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I {heart} Chicago

June 7, 2013

Our first full day in Chicago left me absolutely smitten with the city.  I’d visited Chicago before while I was in college with friends, but somehow didn’t appreciate it as much then as I did this time.  Maybe it was the fact that I’d never visited in the summer before, or maybe just that I seem to appreciate travel a lot more the older I get.  Anyway, when I jogged out the door of the Raffaello on Sunday morning for a run, it didn’t even really bother me that it was cooler than I expected and drizzly.

A friend who used to live in Chicago told me I’d love running around the Chicago Lakefront Trail.  Once I saw that I could pick up the trail only a couple blocks away from my hotel, it was a done deal.  I headed toward the lake and jogged down the sidewalk until I found a pedestrian underpass that took me under Lakeshore Drive and onto the trail.  I made my way toward Navy Pier.  Never having been to the famous tourist attraction, I turned off the trail to see what it was all about.

Navy Pier

Nothing was really open yet, but from what I could tell the pier was a giant tourist trap, filled with ice cream stands, tour boats, and restaurants like Margaritaville, along with the famous ferris wheel.  I might have been missing something, but I decided to cross it off my list of possible things to see with my mom later that weekend.  As far as somewhere to run, however, it was pretty cool.

Navy Pier

Early on a rainy morning, it was nearly empty, and at almost a half-mile long, it added a fun little out-and-back jaunt to my run.  Plus, it was cool to turn around at the end of the pier and look back at the Chicago skyline, shrouded in low-hanging clouds.

Skyline from Navy Pier

I meandered a little farther down the lakeshore before turning around and heading for home.  When I came around the last stretch before the hotel that was really exposed along the lake, the wind kicked up and it suddenly felt like I was running into a storm.  Luckily there was a pretty view to accompany the feeling.

Lakeshore Trail

Chicago Lakefront Trail

Lake Michigan looked more like an ocean that rainy morning, with waves slapping the edge of the trail sending cold mist my way.  As I wrapped up my run, I had to wonder why every city doesn’t have a pedestrian path like the Lakefront Trail.  The Lakefront Trail is 18 miles long (according to my latest Wikipedia research, though I swear I read elsewhere that it’s longer) and spans Lake Michigan, connecting beaches, parks and other sites.  As I saw on a subsequent run, it’s also a great option for bicycle commuters to stay out of traffic.  I’m pretty sure if I lived in Chicago, I’d find a way to work it into my daily commuting or workout routine.

Anyway, is it bad that I walked right through the doors of my hotel and into the line for Glazed and Infused?

Glazed and Infused

This sweet spot was located right off the lobby of our hotel and was the obvious choice for a quick breakfast.  I snagged a couple of lattes for my mom and myself along with a Maple Bacon Bar (almost as good as the one at Voodoo Donuts but not quite), and a to-die-for Old Fashioned Donut.

Glazed and Infused

Properly sugared-up and caffeinated, we headed out into the city for the day.  It was still nasty weather out, so we decided to wait for the clouds to break (as promised by the hourly weather forecast, which turned out to be a giant lie), at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Art Institute of Chicago

My friend who we’d met for drinks the night before had recommended the art institute as a good rainy day activity, and she was right on the money.  The museum was HUGE, with everything from a quirky paperweight exhibit – trust me, it was totally worth seeing – to a large collection of Monets.  The Modern wing had beautiful architecture and an impressive collection of masters like Picasso, Matisse and Georgia O’Keefe.  It is also supposed to have knock-out views of the city, but on the day of our visit the blinds were all drawn for some reason.

Modern Wing

My mom and I got the biggest kick out of hearing a dad gesture his daughters over to one of the more out-there contemporary pieces,  calling, “Come here girls, see how weird modern art is!”

We spent 2 or 3 hours at the Art Institute and probably didn’t even see half of the content.  It truly is an amazing and massive museum.  Toward the end of our visit we noticed a feature on the back of our museum guide called something like, “See the highlights in 1 hour,” that directs visitors to the most famous/popular works in the museum.  If you’re visiting and only have limited time, it’s definitely worth checking out.  I was initially put off that entry to the Art Institute costs $23 (I used to live in Washington, D.C. where most museums are free and became accustomed to that), but especially on this rainy morning that was money well spent!

We exited the museum on the Millennium Park side, eager to check out one of the most iconic Chicago sights – the Cloud Gate sculpture, better known as “The Bean.”

The Bean

Even though you’ve undoubtedly seen countless pictures of this famous sculpture, if you visit Chicago and have never seen The Bean, you’ve got to check it out.  I hadn’t seen it until this trip and was totally fascinated by the way it distorted the beautiful skyline.

The Bean

I can only imagine how much more beautiful it would have been on a sunny, blue sky day.  Things got even more fun when we stepped directly underneath The Bean!

The Bean

The Bean

It was a lot more challenging than you’d think to find our own reflections with how the sculpture distorted things, but we managed to find ourselves.  Hello there!

The Bean Reflections

After clowning around at The Bean for a while, we were sufficiently hungry for lunch.  As always, I jumped on Yelp for a little assistance and we found our way down the street to The Gage, a gastropub that yelpers promised would have great salads.

The Gage

The Gage

We loved this place.  There were tons of delicious-sounding items on the menu, but we were determined to keep things relatively light so that we’d be hungry enough for a real dinner that night (ah, vacation problems).  We both ordered salads and loved them. 

Apparently the man at the next table gave his wife a crazy look when he saw me take this picture.  What, you don't photograph your salads sir? :)

Apparently the man at the next table gave his wife a crazy look when he saw me take this picture. What, you don’t photograph your salads sir? 🙂

My Peppered Hanger Steak Salad had grilled romaine and toasted hazelnuts with a chimichuri dressing, and my mom’s scallops were seared perfectly.  Based on our food and the rest of the dishes we saw pass our table, I’m willing to bet that The Gage is an all-around winner.

After lunch it was still drizzling and cool, so we decided to walk the mile down to the Shedd Aquarium for a mostly indoor afternoon.  The walk took us through the gardens of the Art Institute, which we hadn’t visited earlier and had some pretty sweet flowers.

Art Institute Gardens

They might look like dandelions, but they were about 4 feet tall.

Then we walked through Grant Park, passing a massive outdoor yoga festival and other prettiness before stumbling upon the giant Buckingham Fountain, the largest fountain I’ve ever seen in my life.

Buckingham Fountain

Buckingham Fountain

When we finally made it to the aquarium, it turned out that we weren’t the only ones who thought it made a good rainy Sunday afternoon activity.  There was a 40-minute line to buy tickets (outside in the cold and rain), or we could each buy a special $53 ticket to cut the line.  Um, no thanks.  We decided to head back toward the hotel but thought our lovely walk was well worth it for views like this.

Shedd Aquarium View

Shedd View

Later that evening, we grabbed a cocktail at Drumbar the swanky rooftop “speakeasy” at our hotel.  On a nicer night their rooftop patio would have been awesome, but the indoor bar was very cool as well.


Chilled from walking around in the damp weather all day, I ordered a whiskey cocktail to warm up.  This backfired when it came out in an ice-cold metal cup, but it was still delicious.

Drumbar cocktail

When we stepped out of the hotel to walk to dinner, miracle of all miracles happened – the sky was clear!  The evening was beautiful on our stroll up Michigan Avenue to Bandera for dinner.

Watertower at NightMichigan Ave at Night

A friend had recommended Bandera, a restaurant a short walk from our hotel, and we decided that it sounded like a perfect spot for dinner that night.  It was a cozy steakhouse and seafood restaurant with live jazz, leather booths and an open kitchen and everything about it felt comfortable and inviting after a long day walking around the city.  I promptly fell out of blogger mode and forgot to take any photos, just enjoying a great dinner with my mom. 

As soon as we walked in my mom commented that Bandera reminder her of Houston’s, one of our favorite go-to restaurants in Ft. Lauderdale, and we later found out that they are owned by the same restaurant group.  Nothing sneaks by her!  We loved our dinner, from the skillet cornbread to start, to a glass of The Prisoner (one of my favorite “splurge” wines), to my pecan crusted trout, to our key lime pie for dessert, it was the perfect ending to a fabulous day.

11 Comments leave one →
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  2. August 31, 2013 6:39 am

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