City Guide – Chicago

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1. Hotel Lincoln – This boutique hotel in the heart of Lincoln Park has a fantastic rooftop bar (The J Parker) & classy brunch spot (The Perennial Virant). Some say Elaine’s Coffee Call, attached to the lobby, has the best chocolate chip cookies in the city. The hotel rooms are small, and unique, but comfortable and has probably the best location in the city (having been a Lincoln Park resident…). Definitely stop by for a cocktail in the “John Wilke’s booth” if you end up staying somewhere else – great for any Abraham Lincoln enthusiast!
2. Renaissance Chicago Downtown Hotel – My in-laws stay at this beautiful Marriott Renaissance, located right off Wacker Drive in the Loop. Centrally located right on the river, and close to the Brown Line, this location is perfect for anyone interested in stay closer to the heart of the city. As a Marriott rewards member, my vote is always for a Marriott!

3. theWit Hotel – A Hilton-owned property, the Wit is located close the Renaissance off of the happening State St. The restaurant, State & Lake (located at the intersection of State St. & Lake St.), is a great brunch or lunch spot. The rooftop attracts the yuppies of Chicago, and on weekends can have a line to get in. Depending on your “scene” theWit could be a great place to stay, or not for you…But if you’re in your twenties, at least go to the top of theWit for a great view of the city & cocktails with friends.

4. The Drake – If you’re a big spender, nothing beats The Drake. I will say that the Queen has had afternoon tea there (in 1958) if that gives you an idea…It’s located right on the Lake (Lake Michigan), in the Gold Coast neighborhood. Gold Coast is known for fancy restaurants, shopping, & expensive cars. Be sure to explore Rush St. (more to come on that), Lake Shore Drive, and be sure to visit at Christmas time.

5. The Hilton Chicago – My parents stayed here after finding a “can’t beat” price. Situated south of the Loop, The Hilton is close to all the great parks (excluding the best park, Lincoln Park) – Grant Park & Millennium Park & right on Michigan Avenue. It can be a hike to all the shopping, but Chicago is such a walkable city it’s definitely worth it.

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Best burger & fries in the city (and probably US…) at Au Cheval

Brunch

1. Yolk – Although a chain, Yolk has by the far the world’s best French Toast (maybe an exaggeration?). Until you try the “Tour de France” the includes Banana Bread french toast with fresh bananas, Orange Bread with strawberries, and Lemon Poppyseed bread with blueberries…yeah, that’s all one order for only $9.99! No alcohol is served here, so if you’re craving a Mimosa or Bloody Mary this is not the spot for you – but the coffee is great!

2. Jam ‘n Honey – BYOB located right next to DePaul University in Lincoln Park, Jam & Honey has outdoor seating and is a great place to start the day. With all the classics, French Toast, pancakes, eggs – you can’t go wrong!

3. Elly’s Pancake House – It can have a line, but it’s worth it. Traditional diner style food, the pancakes are light & fluffy, and the omelettes are exceptional.

4. Toast – With two locations, Bucktown & Lincoln Park, no matter where you’re staying you should go to Toast. With toasters decorating the restaurant, Toast is a great place to have “fancy pancakes” (with marscapone, honey & anise, and lavender flowers…), seasonal fare (with an ever-rotating seasonal menu), and a fun flavored mimosa (pear anyone?).

Dinner

1. Siena Tavern – Chef Fabio Viviani, from Top Chef, has a phenomenal restaurant in River North, very close the Merchandise Mart stop. Make sure you order the coccoli for an appetizer (my husband & I would order 2 so we could each have our own) – it’s fried dough that’s hollow, served with cheese, prosciutto, & honey…delicious. The pasta is all made from scratch, and you really can’t go wrong! Plus, there’s outdoor seating if it’s nice, but inside you can sit at the Mozzarella/Crudo Bar or the Pizza Bar for a quick bite.

2. Au Cheval – My mouth is watering, and there are tears in my eyes – I am so sad we don’t live by Au Cheval any more. It has hands down, the world’s best burger. You read that right, the world’s.best.burger. Located in the West Loop (bus or taxi ride from the Loop…or a long walk if you’re up for it), the self-proclaimed “diner-style with European influences” is a great experience & must-eat place!

3. Ranalli’s – I have to put this in here for my husband. We ate here weekly, and it’s a great place to sit outside (I recommend visiting only in the summer, if not just do take out!) and enjoy people watching. It’s a hot spot for the Chicago Sport & Social crew, and has a great thin crust pizza. You read that right, not everyone wants a heavy deep dish in Chicago, so if you’re craving thin crust come here! It also has great beer selection, brushetta, and some great burgers. It’s casual dining, and perfect spot after exploring the Lincoln Park Zoo area and if you’re staying at the Hotel Lincoln.

4. Summer House Santa Monica (& attached pizzeria) – This brand new eatery, located on Halsted St. & Armitage Ave., will make you think it’s summer year round. Considering how brutal a Chicago winter can be, it’s awesome to have a restaurant that has a countdown to summer! The food is fresh & light, and the restaurant is so bright & cheery. It’s great if you’ve been shopping the boutiques off Halsted & Armitage, and is a quick walk from the Brown Line (Armitage stop) if you’re staying closer to the Loop!

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We visited this red panda almost everyday!

1. The Lincoln Park Zoo – It’s free. It’s open 365 days a year. It has red pandas & a polar bear. Yeah, it’s the best place ever. AND, if you cross the bridge by the camels, you’ll get the best view of the Chicago skyline ever! Take a bus to avoid paying to park, or take a decent hike from the Armitage Brown Line stop.

2. Millennium Park – there are always free concerts, movies being taped, monuments/art to see (and take your picture at the Bean)

3. Lake Michigan – You can stay at North Ave Beach, Montrose Beach, Oak St Beach, bike on LSD (Lake Shore Drive that is), eat outside, grab a drink at Castaway (a shipwrecked boat on North Ave Beach), join a game of volleyball, or go out in the water in a kayak, boat if you’re lucky, or stand-up paddleboard. If you visit Chicago, it’s either in the summer or for Christmas – but nothing beats a Chicago summer.

4. The Neighborhoods – Chicago is full of neighborhoods, and it’s such a shame so many people visit and confine themselves to “the Loop”. Take the train or a bus and venture out to Lincoln Park, Lincoln Square, Bucktown, Wicker Park, Roscoe Village, or Wrigleyville to experience the uniqueness of each neighborhood.

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Summer Bonus: Green City Market puts all other farmers’ markets to shame. Seriously. This is the biggest, best farmers’ market I’ve ever been to. Located in Lincoln Park, you can spend hours exploring the various vendors, grabbing breakfast or lunch, picking out a bouquet of flowers and getting groceries for the week. Stop by the Zoo, North Ave. Beach, or visit the rooftop of the Hotel Lincoln and you’re bound to have an amazing day.

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