Have you ever noticed the fierce loyalty that most Midwesterners show when you bring up Chicago? As it turned out, I had to agree with Sinatra and found it to be “My Kind of Town,” as well: world-class hotels, museums, restaurants, and shopping, all close together in an elegant lakefront location.
As I was preparing for this visit, I was struck by the great museums the city had to offer and their locations along the shores of Lake Michigan. The Art Institute of Chicago, also known as ARTIC, sits in the heart of Grant Park and just several blocks south of the Chicago River. This large, historic facility is one of the great art museums in the world. I was most taken with the Impressionist Wing, where the collection rivals the Louvre in Paris. Some of the most famous works of Monet, Renoir, Van Gogh, Cézanne, Degas, Gauguin, Pissarro, and Toulouse-Lautrec are all on display. Art lovers could easily spend the entire day here, and they have a great café for lunch. Check out artic.edu to prepare for your visit.
The Museum of Science and Industry is just as interesting and perfect if you have children along. The stimulation of the mind takes multiple paths here. In the Science Storms exhibit, you get to feel the physics and explore the chemistry of natural phenomena such as tornadoes and avalanches. There is a Smart Home Tour, and they even have a complete German U-boat on display. The size and scope of this museum is almost hard to comprehend, and you will need at least the better part of a day to do it justice. They also have an upscale café when your group gets hungry. Make sure to visit MSIChicago.org to organize this visit.
On this first visit, we spent a lot of our time on “The Magnificent Mile” along Michigan Avenue. It would be hard to beat the location that the Intercontinental Chicago enjoys. Set in the heart of the famed shopping district, its neighbor is the historic Tribune Tower with the Chicago River just a block or two further. The Tribune building is just one of many Gothic landmarks paying tribute to business empires started here more than a hundred years ago.
The Intercontinental Chicago itself is a historic structure and features a very unique and exciting lobby area. Guests step in off busy Michigan Avenue to a large marble rotunda that leads to multiple restaurant options as well as guest services. Other unique features include a junior Olympic-size indoor pool and multilevel fitness center. Rooms have been continually updated to fit the needs of the modern-day traveler. Just out the front door is every shopping option known to man and a few more. For further details, visit ICChicagoHotel.com.
For those in search of even more luxury, I would suggest The Ritz Carlton operated by Four Seasons just several blocks to the north and still right in the heart of “The Magnificent Mile.” The low-key entry disguises the elegance waiting as guests take an elevator to the 12th-floor lobby area. Here they are greeted with a multilevel lounge and restaurant in an atrium setting. The floor-to-ceiling windows offer panoramic vistas of Lake Michigan and the bustling city life. All the rooms are located above the 12th floor and offer more spectacular vistas. Even if you were not staying here, I would suggest eating at the elegant but not overly priced deca Restaurant, which looks out over the atrium lobby area, including its eye-catching fountain. Go to FourSeasons.com/chicagorc/ for complete information.
US Airways seems to have the best routing from Santa Barbara Airport to Chicago, connecting in Phoenix. If you go on United, you will stop at LAX for the nonstop from there. Most West Coast travelers fly into O’Hare airport, but the other option, Midway International, is actually closer to downtown. There’s no need for a rental car here as most everything you will want to do is either within walking distance or just a short cab drive away. Once again, I would look into ExecuCar.com for your transportation to and from the airport.