Archive for  January 2010

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Chicago Botanic Garden

In my last post, I provided information on some of the great indoor things to do during Chicago’s winter months. While I’d generally advise tourists and Illinois residents alike to avoid outdoor activities in freezing temperatures, there is one spot that should be enjoyed outside, year-round.

The Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe is a 385-acre living plant museum featuring 24 distinct display gardens surrounded by lakes, as well as a prairie and woodlands. It’s my favorite place to visit when I need to get out of the city and enjoy a natural and peaceful environment. (I often go with my mom for long walks or with girlfriends on bike rides.) And while one might think the only suitable time to visit the Garden is in spring, summer, or fall, I strongly suggest a visit during winter months as well.

“Even though the branches are bare and there is snow on the ground, the Garden is a beautiful place in winter,” says Jodi Zombolo, Director of Visitor Events & Programs. “From the warmth of the tropical greenhouse to the exhilarating rush of snowshoeing on fresh fallen snow to the introspective exploration of an art exhibition, the Garden is a destination worth visiting.”

Throughout the year, the Chicago Botanic Garden holds events, programs, and activities for all ages. Whether you’re interested in plant science, gardening, cooking, exercise, or art, there is definitely something for you.

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Chicago Skyline

When you plan your vacations for the winter, I’m guessing most of you think of going south. Think twice before fleeing the Midwest when planning your next winter getaway. Did you know that Chicago is actually one of the best places to be in the winter? The lights, the snow, the partially frozen lake – it’s all very beautiful.

Besides the loveliness, winter is an ideal time to visit Chicago, or any other area of Illinois. Here’s why:

  1. Travel deals are incredible in the winter months.
  2. Fewer tourists = more room for you = less waiting in line.
  3. You can brag to your friends that you had a true Chicago experience by braving the winter weather.

Harris Theater

Still don’t believe me? A few weeks ago, I saw a performance of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago at the Harris Theater. Visiting the Harris Theater was an experience of its own. Its modern architecture and design is unlike any other theater I’ve been to, with neon lights running throughout the building, and an auditorium that actually sits underground. It was the perfect setting for Hubbard Street’s modern and abstract performance. As a former recreational dancer, I thoroughly enjoyed the show; but my rhythmically-challenged mother (Mom, I apologize if you’re reading this) enjoyed it just as much as I did, if not more.  It was a perfect and warm way to enjoy a piece of Chicago arts and culture.

If you plan on visiting during winter season, I can assure you that your options are endless. Here are some other great (indoor) things to do in Chicago during the winter months:

Art Institute of Chicago

Buddy Guy’s Legends

Shedd Aquarium

Chicago Children’s Museum

Water Tower Place

Chicago History Museum

Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Chicago Theater

Willis Tower Sky deck

Hancock Observatory

Chicago Symphony Orchestra

House of Blues

American Girl Place

Second City

Museum of Science and Industry

Goodman Theater

Museum of Contemporary Art

Harris Theater for Performance and Dance

Field Museum

Lyric Opera of Chicago

Adler Planetarium & Museum

United Center

– Claire Prendergast

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Boutique stores are just a short train ride from downtown

Taking a vacation to Chicago can be a bit overwhelming, especially for a first-timer. There are so many things to do – theaters, museums, parks, restaurants, sporting events, shopping; I could go on for a long time. One of my favorite things about the city is the different neighborhoods. Each offers it’s own vibe – I know that if I want to go to cheap dive bars I should head towards Ukrainian Village (Club Foot and Innertown Pub are among my favorites), if I want upscale dining, River North has a lot of options (try Tizi Melloul and Cyrano’s Bistrot), outdoor activities? Lincoln Park has great outdoor space for just about anything (if Lincoln Park is packed, try Oz Park).

One thing all of the neighborhoods have in common, however, is great shopping. A lot of tourists stick to the Magnificent Mile when they visit the Windy City and while the mile truly is magnificent, to find more unique locally-owned shops your best bet is to head off the beaten path. Last summer we sat down with Danielle Lutz, owner of Chicago Shopwalk, and she gave us a great overview of shopping in Chicago.


In the upcoming weeks we’ll share with you the rest of the videos in the series – each taking an in-depth look at a particular neighborhood’s shopping scene.

– Katie Olson

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Cheap Thrills

Internet, we all know that Chicago is the greatest city in the world. We have excellent opportunities for FREE fun every day, and we are grateful for it. As you spend this week, going to venue to venue, loving every second of all the wonderful amenities our city offers, please take note of how much money you haven’t spent. Please, consider donating that money to relief efforts in Haiti. Chicago is, after all, the City of Big Shoulders, and our neighbor to the south could really use a shoulder right now.

Sunday, January 17

In the mood for a little music, but not sure what, exactly, will groove you? Today you have a choice! The Civic Orchestra of Chicago, at the Symphony Center, will be playing an 85th birthday tribute to Pierre Boulez, along with three works by Webern and the slow movement (Adagio) from Mahler’s Symphony No. 10. Tickets are free, but required, and the performance begins at 3PM.

Classical not your bag? Then lucky for you that Chicago Public Radio is hosting their own tribute! The 2nd Annual Winter Block Party for Chicago’s Hip-Hop Artists takes place at the Victory Gardens Biograph Theatre.  The full-day event includes a film screening, live performances, and open mics from 11 am – 6 pm.  The Victory Gardens Biograph Theatre is located at 2433 N. Lincoln Avenue.

Monday, January 18

It’s Martin Luther King Day, and what better place to celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. King than at the Chicago History Museum? There will be musical performances by the Chicago Chamber Choir, craft activities and more along with free admission to the museum from 10AM to 2PM.

Tuesday, January 19

Part artist exhibition, part variety show, Tuesday Evenings in the Café is a great way to wind the day down. January’s evnt will be curated by No Coast, a multi-use art studio, consignment store, and performance space dedicated to creating a nurturing, open and collaborative community environment. The Museum of Contemporary Art is free on Tuesday and the event begins at 6PM.

Wednesday, January 20

Spend your lunch hour deepening your appreciation of Chicago’s famous architecture. The next CAF Lunchtime Lecture will explore two groundbreaking Chicago sustainable design projects: the Yannell Net Zero Energy Residence, which produces more energy than it uses and the Shaw Technology and Learning Center, a rehabilitated Sears, Roebuck & Co. power plant in the Lawndale neighborhood, and houses a new sustainable public charter high school. The lecture begins at noon at the Chicago Architecture Foundation.

Thursday, January 21

Community free days are HAPPY HAPPY HAPPY days, and Shedd’s giving us a whole week of them! All original galleries are free, and there will be discounts on passes to the Oceanarium and Fantasea aquatics show. Now, go check out the fish!

Friday, January 22

Some say TGIF, me? I say hooray – its Music Without Borders day! This week’s installment of the popular series features Flamenco music performed by Las Guitarras de España, and will highlight the stunningly beautiful Spanish guitar. The program begins at 12:15 at the Chicago Cultural Center.

Saturday, January 23

It may be hard to believe, but warm days are, in fact, on the horizon. Get a sneak peek at spring at the Lincoln Park Conservatory’s Spring Flower Show. Not only will the annual show will warm your spirit on these cold, dark days, it will also give you a history lesson: The direct descendents of the great Azaleas that once bloomed at the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 will be on display.

– Shannon Sankstone

Click here to read more posts from Shannon.


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Downtown Bloomington, photo by Chauncey Davis

If you were tasked with assembling an all-star team of restaurants in your area, what would that team look like? What’s the go-to breakfast joint? Or how about that lunch spot that delivers in the clutch, every single time? And dinner? If I’m living in the Bloomington-Normal area, here’s my juggernaut of a lineup:

Coffeehouse & Deli
114 E. Beaufort St.
Normal, IL

This is the coolest place in uptown Normal. I’m selecting it as my breakfast joint, but it’s a great place to chill at any time. It has a substantial selection of coffees from around the world and serves breakfast all day in addition to the lunch and dinner specials. Plus, the atmosphere is really unique and is a great fit for group meetings, or just one-on-one chats.

305 N. Veterans Pkwy., Ste 107
Bloomington, IL

Meatheads is a small Illinois chain with locations in Bloomington, Naperville and Northrbook. It also happens to be home to some of my absolute favorite burgers and fries. In fact, I’ll go as far as to say it’s my favorite lunch spot – anywhere. The service is speedy and in no way compromises the presentation and more importantly, taste, of the burger. I’ve never had a burger there that doesn’t look commercial-ready, and it tastes better than it looks. That, combined with some Cajun fries and their zesty cheese sauce, makes for the ultimate lunch. The sub-$10 bill takes it to a whole new level.

Reality Bites
414 N. Main St.
Bloomington, IL

There aren’t a ton of tapas places in central Illinois, so it helps that this is a good one. The menu isn’t huge, but what’s on it is great. I’m especially a fan of the hot plates. The Queso Fundido (tortilla chips, pico de gallo, guacamole and baked beer cheese with chorizo and melted chihuahua cheese) is stellar, as is the spinach artichoke dip. It’s definitely my favorite dinner date in Bloomington-Normal, especially if I’m in the getting-to-know-you stage. It’s casual but classy, modern but not over-the-top, and it gives you a chance to share a variety of dishes at a reasonable price. The drink selections are outstanding, too.

So, what does your all-star restaurant team look like?

— Nick Nottoli

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