Marcus and I wanted to spend a long weekend in Chicago this past summer to celebrate our anniversary and my birthday. We decided to plan for mid-June so we could have a definite dog-sitter and not have to worry on that front. On the itinerary for sure: Shedd Aquarium and the Museum of Science and Industry.
The Central Loop Hotel
I started the research pretty early for the trip and booked a hotel in the Loop with an online booking company. Having second thoughts, I actually called the hotel and the rates they offered were cheaper than the booking site, so I cancelled the reservation I had and made one direct with the hotel. We stayed at the Central Loop Hotel. I opted for a “Small Double” room which was very reasonable for rates considering it was close to the Shedd, Michigan Ave, and the bus to the museum. The room, in my opinion, was actually quite nice for the price of the room. Being used to a nice king bed, the double was a bit more snug, but otherwise the room had a decent size bathroom, a small dresser, a desk and office chair, and a small chair. We had a view of the office building across the street, but with the little time we spent in the hotel room it didn’t really matter.
When we arrived, we opted to pay for valet parking for the weekend. Unnecessary? Maybe, but worth it to not have to find a place to park on crazy busy streets. We may travel budget, but there are just some things worth splurging on, and valet in a chaotic city..yeah, it’s on the list. We came in early, pre-checked-in, and were able to leave the car and our luggage with the hotel as we went to the Museum of Science and Industry for the afternoon. Overall, nice hotel, maybe a bit older, but since we just slept and showered, it was maybe even too much for our meager needs. If we visit again, we would prefer to stay closer to the lake and Michigan Ave. for better food options.
The one place Marcus really wanted to go in Chicago was the Museum of Science and Industry. He had been there many years ago and I had never been, so we figured we could waste the afternoon there quite easily. Our hotel was a block from a bus route that went pretty close to the museum, but the wait was over 1/2 hour so we decided to take the train instead. I *thought* there was a train stop close to the museum, so we got off at the right stop…and then walked 3 miles due East, Marcus sweating and me getting cranky. Lesson: confirm public transit routes ahead of time.
The museum wasn’t busy when we finally got there, early afternoon on a Friday. Lots of families and small kids but the place is so large that it is spread out pretty well. We pre-bought our tickets so getting in was a breeze. There was a lot of interesting stuff, and a lot of not-so-interesting stuff. I think we spent 3-4 hours there and were ready to leave when we did. Tired and hungry, we found the direct bus and took that back to two blocks from the hotel.
Overall, after our transit snafu, things went well at the Museum. We learned some stuff, ate some really expensive cafeteria pizza, and left worn out. I won’t need to go again soon, but it was worth the trip. Pre-purchase tickets to save time and budget 4 hours, bring a stroller if you have kids, and all should be well.
The one thing I just HAD to do in Chicago was visit the Shedd Aquarium. I love zoos and aquariums, and this is one of the best. We got there before they opened and stood looking at the city on the terrace. Very pretty view of the city, and a nice 1 mile walk from our hotel in the cooler early morning temps. Again we pre-purchased tickets online. We ended up buying one of the larger packages, which I highly recommend, so you can see the shark exhibit downstairs, and also the jellies. We got in easy-peasy with our tickets and skipped the line, always a bonus! I had such a good time just sitting in front of the huge central tank watching all the fish swim around. Helpful hint: There is an injured Sea Turtle who lives in the tank, ask for help finding her from a staff member. She is really special! You can also see someone go in and clean the tank and do a presentation later in the day, very fun.
I loved the Wild Reef exhibit, it houses several species of sharks, and you also get to see some coral reefs and their inhabitants, like Nemo! You can sit there as long as you wish, so long as you are ok with a floor seat. Definitely a highlight. While we had tickets, we didn’t make it to the aquatic show as our show time was late in the afternoon and we didn’t want to hang around for that long.
Helpful Hints: Pre-purchase your tickets. When we left the building there were several hundred people waiting in line to get in. You can bring your own lunch/snacks. Do so; cafeteria prices are high and the food wasn’t very exciting. Bring good shoes, a camera and be prepared to wait to see some of the more interesting exhibits as the aquarium starts to fill up later in the morning. We spent about 4 hours there, moving along at a pretty good pace.
The Art Institute of Chicago
Marcus does NOT understand the fun of going to art museums. I, however, love them. We hadn’t planned on checking out the Art Institute of Chicago, but we had a lot of empty time on Sunday and decided it was something we could walk to from the hotel. We bought a student membership which saved us a little money and got in right away in the morning. This place is huge. We didn’t even get the the Modern wing given our schedule and the fact that we were both getting pretty tired of walking around museums.
We were there during a really excellent exhibit: Impressionism, Fashion and Modernity. They always post new and upcoming exhibits on the site if you want to see what will be there when you visit. I thought it was great and could have spent a lot more time, Marcus…was bored. We might visit again in the future, but only for special exhibits and/or to see the modern wing.
Other Fun Stuff
We did a lot of other things to fill our time, including taking a ferry from the Shedd to Navy Pier. Worth the ticket to not have to walk and it was a really nice scenic view. Navy Pier was noisy, crowded and we just didn’t feel like fighting for a place to sit and eat. We walked down Michigan Ave, even stopping in Tiffany & Co for some anniversary/birthday jewelry. Michigan Ave is like a smaller version of 5th Ave in NYC, less shops but still a lot of people. We also had to seek out Cloud Gate, or “The Bean” in Millennium Park. Again, lots of people, but it was really fun to see and take our picture in the reflection.
And then there’s the food!
Elephant & Castle is a restaurant in the Central Loop Hotel where we had dinner the first night. I had the Fish Fry, which was good, but being a true Wisconsin Fish Fry lover, not the best I’ve had. It was noisy and full of people getting off work, but we had a table quickly and the service was good.
AraOn was a fantastic place to celebrate our anniversary. We both love sushi, and this really hit the spot. While it’s easy to rack up quite a bill, we were out celebrating and had planned for one splurge meal.
Hannah’s Bretzel was a nice lunch spot, offering build-your-own sandwiches, bagels, and other assortments of goodies. Wish we had one of these closer to home! I had the Thanksgiving 365, yum-o!
Until Next time
We had a really good extended weekend stay in Chicago. It had been a long time since we had left Madison, and the weekend to explore and visit some museums was welcome in our busy schedules. While apparently we don’t find time to relax on vacations, we will be back to Chicago sooner than later since it is only 3 hours drive from home. Time to start planning other adventures for our next trip!