We love Chicago! Learn all about our travels to this great city. | Gallery Drinkware

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We love Chicago!

Although I lived in Chicago for three years starting in 1999 and completed my graduate studies in this great city, every time I visit I seem to see it through new eyes. And fifteen years after moving from Chicago to Southern California, I still feel that deep love for this city as I did when I first moved there so long ago. It's a salt-of-the-earth Midwestern town, but also a sophisticated metropolis with some of the most beautiful architecture and most fabulous food of any city in the country (or world, for that matter!). I love its history, I love its energy, I love its blue collar industrial beginnings, and its ever-developing future. It is both progressive and traditional, culturally diverse and quintessentially American. It's smack-dab in the middle of the USA, but it also sits at the shores of the ocean-like Lake Michigan, giving it a natural beauty and a feeling of worldliness that's really unique. It's a huge city with a surprisingly down-home feel and it's an urban adventure everyone should experience at least once in their lifetime, in my opinion.

This was the first time we've taken our two young daughters to Chicago, so it was really fun to see the city from the perspective of little ones and do some activities that are both kid-and-grownup-friendly. Of course you can't hit up the Windy City without having some classic deep dish Chicago pizza-- you know, the kind with the tangy-yet-slightly-sweet tomatoes covering the top, cheesy goodness and toppings of your choice underneath, and that amazingly buttery golden crust. I'm a fan of pizza of all sorts, but classic Chicago deep dish has a special place in my heart. Not only is it incredibly delicious, but it also is a reminder of so many great times in this city, from visits here in my childhood to time living here as a graduate student. Although there are many deep dish pizza joints in Chicago, the majority of which won't disappoint, we chose Gino's East (which was founded in 1966 by two cabbies who were sick of rush hour traffic and wanted to have a place to stop in for some great food off of North Michigan Avenue) for our pizza fix this visit. Yes, it's hard to wait the requisite 45 minutes to an hour for your pizza, which is standard wait time for freshly-made Chicago deep dish, but it is worth every minute (even with hungry kids intermittently whining).

Gino's East PIzzeria at Michigan Ave. and Superior St. in Chicago

Gino's East deep dish Chicago-style pizza with mushroom and spinach

Seriously, that pizza was even better than I remembered. I'm going to crave it for weeks after returning to California, I just know it! Anyway, after a heavy lunch, a stroll is always in order and with Michigan Avenue at our fingertips, it was the perfect chance to explore one of the most beautiful architectural strips one can find.

The incredible "old and new" aspects of Michigan Avenue in Chicago-- the original Water Tower building juxtaposed with the modern skyscrapers

And the amazing John Hancock building lit up against a night sky

We had to cap off our first day in Chicago with a sweet treat and we were both amused and thrilled to stumble upon a Sprinkles Cupcakes ATM. Yup, a cupcake ATM machine. There's a first time for everything, I suppose!

Sprinkles Cupcake ATM on Delaware St. in Chicago

The next morning, we woke up to this phenomenal view of Lake Shore Drive from our room at the historic Drake Hotel. Our girls thought Lake Michigan was an ocean and we can't blame them for thinking that-- it's massive! And Chicago has one of the most beautiful urban waterfronts one can find.

Chicago's Lake Shore Drive on Lake Michigan

The plan for day two was to spend the majority of the afternoon at the Lincoln Park Zoo, a wonderful COMPLETELY FREE zoo that's open 365 days a year!

Chicago's Lincoln Park Zoo

When we told our girls that we were going to the zoo, we beamed with pride when they both asked us whether the animals are sad being kept in the zoo instead of out in the wild. We explained that they are absolutely right, that animals almost always belong in the wild in their natural habitats instead of in a zoo or at an animal park of any sort, but we also explained that a responsible and well-run zoo like this one actually does a lot to help the animal world, too. For example, at the Lincoln Park Zoo, much focus is placed on reintroducing certain species to their natural homes. Also, they are big on helping various species recover from their brushes with extinction. Additionally, the Lincoln Park Zoo raises a lot of money to help with wildlife conservation efforts and since they do not charge admission, they are not a revenue-seeking corporation. Answering children's inquiries like this is challenging and it's important that we explain these things clearly, in ways that they will understand. It's a difficult balance to impart these things to our youth without bogging them down with worry and concern about the animals' well-being and yet helping them to learn the truth about what goes on in the animal world, both in the natural habitat and in a zoo environment. We are always thrilled when we hear kids asking the all-important questions about animal safety and happiness. It's rewarding to be able to turn these into teachable moments and assist youngsters in synthesizing their thoughts about the world around us. These are complex issues that even adults struggle with, too! Overall, we really enjoyed the Lincoln Park Zoo and here's a smattering of the creatures we observed:

Check out this kangaroo giving us her casually elegant model pose-- not a care in the world!

Sea lions "singing" on a rock

Graceful ostrich strutting by

And my personal favorite, the zebra

After the zoo, we made a stop at Millennium Park, an incredible public space in downtown Chicago filled with some of the most eye-catching sculptures, green spaces, art, architecture, and urban beauty you'll ever see. If you spent time in Chicago before the late-1990s, you'll remember the area in which Millennium Park is now located as a total industrial wasteland, even a virtual ghost town, so to speak. It used to be a blight on the lower part of Chicago's lakefront, covered in empty parking lots and unsightly railroad tracks. But starting with Mayor Richard M. Daley's vision of creating a lovely public space for the residents of the city of Chicago to enjoy in 1997, the vision grew to attract world-renown artists, landscape architects, sculptors, and designers, turning Millennium Park into what it is today-- an award-winning world-class artistic park that offers free concerts, performances, picnic spaces, fountains, walking/jogging paths, kids' play areas, and urban magic for residents and visitors alike. It really is a feast for the eyes. Our favorite is the piece commonly nicknamed "the bean," which is actually called Cloud Gate, a stainless steel arch sculpture created by British artist Anish Kapoor, meant to reflect the beauty of Chicago's skyline and the clouds above.

Chicago's Cloud Gate at Millennium Park

The plan for Day 3 was the Adler Planetarium and Field Museum, located on Chicago's wonderful Museum Campus. The whole campus sits on the shores of Lake Michigan and looks upon both the expansive lake and the city skyline. Here is the gorgeous view from the entryway of the planetarium, looking outward onto the lake and the city:

Chicago's magnificent skyline

Chicago's Adler Planetarium

It doesn't get much better than that view of the city on the lake. But the sights inside the planetarium and the Field Museum were pretty great, too. We saw some fascinating exhibits at the planetarium and were very impressed with all they had to offer young visitors, from rocket ship simulators to all sorts of hands-on learning centers about the planets. And at the Field Museum, the kids (as well as the adults!) were wowed by "Sue," the best preserved and most complete skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus Rex ever found. And I couldn't help but notice several eco-friendly elements in Chicago as a whole, with recycle bins next to almost every trash can on Michigan Avenue as well as hand driers instead of paper towels in most public bathrooms we went to.

Eco-friendly hand driers at the Adler Planetarium

We were also very impressed with all the flower beds and greenery that surrounded us everywhere we looked in Chicago. The city looks so beautiful in the summer! Although we've heard rumblings of Chicago being in some pretty dire straits financially, it certainly didn't appear so looking around at how vibrant the tourism seemed and how well-kept all of the public spaces appeared. Of course we don't want the flower beds to be meticulously maintained if the public school system is suffering, but we were struck by how great the city looked on a superficial level.

Beautiful flower beds on Chicago city streets

Another wonderful trip to another fabulous city! From Portland to Chicago over the past couple of months, we feel very lucky to have experienced two terrific American towns. Excited to see what's next!



Feb 09, 2016 • Posted by Brittany

I have been to Chicago once and we did it in one day. I must say that you definitely need more than one day to see Chicago because there is so much sight seeing and a lot to take in. They were filing a movie in the street and we watched it. City life is definitely different than what I am used to. Glad I got to experience it.

Aug 30, 2015 • Posted by Sherry Carter

I live 8 hours away from Chicago yet in the last year and a half that I’ve lived in Ohio I haven’t been yet, I really want to go! It looks so beautiful and your descriptions are awesome!!

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