Road Trip to Chicago Day TWO – Around Millennium Park

This post is an additional post to the Road Trip to Chicago From Toronto – Four Day Itinerary.

Day Two focuses on what we did in and around Millennium Park for the day:

  • 10:00 AM – Good morning! Let’s wake up, find breakfast, and shower!
  • 12:00 PM – Walk to the Millennium Park then head across to Maggie Daley’s Play Garden located just North of the Millennium Park
  • 2:00 PM – Walk to Buckingham Fountain
  • 3:00 PM – Eat at Halal Guys
  • 4:00 PM – Arrive at the Navy Pier and purchase tickets for River Architecture Tour (6:30 PM)
  • 8:50 PM – Deep Dish Pizza at Giordano’s Pizza
  • 10:00 PM – Arrive at John Hancock Tower and purchase CityPass
  • 10:30 PM – Signature Lounge (views + drinks)
  • 12:00am – That’s a wrap for Day Two in Chicago!

Day Two – Exploring Millennium Park, Grant Park, Navy Pier, and Cruising with the River Architecture Tour

Millennium Park

This day was sight-seeing all the gorgeous views that the lake shore of Chicago had to offer. We didn’t officially start touring Chicago until noon because of the turtle racing (upcoming post!) last night. Also, we thought that the CityPASS was only good for one day. We decided against purchasing and using the CityPASS for today since most attractions closes by 5:00 PM. Turns out the CityPASS is valid for five days instead of just one – but we didn’t read the fine print until after we purchased it. Oops!

****Maria’s Tip – Double-check tourist passes so you know the hours of operation for attractions AND how long your tourist pass is valid for!****

We decided to take advantage of the beautiful afternoon weather and toured the Millennium Park, and Grant Park instead. Both are significantly large enough that you could spend a whole sunny afternoon enjoying the Chicago skyline views at either park. But we needed to see as much as we could and walked both!

Millenium Monument at the Wrigley Square
Millenium Monument at the Wrigley Square PC: Wikipedia

The Millennium Park, is best known for the Cloud Gate, but there are a lot of other great features in here too including the Wrigley Square (which was unfortunately under construction when we visited so we didn’t take a photo)  which contains the beautiful Millennium Monument.

Jay Pritzker Pavilion at the Millennium Park
Jay Pritzker Pavilion and its beautiful lawn is not always open to the public.

The center of the park has a vast stadium known as the Jay Pritzker Pavilion – beautiful to look at and I yearn to sit on its grass – too bad it wasn’t open to the public except for special events.

Grant Park

Maggie Daley Park

The Enchanted Forest beside the Play Garden in Grant Park
The Enchanted Forest beside the Play Garden in Grant Park

Once you’re done with Millennium Park, head north to the North-Western-most part of Grant Park, known as the Maggie Daley Park. The Maggie Daley Park is broken down into a number of areas and includes a skate rink, a play garden for children, a rock climbing area, a water park, and many other activities that you can find on their website here.

For Angelo and I, we were dazzled by the Play Garden, the massive park dedicated to children ages 5-12. The Enchanted Forest directly beside it had a lovely outdoor mirror park and an unusually large round table pictured above. If you can’t tell, we had a blast with these ‘meant-for-kids’ structures.  It really is a great place to bring children to, but can also be equally enjoyed by adults (from personal experience).

Buckingham Fountain

Moving on East, we headed towards the Buckingham Fountain. The Buckingham Fountain is one of the world’s largest fountains and from what local Chicagoans have told us, the Buckingham Fountain has a beautiful light show from dusk to 10:00 PM every night. Unfortunately for us, the fountain was not operating when we arrived so we couldn’t catch either the water show or the light show.

Chicago View from Empty Columbus  Drive
Chicago View from Empty Columbus Drive PC: Angelo Manalac
Behind the scenes of the empty Chicago Street photo

Although we were let down by the lack of water at the Buckingham Fountain, the Polish Constitution Day Parade was finishing up its celebrations on Columbus Drive. This gave us the unique opportunity to explore Chicago away from the sidewalks and in the middle of the road. As a photographer, an empty main street with a beautiful city skyline is an irresistible opportunity that can’t be passed. If you squint into the distance in our black and white photo of the Columbus Drive, you can see that the road was opening up and that cars were about to approach us! Ten seconds after this was taken, we had to scurry back to the sidewalks!

Outskirts of Millennium Park

Halal Guys (Around Millennium Park)

Halal Guys, commonly known as Chicken and Rice actually originated as a food truck on 53rd and 6th street in New York. Its known for its chicken and gyro food platter. This dish emits a pleasant and warmly spiced odor with a tangy white sauce that closely resembles mayo. I had the lucky opportunity to live in New York for four months during an intern stint and instantly fell in love with the delicious street food fare. Halal Guys expanded and opened its first walk-in store in Chicago in 2015. Since then, I’ve been eager to give the Chicago joint a try.

Although Halal Guys recently opened a restaurant in Toronto (May 2017), my heart was set on trying Chicago’s version first. Perhaps it was too long since I’ve eaten the chicken and gyro food platter, but it was not as delicious as I recalled. I blame this kind of letdown to our brains. Like the distant memories of our grade school desks, our brains remember certain things larger and brighter than it really was. Maybe this was one of those times? I think this calls for a trip back to New York for a better comparison.

What it lacks in remembered flavor, the N Wabash Avenue Halal Guys location makes up with comfortable seats and desserts. This storefront shares its space with a delightful coffee shop. We saw many people share a Chicken and Rice platter and then head directly to the coffee shop to purchase a large large slice of Red Velvet cake.

Navy Pier and the River Architecture Cruise

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Navy Pier is where you go if you want the iconic view of the Ferris Wheel with the Chicago skyline. In the evening, it makes for a great sunset view, especially when sitting outside on the surrounding patios. The Navy Pier is also where you can purchase the Chicago River Architecture Cruise. It is amazing and highly informative. One of our top highlights of the trip. You sit on a flat cruise ship with a tour guide that lists the history of Chicago, why the buildings were built a certain way, and how Chicago’s buildings changed over time. It is a cruise that lasts 75 minutes, so be sure to bring a jacket to keep you warm!

River Cruise Architecture Tour ViewsRiver Cruise Architecture Tour Views PC: Angelo Manalac

When we go on trips, there’s always an urgency to visit the major buildings and attractions. It is very easy to forget that a city’s history isn’t always found in one building, but in the buildings that make up the city. The River Architecture Cruise gave us the opportunity to glimpse into Chicago’s re-birth, the engineering marvels and clever solutions used to sustain and grow a city. While it doesn’t have the romantic notion and depth of history of the Roman Empire, every American city has its own amazing and unique story to tell and I was really glad that we had a wonderful guide take the time and teach us about what we could have missed.

We’re going to be writing an upcoming blog post about our experience with the architecture cruise tour. Stay tuned! (upcoming blog post!)

 City Center

The night concluded around the downtown core of Chicago with pizza at Giordano’s. We called it a night after we had a drink at at the Signature Lounge on the 96th floor of the John Hancock building.

Giordano’s

Deep Dish Pizza Love at Giordano’s

As with all weekends in any busy city, popular restaurants have long wait times. Giordano’s was no exception on a Saturday evening. We weren’t seated until another hour after we arrived.

Although we already had Lou Malnati’s deep dish pizza the night before, Angelo really wanted to have Giordano’s. You can really see the carnal excitement from Angelo as he readies his body for another night of gooey goodness. After a long day of walking, this definitely hits the spot! We probably gained a little extra weight from this dish!

Quick shout-out to our waiter who was kind enough to take this Instax photo! Despite his nervousness about messing up the ‘one shot’, it came out great in the end! I hate to admit it, but this picture makes for a better story than the standard ‘couple-smiling-with-food’ photo that I initially wanted.

We’ll be writing an upcoming post on how the two deep dish pizzas compared! 

 Signature Lounge at the 96th

Views from the Bathroom

Maria, you need to go into the washroom on the 96th lounge and tell me all about it!

Ahhh the Signature Lounge at the 96th. Somebody was lurking on reddit for far too long and mentioned that the view from the lady’s bathroom was amazing. So at 11:30 PM, we dutifully waited in line to go up the John Hancock building so that I could report back on the #viewsfromthebathroom.

On a side note, it was around this time that we actually purchased our CityPASS and realized that they could be used across five days….

Anyway, returning back to the Signature Lounge. There were lines everywhere. We had to wait in line to get on the elevator, then wait in line to get seated at the lounge, and of course wait in line in the women’s bathroom for a picture. The bathroom itself is a standard cubicle bathroom, with the cubicle doors facing the windows so that as you finish your business, you get to view the full glory of Chicago’s skyline up close and personal.

Was it nice? Yes! It was quite a view to see, and after touring the rest of the lounge, it for some reason provided the nicest view of Chicago too. Unfortunately for you, I was too shy to pull open my phone and take a camera in the bathroom. The windows were so *squeaky clean* that you could see the reflection of the cubicles behind you. D: So unfortunately,  you ladies need to visit the bathroom yourself to see it.

…. Alternatively you could go up to the 100th floor for the 360 view and see something similar without the bathroom aspect 🙂

Getting a Window Seat

Night view from the Signature Lounge

The Signature Lounge itself is a floor with floor to ceiling windows to provide the optimal view of Chicago from all four sides of the building. At this lounge, the tables closest the windows naturally become the most coveted positions.

There isn’t any exact rule or science to obtaining a window seat for you to enjoy your cocktail. It is on a first-come, first-serve basis. For our corner, this meant aggressive hovering around the window seats with their drinks. People would then race to plunk down their drinks with ferocity as soon as someone paid the bill and made a move to leave.

Turns out, neither of us had the energy or aggression for this game, so we were content to sit in the back tables to enjoy your drinks. We finally got a table ten minutes before the lounge was closing and took that opportunity to savor our last sips and snapping a couple ‘night views’.

If you want a seat right against the window, we most definitely recommend:

  • arriving at the lounge early
  • going in when you’re higher energy
  • a willingness to seat yourselves

The waiters and waitresses will do their best to prioritize seats for you, but at the end of the day, when that other couple makes themselves comfortable at that window table when your waiter promised you the seat, they won’t go up and ask them to leave.

…. and that was it for Day Two! See you at Day Three!

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