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24 Hours In Chicago

 

24 hours in Chicago

 

They say that the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.  Now, I haven’t planned anything with a mouse lately (or ever), but I have with my family,  and, to paraphrase Lizzo:

why plans great til they gotta be great?

For example, we recently got to spend 24 hours in Chicago. Having never been to The Windy City before, I had a rough itinerary in mind for us, to maximize our time. I then envisioned coming back and telling y’all about our adventures. Luxurious shopping sprees along the Magnificent Mile. Family photos in front of iconic Chicago landmarks like the Bean and the Michael Jordan statue. Self indulgent visits to the locations of my favorite rapper’s childhood home (Kanye West) and the house where my favorite TV show is filmed in (Shameless).  Scenes recreated throughout Chi-Town with the kids from my favorite 80s movie (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off). Potentially, it would be an epic Chicago day tour.

Believe it or not, our 24 hours in Chicago did not go as I thought that it would.  At all.  Here’s how it went down, to the best of my recollection:

9:00AM – Stopped by the Milwaukee Public Market to grab some breakfast, as part of the final stop on our Milwaukee trip.  Planned to then make the almost two hour drive to Chicago afterwards. Arrived at the market, and realized that most of the vendors did not open up shop until 10:00AM. Sat outside the market in our van until then.

10:00AM – Stopped by the Milwaukee Public Market to grab some breakfast as part of the final stop on our Milwaukee trip. It had started to rain heavily while we were waiting outside.  We got our food to go, and then headed to Chicago in some occasionally torrential downpours, surrounded by dangerously driving transport trucks. It’s a white knuckle drive.

11:00AM – Realized that the forecast in Chicago calls for rain all day.  Realized that we’ll have to call an audible on most of the potential destinations on my agenda. Touring around in the rain with three small, soggy kids is a recipe for a sucktacular trip.

11:50AM – Arrived at our first destination, Water Tower Place, to go the American Girl Store, a giant doll store that J had been excited about visiting for months. Upon arrival, discovered that affordable parking in downtown Chicago is harder to find than Steve Bartman’s whereabouts.  Some of the parking signage is harder to decipher than the Bulls’ old triangle offense. Proceeded to drive around aimlessly, looking for a reasonable, understandable parking spot.

12:20PM – Finally find a meter parking spot about two blocks away from Water Tower Place. Walked to the American Girl Store.

12:20AM – Kidding. It only felt like I spent 12 hours at the American Girl Store. We were actually there for an hour, with J loving every minute. If you’ve ever wanted to take your doll to a hair salon, or get your kid the same outfit as their doll,  then this is the place for you, by the way.

24 hours in chicago

 

1:20PM –  The rain kiboshed the shopping spree along the Magnificent Mile. Well, the rain, and the price tags at some of the high end shops. Instead, we walked through Water Tower Place and went to Macy’s. It had eight floors in it, and clearance sections galore, perfect for Canadians like us looking to ball out on a budget.  Unfortunately, it’s also perfect for toddlers like KJ to run around the store like Walter Payton, and to play hide and seek by himself in the clothing racks.

chicago day tour

KJ still made time to pose with J in front of this giant Lego statue, though.

2:10PM – Back to the car, to make our way to an actual iconic Chicago landmark – the Skydeck at Willis Tower (courtesy of tickets from my good friends at the Skydeck. Thanks again, guys!).  It’s about a 12 minute drive, to get there from where we were.

2:50PM – Finally find a parking spot after some difficulties, same reasons as before. We are basically closer to Water Tower Place than Willis Tower. We are at a confusingly worded meter, as well.  From it, I conclude that we have until 4:00pm to park there, before Oprah Winfrey would come to take our car away, and give it to a member of a studio audience.  My conclusion is most likely not even close to being correct. Regardless, we gotta book it to, and through, the Skydeck.

3:00-3:40PM –  the Skydeck was not busy, so we were in, up (a 90 second elevator ride!) and enjoying the 1300 plus feet lookout in short fashion. It really was amazing up there. Spectacular views of the city. Tried to take some pics for da ‘Gram, none of which end up making the cut. For example, here’s a family shot of us on the Skydeck Ledge glass floor.  If I look scared, it’s because I was scared. If our family looks short-handed, it’s because B didn’t want to come on the Ledge, for the picture. If KJ looks like he’s so hungry that he had to eat his shirt, it’s because he probably was.

Skydeck Ledge

Tried to get the kids to pose like Ferris, Sloane and Cam did in Ferris Buehller. Realized that they hadn’t seen the movie, and didn’t know what I was talking about. Settled for this shot:

 

24 hours in chicago

In the spirit of the Toronto Raptors’ championship and “We The North”, here is “He The North”, as in I’m way up in sky, rocking a Raps’ hat:

skydeck ledge

I’m sorry, peeps, I’m really not very creative.

 

3:45PM – Time to rush back to the car. At one point, instead of running, KJ dropped and starting doing push ups.

3:54PM –  Noticed KJ crossing a bridge, with some of Chicago’s majestic skyscrapers in the background, would make for a cute pic. Say cheese, little man!

chicago day tour

Thanks, white van, for the photobomb.

3:59PM – No sign of Oprah, so our car is safe. With rain pouring down, we decided to go to our hotel, The Willows Hotel, located near the Wrigleyville area of the city.  On the way, a rain-drenched Wrigley Field field was not in the cards, so I did the next best thing – walked around the stadium and took some mediocre pictures!

24 hours in chicago

chicago day tour

wrigley field tour

The rain is temporary, but the stupid look on my face will last forever.

 

5:00PM – Arrived at The Willows Hotel. It’s a lovely, smaller, boutique hotel, with an old, old school (think 19th century) feel. B will make repeated comments about how he can’t believe the TVs are so new in such a classic building.

6:00PM – The hotel is in a nice, quiet neighbourhood, so we decided to go for a walk.  We end up in a clearance section at a T.J. Maxx, because we are apparently all about discounted stuff from department stores which aren’t in Canada. I have this convo with KJ there:

KJ – I miss you!

Me – You can’t miss me. You’re right beside me.

*KJ runs away, runs back*

KJ – I miss you!

I should also mention that, throughout these 24 hours in Chicago, B had been complaining about a headache. The poor kid kept freaking himself out, and escalating his symptoms via incorrect self-diagnosis.  It started off in the morning as the slightest of headaches. Later, it increased to it hurting only when he shook his head violently, as if he was headbanging (note: B had never headbanged before in his life).  By the time that we are in T.J. Maxx, he is essentially sulking around the place, thinking that he needs a brain transplant.

6:30PM – K had looked up restaurants in the area, so we start to head out to decent sounding one.

6:32PM – K looked up reviews of said restaurant, and read that the owner was allegedly openly racist. We walk to a different dining establishment (in the rain, of course).

8:00PM – After dinner, we walk to get dessert/breakfast, from Stan’s Donuts.

Stan's Donuts Chicago

What? They were really good. That’s all.

8:25PM – Back to the hotel.  Yes, I realize that this seems early to call it a night for someone who wanted to maximize their 24 hours in Chicago. However, we were tired. Plus B had ‘inceptioned’ me, by planting seeds of doubt in my head about the crime rate in the city (“Hey dad, are we going to get shot in Chicago?“). Tapping out and enjoying the safety of our comfy hotel seemed like a good call.

6:00AM-7:00AM – Pack up, get some continental breakfast to go with our donuts, and check out of the hotel, so we can make the 8ish hour long drive home.

7:00AM – 7:30AM – We followed the Waze App, to guide us. The route that we take is very scenic, along the outskirts of the city.  Between the skyline and architecture, it’s beautiful looking, in the distance.

24 hours in chicago

7:30AM – We get led to the “Chicago Skyway”, which is a toll road. We pay $5 US to use it.

7:38AM – Waze leads us off of the Skyway, and onto another road. Huh? That’s it?!  I immediately want my $5 US back.

We continued our way out of Chi-Town, until it was nothing but a recent memory.

Hopefully, a return trip will be in order, in the future, and hopefully, things will go as planned, too.

But, you know what they say about the best laid plans, right?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Milwaukee – The Unexpectedly Cool Family Road Trip City

 

things to do in Milwaukee With Kids

 

 

Look, I get it. Milwaukee, Wisconsin doesn’t exactly scream family vacation destination. It’s a mid-sized Midwest city known for beer, bratwurst and cheese. How sexy is that? However, I read quite a bit about how internationally-born NBA Superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo loved it there. If the Greek Freak, a man who’s been all over the world, and could basically play anywhere that he wanted, chose freakin’ Milwaukee,  then there must be more than meets the eye. For my family, I thought that it would make for, at the very least, an interesting road trip.  Turns out, there’s actually lots of fun things to do in Milwaukee with kids, and it’s one of the coolest cities that I’ve been to.

 

GETTING THERE

Now, truth be told, it was a long drive, for us. It involved going through one province, and four states, plus a different time zone. Including stops, each way took a good 11 hours. To keep the kids not at each other’s throats entertained, we pretty much brought more DVDs than an old Blockbuster Video store with us, for them to watch in the van, along with other devices and toys.  As Milwaukee is situated on the coast of Lake Michigan, our drive consisted of going around the lake, to get there.  A ferry called The Lake Express does depart from Muskegon, Michigan, and goes to Milwaukee. We looked into this, and while appealing, because it would have shaved hours off of the driving, it was fairly expensive, so we passed.

FAMILY FUN THINGS TO DO IN MILWAUKEE

Milwaukee is a big sports town. I couldn’t walk very far without seeing someone decked out in Bucks, Brewers or Green Bay Packers  apparel.  The aforementioned Giannis, in particular, seems to get a lot of love. While it wasn’t basketball season,  we did scope out the not-brand-new-but-still-has-that-new-arena-smell Fiserv Forum, where the Bucks play.

 

 

Our visit happened during the summer, so we were able to watch a Brewers game, at Miller Park.   The stadium is awesome, and is a great place to catch nine innings.

brewers home games

things to do in Milwaukee With Kids

Beyond that, though, the Brewers do a nice job with the extra stuff.  In case you or the little ones get bored, there are a couple of play areas in the park, for them to blow off some steam. One of them even has a mini version of the famous Bernie Brewer slide.   On Sundays (when we went), you can play catch in the outfield of the Field of Dreams-esque Helfaer Field, located beside Miller Park, before then game.  Then after the game, children can unleash their inner Christian Yelich, and run the bases on Miller Park’s field!

kids run the bases

History is also featured prominently. There’s a Walk of Fame and a Wall of Honor commemorating legendary Brewers figures. For you Bud Selig fans, he’s a featured attraction at Miller Park, complete with a statue, retired number, and a section dedicated to him called the Bud Selig Experience.

family fun in milwaukee

I’m more of a Hank Aaron fan myself.

 

Zoos are always a hit with our family, and the Milwaukee County Zoo was no exception.  It houses over 3100 (!!) creatures of the land, sea and sky, sprawled across 190 acres. Coming up with a game plan seemed daunting, but once we got going, it wasn’t bad at all. It was easy to navigate and not very strenuous to walk (re: so no complaints about tired legs from B, J or KJ).  The Milwaukee County Zoo also has some attractions like a carousel, Sky Safari, rope courses and a zip line on site, too (all for an added cost).  In addition, numerous opportunities exist to see some of the animals up close, throughout the zoo.

Milwaukee County Zoo

milwaukee county zoo

Milwaukee Kids Activities

I will admit to trying to cheat things a bit. We thought that if we took the Safari Train, then we could lap the park and see everything  quickly. Word of advice – don’t do this.  The train is a leisurely ride around the perimeter of the zoo, so you don’t get many glimpses of most of the crowd pleasing animals.

things to do in milwaukee with kids

Hey guys, if you squint, you can kind of see a monkey in the distance!

Another really fun thing to do in Milwaukee with kids is to go to Betty Brinn Children’s Museum.  This museum is home to numerous exhibits, some of which are seasonal, but all of which are interactively hands-on with learning elements. KJ and J really enjoyed the Home Town exhibit, because of all the pretend, make believe, role playing aspects to it.

Betty Brinn Children's Museum

KJ and J, puttin’ in dat work.

 

 

B spent a lot of time in the Big League Fun exhibit, putting his baseball abilities and knowledge to the test.

Betty Brinn Children's Museum

According to this simulation, B hit one home run 618 feet. The longest home run in MLB history, allegedly, was a 575 footer hit by Babe Ruth. Clearly, my nine year old son is better than Babe Ruth.

We barely scratched the surface of the other exhibits on hand (once my kids find stuff that they like, they tend to really like it), which was a shame, as they were all dope. Whereas my kiddos gravitated towards the ones mentioned, yours might like Science CITY more, for example.

Betty Brinn Children’s Museum was such a blast that I didn’t even realize how educational and skill-developing it was. I was too busy acting like a big kid with my kids. It even had an outdoor area, with  amazing #views of Milwaukee’s waterfront, for you selfie-loving Instaparents.

best things to do in milwaukee

 

 

Not far from Betty Brinn Children’s Museum is Discovery World. Focused mainly on technology and aquatic stuff, visiting here is another really fun thing to do in Milwaukee with kids. It’s a large, multi-level center, full of stations, labs and experiences, which appeal to the inner scientist and engineer of all ages.  Not only that, but it has an aquarium, as well, with a robust collection of interesting underwater animals to check out.

Discovery World Milwaukee

Discovery World Milwaukee
Due to the size and number of activities to do, it was hard to try everything; we were even there for a few hours! Our visit also happened to coincide with a tournament and some other event happening nearby, so finding parking was quite a challenge. Apparently, it can be even worse during bigger events, like Summerfest. However, Discovery World is the only place where my family “touched lightning”, lied on a bed of nails, gawked at a poisonous dart frog, and walked on a replica schooner while humming “I’m On a Boat” by the Lonely Island (Fine. The last one was all me). How cool is that?

things to do in Milwaukee with kids

Y’all thought I was joking about the bed of nails.

 

Discovery World is located on Milwaukee’s lakefront.  I was surprised at how beautiful this area is. It looked like a great location to hang out, or go for a ride along the shoreline, or,  as we noticed on the day that we were there anyway, get married and have the reception on a cruise ship.  Unrelated, but who knew that Milwaukee had such nice beaches?!

 

Eating and Drinking There

Make no mistake about it, Milwaukee is a beer lover’s dream. It’s not just a city of MGD drinkers, however. Milwaukee’s micro and craft beer scene is thriving. I’m sure this isn’t even remotely true, so don’t hold me to it as fact, but when exploring the town, it felt like there was a brewery on every corner, each with their own unique offerings. Many of the breweries offer tours,  too, with samplings. These obviously aren’t necessarily child friendly, though, so we didn’t partake in one while in search of family fun in Milwaukee. Regardless, whatever your taste is, you definitely won’t be hard-pressed to find good, satisfying suds anywhere during your travels

Walk Off Tripel beer, by MKE Brewing Co.

A city dubbed “The Beer Capital Of The World” having lots of beer in it is hardly a surprise. Conversely, Milwaukee’s culinary scene was pleasantly surprising.  Brats are a Wisconsin staple, and the sheer number of people grilling them up as they tailgated before and after the Brewers game that we went to was impressive. Cheese curds are another staple, and I had no idea that there were so many different ways to make them. Beyond these, the cuisine in the city stretches way beyond traditional Midwest fares. Cool, trendy-looking  restaurants to fill your belly are aplenty throughout the city.

For example, we went to Glass + Griddle one evening. It’s a large, open beer hall environment, with a bright, contemporary interior design. Picnic tables are one of the seating options on the premise which, if you’re with a large party, is actually kind of perfect.  The bar was huge, and as Glass + Griddle is located directly beside MKE Brewing Co., their beers are featured prominently (but not exclusively).  The food offered is more or less what you find at a gastropub. There was no kiddie menu, so, in terms of families, I’d probably recommended it as a place to go to while on the way to, or back from, somewhere, to grab a quick bite. We just picked a bunch of scrumptious apps and chowed down on those…..including, of course, cheese curds!

glass + griddle

 

One of the most fun places to go in Milwauakee to eat is SafeHouse. I think that I’d describe it as a spy-themed speakeasy. The secret entrance is located in an alley, and once you find it, you need to know the password to get in (don’t worry, you can still enter, but no spoilers how here). Once inside, the restaurant takes the espionage theme very seriously. The staff are all “agents”, and you’re referred to as an agent. If you wanted someone to call you Austin Powers with a straight face, then this is the spot for you. Spy memorabilia and decor fill the walls; the menu is littered with spy references, too.  You can even partake in a scavenger hunt, where you’re encouraged to walk around and find all of the hidden surprises scattered throughout the building.  Stopping by the magic bar is encouraged, because, well, magicians rule, and the one at SafeHouse was really entertaining.  The food was alright, but, as one of Milwaukee’s hot spots, SafeHouse is the type of place where you go to soak in the unique experience.

SafeHouse Milwauakee

A covert photo-op mission completed.

Another unique, diverse food destination that we checked out was the Milwaukee Public Market. This is an indoor food market located downtown, which houses many local vendors who offer a wide range of freshly-produced products. We went during breakfast, so we didn’t get to divulge in some of the tasty looking lunch/dinner options. However, I’ll vouch for the smoothies from On The Bus, the big cookies from C. Adam’s Bakery, the coffee from Anodyne Coffee Roasting Co.  and the breakfast tacos from Margerita Paradise as all being outstanding.

Milwaukee Public Market

Milwaukee Public Market

 

Milwaukee does has lots of more traditional restaurants. Our favorite was Blue’s Egg. From what I’m told, this is a very popular breakfast/brunch joint, so the wait time to get in sometimes can be long. However, we experienced no delay, when we went. The food is American-style, with their own twist on things. The portion sizes were generous, and delicious. The stuffed hash browns came highly recommended, and for good reason! Not only that, but the service, no joke, was the best that I’ve ever had at a restaurant, above and beyond what you’d normally expect.  Blue’s Egg exceeded the hype, for sure.

Blue's Egg

Stuffed hash browns FTW!

 

BEING THERE, SEEING THERE

 

During our trip, we stayed at The Hyatt Place Milwaukee Downtown.    It’s very contemporary, and our room was bright, clean and comfortable. As a basketball fan, I found the subtle hoop themes in the lobby to be especially cool.

You can tell that downtown is experiencing a resurgence, as many buildings and areas are new, or have undergone changes to be more fresh and hip. The best example of this is Fiserv Forum, which I mentioned earlier. It’s the central point of Deer District, a revitalised neighbourhood that is one of the city’s best sports and entertainment destinations (it also happened to be a short stroll away from our hotel).

 

giannis antetokounmpo

Giannis the Greek Freak, larger than life!

Marquette University is also located near downtown, so pockets of neighbourhoods had a youthful buzz about them, if that makes sense.  Harley Davidson’s headquarters are in Milwaukee  (there is even a Harley Davidson Museum, in town),  so, coincidentally or not, I did notice all kinds of different folks cruising along on Harleys.  Alternatively, it appeared that the electric scooter trend has taken the town by storm, as lots of people were zipping around on them.

Travelling around downtown Milwaukee wasn’t too bad, in terms of accessibility. Lots of stuff was withing walking distance, or a short drive (or scooter ride) away. Even getting over to Miller Park can be simplified. Several of the restaurants in the Deer District offered a shuttle bus service to games, where if you go and pre-drink, you can take the bus to the game, and it will pick you up afterwards (for the price of a tip to the driver). We took advantage of this service at The Mecca Sports Bar And Grill.  The best part was that the driver acted as a de facto tour guide along the way, giving us the lowdown on some landmarks, as well as the head’s up on which parts of the city to avoid after dark.

 

THE WRAP UP

Don’t sleep on Milwaukee, my dudes. It’s not just another stereotypical, industrial, Midwestern city. Milwaukee is culturally diverse, artsy, random and eclectic, with a really chill vibe about it.  It’s an unexpectedly vibrant place to check out with the family, full of stuff for you and them to enjoy.

 

 

#visitmke

 

Note: We were hosted by Visit Milwaukee for this trip, and many of the destinations discussed were complimentary in nature to us. All opinions expressed are my own, as always.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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