday season?!?
Millenium Park – Chicago boasts that this park is a “new kind of town square.” With its varied programs, beautiful gardens, unique architecture, and gorgeous artwork, this downtown Chicago park is a must-see.
Museum of Science and Industry – Don’t let the super serious name fool you! This place is just as fun as it is educational. The Museum of Science and Industry is filled with all sorts of interactive exhibits on a huge range of topics. From farming and trains and castles to space and weather and genetics, people of all ages will find something that interests them there. Plus, it offers tons of great photo opportunities. Seriously, you can’t go wrong with this place.
Shedd Aquarium – Everyone loves aquariums, and Shedd Aquarium is one of the best! I especially like the Oceanarium area that features beluga whales and dolphins. Additionally, kids love the Polar Play area.
Cheesecake Factory – What a great restaurant! It’s a little nicer than where we usually like to eat with our small children. But if it is just us adults, my vote on where to eat is always The Cheesecake Factory because… CHEESECAKE!
Rainforest Café – When in Chicago with children, we almost always eat at the Rainforest Café. It has animatronic animals that move and make noise in a jungle-like atmosphere. Every 30 minutes or so, there is a “thunderstorm” in the restaurant with flashing lights and sound effects. It is very entertaining for children and adults.
Cute side story: One of my children received a banana as a side dish with his kid’s meal at the Rainforest Café once. My child gobbled down that banana super quick because he was worried that the nearby animatronic gorilla would try to steal it. It was so funny and absolutely adorable!
360 Chicago – Formerly called the John Hancock Observatory, you can view Chicago from the 94th floor of the city’s third tallest skyscraper! Admire the famed downtown skyline, and get a bird’s eye view of the Magnificent Mile. On a clear day, it is said that you can see three different states from there. This is a neat experience for people of all ages. And, I guess it now houses a crazy new attraction that tilts visitors to a 30 degree angle over Michigan Avenue.
The Art Institute of Chicago – Art museums aren’t usually my thing but I love the Art Institute! It has such a wide range in its collections, and it’s thrilling to see in person some of the most renowned masterpieces from throughout history. While I doubt that very small children would enjoy it much, adults and even school-age children would appreciate many of the art exhibits.
Navy Pier – It’s fun for all ages. Navy Pier houses a children’s museum, a stained glass museum, a ferris wheel, a carousel, a water fountain, shopping and dining… all on an odd little mini-peninsula in the heart of the city. In the winter, there is ice skating. What a fun and unique experience!
Schaumburg Sculpture Park – We stumbled upon this little gem the last time we were passing through Chicago. It is a great place to relax, stroll or picnic in a beautiful nature setting amidst some really cool artwork. Plus, it has ample parking, and it’s free.
Adler Planetarium – I have always been intrigued by space, stars and constellations, and thus, I love a good planetarium. Besides being educational, this place is filled with fun photo op areas. Learn about the night skies and space, take advantage of the fun photo opportunities, and get a great view of the Chicago skyline!
Those are my favorite places around Chicago. What are your favorite things to see or do in Chicago?