225 Canal Street, home of Chicago?s Union Station (and Amtrak hub) has never sounded so good?for tired legs, and, certainly a ?back?track from the gusty, Chicago air. Whether you?re on board for the California Zephyr, the Capitol Limited or The City of New Orleans, you?ll find that Chicago is a land ?port? that will leave you clicking your holiday heels.
Right from the start you will enjoy Union Station?s festive music and decorations, just in time to get you in the caroling mood. Good thing, too, because this stop leaves right in the heart of downtown Chicago?s CBD. If you?d like to get your winter season ?buzz? on as quickly as possible, grab a quick cab (the line is right out of the door) and head to Water Tower or 900 N. Michigan Ave to shop yourself silly and to see a literal light parade from one end of Michigan Ave. to the other.
If time is your ally and you?d rather save the cash on an extra gift for your sweetheart, then go the Chicago Transit Authority website to plan your trip into the heart of the city. And if you and your family are more of the adventure traveler types, then the walk to the more active part of downtown is just short of two miles. Bundle up and you are sure to enjoy some sparkling sights and the ?subtle? scents of Garrett Popcorn or Lou Malnati?s Pizzeria in the air. Also, once you get downtown, stop off at the Rush and Walton Currency Exchange to purchase a anything from a one day to a 7 day to a month long pass for the super efficient transportation system in Chicago. If you go this route, however, be sure to pick up an extra pair of warm gloves. Urban Outfitters at 935 N. Rush St. sells some cute, warm, and affordable gloves that will give you that hip feel as you strut around this megalopolis of a town.
All that travel has certainly tantalized your tastebuds and Chicago?s reputation for fabulous food won?t let you down on any front of your journey. If you choose to stay in the heart of the holiday area, I?ve listed a variety of fabulous food options for you to consider (and, trust me, I?ve tried them all)!
Saving a Cent
Lappetito Imported Italian Foods
Located at the infamous John Hancock Center (875 N. Michigan Ave.), Lappetito offers everything from to die for Mediterranean tuna salad to fantabulous meat and cheese subs to a hot chocolate (or a port if you and your family indulge) to a croissant or gelato sweeten the deal. Right next store to a Jamba Juice smoothie store for folks who prefer to keep their travel tastings on the lighter side.
Food Court at Water Tower
You?ll enjoy anything from pizza to pasta to comfort foods to Thai or tasty low-fat fare at this diversely elegant food court where folks aged 2 to 72 can find something to enjoy. If you are on the go, there is also a take-out store to the right of the main food court.
Munching on a Medium?.Budget
Cheesecake Factory at John Hancock
Literally, the most substantial (and equally tasty) menu around. This fun spot is sure to please the kids too, because the ceilings look like melting cheese (at least, that is my take on the modern design). If you like good food, but prefer a better view of the city, the Cheesecake creators also own and operate a fantabulous spot a few blocks down called Grand Lux Cafe that will knock your knickers off with the flavor options and the window view. If you are stopping by for a weekend lunch or a weeknight dinner, however, plan to wait for a spell. This spot is one of the hottest tickets in town, especially during the busy holiday season.
LuxBar (from the owners of Gibson?s steakhouse)
A few steps west of the Magnificent Mile, this spot boasts great burgers, pastas and some of the best chicken dishes around. You can also ask to see their newer organic menu with a rockin sock'em gnocchi to temper your tingling toes.
Penny Pinching?.....Please!Hugo?s Frog Bar and Fish House
This spot (also owned by those fantabulous Gibson?s Steakhouse creators-and the two are doors away from one another), offers fine dining that will make you fight for food from you mother-in-law. Ask for your bread toasted and try a side of the corn if you can. Piano entertainment nightly. Both spots still have great burgers for the kids, so don?t be afraid to bring the whole family along for the fun.
Carmine?s (A Rosebud Restaurant)
This scrumptious, semolina-filled spot is just the tip of the Italian iceberg in Chicago?s Gold Coast/Streeterville/River North area (and, yes, they all overlap). Try any of the Rosebud restaurants listed on the above link (and in walking distance) and you won?t go wrong. My personal favorite is Rosebud Steakhouse on the ?other? side of the Michigan Ave. tracks.
Broadway in Chicago
For traveling troupes, Chicago is among the best to find a show you?ve wanted to see that didn?t come to your tiny town. The Ford Center for the Performing Arts Oriental Theater, the Cadillac Palace Theater and the The Lasalle Bank Theater (to name a few) are all listed on the above link, as are such star-studded shows as Jersey Boys, Avenue Q, and Wicked. Book your tickets in advance if you can, or go to a hottix booth for half-price same-day seats.
Voraciously Voluptuous Views
The John Hancock Observatory is fun for the entire family (if not super cheap), but if you are on an adults-only vacation and prefer to dine while you delight in skyscraper and lakeshore views, then go to the Signature Room (95th Floor) of the same building. Fyi: The women?s bathroom has one of the best views I?ve ever seen in my life. While Sears Tower is noted as the taller of the two viewpoint towers, I actually prefer the John Hancock view, especially since it is more centrally located.
Enjoy everything from the Macy?s Holiday Traditions Tour to Millennium Park Ice-Skating (a must-do for family fun). Go to the City of Chicago website for so much fun you?ll have to take off a few layers to deal with the excitement.
And, of course, the museum campus of Chicago is among the dearest to enjoy and the saddest to depart. Enjoy culturally competent displays at the Field Museum, Aerially exotic views at the Adler Planetarium, or ?fishy? fun at the Shedd Aquarium. My personal favorite, however, is further south on Lakeshore drive where you can crinkle your nose at cadavers at The Museum of Science and Industry.
I hope you?ve enjoyed your happening holiday guide to Chicago and look forward to treating you to a taste of this fine city throughout the coming months. Next up? Chicago: Cultural Creativity for the Whole Family.