Fall in Chicago

Summer over, and let’s faces it – Chicago’s best season is fall. The humidity of summer suddenly turns crisp, ushering bursts of gorgeous, coppery color in the trees.

Here are a few things you should try to do this September in Chicago;

1. Try a new restaurant.

New hotspots opening this season: Chop Shop and the 1st Ward (a Bucktown restaurant, bar, music venue and butcher shop combined into one) debuts in mid-September, A10 (a European venture from Matthias Merges of Yusho and Billy Sunday) arrives in October and Eataly (Mario Batali’s megaspace of eight restaurants, a microbrewery and a culinary school) opens its doors in mid-November.

Eataly

Eataly

2. Drive out to the drive-in.

Before the weather gets too cold, bundle up with some blankets, popcorn and good company at the old-timey Cascade Drive-In in West Chicago.

Cascade Drive-In

Cascade Drive-In

3. Design Harvest Festival Sept. 28-29

Chicago’s annual street festival celebrating home design will feature a myriad of local vendors and antique collectors, as well as family hay rides, pumpkin painting to raise money for a local elementary school, square dancing, cold beer, delicious food and live music programming from The Hideout.

Design Harvest Festival

Design Harvest Festival

4. Search for the best cider.

‘Tis that time of year. For the hard cider fans: Sprout, SmallBar, The Grafton Pub and Kuma’s Corner all have excellent selections. Have it hot or cold, a perfect drink for fall time weather.

 

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Movies at the Park

One of my favorite things to do in Chicago during the summer is go to the movies in the park. The Chicago Park District kicked off the 13th annual movies in the park this past June 13th, 2013. This year there will be 195 screenings of current and classic movies in 150 citywide parks through September 14, 2013. The best thing about this outdoor activity is that admission is free!

Movies at the Park

Movies at the Park

My recommendation is to get there early. The movies generally begin at dusk (weather permitting), and they get really crowded. So get there early, bring a blanket and lawn chairs. If there are a lot of people ahead of you, and they have chairs it becomes a little hard to see the lower part of the screen, so if you also bring a chair then you will not have any problems while trying to watch the movie.

Picnic
Don’t forget to bring some snacks! Cheese and crackers are always great, hummus, veggies… Of course for those of us 21 and over a good bottle of wine. Gentlemen, this is really cheap and great first date. So make sure that you scope out a movie that you want to see (Skyfall will be playing this summer) and take that special girl out for an evening picnic. You can’t go wrong!

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Ruth’s Top 5 things to do in Chicago

Whether you are visiting Chicago or from Chicago there are always things to do:

1. Visit Navy Pier
Navy Pier is a bustling 1.5 mile-long boardwalk that will please every member of your family. Attracting well over 8 million visitors per year, Navy Pier is lined with restaurants and studded with small shops selling everything from apparel to toys to Chicago souvenirs. While the shops alone can keep you occupied for hours, there are plenty of other activities at Navy Pier to fill your day.

Navy Pier

Navy Pier

2. Go to the “Taste of Chicago”.

While Chicago is host to dozens of festivals each year, the Taste of Chicago is easily the most widely attended. What was once a small food festival on July 4, 1980, has grown to be the biggest festival in the city. It is hailed as the world’s largest food extravaganza, attracting 3 million people annually.

Taste of Chicago

Taste of Chicago

3. Take a tour of the city.

One of the best ways to see Chicago is by tour; you get a unique perspective of the city, often with an expert guide who will tell you the history and story of each place you encounter. You can tour by boat and carriage or by foot. You can take a tour with a theme; some tours take you through certain historic or ethnic neighborhoods, such as Old Town or Greektown.

4. Visit a Museum

Chicago is a cultural city. You can find museums dedicated to every interest and every passion. In addition to the major, well-know ones, there are a number of smaller but excellent choices available. Chicago’s Museum Campus is a somewhat recent addition to the city’s lakefront. In 1996, the northbound lanes of Lake Shore Drive were moved so that the three museums in the area, the Shedd Aquarium, the Field Museum and the Adler Planetarium, were no longer separated by a median and were brought onto one campus and joined by a lush green field with a view of the lake.

Shedd Aquarium

Shedd Aquarium

5. Shop!!!

Just a few blocks from our hotel, you will find Chicago’s Water Tower Place, a perfect location for shopping. With 7 different levels, you certainly have a wide selection for you and your loved ones. One of my personal favorites is CUSP by Neiman Marcus. They always have a wide variety of styles, from everyday relaxed fit clothing to a dresses for a girls night out. For the in between shopping, Water Tower Place, also offers dining options. This will allow you to relax and enjoy your meal and continue to shop all in one convenient location.

Water Tower Place

Water Tower Place

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Spring is here and so are the CUBS!!

Chicago has a lot of fun activities over the Spring/Summer months. If you have never been to a CUBS game this is the time to get started. The Cubbie’s home opener at Wrigley Field is on the 8th, where they will play the Milwaukee Brewers. This will certainly be a fun and memorable experience if you are from out of town. When staying with us at the Hampton Inn & Suites Chicago Downtown, you are within walking distance to the red line Grand stop. To get to Wrigley field just head northbound towards Howard and get off at the Addison stop. The commute is approximately 15 minutes. Once you get off on Addison you will instantly feel the excitement! Most of the people that live on the north side of Chicago are Cubs fans (although we all know that they always loose!) But we are optimistic and when the new season starts we say “this will be the year!”

Wrigley Field

One thing that you must check out is one of the Cubs rooftops. Wrigley just opened up their very own “Sky lounge” located on 1048 Waveland Ave. They have a total of 125 seats and you can join as a group or individually, so you can’t go wrong! They have bleachers on the rooftop that will overlook the field. This is a completely different experience and one that you have to try! They will have burgers, hot dogs, pretzels, beverages of all types and you don’t have to deal with the big crowds.

Wrigley Rooftop

 

Check out a game while you are in town – you will have a great time! GO CUBS!

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Chicago Transit Authority Gets Into the Holiday Spirit!

I have lived in Chicago for the past 7 years, and this is the first time that I have been able to experience the Holiday Train. For the duration of my commute home from The Hampton Inn & Suites I could not help but smile. Generally my work commute consists of me playing words with friends and listening to Pandora on my phone. But this time it was different, as I mentioned I could not help but smile.

As the train pulled into the Grand station, one block away from the Hampton Inn & Suites, my eyes widened and I felt a wave come over me of true holiday cheer. The train is a little bit shorter than a regular train, roughly about six-cars long. It is decorated with holiday seasonal images and thousands of multi-colored lights on the outside of the cars as well as on top. It is truly amazing how a little holiday cheer brightened up my day on my way home from work.
The best part about the experience is that Santa and his elves were also riding the train with me. As we pull into each station, Santa would waive to the boarding passengers from his sleigh on an open-air flatcar carrying his reindeer and decorated holiday trees. There were a lot of families and children so it was a little crowded, but their faces truly made my experience that much more pleasant. Santa would stop to visit with the children on the train and his elves would help him pass out candy canes and season’s greetings.
When coming to Chicago with your family, I would recommend taking one ride. It is definitely worth it! According to the CTA, the holiday train operates from about 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. on weekends and 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. on select weekdays and will be running through the rest of December as part of regular rail service. Normal CTA fares apply.

Happy holidays, and I hope to see you on the train!

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Holiday Season in Chicago

Christkindlmarket

Christkindlmarket

As the holidays approach, Chicago begins to get a little chilly. Most often than not, everyone stays indoors and enjoys a cup of hot cocoa with a warm blanket while they watch their favorite shows on TV. For those of us that are visiting the city or for the locals that enjoy the cold winter months, Chicago is always full on wonderful outdoor activities. For this holiday season take advantage of the Daley Plaza’s Christmas Market. If you are staying here with us at the Hampton Inn & Suites on Tuesday, November 20 take a quick 12 minute walk and enjoy the wonderful Christmas delights. The market will be open from 2-8pm on that Tuesday. I was able to attend last year with my younger brother and sister and we had a blast. This is a traditional German Market. It started in 1996 and has been gaining popularity every year. Actually, it is the largest German market in the country and the best part is that all the vendors are serving authentic German food. They always offer sausages, sauerkraut, and potato pancakes. If you have never tried a potato pancakes this is definitely a must try. They are a delicious savory treat! For the younger generation, there are sweets, pastries and candies. To drink, there are German beers on hand as well as the traditional “Glühwein”, which is a hot spiced wine that is served around the holidays. I have to admit, I was a little hesitant about trying this wine, but once I did I was certainly glad! It was a great warm beverage and the spices in the wine were delicious. So as you come and join us in Chicago this holiday season, take advantage of this fun outdoor activity – admission is free!!

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Lincoln Park Zoo

As a tourist coming from outside of Illinois the most common idea of sight seeing is the main Chicago sights: Willis Tower, Hancock building, Magnificent Mile, the Lakefront, etc. The last thing that one thinks about is going to see something that you can do back home, like going to the Zoo.

Every city has their own unique Zoo, where the residents are able to escape reality and spend some time with our furry friends from all over the world. Over the 4th of July holiday I spent the day at the Lincoln park Zoo. After living in the city of Chicago for the last 6 years I thought that it might be about time that I visit this magical place. I don’t know about most of you, but I turn into a 5 year old when I get past the gate. I literally drug my boyfriend around the park going “ooohhhh and awwweeee”. It was a very hot day, I recommend that when you visit you try to go around September. Or if you do decide to venture during our hot Chicago summers, take a lot of water!!

I have to say that my first Zoo experience at the Lincoln Park Zoo was great! We took the red line up to the Zoo as parking is generally a little pricy for my taste. For those of you staying with us at the Hampton Inn & Suites, it is so easy to get there, just take the Red Line at the Grand Stop headed North and get off at Fullerton. Then walk east until you reach the Zoo. Very accessible and easy route from the downtown location. When you get there, no need to take out your wallet as the Zoo is completely free!!! Not a bad deal, huh? But of course they always accept donations, so feel free to give a little back as it goes toward making the Zoo a better home for the animals. They are just too cute to refuse! So…my first stop was  the Pygmy hippopotamus. He was such a cute little guy, check out my photo:

Hippo at Lincoln Park Zoo

He was so excited to see us there, that he kept trying to push his way through the glass. He would swim up and down trying to find a way out. But aside from his cuteness, I did find out some information about this type of Hippo. It seems that due to habitat loss, the Pygmy Hippo is endangered. This particular species is solitary and a nocturnal mammal. The population has dwindled and we don’t know the exact numbers, but from the information provided by the Zoo, scientists estimate that 3,000 of the animals may live in the wild. At this time, The Lincoln Park Zoo cooperatively manages Pygmy Hippopotamus populations with other institutions in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Some cool facts about this species that I was able to find out, courtesy of the Zoo webpage: Special Adaptations

  • The pygmy hippo’s skin secretes a red substance, giving rise to the legend that the species “sweats blood.” The substance isn’t blood, but its function is unknown. Scientists believe it may serve as an antibiotic or help block excessive sunlight.
  • The eyes, ears and nose are located on the top of the head, enabling the species to see, smell and hear while the rest of its body is underwater.
  • The pygmy hippos’ ears and nostrils pinch tightly shut when the animal dives underwater, making it easier for them to stay submerged.

You don’t have to be so excited about the animals to go to the Zoo, just enjoy the nice walk and the fact that you get a chance to explore a different side of the city. It is a nice break from being around so many people when walking down the Magnificent Mile or when seeing the amazing sites the Willis Tower has to offer. Check out the Zoo next time you are in Chicago, you won’t be disappointed!!

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What to do while in Chicago

As we gear into the wonderful Chicago Summer there are certain attractions that everyone must try at least once! The most common things to do in Chicago are going to Navy Pier, Millennium Park, city tours, The Art Institute, the Museum of Science and Industry, the architectural cruise plus many more.

My personal favorite activity is the architectural cruise; the tour is 90 minutes and it will make you think twice about our beautiful city of Chicago. At first when I agreed to go on this cruise (took much persuasion from my friend who was visiting from out of town) I was hesitant about going. To spend $35 to ride around in a boat when I already live in the city seemed like money I didn’t want to spend. Eventually I put myself in my friend’s shoes about coming to a city she had not been before and I agreed to go on the cruise.

Cruise on the Chicago River
Cruise on the Chicago River

The tour will take you from the aftermath of the great Chicago fire in the late 1800s, to how the city chose to rebuild itself using the surrounding water to their advantage. From there you will see some amazing buildings, the Merchandise Mart; you will go under several of Chicago’s movable bridges and to Navy Pier. After I got off of the cruise I was really glad that I had decided to go. It made me have a different type of appreciation for Chicago.

View Chicago by water with an architectural boat tour!

My recommendations for the tour; go on a sunny and warm day, make sure that you wear a hat if you are going to sit on the part of the boat that is not covered, make sure you grab a beverage and watch out for the shooting fountain, you just may get more than you bargained for! The best way to book this would be to do it on line (as it is cheaper), if you are staying here at the Hampton Inn & Suites Chicago Downtown, just ask one of our Front Desk Associates to book the tour for you and they will be happy to give you all the details and just let you know where it is that you need to show up! You’re here on vacation; let someone else do the work for you.

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Girl and the Goat: Worth the Wait!

When people think of Chicago they think of the windy city and of great food! Personally, I think that both of these are certainly worth taking into consideration, especially the dining portion! Since I have lived in the city of Chicago I always make it a point to try new restaurants that I have not been to. My latest addition to the list is the Girl and the Goat. This awesome restaurant is located in the West Loop smack dab in the Randolph Restaurant Corridor. It is easily accessible from the River North area via taxi, if you are staying with us at the Hampton Inn & Suites it will probably take you about 10 minutes via cab.

I would strongly recommend that you have a reservation before you go to this restaurant and be warned that when you try to make one, they will probably be booked for months! Now you are certainly able to just show up and put your name on the list but the wait is at least 45 minutes if not longer. We had a reservation that was made 4 months prior to the selected date for dinner!! Now this certainly took me by surprise, this was my first restaurant where I had to make reservations so far ahead. You are probably thinking one of two things right now; this must be an amazing restaurant to be booked so far in advance or is this really worth my time?! I assure you that this restaurant is so busy because it is absolutely worth your time! The chef who created the restaurant, Stephanie Izard, won top chef several seasons ago and has really made a name for herself here in Chicago with her $1.5 million dollar restaurant-The Girl and the Goat. If you don’t like crowded places then this might not be the spot for you, but if you are just looking to be surrounded with great friends and looking to have dinner in a rockin’ environment then certainly check this out!

When we sat down we were immediately greeted by our waitress. As it was our first time there she was more than happy to explain how the Chef envisioned the dining experience. Because there were four of us she recommended that we order anywhere from 8 to 11 dishes. At first we thought that this would be a ridiculous amount of food and we were hesitant to order that much, but she did reassure us that we would be full, as the portions were designed to be small in order to enjoy the flavor of each bite. As we ordered our entrees we were pleasantly surprised by the aromas and the infused flavors of each individual dish. One of my favorite dishes was the Sautéed green beans. This dish contains a fish sauce vinaigrette with cashews; for a person that is not crazy about green beans I was surprised I could not get enough of this dish. I highly recommend this dish to anyone that is eating at this amazing restaurant.

Sauteed Green Bean

Wood Fired Oysters

One of the many flatbreads available

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NYC Bagel a hidden gem in River North!

As the saying goes, little things come in small packages….. No, I did not get a little box over the weekend that could possibly determine the rest of my life. I am actually talking about the small New York City Bagel store (NYC), located on Dearborn just across the street from the Hampton inn & Suites Chicago Downtown. This is truly a hidden gem in the River North area of Chicago; they have great flavors and the quality of their meats are amazing!

I have begun to use them as our outside catering company for my meetings at the hotel. I knew that they were good, as on more than one occasion I have been known to run across the street to indulge in their savory breakfast bagel sandwich. Yum! Our first experience working with them as a caterer went better than I had hoped, the staff was amazing! When I expressed concerns about the details of the lunch for the meeting they were more than happy to meet with me. In person, we were able to discuss what I envisioned; they ensured that everything was executed to my expectations.

The meeting was for 64 people, this had originally been 24 and as the client called me to increase the number of attendees, I in turn called NYC to increase the number of people for lunch. They were more than accommodating, which seeing the size of the store one might think that they would not be able to high volume catering. I was pleasantly surprised when I saw the presentation of the food that they were so willing to deliver to the hotel in order to facilitate the process for us.

The best part of this experience is that the client was blown away; the program coordinator sent an email a couple of days after the event, “Thank you for taking care of our needs for this event! It was above and beyond our expectations. The ultimate goal in the service industry to make the client happy, through NYC’s professionalism and attention to detail this was accomplished and certainly well received”.

The next time that you stay with us at the Hampton or if you are in the River North area, go and get a sandwich at NYC Bagel. You won’t regret it!

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