Chicago for the Marathon

Chicago Marathon

The race leaders and pace car at mile 1.

About a month ago, I went to Chicago to go see my sister run the Chicago Marathon (yeah, she’s pretty amazing). I had only been to Chicago once before in high school, and I was really excited to return again and experience more of the city.

Chicago is a great city to visit, and transportation to and from the airport is very convinient. When you fly into O’Hare, you can jump on the blue line El (subway/train) for $2.25 and go downtown. This is ten times easier and cheaper than having to take a cab and great when you’re traveling on a budget.

My first night I stayed with one of my good friends from Mizzou in Lincoln Park. While I love being the ultimate tourist when I travel, I also find it incredibly refreshing to see the city from the perspective of the people who live there. Lincoln Park was definitely one of my new favorite areas of the city. It’s a little north of downtown, and I would describe it as a Midwestern West Village. Storefronts are full of local and well-known boutiques like Francesca’s and Lululemon and restaurants and diners.

The next day I met up with my family downtown. We stayed at Hilton Suites Chicago Magnificent Mile. LOVED IT! The accommodations were amazing. For me, the “make it or break it” factor is always the bed, and the beds at the Hilton were some of the plushest and most comfortable ever. The room was spacious and clean. The hotel restaurant is not very good though. We ate at Club Med for dinner one night, and I was not impressed at all. You’re better off leaving the hotel for meals.

This hotel is definitely all about location, and if this is your first time in the city or you are an avid shopper I highly recommend the Hilton Suites Chicago Magnificent Mile. The hotel is in the heart of downtown steps away from the Museum of Contemporary Art, the John Hancock Center, and shopping shopping shopping (aka Michigan Avenue). Michigan Avenue is the heart of Chicago shopping, and the stores range  from high-end like Escada and Bloomingdale’s (one of the best I’ve been to) to affordable gems like H&M and Forever 21.

If you’ve never been to Chicago, marathon weekend is actually a great time to visit even if you are just a spectator. Not only is it amazing to watch 45,000 people run 26.2 miles, but the race course goes through the best parts of the city. It starts and finishes in Grant Park, which is a spacious green oasis right on the lake with artwork and great views of the city.


View of the city from Grant Park by the "Agora" statues.

Then it takes you through the heart of downtown.



We also watched the race in Chinatown. One of the most fun and liveliest spots to watch the marathon.


Chinatown in Chicago

And, finishes in Grant part again.


Post-race in Grant Park

Another great thing about Chicago is the food and I’m not talking just about hot dogs and deep dish. Try:

1. Bandera (American): Take it from a southern girl and try the Cornbread & Foccacia. Also, the salads are amazing here specially the Macho Salad. The Mac & Cheese is also very good and quite comforting.

2.Quartino (Italian): I absolutely loved this place! Unlike many Italian restaurants that tend to be family-style eating, this Italian restaurant serves all its entrees as small plates tapas-style. I loved this concept because it lets you sample so much of the menu. I recommend the Zola Noci and Pere Pizza ( Gorgonzola, Walnuts and Pears), Veal Meatballs Napoli, Eggplant Parmigiana (one of the best I’ve had), and the Tortellini with Alfredo Sauce, Peas and Prociutto. And, for dessert I recommend the Profiteroles (with ice cream not custard…a childhood favorite of mine) or the Coppa al Banana …YUM. Don’t waste your time with the Nutella Panino. Its too hard and you’re better off making it at home anyways. It’s pretty much just toast with Nutella.

3. Scoozi (Italian): From the geniuses of Lettuce Entertain You, try the Butternut Squash Ravioli, the Tomato & Goat Cheese Pizza, the Mushroom Risotto, or the Penne Arrabiata with Sausage. Basically, everything is delicious.

4. Nookies Too (American, Diner-Style): Went to Nookies in Lincoln Park for brunch. Loved the Dixie Benedict (a southern play on eggs benedict with biscuits and gravy) and the pancakes.

5. Signature Room or Signature Lounge at the John Hancock Center: Amazing views of the city. You’re better off making a reservation.


View from the Signature Lounge in the John Hancock Center

As if I didn’t have an amazing weekend in Chicago with my family and friends, Continental also made me smile at the end of Columbus Day weekend. After showing up at the airport at 6 am for my return flight to Boston (via Newark), I found out that my flight to Newark was delayed, and it would make me miss my connection to Boston. Sleepy and already defeated I walked up to the counter expecting the typical airline run-around. But, when I walked up to the counter and gave them my name, they informed me that I had already been re-routed on a direct flight to Boston (on an American Airlines flight). I didn’t have to do anything. It was already done. Nice. So, THANKS CONTINENTAL! I knew there’s a reason why you’re my favorite airline.

Chicago Tip: If traveling there in the fall, take warm clothes or a jacket no matter what. I was fooled by the predicted temperatures of 45-50 degrees which I interpreted as “nice fall weather.” It ended up being significantly colder than that, and I had to go out and buy a scarf and fleece. So, go prepared.


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Filed under Destinations, Weekend Getaways

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