This was my first time in Chicago and I tried to do as much as I could! I woke up early in Iowa and started my drive towards Chicago which was under 3 hours from Davenport. I knew I would be getting there earlier than my check-in time at the hotel but I figured I would just park somewhere and get started! (Note: Parking in the city is expensive! If you are driving into the city be prepared for that, my hotel was charging almost $50 per night, I ended up paying $80. I parked around 12pm on Monday and left around 9am on Wednesday so while I ended up saving money by not parking at the hotel it was still pretty pricy. I’m sure there are cheaper options but I just decided to spend my time seeing the city instead of driving around looking for parking. I parked at the Grant Park South garage owned by Millennium Garages, it was less than a block from my hotel and if you do some research beforehand you can pay to park in one of their garages ahead of time and save money!)
Once you’ve parked your car you don’t really need it, the public transportation is great! I walked everywhere on my first day and on my second day I got a one-day CTA pass which is unlimited rides on the subways and buses for $10 plus a $5 activation fee which you pay only once. If you’re in the city a little longer there is also a $20 3-day pass but the 1-day was all I needed.
I parked my car when I got to Chicago and used my phone to figure out where I was. I realized I wasn’t far from The Field Museum which was very high on my list of things to do. I walked through Grant Park which was right across the street from my hotel and according to my phone would take me to the museum. As I walked through the park I was able to see the museum as I got closer and this nerd started getting very excited! I’ve wanted to visit The Field Museum for a long time and it was finally happening!!! (Quick tip: if you are a student BRING YOUR ID! You will get discounts on your tickets at the museums! I didn’t have my ID but I was able to log on to my school portal and got the discount.)
I ended up spending 5 hours in the museum, I basically closed the place down. It is now competing with New York’s Metropolitan Museum as my favorite museum I have ever been to. My favorite part? The entire section on the early people of North America with its own section on Southern California Archaeology (which just so happens to be the area I’ve been working on for school.) They had artifacts on display that looked just like things my classmates and I have dug out of the ground and it made me feel super cool. (Archaeologists are cool don’t try to argue with me!)
The museum also has an awesome Egyptian exhibit and a dinosaur wing that will excite both kids and their parents so I would recommend checking it out. Currently they’re moving their main attraction “Sue” and tyrannosaurus rex fossil but you still get to see her! In fact, they have set up a glass wall so that you can watch as they slowly and carefully put Sue together. To me, this was actually cooler to see than the fully put together dinosaur, watching the process of putting it together was really fun.
They had similar views of the inner workings of the museum in several exhibits. In the Pacific exhibit there was an actual Anthropology lab that had glass walls so you could watch what was happening. To most people it may have looked boring since it was just one guy on a computer but for me, I was nerding hard you guys. There was also a DNA lab on display and a Fossil lab near the entrance to the dinosaur wing.
After I left the museum it was time for me to check into my hotel which was maybe 20 minute walk down the road. I stayed at the Congress Plaza Hotel which location-wise for me and the things I had planned was perfect! A 20 minute walk from Museum Campus in one direction and Cloud Gate in the other direction, Grant Park right across the street, it was perfect. The subway station was also not far, only a 5 minute walk.
Once I got settled into my hotel room I had to figure out where I was going to eat. I needed to get some of that Chicago Deep Dish Pizza. Lucky for me there was a highly rated place walking distance from my hotel! I went to Gino’s Pizza East and ordered the Gino’s Supreme. The waiter informed me it took about 40 minutes for the pizza to cook and suggested I order an appetizer while I waited so I ordered the brussels sprouts on his recommendation and the mozzarella sticks on mine. If I’m being perfectly honest, both the appetizers and the pizza were just okay. If I had had more time in Chicago I might’ve tried pizza somewhere else but I wasn’t blown away by it.
The next morning I woke up early, excited for my only full day in Chicago. I walked to the subway which was only a couple of blocks from my hotel and got on the red-line headed for the John Hancock building where I had purchased tickets to 360 Chicago.
My 360 Chicago experience was amazing and I highly recommend doing it. A ticket is only $21 and it is totally worth it. What I do not recommend is purchasing your ticket from anyone other than the actual 360 Chicago company. I learned this lesson the hard way when I purchased my ticket ahead of time through Tours4Fun because I was under the impression that tickets would sell out and I wouldn’t be able to go up (I was wrong.) The ticket from Tours4Fun never came through and the email confirming my purchase was not enough to get me through and I had to purchase an additional ticket through the 360 Chicago people when I got there. It should be noted that this was NOT at all the fault of the 360 Chicago people and this review should not at all deter you from visiting this incredible attraction. My advice to you is to buy your tickets directly from the source and steer clear from third parties. In the end I wound up paying $40 to go up to the 94th floor which to be honest was still worth it but a bit of a bummer considering I could have paid half that and now my money is in the hands of this company that is clearly taking advantage of people. But back to my incredible trip to Chicago 360 at the John Hancock Building, the views are INCREDIBLE and you can pay an additional $7 to go out on their “Tilt” attraction which I was not about to do but you can see a video of it here.
I would also recommend getting to 360 Chicago earlier in the day because it does get crowded. I got there around 9:30 in the morning on a Tuesday and I walked right up to the elevator with no wait at all, I even got the elevator all to myself. I was leaving around 10:30 in the morning and the line was almost out the door! My guess is that the weekends are even more crowded.
After leaving the John Hancock building I hopped on a bus towards Millennium Park to see the infamous Cloud Gate sculpture, more commonly known as “The Bean.” This visit has convinced me that the Bean is magical because as I was walking towards it, it started to snow! Now I know a lot of you will think “ugh snow” but give this California kid her moment! I hadn’t seen snow fall since I was a little kid and my parents took me on a trip to Big Bear so this was exciting!
From Millennium Park I got on the bus again now headed towards Lincoln Park. I wanted to visit the Lincoln Park Conservatory which is located right next to the Lincoln Park Zoo. Both are free however I only visited the Conservatory since I’m not a huge fan of zoos. Don’t overlook the Conservatory! It is beautiful and really just made me feel like I was in an Herbology lesson at Hogwarts.
From Lincoln Park I went to get lunch at Portillo’s which I was told by several people that I just HAD to go to when I was in Chicago. This is not the only Portillo’s location but they did originate in Illinois so I thought I would check it out. The consensus? You should definitely check out Portillo’s, they are known for their hot dogs but if that’s not your thing they have all kinds of food and vegetarian options! I ordered the Portillo’s All Beef Hot Dog and it was awesome.
From Portillo’s I got on the subway heading back towards my hotel. My phone was about to die and I needed to change because I was seeing Hamilton that night! While I was in my hotel room it started snowing again and you bet your ass I ran outside to walk around in the snow which was still very exciting.
When it was time to head towards the theatre I left my hotel and hopped on the red-line again. I ate at a bar called The Bar Below which, you guess it, is a bar located below another restaurant. It was just down the street from the CIBC Theatre so I decided to try it out. The food was decent and their drink list is insane, I didn’t even read the entire thing.
I had some time before I needed to be at the theatre so I walked around the Palmer House Hilton which is incredible and right by the CIBC Theatre and the place I ate dinner. And then, it was time for Hamilton.
The next portion of this blog post will be mostly me freaking out over Hamilton, you have been warned.
HAMILTON IS SO GOOD YOU GUYS. This was not my first time seeing Hamilton, I had seen the touring cast when they were in LA last year but I was eager to see it again in Chicago. I bought a ticket in the Orchestra that was labeled “limited view” due to a speaker that blocked the upper right section of the stage. The ticket was literally half the price of the seat next to me and I missed one part of the play that lasted about 30 seconds and was totally worth getting to sit so close that I could literally see the actors’ spit when they spoke.
After the show I did what any other creepy theatre nerd would do and I waited in the freezing cold by the stage door to meet the cast. Miguel Cervantes had played Hamilton that night and my nerdy self was slightly over excited. Several cast members came out and met with the fans outside taking pictures and signing playbills. They were all so lovely and it was so nice getting to talk to them. Please enjoy the below photos of me trying not to be super creepy and show how excited I was to get to talk to these insanely talented humans.
Above is myself and Miguel Cervantes (Hamilton), he was so kind and took the time to have a personal conversation with everyone that was waiting by the stage door. It was such a privilege to get to talk and laugh with him!
Below is myself and (from top to bottom) Andrew Call, Chloe Campbell, Montego Glover, Ari Afsar and JJ Jeter!
Hamilton was the PERFECT way to end my short time in Chicago. I could not wipe the smile off my face the entire way home or the next morning. I cannot thank the cast and crew enough for one of the coolest and most entertaining nights of my life.