Every family has its “thing”. For us is taking little trips and though we used to take them much more often before being parents and even on a regular basis when we only had one, we still try to be on the go as much as possible.
One of our favorite places to visit is Chicago. We love the feel of the city, the cosmopolitan smell in the air, the restaurants, the site-seeing, the museums, the parks, and of course, the shopping. People always ask if we are crazy to do it with two young children but I wonder if they are crazy for not doing it!
I know that pushing a stroller along for miles may not seem that appealing when you do it on a trail but trust me, it is much different in the city where you are distracted by the people, the architecture and the so many things to see. Both my two and one-year-old really enjoy watching the real-life circus that life in the city can be some times.
If you are on the fence about going to Chicago, I say toss your fears away with the next diaper you change and do it!
Here are some pointers in case you are interested to know:
We hate to spend tons of money in hotel rooms because let’s face it, my husband and I don’t really follow a strict schedule for the kids during any of our trips and thus, we tend not to spend much time at the hotel. I recommend you to use Priceline.com and bid for a 3 or 4 star hotel in one of the downtown areas. We like either the area of Millennium Park or closer to the John Hancock Tower just because there is so much to see while you walk around. Depending on the season, we have spent between $70 and $120 per night and stayed at some great hotels (not to shabby, huh?)
We love food and definitely love trying local restaurants but that is sometimes impossible to do with restless toddlers. To make peace with our children (and to be able to enjoy at least one meal without being rushed by them) we try to do at least one kid-friendly place per trip. That means, we have eaten at the over-priced Rain Forest Cafe. The food was actually good and the kids loved, loved, LOVED the animals and the ambiance of the whole place.
Other good spots are the typical sandwich/bakery places like Cosí where you can get a pretty decent and even healthy meal pretty quickly so that you can be in-and-out in a blink.
Chicago of course has certain places that one “must” eat at because they are so popular like Pizzeria UNO or The Cheesecake Factory but is it really worth it to wait 45 minutes to be seated? My children only have about 15 minutes of seating-still time so those places are not part of my itinerary.
If you go on a slow season or during the week, there is a Spanish food place that you may want to try: Cafe Iberico! It is delicious food served tapas style, so everything comes in small portions (perfect for the children). They have anything from chicken skewers to more sophisticated dishes like paella. I have found that my kids eat everything that comes in small plates.
PLACES TO GO
The Shedd Aquarium is my number one place to visit as it is worth every penny. The kids love to see all the color and never get sick of seeing so many fishes. I don’t know that I would recommend to get the package that includes everything for families with young kids like mine because they really don’t care to see documentary-like movies (even if they are about the polar bears) but the basic ticket is very much worth it.
If you are on a budget and don’t want to spend money on every touristic attraction, then you may want to stroll around Millennium Park and take lots of photos at “The Bean” and the famous fountains with the faces finishing your walk at the Art Institute of Chicago. They have a children section that’s absolutely free!
How can you go to Chicago and not visit The Navy Pier? It is a beautiful place to walk around, rent bikes (even the ones that are like a cart and come with a bench for the little ones to seat), go on a boat ride, see the city from the awesome 150 feet ferris wheel ($6 per person), and go to The Children Museum! We all enjoyed the museum very much. It has so much to see and do and play with: water play, building section where my daughter and husband put together a “dog house”, a fire department section, among many others. This season they also have a circus section that is so fun that even my husband and I couldn’t resist playing in it.
If you want to see the city from high up and you don’t feel like waiting an eternity in line or paying the price for the Willis or John Hancock towers, then head to the restaurant on the second to last story of the John Hancock tower and have a drink of some food instead. You get the same view and instead of spending the money on your tickets, you spend much less on a nice little meal or a snack -kids are welcome.
Now, if you want to do it all, I recommend you purchase the Chicago City Pass available online or at the ticket counter of any of the main attractions. It saves you some money but also the time you’d otherwise waste in line as this pass allows you to skip ahead of the people who are there to purchase a ticket. It’s worth looking into.
I’m not going to say much about shopping because each of us have different tastes but know that they have an awesome Nordstrom Rack that is worth looking into while your partner is somewhere else with the kids. It has fantastic deals on name brands but is one of those stores in which one must go ready to hunt. There is just so much merchandise in such little space.
THE THINGS I WANT TO DO NEXT TIME
Last time we were in Chicago we met up with some friends every day so we didn’t get to do all what we would have liked to, so next time we plan on visiting:
The Lincoln Park Zoo because is free; Brookfield Zoo because everybody says it’s awesome; stroll at the Wicker Park neighborhood because they say it’s full of artsy coffee shops; and rent one of those bikes where my husband and I can pedal while the kids seat on a bench!