Last summer, as we reflected on our long list of cancelled adventures, we were so hopeful that our spring break travel this year would’ve involved an international trip or at least a jaunt across the country but alas, it wasn’t in our cards. Our children are currently attending school in a hybrid capacity but next week they will start full-time in-person (hallelujah!). Because of this, their school instituted a 10-day quarantine policy for out-of-state air travel so we chose to keep our spring break plans quite low-key this year. Clay and I opted to only take off two days from work and the kids enjoyed time outside and lounging around the house until our trip to Chicago.
Actually – can we call it a trip? After all, Fort Sheridan is located only about 30 miles north of downtown Chicago. When we found out that the Army was sending us to Fort Sheridan, it was a few weeks before everything shutdown due to COVID-19 so we had visions of us exploring Chicago and taking advantage of living so close to a city known for nightlife, food, and architecture. And while we were able to visit Chicago back in the fall, we have spent very little time in the city. Womp womp. But indoor dining is back in the city and more and more museums and activities are up and running so we decided to take advantage of being so close to Chicago and booked a three-night stay downtown.
We stayed at a Marriott Residence Inn located in the Loop right down the street from the Chicago Stock Exchange. We chose not to pay the hotel parking fee and saved some money by securing parking via Spot Hero at a parking garage 300 feet from the hotel. We arrived Wednesday evening and due to a prior work commitment that I was able to fulfill in our hotel room, we opted to eat a late dinner at a restaurant, The Roanoke, next to our hotel. We had a nice meal and enjoyed their signature cocktails before calling it a night.
The next morning was spent walking throughout the Loop and Millennium Park. We watched Crown Fountain, a public art installation that projects video images of Chicago citizens. The fountain portion was not running but we still enjoyed the piece. We also did the obligatory stop at Cloud Gate (the actual sculpture is still closed to the public) and admired the Frank Gehry designed Jay Pritzker Pavilion. We decided to save The Art Insitute of Chicago for another visit and hopped on a bus that dropped us off right in front of the 875 North Michigan Avenue (formally known as the John Hancock Building).
We were able to purchase military tickets to 360Chicago at the desk and take the elevator straight to the top of the building without a wait (perk of visiting during the off-season!). Once on top, we spent time soaking in the views of Chicago and decided to pay a little extra ($8/person) and do Tilt as a family. Considered Chicago’s highest thrill ride, Tilt leans you out over Chicago in an enclosed glass and steel moveable platform. Our stomachs definitely flipped flopped and hearts raced but we all agreed that it was a one-and-done experience for us (sorry summer visitors!). We will gladly just do the observation deck again though – the views are absolutely stunning. Masks are currently required at all times.
After our time at the John Hancock Building, we walked down the Magnificent Mile (Michigan Avenue), popped into some shops, and ultimately ended up at the original Billy Goat Tavern, which is located under Michigan Avenue. My parents are huge 1975-1980 SNL fans so I visited Billy Goat Tavern as a teenager during a family visit to Chicago and consider myself well-versed in classic SNL lore. The cheeseburgers (cheezeborger, cheezeborger, cheezeborger) weren’t anything special but lunch was cheap (no fries, cheeps) and they serve beer so we couldn’t really complain. Another Chicago landmark crossed-off our list.
After stopping in a few more stores on the Magnificent Mile and marveling at Chicago’s architecture we headed over to JoJo’s Shake Bar for an afternoon snack. We split two of the Instagram-worthy over-the-top shakes and they were so insane that the four of us couldn’t finish them. We had fun trying though!
We walked back to the hotel in effort to expend some of the calories consumed at JoJo’s Shake Bar and enjoyed the sunshine that finally appeared by mid-afternoon.
We relaxed some at the hotel and then headed down the street for a late dinner at Giordano’s, home to the famous stuffed deep dish pizza. We had tried Lou Malnati’s our first night here when PCSing and we weren’t terribly impressed. We’re admittedly New York Pizza snobs so its possible that we’re just weren’t appreciating what Chicago has to offer pizza-wise.
We ordered both a thin crust and a deep dish pizza in order to fully get the Chicago pizza experience. While waiting, we consulted our phones and read all about the history of Chicago’s deep-dish pizza. I highly recommend this article from the Travel Channel.
I am happy to admit that we did enjoy Giordano’s quite a bit but but we’re still solidly on Team New York. We enjoyed our short walk back to the hotel and relaxed before going to bed.
Our next day included a visit to the Museum of Science & Industry, a Chicago Architecture Tour, and dinner Harry Caray’s Steakhouse….those will be detailed in the next post. We didn’t envision having a staycation for Spring Break but there are certainly worse places to visit than Chicago.