Explore Chicago - highlights & recommendations

Oh Chicago, how I miss you and all of your killer restaurants, and incredible views, and endless shops, museums, art galleries and more.  You truly are a gem.

So in early November, I took off for Chicago with one of my besties, Breanne, to visit her little bro (and basically mine too...haha) Mitch, who is attending school out there.  We were there for nearly a week, and had the most wonderful time eating, walking, exploring, and taking in as much of the city as we could.  We crashed on the couch/floor of absolutely the sweetest girls that Mitch goes to school with, and it was such a blessing to have such convenient accommodation, as well as lovely hosts that made us feel so welcome and gave us so many great recommendations.

Now, be prepared for a very, very picture heavy post!  Scroll all the way to the bottom to see my recs of things to do and where to eat!

To be 100% honest, I had no idea what to expect from Chicago!  I definitely wasn't expecting it to be as amazing as it was, and I would highly recommend visiting if you ever get the chance!  There's so much life, history, culture, beautiful views, and of course....so many crazy good restaurants!

P.S.  You deserve a huge high-five if you manage to scroll through all the pictures and get to the bottom! :P

Things to do:

A Lake and River Tour - This was probably my favourite thing we did in Chicago!  The boat tour started on the river, and then went out onto Lake Michigan.  What stunning views!  And all the while, our hilarious tour guide shared entertaining tidbits about the history and architecture of Chicago.  So educational and fun.  It's also one of the coolest ways to really check out the city, and see its spectacular skyline.  (We went on Wendella's boat tour, and it was fabulous!)

The Art Institute of Chicago - Whoa...this place blew my mind!  Honestly, you could explore this place for an entire week and still probably not see everything.  We only spent a couple of hours here, and it was so incredible.  There are so many different types of art here too...not just paintings.  Suits of armour, weapons, furniture, tapestries, sculptures, and our favourite....miniature rooms showcasing different European and American interiors from the late 13th century to the 1930s.  The Institute is definitely a must-see!

John Hancock Center Signature Lounge - Now, Chicago is home to some of the world's tallest buildings, and the John Hancock Center is currently sitting in 7th place.  Instead of visiting the observatory in the building, we were told to visit the Lounge instead.  You just order an overpriced drink, and then can enjoy the view of the city from the 95th floor.  The best tip we received from anyone was that the women's bathroom had the best view in the house...and it was true!  All of my best pictures were taken out the bathroom window, and it was pretty spectacular.  This was a very cool experience, and we even ended up having drinks with a random Aussie who was travelling the world!  Haha.  I'd say it was one of our highlights to see Chicago from so high, and extra cool that we were able to see the sunset while we were up there too!

Lincoln Park Conservatory -  I am such a plant nerd, and absolutely loved checking out this conservatory.  So many different kinds of plants!  It's a beautiful spot to check out, and did I mention it's free?  It's also located in a nice area that was so pretty to walk around in as well.

Lakefront trail - This is an obvious one.  You must take a walk (or rent a bike) and checkout this trail along Lake Michigan, and take in the vast beauty of the water!  Seriously it looks like the ocean, and is a breathtaking teal colour.

Millennium Park -  Here is where you'll find The Bean!  The official name of the sculpture is Cloud Gate, and it's fun to be a bit touristy and grab a few fun photos in it's reflection.  Millennium Park also is home to other exhibits and events, especially in Summer.

Wicker Park - Such a great area for shopping that isn't so "fancy" as downtown.  Lots of quirky shops and so many taco places here!  Hipsters take note...this is the spot to be.

The Magnificent Mile - Ahh...the Magnificent Mile.  It's real name is North Michigan Avenue, and it's a main street that goes through downtown Chicago.  There is so much going on here!  Shops, hotels, restaurants...it's pretty nuts.  There are so many fancy shops, giant malls, and neat buildings everywhere along the Magnificent Mile.  Definitely something to experience!

Wrigleyville & Wrigley Field (and nearby Southport Ave.) - Obviously if you're a baseball fan you'll want to check out Wrigley Field.  Me, not so much.  But Wrigleyville was neat to walk through, and we grabbed ice cream at Jenis which is just a few streets over on Southport Ave in Lake View.  There's some good shopping along Southport too.

Paper Source -  Such a dangerous place for my wallet!  Haha.  This shop was full to the brim with cute cards, craft items, books, calendars, notebooks, etc.  Basically stationery heaven.

Places to Eat:

Au Cheval -  Oh my word.  So Mitch told me that Au Cheval's burger was named "best in the country"....so I went into this restaurant with quite high expectations.  Let's just say that I was not disappointed!  It was ridiculously good!  Be sure to order it "Au Cheval style" with a fried egg on top.  Don't question it...just do it!

Velvet Taco - I could have eaten here every night....enough said.  So many different and fun tacos here!  Their tator tots were the bomb, and came with goat cheese, avocado crema, smoked cheddar, bacon and a fried egg on top!  Too funny.  This place has the coolest vibe, and such a neat interior.  Wonderful service here as well!

Little Goat Diner -  So there's a chef in Chicago that owns a few restaurants with similar names.  Little Goat Diner, Girl and Goat (a fancier restaurant), and Little Goat Bakery.  We visited the diner for lunch, and it was ridiculously awesome.  Amazingly fresh, beautiful interior, and overall just a great experience.  Definitely recommend this one!

Big and Little's - First place we ate when we landed in Chicago, and it was the perfect welcome to Chicago.  This diner isn't fancy at all, and the prices are cheap.  Definitely get the Samurai taco if you ever go!  So good.

Lou Malanti's - Hello Deep Dish pizza!  Man, deep dish is intense!  I'm honestly more a thin crust kind of a girl, but this was still such a fun Chicago experience.
(Also, Gino's East was recommended to us....but we didn't get a chance to go!  Apparently you're either a fan of one or the other depending on how you prefer your sauce and crusts!)

Yolk - Fun little breakfast place with generous portions.  They had so many fun twists on your classic breakfast items, and the service was great too!

Intelligentsia - Ahh...so I'm not a coffee person, but I can tell you that their hot chocolate was delish.  Haha.  I've been told that it's a pretty big name in the world of coffee snobs, and it was pretty neat place to hang out.

Jenis Splendid Ice Cream - So many fun flavours here, it was so hard to choose which ones to get!  I definitely taste-tested several different kinds here...haha.  Such a cute spot, and ice cream is always a win in my book.

Stan's Donuts - Solid doughnuts here, and a cute '50s diner vibe inside!  This place had the biggest selection, as well as gluten free options.

Glazed and Infused - Mmmhhh....we tried a bacon doughnut and a pumpkin spice doughnut here.  Both were so yummy!  We got here a bit late, so there weren't too many flavours left, but it was a 2-for-1 day...so we were happy customers!  Also, how cute is their name?

Firecakes - Oh man...we didn't even get to visit Firecakes even though it was on our list, but one of our sweet hosts brought home doughnuts so that we could try them.  I can tell you that their pistachio doughnut is A+++.

Doughnut Vault - Probably my favourite place of all the doughnut shops we visited.  First of all, it's located in an old bank vault...that's a win already.  They only had a few different kinds of doughnuts for sale, but they did them all to perfection.  I think their Chestnut glaze might be my favourite of the trip (it was also the size of my face!)....although their buttermilk old fashioned was pretty close (I kind of like a bit of a crunchy outside on my doughnuts).  This place also sells out incredibly fast...like an hour or two after opening, so if you want to check it out, get there early!

So, there you have it!  A mini guide to Chicago!  Well, maybe not so mini....but I know there are so many rad places that we didn't get to see, so a true guide would be more extensive. Ha! 
Anyway, Chicago is such a wonderful city, and somewhere that would be lovely to visit over and over again.

Please let me know if you have any questions about any of the pictures above, or anything else.

Happy travelling!