“When the daylight breaks through the buildings of Chicago, I will stand alone in the valley of tomorrow.” -Needtobreathe
A beautiful lyric from Needtobreathe’s song “Valley of Tomorrow” played on repeat in my mind as I walked for the first time up and down the streets of downtown Chicago last week. I’ve always loved that song and even though it mentions being alone, in my mind it makes me think of someone standing out in a crowd, not standing alone. That thought mixed with golden light peering through magnificent buildings somehow made the idea of Chicago even more appealing to me. I’d been wanting to visit for a while, and a work opportunity came up that allowed me to stay an extra couple of days after my photo sessions at Northwestern University.
During my stay, I decided to get the full Chicago experience: I stayed in a private garden apartment in Pilsen that I found through Airbnb, ate Giordano’s stuffed deep dish pizza, and walked the famous Magnificent Mile – just to name a few things.
As a native small town Texas girl, I was way too excited about taking the ‘L’ train (trains in West Texas transport cows and grain, not people) from my apartment in Pilsen to downtown on Tuesday. What ended up happening was that I waited for an hour at the wrong station (I guess I was at the Amtrack station, I don’t really know) and I got tired of waiting so I decided to walk downtown from the Lower West Side. By the end of the day I reached Navy Pier and had walked 12 miles! Needless to say, I took a Lyft back to Pilsen that night. Before my tired and happy ride back to the garden flat, I had managed to visit Cloud Gate (The Bean), Grant Park, Millennium Park, Intelligentsia Coffee, Navy Pier, and everything else along those walking paths.
On Wednesday, I started my day at a decent hour and had an iced dirty chai and a blueberry scone for breakfast at Cafe Jumping Bean in Pilsen. The cafe is one of the best in the city according to several travel reviews and is nestled in such a delightful little neighborhood full of culture and bright colors. I’m a sucker for street art, and this neighborhood is rich in beautiful wall murals decorating old buildings that boast some very impressive architecture. Shortly after breakfast, I made the quick drive up to Wrigleyville with the sole purpose of taking a selfie in front of historic Wrigley Field (because, why not?). Although the field is under construction being quickly prepared for upcoming opening day, it was still beautiful in all it’s American pastime glory.
Now, let me backtrack slightly to Navy Pier. I’ve heard about it being a tourist trap, and maybe it is – I don’t doubt that most locals probably avoid it – but I thought it was fantastic. It offers an incredible view of the city if you walk to the end of the pier, especially at sunset. There are a couple of tourist shops and food joints, as well as a lovely and large ferris wheel, the Chicago Children’s Museum, an IMAX theatre, and even a Shakespeare theatre.
A less popular Chicago attraction is the Route 66 sign(s). For me though, this was a no brainer because of my dream to someday travel what’s left of the Mother Road in an Airstream trailer, and also because I was born on Route 66 (almost literally) in Amarillo, TX. The Route in Chicago has a beginning and an ending sign because each side is a one way street that runs toward and away from Millennium Park. Down the block at the train stop, there is a larger and more colorful sign representing the state of Illinois. For those that don’t know much about the Route, it runs from Chicago to L.A. and cuts through some of the most amazing scenery in the country. Many parts of it no longer exist and it has been largely replaced by Interstate 40 from Oklahoma City to Los Angeles section, though most towns along it’s path have worked hard to preserve it’s Americana vibe and significant history. It’s the reason diners, drive-ins, muscle cars, and neon signs entered our world in the 50’s and 60’s. This is a cool Chicago photo-op for the nostalgic and vintage-souled traveler.
My last night in the city, I stayed at the Warwick Allerton Hotel just down the block from the John Hancock Tower and Water Works. This boutique skyscraper hotel was both antique and chic, and it’s first floor is home to a handful of shops such as Disney, Stuart Weitzman, and Brooks Brothers. Across the street and down the block are the Apple Store, Tiffany & Co., and H&M. I got a wonderful deal through Hotwire and was able to stay in downtown Chicago for a fairly decent price. The only bad thing? Parking. It cost me almost as much to park my car overnight as it did to secure a hotel room. It was only one night though, so I sucked it up and enjoyed my stay and the gorgeous view from the 15th floor.
Unfortunately, I was unable to do everything that I wanted to do during my stay in Chicago as it is impossible to do it all in only two days, but I covered significant ground walking (22 total miles to be exact) and I enjoyed every minute. Although, I am still physically recovering from all of that walking as I write this blog post 3 days later. Based on my experience I want to share with you my Seven Wonders of Chicago and I hope that you get to visit and find your own Seven Wonders!
My list of Chicago’s Seven Wonders:
7. Pilsen Neighborhood
6. Magnificent Mile
5. Millenium Park/Cloud Gate
4. Route 66 Beginning/End
3. Intelligentsia Coffee
2. Navy Pier