How to Spend a Girls Weekend in Chicago

With its amazing architecture, good food and wonderful people, a girls weekend in Chicago is the perfect way to spend three days, especially during the summer. I was looking back through previous blog posts recently and I realized that I don’t blog about my favorite city often. I suppose since I live here, I get caught up in the day to day grind and forget how much fun it can be.

So I made a decision – from here forward, I am going to make a conscious effort to post about all of the great things there are to see, do and eat in Chicago. I hope it inspires you to visit and that once you’re here, you will love it as much as I do!

I recently had an opportunity to be a tourist in my own city when my cousin Brittany came to visit. Brittany had been to Chicago before but only briefly so I figured this would be a great chance for me to put my plan into action.

 

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How to Spend a Girls Weekend in Chicago

Friday evening

No girls weekend in Chicago can be complete without checking out some of its amazing restaurants.

On Friday night, we headed to a restaurant I hadn’t been to in a long but really like. We went to Mia Francesca’s, a small Italian restaurant on the north side of the city. The restaurant is usually packed so I recommend getting a reservation if you don’t like long waits. We were able to get right in with our reservation and really enjoyed our meal. One of my favorite parts about Mia Francesca’s is that they don’t rush their diners. We were allowed to relax and catch up while finish our wine over dinner.

Saturday morning

On Saturday morning, we boarded the Red line (the Chicago transit system is known as the CTA and the trains are referred to as the “El”) and headed downtown to the River North neighborhood. I highly recommend taking public transportation when visiting Chicago. Traffic is bad and parking is expensive. The easiest and more economical way to get around town is by taking the train or a bus. The regular fare for the train is $2.50 while the fare for a bus ride is $2.25. They also have bulk passes that you can buy as well. You can find out more here.

Brunch

Our first stop was to find some food. We chose to have brunch at Beatrix. I had been wanting to Beatrix for a while because I had heard lots of good things. I had the steak and eggs with chimichurri sauce…yum!

Architectural Boat Tour

After filling our bellies, we set out for one of my favorite “touristy” things to do in Chicago – an Architectural Boat Tour. This is a great activity for a girls’ weekend in Chicago as well as for a family weekend or a solo trip.

The architecture in Chicago is world class and there is no better way to see it and learn about it than aboard a boat. There are several companies that do these tours. I recommend going with the Chicago Architecture Foundation or Wendella. Go on a tour that goes up and down the river as well as out onto the lake. It takes a bit of time to get through the locks between the river and lake but on the lake is where you will get great skyline views of the city.

Girls Weekend in Chicago
The beautiful Chicago skyline.
Girls Weekend in Chicago
Brittany, me and the Chicago skyline

Admire the Amazing Views

After the architectural boat tour, we stopped by Cindy’s Rooftop to admire the views of Michigan Avenue and Millennium Park….and maybe to get a drink and bathroom break too!

Cindy’s is located on Michigan Avenue across from Millennium Park. The bar is on the 13th floor and has an outdoor patio with amazing views of the park and Lake Michigan. I have been to Cindy’s several times and can attest that the views are spectacular in both the daytime and at night.

There tends to be a line so if you can plan ahead and snag a reservation, I highly recommend it. There was a line when we arrived without a reservation but it went pretty quickly.  The good thing about the line and the crowd control was that the restaurant and patio were not overly crowded. We could stand along the patio railing and admire the views without be shoved or feeling pressured to move on so someone else could take our place.

A view of Millennium Park and "the Bean" from Cindy's Rooftop in downtown Chicago.
A view of Millennium Park and “the Bean” from Cindy’s Rooftop in downtown Chicago.

A Walk in the Park

A quick stop in Millennium Park was next on our agenda. Millennium Park is located along Michigan Avenue on the east side of the loop downtown. It opened in 2004 and covers 24.5 acres. It is the most popular tourist destination in the Midwest USA!

Millennium Park is home to the famous Cloud Gate sculpture (also known as “The Bean”) and the fountains with the faces on it. It also features the Pritzker Pavilion, which hosts free concerts and events throughout the summer (I highly recommend!).

In the winter, the park is home to a couple of ice skating rinks so you can skate while admiring the beautiful city views.

As I expected, the park was VERY crowded but we were able to weave our way through the crowds, see what we wanted to see and snap some photos.

Visit a Museum

To escape the heat and the crowds, we decided to finish our time downtown by exploring the Art Institute of Chicago. The Art Institute of Chicago located just south of Millennium park. It was founded in 1879 and is one of the oldest and largest art museums in the United States. The museum hosts approximately 1.5 million people annually. Its permanent collection has nearly 300,000 works of art and is augmented by more than 30 special exhibitions yearly. In layman terms, it is huge!

We only had an hour and a half or so to explore it before it closed so we only saw a few wings of the museum. We saw lots of interesting and famous art while concurrently enjoying the air conditioning and benches that allowed us to rest our feet when needed (my feet were barking pretty loud by this point in the day!).

Girls Weekend in Chicago
Seen at the Art Institute – Yellow Hickory Leaves with Daisy by Georgia O’Keeffe. This is one of my favorite paintings of the ones we saw. It is so bright and colorful.

Dessert

After dinner on Saturday evening, we went to one of my favorite ice cream parlors in Chicago, Lickity Split. There are two locations – one of the far north side of the city and one on the northwest side of the city. They have great ice cream and lots of candy and sweet treats to choose from. The Tasty Turtle sundae is my favorite thing on their menu.

Sunday

On Sunday, we grabbed a quick breakfast at home and then decided to give our feet a break and spend the day hanging out by Lake Michigan. We walked to one of the beaches on the north side, set up some chairs and spend the rest of the morning and early afternoon enjoying the company, breeze and people watching.

There are beaches all along the lake in Chicago. You can check out the list of them here. The ones closest to downtown, particularly Oak Street Beach and North Avenue Beach, tend to be really crowded, particularly on the weekends. If you are looking for the “scene”, this is where you should go. If you want something quieter, head further north or south from downtown.

And with that, our girls weekend in Chicago came to an end

After spending a few hours at the lake and dipping our toes into the water, our girls weekend in Chicago was over. I had so much fun and was sad to see Brittany go. I hope she had fun too and that she comes back to visit us soon!

You can check out more of my Chicago adventures here.

Four Benefits of Traveling Solo

Most people I interact with regularly know I travel quite a bit by now. The first thing I often get asked is “Where is your next trip?” This usually followed by “Are you going by yourself?”

I will admit that it took me a while to be comfortable answering “yes” to the second question. I used to feel like people were judging me for traveling alone. After doing it for a while now, I have stopped worrying about it though. I am not sure if they stopped judging or if I just don’t care anymore (probably more the latter).

I like to travel solo. I have lived alone for years so why should traveling solo bother me? Of course, there is a limit to that, at least there has been so far. There are some places I have not found the courage to go to alone. Maybe someday though.

After traveling solo on and off since 2011, I have found that there are advantages to traveling solo. In my opinion, here are four benefits of traveling solo.

Four Benefits of Traveling Solo

Benefit 1

I do not have to worry about anyone else. I can sleep in if I want to. I can plan activities or choose to wing it. I do not have to consider anyone else’s preferences or needs.

Benefit 2

I meet so many more people when I travel solo. Even though I am comfortable being alone, I still need interaction with other people, especially during longer trips. In order to make that happen, I have to have courage to walk up to people and introduce myself and start up a conversation. Sometimes this is easy, especially when I am traveling in areas with lots of solo travelers, such as Australia. Other times, this is difficult, such as in Hawaii, when most people are not solo.

Benefit 3

When there are cancellations or changes, it is easier to get a seat on another plane, train or ferry when there is only one person to re-book. I encountered this benefit on the way home from Hawaii last winter, We were late getting into San Francisco and the next flight to Chicago only had one seat available. Because I was solo, I got it.

Benefit 4

It is a confidence booster. It is satisfying for me to plan a trip and then execute it by myself. I have become pretty good at problem solving and troubleshooting issues on my own when traveling. I can usually make decent decisions even when I am in unfamiliar places with people I do not know. I am proud of that ability.

So those are four of the benefits to traveling that I see. If you travel solo, what are the benefits you see to going solo? What do you enjoy most about it? What had been your favorite solo travel experience? I would love to hear the answer to all of these question in the comments below.

If you are ready to book but are not sure where to start, check out 10 Amazing Destinations for Solo Travelers here.

 

Alaska
Alaska – solo 2016
Australia Solo
Australia – solo 2017
Greece
Greece – solo 2014
Hawaii
Maui – solo 2013

 

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A Day in Stettfeld Germany

One of my favorite parts of the trip to Germany was our day in Stettfeld, Germany. While in Stettfeld, we met with extended family currently living there.

The morning we met them, we went to church and then met up with George and his daughter, Annika, who led us to their home. George’s wife, Simone, prepared an amazing meal for us, including the powdered sugared doughy goodness in the photo below. The food was delicious and the company was even better, even though most of the German family didn’t speak English and we did not speak German. It is always interesting how people can still find ways to communicate. In this case, we bonded over beer. 🙂

George and Simone’s son, Andreas was there along with Simone’s parents and her brother. Her brother’s family joined us later on as well. Simone’s dad, Ludwig, used to work at one of the local breweries. He enjoyed explaining the different types of beers he brewed and letting us sample them.

A Day in Stettfeld Germany
All of us from the USA
A Day in Stettfeld Germany
Everyone at the house during our visit (except for me, I took the photo 🙂 )
A Day in Stettfeld Germany
I don’t remember what this was called but it was delicious!
A Day in Stettfeld Germany
Ludwig helping Tim choose a beer from the selection

After lunch, we continued our day in Stettfeld, Germany by walking though the town and then over the the church and cemetery. The town is tiny but it was nice to be out and walking.

The church (pictured below) is where my great great grandmother was baptized. The church balcony included old, wooden, uncomfortable benches and kneelers. Aunt Julie joked that it was where the sinners would sit so I slid on in. I figured it’s where I belonged.

A Day in Stettfeld Germany

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A Day in Stettfeld, Germany
The kneeler for sinners. I belong here. 🙂

 

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Yellow House in Stettfeld Germany
I love buildings with pretty flower boxes in the windows.
Court house
More pretty window boxes.

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a Day in Stettfeld Germany
Just hanging out in the cemetery in Stettfeld

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A Day in Stettfeld Germany
Julie doing research for her book.

The picture below is of an ancient canoe carved from a log. It was inside the Stettfeld courthouse building and was over 200 years old.

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Next up on our journey through Germany? Dachau and Munich. You can check out that post here.

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