City guides/holiday recaps are some of my favourite posts to put together, and this one was no exception. We went to Chicago recently for what was supposed to be a normal weekend, but it got extended because of flight delays which was both a blessing and a curse. But my partner and I really loved Chicago, and came away with the impression that it is one of the most liveable cities we’ve been to together in the USA.
We booked our accommodation fairly last minute and so we ended up staying in a hotel downtown as it was within our budget and was near a train station, which were the two key things for us. If we went back to Chicago we would probably stay around the Wicker Park/Logan Square area as we found ourselves over that way quite a bit, but staying downtown meant we could get around pretty easily, so it definitely had that advantage. The city is very spread out, and there are things we may not have bothered to do if we were staying in Logan Square and had to spend half an hour getting downtown, only to change trains and travel the same distance in another direction.
If you’re getting public transport while you’re in Chicago, the Loop is the section of the train system in the downtown core and it’s actually elevated above ground level. It’s quite cool to ride around with a view of the streets and feel like you’re winding your way through the skyscrapers – it’s certainly more interesting than travelling underground at any rate.
Having never been to Chicago before, I didn’t realise there’s a river (the aptly named Chicago River) running through the city! The downtown core is extremely built up in all directions, and the developments go right up to the riverfront. Everyone raves about the architecture river cruises, including close friends of ours, so we decided to give it a go even though neither of us are especially interested in architecture. It turned out to be a lot more interesting than we thought it would be. It was quite cool to get some context on these huge buildings, and of course there were lots of things that were pointed out to us that we wouldn’t have noticed otherwise.
One of the main attractions in Chicago is the Bean, which is found in Millennium Park, which was about a ten minute walk from where we were staying. I’m not super fussed about things like this when I’m travelling, and Mark is especially uninterested in them, but since we had an extra day we checked out the Bean, and even Mark had to admit it was cooler than we were expecting.
It doesn’t do anything, but it’s quite an interesting piece of art and is worth stopping by if you can manage to go at an off-peak time. Further in the park is Buckingham Fountain which is also something to see if you fancy a stroll.
A friend from work recommended going to Cindy’s Rooftop which is on the top floor of a (smaller) building near the Bean, and it gives you a great elevated view. There was a line for the elevator but once we got up to the top it wasn’t super busy, though I’m sure if you go during lunchtime or dinner it’s probably packed. If it’s not too much effort I do recommend it as the view is pretty cool! (Photos of the view are at the top and bottom of this post.)
We went to the Chicago History Museum because I had heard they had a cool special exhibit running on the Blues (which actually runs until August 2019). I didn’t find the rest of the museum particularly noteworthy, but the Amplified Blues Exhibit was good.
Navy Pier is something we fit in because we had that extra day after our flight was cancelled, and because I had caught a cold we figured it would be a low-key thing to do on a Monday morning. Probably the nicest part is the indoor garden they have before you get to the pier with the Ferris wheel. I wouldn’t say this is a must-do but it was nice.
As I said, we spent quite a bit of our time in the Logan Square and Wicker Park neighbourhoods. A lot of the places we had found to eat were in that area and it just had a cool vibe with lots of people around both day and night. Our friend has made us promise to go to the Chicago Distilling Company and buy her some Finn’s Gin, which is her favourite gin in the world, so we had to stop in there. I don’t drink alcohol but if boutique liquor is your thing then this is the place for you.
A few others bars we went to were Emporium and Logan Arcade, both of which are pinball/arcade bars. Mark and I both got really into pinball not long after we started dating (preferably the older machines with mechanical counters rather than digital ones) so now whenever there’s a cool pinball bar near where we are we like to check it out.
In terms of places to eat, I feel like I mention this every time, but just in case someone new is reading, I’m vegetarian and Mark is vegan so we always go for restaurants that have lots of options for us. I would say one of the top two highlights, and a place we would definitely return to if we went back to Chicago is called Ka’Lish. They’re seemingly located in the middle of nowhere, but they do all-day breakfast and Mark is obsessed with breakfast foods (who isn’t tbh) so we made the effort to get there and it was 100% worth it. I got vegan eggs, toast, a giant hashbrown and pancakes (what more can you want in life?) while Mark got vegan eggs and a rosemary cheddar biscuit with sausage gravy and home fries. We have definitely talked about going back to Chicago just for this! We didn’t realise at the time, but the same owners have an all vegan Detroit-style pizza place next door. Unfortunately it’s closed on Mondays so we didn’t get the chance to go, and that missed opportunity is still haunting us.
I know you’re supposed to get deep dish pizza when you’re in Chicago, but that’s not so easy when you’re vegan (or are travelling with one). We did find Dimo’s Pizza though, which doesn’t serve deep dish but is a by-the-slice kind of place and they had lots of specialty vegan options as well as meat pizzas too.
Mark really wanted to try a Chicago style hot dog with mustard, pickles, relish, celery salt – all the kinds of toppings I loathe! So I didn’t get anything at Devil Dawgs, but Mark absolutely loved it. They have a vegan sausage (nothing fancy but it gets the job done) and about a million milkshake flavours too.
On the same night we went to the distillery we had dinner at Chicago Diner which is a diner who’s slogan is “meat free since ‘83”. They have a huge menu of diner food, and we really wanted to go there for breakfast/brunch but didn’t have the time. They do serve eggs & dairy but just about everything can be made vegan.
To the left here is the lunch we had at a place called Handlebar. I got the country fried mushroom with blackened tofu, seitan sausage gracy, mash & collared greens. I’m not usually a fan of collared greens but these ones were good. Mark had a chumichanga and he managed to finish the whole thing in one go!
Probably the best dinner we had that we would definitely go back to if we were in Chicago again was from a place called Ground Control. Most of their menu is vegan and they have two po-boys, one with breaded, deep-fried mushroom and another with blackened tofu and we shared because neither of us could choose! If you were wondering, yes, most of what we do when we travel is eat, lol.