Champaign, IL (WCIA) Midwest Travel Expert Marcia Frost shares the top things to enjoy in Chicago. Whether it’s a day trip, an overnight, or a weekend, we are close enough to one of the greatest cities in the country to enjoy everything it has to offer for the holidays.
Hotels everyone will enjoy…
The Acme Hotel Companywas recently voted the No. 1 Hotel in Chicago in Condé Nast Traveler’s Reader’s Choice Awards. It’s hard to argue. The hotel keywords are “fun” and “hip.” I’ve never been to anything quite like it.
Acme is music-themed, with albums on the wall in the elevators and guitars to play in the rooms. You’ll also have chalk boards to write your thoughts on, and an Amazon Echo so you have Alexa to give your requests. Then there’s a Bunny Slope whirlpool to relax in (you can even rent out for small groups).
Acmealso makes eating and drinking fun, with DIY Cocktail kits in the rooms, complimentary Morning Joe coffee at your door, and Knock and Drop bakery delivery. They also have The Berkshire Room, where the cocktails are unique (try the Banana Cognac Cocktail) and the small plates are tasty (the Charcuterie is a good choice).
Hotel Essexis in the South Loop, just a short walk from Millennium Park and the Art Institute. This boutique hotel is a good spot for a romantic holiday getaway or a shopping trip with the girls (or guys). The fitness center is state-of-the-art, so you can ward off a few holiday pounds.
The highlight at Hotel Essex is Sx Skybar. It’s not just a place to see and be seen, there are some amazing small plates, such as the Peking Duck Eggrolls, Tempura Oyster Mushrooms, and Fish Tacos. The drinks are also creative and fun, especially the champagne cocktails.
Bring the family to the Kimpton Hotel Monaco, in the center of everything Chicago. Their one-bedroom suite is tremendous, and the window seats are perfect for looking out – or even as sleeping spots for kids. It’s one of the best rooms I’ve ever had in Chicago.
Hotel Monaco offers Kimpton perks, including wine hour in the evening and coffee in the morning. If the weather cooperates, you can borrow bicycles and explore another angle of Chicago. From Hotel Monaco, you can walk over the Christkindlmarkt for some authentic German food and presents. (Keep in mind that many places in the market just take cash.)
Hotel Monaco is also only a few doors down from the Virgin Hotel, where the Cerise Rooftop is decked out for some grownup celebration. In addition to the party atmosphere on the inside, the rooftop is ready with heated domes, decorated for the holidays. A Mele Kalikimaka Christmas Pop-up adds fruity cocktails, such as a fantastic rum punch. Small plates are also available. Reservations are required and there is a spending minimum, but you can easily fit six of your friends inside the warm and cozy couches.
Make sure you check the hotels’ websites for special packages that include items such as meals or parking.
Holiday Places for Food and drinks …
While in Chicago, there are a few more recommendations for food and drinks.Timothy O’Toole’s is one of those dream sports bars. You can see every game imaginable, while actually eating good food and having a big choice of drinks. We even got to be there for former Bear’s Patrick Mannelly’s Longsnap Beer launch.
This is one place where no one in the family will have difficulty finding something to eat. We were a bit short on time and only had two entrees: a shrimp & pasta and the grilled chicken pita. They were perfect choices, but the menu also includes their famous wings, and a selection of rice bowls, salads, and wraps – with plenty of vegetarian options.
The River Roastbrunch is a must, for the food and the atmosphere. Enjoy live music and river views as you attempt to narrow down what you want from the menu – it is a good one. The waitress saw our struggle and suggested we start with cinnamon rolls-better than you can imagine. We paired that with a Bellini and a Spiked Cold Brew, while staring at options such as Carrot Cake French Toast, Chicken & Waffles, and Shrimp & Crab Toast.
The Roasted Acorn Squash was stuffed with faro, cranberry, apple, and parsnip, cooked to perfection, and the chicken sandwich was also great. When it came to the dessert menu, everything looked sweet tooth satisfying, but the big winner was the PB&J Cheesecake.
If you don’t have time to go during your trip, make a stop at Stan’s Donuts before you head home. There are nine locations throughout Chicago. The donuts are fresh and creative, with the Peanut Butter Pocket my favorite.
For the holidays, Stan’s Donuts has rolled out some special donuts, including Gingerbread, a Crème Brulee filled and a Peppermint Chocolate. They are deliciously sinful, especially if you combine the Peppermint Chocolate with the seasonal hot chocolate of the same name.
Things to do…
It’s quite possible you have never seen or heard of Wndr Museum, but this is a treasure in Chicago you need to go to. It’s one of the most unique spots you have seen, allowing you to experience through various artistic expressions. The theme is “immersive art” and the vehicles are mirrors, music, texture, and more-all with your participation.
Throughout the museum there are interactive displays for kids of all ages, whether they are just having fun, or thinking a bit more about life. Another thing your kids will love at Wndr Museum: the all-you-can-eat cereal bar at the end of the tour.
If you are a Friends fan, don’t miss the opportunity to check out the temporary pop-up, Central Perk. It’s on Michigan Avenue, inside the ATT store. The collection of memorabilia, photographs, video clips, and a chance to take selfies on the couch at Central Perk is lots of fun – and there’s no charge.
You’ll find many more activities in Chicago, many of which are free during the holidays. The Lincoln Park Zoo Lights is available nightly, you can visit the Christmas Tree at Millennium Park, where you can also ice skate, and window watch downtown, where the Macy’s displays are especially beautiful. For more ideas on what to do in the city, visit the Choose Chicago website.
Be sure to Like Midwest Travel with Marcia Frost on Facebook for more information on her trips, and read her stories on her Wine And Spirits Travel blog. You can also follow Marcia @Spiritstraveler on Twitter and Instagram.
Photos by Marcia Frost and Brittany Lambright.