Chicago Journals

Chicago on a Budget with Children

A November 2002 trip to Chicago by tmhhmt

Oak Street Beach Photo, Chicago, Illinois More Photos
Quote: I took my nieces on a two-week vacation (the weeks surrounding Thanksgiving) while their mother was recuperating from providing me with yet another niece. My goals: wear the girls out so that they were in bed exhausted by 8, feed them something other than McDonald's whenever possible, and stay within the budget.

Chicago on a Budget with Children

Overview

Quote:
The American Girl store, Festival of Lights, and the Art Institute Museum were highlights for the children - staying well within my budget by finding lots of free activities was a highlight for me.Quick Tips: I was on a tight budget during the trip and didn't buy the kids any 'stuff' - well, I let them buy books but I don't think those count. Instead I bought disposable cameras (so I wouldn't cry if mine got lost or trampled) and put the film in the shop each night so the girls and I could spend part of each day putting together a travel journal. The cameras and film development weren't exactly cheap but they functioned as a free activity at both ends - while taking the pictures and while put...Read More

Tea at the Drake Hotel

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Restaurant

Quote:
After allowing myself to be run ragged through the American Girl store I felt it was time for a little quiet luxury and where better than the tea room at the Drake Hotel. The ambience was lovely - there''s a fountain in the middle of the room in which the girls could pitch coins and make wishes without disturbing the other guests. The wait staff did not look askance when we spilled ice water all over the floor not once, but twice. The room was full of all sorts of people, divorced dads with daughters, ladies who shop, hotel guests, lone tea drinkers and parties so the girls and I blended in easily despite the occasional bit of bad behavior. Recommendation - if you''re there with young ...Read More

Member Rating 4 out of 5 on February 25, 2003

Tea at the Drake Hotel
140 East Walton Place, Drake Hotel, Palm Court
Chicago, Illinois 60611
(312) 787-2200

Marshall Field's

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Restaurant | "McDonalds in Water Tower Place"

Quote:
Well, I am writing about a vacation with kids after all and the MacDonalds in Water Tower Place was a two-for-one huge hit! First, the girls loved the escalators, they loved the fountain that runs between the up and down escalators on the first floors, they loved running around each floor, they loved poking their fingers at the windows of the candy store on the second (or third?) level, there was nothing about the building they didn't love actually. They were so entranced by the escalators that they wanted to ride up and down them quite a bit -- and since it was a free activity, I let them! I was bored silly but hey, I'm a grown up, I've had my fun. Neither the building nor its shops did much f...Read More

Member Rating 3 out of 5 on February 25, 2003

Marshall Field's
111 North State Street
Chicago, Illinois 60602
312/781-1000

Giordano's on Rush

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Restaurant | "Giordano's in Downer's Grove"

Quote:
We couldn't visit Chicago and not get pizza. We spent a lovely afternoon (well, there had been a tantrum or two but overall, lovely) visiting some suburbs to the west of the city and recieved a recommendation from a clerk at a bookstore that we should get pizza across the street at Giordano's - I should have gone back to thank him. Giordano's is a chain - so apparently you don't have to be in Downer's Grove to have some of this great Chicago-style deep dish pizza. If you can imagine, the spinach and cheese was enjoyed by all of us, even the 6 year old. Though I couldn't get either of them to touch the oversized Greek salad, I enjoyed it quite a bit. I went to their website t...Read More

Member Rating 4 out of 5 on February 25, 2003

Giordano's on Rush
730 North Rush St
Chicago, Illinois 60611
312/951-0747

Wildfire

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Restaurant

Quote:
You''ve spent a day at the mall with two crazily energetic children and suddenly there, at the edge of the mall is a real restaurant with chairs and cloth napkins and big fat martinis. Wildfire is a chain, and I usually avoid chain restaurants on vacation because, well why not try something new if you can -- but -- the food here was great and I needed a comfortable chair and a drink quite badly. The decor is 1920''s or maybe it was 1940s? Sort of night club-esque but gratefully falling far short of seeming like a ''theme'' room a''la Disney. Wildfire is also a chop house - with not exactly a child friendly menu (though surprisingly vegetarian friendly) but the waitress was more than ac...Read More

Member Rating 3 out of 5 on February 25, 2003

Wildfire
159 West Erie St
Chicago, Illinois 60610
+1 312 787 9000

Maggiano's Little Italy

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Restaurant

Quote:
A family style Italian restaurant that really works for the family. The wait to get in this place is not nice and I wished I'd made reservations, but I enjoyed every minute of the meal, so I'm not saying this to complain, but instead to inform you not to make the same mistake that I made. Definitely call ahead. The food was wonderful -- and there's only too much of it if you think of each entree as food for one. If you instead think of each plate as food for two hungry/four normal eaters - then you get an idea of the portions and how you should order. I should clarify, this was not the best Italian food I've ever had, but it was lovely and the atmosphere was perfect for a fam...Read More

Member Rating 4 out of 5 on February 25, 2003

Maggiano's Little Italy
516 North Clark St
Chicago, Illinois 60610
+1 312 644 7700

American Girl Place

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Attraction

Quote:
The store is amazing -- many guides recommend it as well and their entries are full of details so... what can I add? My claim to fame is I went through the place twice with two spoiled little girls and only spent $20. How? First I went only on Saturdays (two in a row). The girls were delighted just to be on the same block as the store (believe it or not) and the velvet rope/doorman out front was worth ten minutes of picture taking both times we went. Inside, the place was packed wall to wall with moms and dads carrying boxes bigger than their children, we could hardly hear each other speak let alone get close to the merchandise. The girls enjoyed the crowds and the glamour ...Read More

Member Rating 4 out of 5 on February 25, 2003

American Girl Place
835 North Michigan Avenue
Chicago, Illinois 60611
(877) 247-5223

Oak Street Beach

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Attraction | "Oak Street Beach in Winter"

Oak Street Beach Photo, Chicago, Illinois
Quote:
Oak Street Beach in winter is a great free place to take the kids and let them run around and scream their heads off without disturbing another living soul. The lake is gorgeous and the buildings up and down the gold coast are lovely to look at -- you also get a good view of Navy Pier. Actually the girls wanted to go to Navy Pier but the place was just too expensive for the three of us. I've been before and by the time three people do three things and have a coke each, well, it's not as bad as Disneyland but too rich for my blood -- this was a two week vacation just before Christmas and I definitely needed to keep within the budget so Navy Pier was out -- Oak Street Beach was in. Weari...Read More

Member Rating 4 out of 5 on February 25, 2003

Oak Street Beach
1000 North Lake Shore Drive
Chicago, Illinois 60611
+1 312 747 0832

Michigan Avenue/The Magnificent Mile

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Attraction | "Window Shopping on Michigan Avenue"

Michigan Avenue/The Magnificent Mile Photo, Chicago, Illinois
Quote:
Window shopping along Michigan Avenue was quite fun, especially as we were so close to Christmas. On the weekend after Thanksgiving the store windows were decorated beautifully, the people too, were decorated beautifully. Totally got us into the spirit of the season. But, instead of shopping we took pictures. We parked near Michigan and Kinzie, just past the river and walked down Michigan until we hit the Lake. The picture taking was a diversion for the girls -- to take their minds away from spending money and it worked quite well. It is quite a long walk, there and back, so wear comfortable *but very stylish* shoes -- it IS Michigan Avenue after all, and you may actually...Read More

Member Rating 4 out of 5 on February 25, 2003

Michigan Avenue/The Magnificent Mile
North Michigan Avenue
Chicago, Illinois 60611
(312) 642-3570

Art Institute of Chicago

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Attraction | "The Miniature Rooms at the Art Institute"

Quote:
When I was very little my absolute favorite museum was the Art Institute. I was in love with the Miniature Rooms and used to beg my father to take me there every time I visited him and so I decided to share my love with the nieces. The miniatures are complete and fully detailed European and American rooms from various periods in history - after the 1700s I think. There are over fifty individual rooms and each is a little bit of perfection. They were all given to the museum by one donor - though I don't know if she had them made for herself or specifically for the museum. If you've ever had a lust for dollhouses (my particular childhood obsession), furniture or interiors, you should enj...Read More

Member Rating 4 out of 5 on February 25, 2003

Art Institute of Chicago
111 South Michigan Ave.
Chicago, Illinois 60603
(312) 443-3600

North Shore Center of Performing Arts

Attraction | "Oak Brook Mall"

Quote:
Oak Brook is a tremendously huge indoor/outdoor mall, actually it's so large it could be two or three malls. Froms Saks to one-of-a-kind stores -- it's all here. What makes this place great for children is the size of the place. Sticking with this vacation's theme of 'window shopping only', I was able to wear the kids out just walking from one side of the mall to the other. The Christmas decorations were as nothing compared to Michigan Avenue but still a bit of entertainment for the under ten year old set. There are about twenty restaurants, (real sit-down with a napkin -- not in a food court) restaurants in the mall so you will not be doomed to eat pretzels and fried meat during your...Read More

Member Rating 3 out of 5 on February 25, 2003

North Shore Center of Performing Arts
9501 Skokie Blvd
Chicago, Illinois 60077
(847) 673-6300

Festival of Lights Parade

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Attraction

Quote:
A hugely popular pre-Thanksgiving Disney planned event. Before this trip to Chicago I didn't even know Disney was aware the middle west existed. The Festival of Lights is a full weekend of things to do - including a parade (Saturday), dancing Disney characters on the hour (actually every two hours), fireworks and a laser-light show. People apparently travel from very far away to spend this weekend in town with their kids. I luckily happened to stumble upon it. Did the girls love this? Of course they did! They had a wonderful time & were talking about it days later. Were there huge crowds? Good Lord, yes! Michigan Avenue started getting crowded quite early in the day so we staked o...Read More

Member Rating 4 out of 5 on February 25, 2003

Festival of Lights Parade

Chicago, Illinois

Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum

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Attraction | "Downtown Downers Grove"

Quote:
Downer's Grove is very cute - straight out of Donna Reed/Father Knows Best cute. It's about 20 miles from Chicago (west) -- you can drive there easily or take the commuter train directly to the suburbs Main Street. Some friends recommended I take the girls there for one of my 'spend no money' vacation days. There is a downtown about three blocks long full of one-of-a-kind shops, the antithesis to Oak Brook mall, where we'd spent another afternoon of our vacation. There are also several really good parks/nature areas in Downers' Grove that are worth the drive. Surprise attraction? The train runs right into downtown and my nieces had never seen a train before. They were absolutely fasci...Read More

Member Rating 4 out of 5 on February 25, 2003

Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum
2430 North Cannon Drive
Chicago, Illinois 60614
+1 773 755 5100

Prairie Avenue Historic District

Attraction | "Belmont Prairie"

Quote:
Because it was winter I don't know if I can do this place justice. I was merely looking for a park where I could let the kids run around and not worry about them, but I found something better than just a park -- and I've been told I was there at the worst time of year since nothing was in bloom and the leaves were off the trees.

Belmont Prairie is a nature reserve, one of the last original prairies in Illinois. It's full of native plants, flower and animals and includes over 25 acres of quiet untouched nature.

I'd like to go back some spring/summer - nevertheless it was quite beautiful while we were there & worth the drive.

Member Rating 4 out of 5 on February 25, 2003

Prairie Avenue Historic District
Prairie Av. from 18th St. to Cullerton St. Subway
Chicago 60616