For most of my life, I’ve considered myself a country girl. Not a cowboy boots and twangy music kind of country girl, but the kind who prefers tall trees over tall buildings and wide open spaces over crowded city streets. But something has shifted over the last few years and I now find myself appreciating the energy, culture, and opportunities of cities more than ever. Big cities are not always easy to visit by RV though, and when we started talking traveling across the country by train with a stop in Chicago I immediately suggested that we stay a few days.
So we did! Tim took some time off work and for three and half days we roamed the streets, stuffed ourselves with incredible food, visited museums, and enjoyed the luxury of a hotel room where the shower was bigger than the entire bathroom in our RV.
In the past, we’ve sometimes struggled when exploring cities. We get overwhelmed by how much there is to see and feel like we’re either missing out on a lot or trying to cram in too much. This time it was different and I think we found a great balance between planned activities and just general wandering. I had done some research ahead of time and picked out a few museums that I thought we would like, but other than that we took it day by day and sometimes hour by hour. We didn’t buy tickets to see any shows or make any restaurant reservations which might mean that we missed out on some things, but it also meant that we could relax and feel like this was truly a mini-vacation.
I guess it should come as no surprise that one of the best aspects of spending a few days in the city was the food options! I really like to cook at home and thought I would get sick of eating out for three meals a day, but with so many different choices we never got bored. Each day started with a complimentary breakfast at the hotel.
Followed by a light lunch after some walking around, visiting museums, or that one day when we simply hung out at the hotel all morning enjoying the view and extra space. Normally we don’t eat lunch out because we rarely want a sit-down meal at that time of day, and all the quick options are so unhealthy. But in Chicago, we had no problem finding tasty, healthy & quick lunch options. Our favorite was a place called the LiteHouse Whole Food Grill in the Hyde Park neighboorhood near the Museum of Science and Industry. The healthy Sweetgreen salad chain came in at a close second favorite.
For dinners, we stuck with places only a block or two from the hotel. Not necessarily because we didn’t want to venture farther out, but because there were so many options nearby that we simply didn’t feel the need to go anywhere else. We were also attempting to get in as much walking as possible without completely freezing (it should come as no surprise that Chicago is COLD in December) so the closer the better. The first night we warmed ourselves with noodles at Ramen San.
The second night we shared a harvest salad and delicious thin crust pizza (none of that weird deep dish stuff for us) at the Siena Tavern, the third night innovative Mexican at Frontera Grill and the final night some unforgettable BBQ at a place whose name wasn’t even worth remembering. We did a good job avoiding crowds and the need for reservations by eating out early, or in the case of the Siena Tavern, sitting at the bar instead of waiting for a table.
Other things we ate and drank at non-meal times were a spicy hummus appetizer during happy hour at the Meditteranean restaurant in our hotel, fun drinks at a tiki bar called Three Dots and a Dash, and decadent pastries from a hipster donut place called Firecakes located just around the corner from our hotel. While I would never consider eating a donut for breakfast, apparently I’m okay with stuffing them in my face after dinner and a few drinks.
When we weren’t eating and drinking all that the city had to offer, we did a lot of walking both on the streets and around a few museums. The first museum we visited was the Museum of Science and Industry.
We knew ahead of time that this museum was at least somewhat geared towards kids, which is fine with us, but we didn’t know that it would also be FULL of kids. I think every elementary school in the city must have had a field trip scheduled that day. Just like when we encounter crowds at national parks, I’m always happy to see people and kids out enjoying nature/exploring museums, but it also somewhat takes away from our own enjoyment.
Out second museum visit was the Museum of Contemporary Art. We debated between this one and the Art Institute, but in the end, decided a smaller more focused museum fit our mood for the day. It was everything you hope for in modern art museum — bizarre, interesting, and sometimes confusing.
Despite the cold and wind, we bypassed more indoor museums in favor of randomly walking around the city for the rest of our stay. We saw the holiday windows at Macy’s, tons of buildings and trees decorated for the season, a group of hearty ice skaters, the German Christkindlmarket, and of course, the famous Chicago Bean (otherwise known as Cloud Gate).
At the end of our stay, we vowed to come back during the summer when we could spend more time outside, visit more museums, and of course eat more delicious food!