Sunday, June 21, 2015

Chicago for Kids- Our Favorite Places, Food and Travel Tips

My husband, 6 year old and I just returned from a week in Chicago. Everyone has asked me this weekend how was it and I have to say over and over again, I LOVE THAT CITY! Chicago has it all- water, parks, playgrounds, museums, culture, free zoo, awesome food. We had visited before my daughter was born and enjoyed it as adults, but with a kid in the big city for the first time, it was even better!

Both times we have been to Chicago we stayed on The Magnificent Mile. I can't imagine staying anywhere else. It is the big city! Abby loved calling cabs and the big circular doors. We loved all the stores, food and coffee shops within walking distance.

Here are a few of my favorites places to see, places to eat and tips for navigating Chicago!

Favorite Places to See

The first night we walked out to Navy Pier. We ate pizza, rode the swings and the Ferris wheel. It is just fun for kids- everything is lit up, water is all around you, and you can see the city so easily from the Pier. It is a must see! Rides are about $6-$8/person/ride. So, we split up and my husband did the swings with Abby and I did the Ferris wheel with her. The wheel is best at sunset so we did swings, ate dinner and walked the little souvenir shops and then did the Ferris wheel last. Be sure to get a bag of Garrett's Popcorn when you visit. We bought a big bag and snacked on it all week!

Hands down, our favorite place was Maggie Daley Park. It just opened a few months before our trip and was like no other park. 

We visited it twice. The backdrop was amazing! The slides were so creative! Abby had fun running around and being a kid! 

The whole place is just full of laughter and imagination. We really loved it! 

From Maggie Daley park, you can take a fun footbridge over to Millennium Park to see the famous bean and also the Crown Fountains. 

Be sure to pack clothes to change into. Abby loved seeing the fountains spit water out on all the kids. We just rolled her jeans up and limited her fountain time. Lots of kids come in swimsuits!

There is so much to learn in Chicago and the zoo was a must see. It is a free zoo, so there are gates open all around and people in the parks surrounding the zoo. They had picnic lunches, flew kites, and ran all around the grassy fields near the zoo. We took the bus and were there in time for lunch before we started exploring.

We are zoo people- we have visited 8 other zoos and really loved this one. I judge a zoo based upon the ability to not get lost and the ability to see the animals well. I dislike a zoo with the animals all in hiding indoors. We saw everything! They had more monkeys than I've ever seen- big ones, little ones, playful ones, old and tired ones. There is an entire primate house to show all the different monkeys!

Due to rain and chilly temps for us warm Texans, we skipped our beach day and ended up at The Field Museum. It was a great Plan B! This is Sue, she is the most complete dinosaur I believe in the world. Only a small handful of her bones were recreated. This is the museum of natural history which houses animals, culture, and artifacts from centuries ago. 

We also visited the Museum of Science and Industry- our FAVORITE museum. It is all about how science and technology have influenced our world from combines helping farmers or robots building toys. It was super cool and very hands on!

Favorite Places to Eat

We did a lot of really good eating and a lot of walking in Chicago, so it all balances out, right? I sent a request out on social media and put everyone's suggestions into a Word document and saved it on the Google drive so my husband and I could access it. I knew the place, address, hours and food types from peeking online. It helped us decide on the fly!

Here are a few of my favorites... we splurged on Glazed & Infused Doughnuts one morning. Oh so good! I had that giant Lemon Blueberry Toffee doughnut. So good! Plus, they had the best Iced Chai tea I've ever had. Lots of locations around Chicago!

Of course a proper lunch at American Girl was enjoyed!

Chicago is known for their hot dogs and pizza and we made sure to sample some of the best!

I like my hot dog plain- no ketchup, mustard, nothing. Plain! So, this was a lot to take in. Marcus loved them both!

Within walking distance of the zoo was the Chicago Pizza and Grinder Company. It is a tiny little place with a cool history. They make their pizzas in a bowl! They fill it with cheese, then meat sauce and then cover the bowl with bread. It bakes and then as they bring it to the table, they flip it over. It was like a yummy pizza soup inside a bread bowl. Very cool and unique.

We were seated in the back of the restaurant and every table we passed was eating this, so we ordered it. Best decision! Their Mediterranean bread was a thin bread covered in seasonings, dried peppers and cheese. So good and perfect while our pizza cooked.

In the middle of our busy trip, we had a fireworks boat cruise planned out on Lake Michigan. We had made that day lighter and were in the hotel room for naps by 3 PM. We ordered deep dish from Lou Malnatis for dinner and had it delivered to our room. It was so good- the best pizza we've ever had. Normally I don't like deep dish because it is too saucy, but this was just extra cheesy! The salad with sweet vinaigrette was also wonderful. I'm happy to know they ship!

Finally, on our last night in town we ventured to Ed Debevic's. It is a 50's style diner with dancing wait staff, jukeboxes, silly hats and sassy waiters. As in, when I ordered Abby a grilled cheese, he said, "something you could make cheaper at home." It was fun and really good! They are known for the world's smallest sundae. It was cute and the perfect ending! 

Tips for Navigating Chicago

First of all, we went no fancy camera on this trip. I knew I would not want to pull it out! But, I also hate the storage almost full message that always comes at the wrong time! We installed Google drive on our phones before the trip and set up a Chicago folder both my husband and I could access. At night in our hotel room, we would transfer our pictures from everyone's devices into the drive and they were off our phones and easy to access back at home. I'll do this for every trip from now on!

Speaking of technology, I would have been so lost without the Citymapper app and they have it for lots of cities worldwide. It has over 1200 reviews and almost 5 stars! You can easily enter where you want to go- address or just place like The Bean- and it will map it out for you. Then, it will offer you bus routes, train options, walking, or can call an Uber (like a private taxi) for you. It never failed us- we used it over and over each day. 

I feel like we timed a big city trip with our daughter really well- no stroller, she could walk about a mile without complaining, she can stay up late without a nap, etc. But, we still needed a booster seat according to Illinois state law. So, we bought this cheap and light one for $12.99 at Target. We knew if it was lost, we would be okay and also that it was light to carry all around. We were able to pay $1 and coat check it at museums and then the hooks attached onto my husband's backpack easily. The foam cover also comes right off which was good for the rain we experienced! She used it on the plane and whenever we took a taxi.

And speaking of rain, we were pretty bummed to miss out on a Cubs game at Wrigley Field when torrential rain invaded our Tuesday. They cancelled the game as we entered Addison station on the train to exit for Wrigley. It was pretty disappointing. My email was then notified of the cancellation and they let me know my tickets were now good for the rescheduled game on August 24th. I called the Cubs ticket office to see if I could get a refund or if I could use my tickets for the next night's game and was told no. I clearly won't be at the August 24th game since I live 1000 miles away and essentially lost my $100. Because of that, I would recommend buying Cubs tickets online the same day or day before. We didn't need top of the line seats, we just wanted to be in the stadium. Our tickets were purchased 6 weeks out and were the same price online that day.

Finally, my daughter brought along my old iPhone 4s as her own camera and we allowed her to capture pictures of whatever interested her. It really kept her engaged. She loved getting "the shot" and showing us what all she had captured at the end of the day. Here she is checking out her skyline picture at Maggie Daley Park.

Feel free to let me know if you have any questions- I'm happy to answer based on our experience!