Updated: Apr 5, 2020
Colton has gotten into the habit of giving me experiences for my birthday instead of tangible gifts. I tend to freak out when time closes in on the day again (I'm like this with New Year's, too). My mind starts to fixate on all the things I feel like I should be doing or should have the courage to at least try by now. My inner voice starts telling me what a failure I am, especially with these younger years I have the excuse of figuring myself out to use when trying/doing new things. I tell myself I've been living on autopilot and therefore, wasting time. I freak out about never living in said year or age again and end up not enjoying the day that should be spent celebrating this new year I've been blessed with. Brains are weird sometimes, right?
Usually I would be choosing a hiking trip, but my birthday is in early April. And right now, we're living in Northeast Ohio. The weather isn't always cooperative this time of year; especially since we only make it a long weekend within driving distance of home. So cities are usually where we end up! And honestly, it's a nice change of pace to explore urban life sometimes, too!
This type of celebration Colton has started has distracted me from how I usually think about my birthday and instead gets me totally hyped up for another adventure. Our first year married he took us on a weekend getaway to Cleveland, a mere hour from our home. In 2019, he upped the ante. We were heading to Chicago for the weekend- and though I'd been there before through band in high school- I could not be more excited.
This blog post is dedicated to our weekend in The Windy City. I am leaving out the random things we did and instead, I'm highlighting what I think are must-do's/sees in the area. Feel free to drop some comments below and let me know if I missed anything. The city is 5 hours and 45 minutes away from our home, so who knows- we might be back sooner than I know!
The Windy City Weekend (April 5th-7th, 2019)
-Millennium Park / The Bean
-Lincoln Park Zoo
As you can imagine, the drive ate up a big portion of our Friday. We drove to our hotel first, a half an hour outside of the hustle and bustle of the city itself. It was called The Champagne Lodge, and with a name like that, you're right- it was fancy as heck. I am a spoiled birthday girl, I admit this. Colton really surprised me with this room. Amenities included: a king size bed, a Jacuzzi tub (the biggest I'd ever seen..the picture does not do it justice), a walk in shower/sauna, and a bidet toilet (which I never worked up the courage to use, hahaha!)
Colton went an extra mile and purchased the birthday package which included rose petals scattered throughout the room, a happy birthday balloon, a bottle of champagne, and a small chocolate cake to share. It is the definition of luxury and if you have some extra $ to spare, this place was the tops.
Wanting to be rebellious, we ventured into the city for dinner to try a place we normally wouldn't, Duck Duck Goat. This restaurant offers creative Chinese cuisine in a really chic environment. We got a couple different appetizers to split since it was on the pricier side. Let me tell you, if you are a fan of goat, it has the animal in it's name for a reason. They really capture the essence of the animal in their cooking- a flavor definitely for the adventurous at heart.
There's just something about a good aquarium, right?! I had been to this one before and was so excited to show Colton around all the different species of animal and fish. It's home to over 32,000! We woke up early Saturday morning and headed straight there.
Tickets go for $39.95/person. Which is a lot, but this place is so cool and so big- it could easily be the only activity of an entire day. Be sure to pick up a map so you don't miss one of the exhibits- the aquarium separates the creatures based on what ecosystem they're found in- oceans, reefs, and rivers-even the Amazon! You can definitely blow through a handful of hours checking out all the exhibits, there are also live shows with dolphins and sea lions.
Take a quick elevator ride up 94 floors to see Chicago in an unforgettable way. The observation deck offers a 360 degree viewing deck of the city and Lake Michigan from 1,000 feet above the Magnificent Mile. Grab a drink or snack at the deck's bar and café for a relaxing option of taking in the sights OR venture into the TILT- an enclosed platform that tilts participants over Michigan Avenue from the 94th floor!
-Deck only (one time visitors):
$17.60/adult + tax
$12.00/youth (3-11 years) + tax
$6.40/participant + tax in addition to deck ticket
There was a cool, but eerie fog coming into the city from the lake the day we visited!
Millennium Park (The Bean)
For many, 'The Bean' is one of the first images to come to mind whenever Chicago is mentioned. Originally titled as 'Cloud Gate,' the famous sculpture is located in Millennium Park and measures 33 by 66 feet in size. Visitors flock to the park for a photo-op and to see the city skyline reflected in the sculpture's stainless steel. The shape of The Bean distorts the typical vertical structure of the busy city. Visitors can even walk underneath the sculpture's 12 foot arch!
Diets be gone! A trip to Chicago is never complete without a tasting of their famous deep-dish pizza! As a die-hard cheese lover (trapped in a lactose intolerant denial), I was beyond excited to experience this popular restaurant again and could NOT wait for Colton to try it for the first time.
Since the restaurant is so popular, a wait in line wasn't a surprise. However, fun fact, you can order your pizza while you're waiting for a table. We opted for The Chicago Classic- pepperoni, mushrooms, green peppers and onions.
Giordano's offers a variety of different pizza toppings- from vegetarian to bacon BBQ chicken. Pricing is obviously dependent on order size (individual to large pizza) as well as toppings. Click on the picture of Colton with our glorious pizza to be taken to a menu :)
If you're drooling from the pictures, first off, I don't blame you. BUT if you cannot make the trip, NO WORRIES FRIEND, Giordano's does ship pizzas in the U.S.
Also....while we're on the topic of food: Colton and I stumbled upon a Do-Rite Donuts shop on our first night. We had both never heard of it before, but had worked up an appetite walking the city and decided to give it a go.
Do yourself a favor and give it a go, too. I'm not even that much of a donut fan and still find myself day-dreaming nearly a year later of the little piece of Heaven we stumbled upon. We ordered the buttermilk old fashion flavor. And I am not the least bit ashamed to share that the picture is from our second stop there during that weekend.
Lincoln Park Zoo
Even though we visited during the off-season for the zoo, I'm still including it in this post because it's FREE admission year round! Parking is $20 but we were able to take the subway to get close enough to walk ourselves right in.
It's a nice place to escape the bustling city, especially if you're not accustomed to urban life like us. We're hikers from Ohio, after all. The day we visited was a cloudy, dreary day and most of the exhibits were closed, but I was still surprised by the number of animals out and about!
We also saw hyenas, a polar bear, and a rhino!
During my previous trip in high school, Chinatown did not make the list. Which is so unfortunate because it became my favorite stop the second time around. I love afternoons like this- exploring with no specific destination in mind. Experiencing food and shops from a different culture is the cherry on top, in my opinion.
Chinatown was a little out of the way of other attractions. On the southeast side of the city, we took the The Chicago "L" to get there. The "L" is a rapid transit system, essentially a subway above ground. It was cool to be able to see different areas of the city passing us outside the windows of the "L" as we rode toward Chinatown.
I didn't have any idea what I was getting myself into walking into the neighborhood. And by that, I mean I didn't do any previous research of where to stop/what to do. I'm finding out I like it that way; it takes away expectations and allows Colton and I to go wherever our interests take us.
The neighborhood of Chinatown greets you with a giant, cultural overhang (see above image). After walking under this, the shops start. I found myself forgetting we were actually in Chicago at all because the culture completely took over.
Souvenir shops line the main drag and we were sure to walk through each one. A lot of them had similar items for sale: packaged Chinese snacks, cultural dishes, and clothes with what I could only assume as famous anime characters. Colton and I have gotten in to the habit of collecting Christmas decorations from all the places we travel. Though we weren't able to find one here, we did find a cute package of 6 sets of chopsticks we still use at home!
A few streets over, the restaurants started. When we first walked by one advertising guinea pig, we decided to consult google for the 'best places to eat in Chinatown, Chicago.' I'm adventurous, y'all, but not enough to eat a common childhood pet.
We ended up at a busy little café called JoyYee.
Prior to stopping, we had seen multiple people walking by with smoothie-looking drinks with weird black balls at the bottom. The JoyYee menu was ginormous- a whole page was dedicated to their tapioca smoothies, so we decided we had to try one. Our waiter, language barrier and all, helped us order a raspberry mango smoothie to try as well as a dumpling appetizer and stir fry dish to share.
The food was just as ginormous as the menu. I'm glad we were sat next to a couple who already had their dishes delivered to see the portion sizes. Customers definitely get their money's worth here. Although we are sad to share, we were not fans of the tapioca smoothie fad. My brain could not get past chewing portions of a smoothie!
After lunch, we hopped back on the "L" and headed back into the hotel. So that's basically our weekend in a nutshell. It was such a blast exploring such a famous city with my guy, on our own terms! I'm grateful for our little trips and hope if you're planning a quick trip to The Windy City, we've given you some items to add to the list! After all, urban life can be just as fun to explore as a national park when you're exploring with someone you love!