Noonday City Guide: Chicago
Planning a girls’ weekend? Let me suggest one of my favorite cities – Chicago! After living here for six years, I’ve definitely discovered some must-go spots. Chicago is filled with amazing sights, great shopping and some of the best food around. While I’d love to share about a billion things to do while in town, I’ll refrain (for today, anyway) and share some of my favorites!
But First, Coffee
I recommend popping into Pickwick Coffee Roasting Co.
Tucked away in an alley, it’s totally worth the visit. Just keep your eyes peeled – it’s literally tucked between two high houses. It may only fit two people in the shop at a time, but you will get a bold, delicious cup of coffee from some of the friendliest baristas! Bonus: it has the cutest spot for pics with your girlfriends. Do it for the Instagram, right?
If you’re feeling a little more adventurous, Sawada Coffee is the spot for you.
It’s not your typical coffee shop by any means (note the skateboard used for drip coffee), and that’s what makes it special. Sawada shares a space with some of the best BBQ in the city – Green Street Smoked Meats (GSSM) in the West Loop.
If you come here (and you should), please, please, please try the Military Matcha latte. It’s the best of both worlds! Creamy, a slight bite, and a whole lotta caffeine. You’ll be good to go for a day in the city. And you might as well grab some brisket with a side of potato salad from GSSM while you’re here! You’re welcome in advance.
Let’s See Some Sights
Now that you’ve had your coffee, you should be feeling good, awake and ready to explore. So, here we go! My friends make fun of me because even though I lived in Chicagoland for six years, I still love stopping by the Bean every time I’m in the city. I never get tired of it – plus it’s the best spot to people watch! The Bean, officially named Cloud Gate (fun fact!) is located right in Millennium Park. It’s a great spot to take some beautiful pics with the city reflecting behind you and your girlfriends.
Since you’re now in Millennium Park, please stay and wander a while. Check out the Jay Pritzker Pavilion (in the Summer there are free concerts here — just bring a blanket)! You can see the Crown Fountain, which is an interactive fountain with digital faces and water. It’s equal parts awkward and fun. Let me explain: The fountains/faces spit water on you… On second thought, just go! It’ll be an experience you won’t forget.
Oh, and please stop by the Buckingham Fountain (it’s my favorite fountain, as it is where my husband proposed to me on a frigid February afternoon). You will have to walk a little ways down from Millennium Park, but you really can’t get lost if you just head south of the Bean/Crown Fountain area. From here you get great views of Lake Michigan and the skyline. Have fun exploring!
Time to Admire *All* the Art
Chicago’s art scene is scattered throughout the city. Fun fact: discount rates apply for museum entrance if you go during the last hour they’re open. Yes, you’ll have to move quickly or just pick one exhibit to see, but if you’re on a budget, this is a great way to see a museum and not break the bank! I recommend the Art Institute or the Museum of Science and Industry, but you really can’t go wrong with any of them.
Hey There, Sweet Treat
If you do nothing else, you have to hit up Garrett’s Popcorn.
Okay, so you’ve done a little walking, you’ve seen some sights, and now might be a good time for a little sweet pick-me-up, am I right? You’ll know you’re getting close to a Garrett’s because you’ll smell the sweet goodness from the street. (I swear they pump the smells into the streets to lure you in, but I’m not mad about it).
Buy a bag of the Chicago Mix. Don’t question this – just thank me later. The Chicago Mix is the perfect girls’ weekend treat! It’s a combination of cheddar popcorn and caramel and is the perfect salty/sweet combo! It’s buttery, scrumptious, and I’m seriously craving some as I write this. It pairs nicely with wine, too — just sayin’. For added cuteness, get your popcorn in a commemorative tin. Trust me: you won’t be mad you bought an entire tin!
Another sweet weakness of mine is Stan’s Donuts.
It’s hard to pick just one donut shop in Chicago (they’re all so yummy!), but today I’m feeling Stan’s. I’m a fan of any donut that has sprinkles, and I also recommend the lemon pistachio old-fashioned donut – YUM. Oh, and get milk!
To the Water We Go
Okay. You need one more activity before lunch, right? I tell everyone visiting Chicago they must do this, so you are no exception. Go on an architecture riverboat tour! It is my absolute favorite way to see the city and learn about its history in 90 minutes. I love the different perspective you gain by hopping off the streets and onto the water.
Shoreline Sightseeing is my favorite company for a nice, relaxing cruise down the river, but if you’re a bit of an adrenaline junkie, you need to go with Seadog. They will take you on a little speedboat jaunt on Lake Michigan before your tour officially starts. Oh, and pro tip: during the Spring and Summer there are often Groupon deals for this activity, so snatch up a discounted ticket there!
Are we hungry now? I’m going to recommend one of my favorite lunch spots, Nando’s Peri-Peri. I first discovered Nando’s in South Africa and was elated when it came to Chicago. The food is crafted with African and Portuguese influences, making for an unbelievable experience for your taste buds. It’s also easy on your wallet! Peri-peri is an African hot pepper, and the restaurant creates various sauces to be served on your chicken dish. Don’t worry – you can order “plain-ish” (yes, that’s literally what it’s called on the menu), which is what I do because I’m “wuss-ish” when it comes to spicy food.
The atmosphere is so eclectic here. It transports you to another world with its decor, music (also influenced by the Afro-Portuguese heritage) and, of course, the food. It’s a fabulous experience. Please go!
Don’t Forget Your Camera
Ready for more sights to see? If you’re willing to travel a little further outside the city center, I recommend strolling through the Lincoln Park Zoo (it’s a quick Uber ride). The zoo is free, and I love that it’s within the city. It also has some amazing views of the city for some great photo opportunities!
Garfield Park Conservatory is also a lovely spot to check out.
This conservatory will warm you right up on a chilly day, and you can get some amazing photos here too! This place is nice to just exhale and relax for a minute. Bonus points: it’s free! If you stop by, be sure to check out the Desert House — it’s got great lighting and backdrops for more photos.
Did Someone Say Shopping?
Listen. There’s lots of shopping to do when visiting Chicago, but since you’re on Noonday Collection’s blog, I gotta believe you are an advocate for world-changing products. If that’s the case, you’ll want to stop into TOMS Shoes’ brick-and-mortar store in Wicker Park (and keep adventuring around there as well)! Not only can you buy a pair of shoes from the store, but it’s also a fair trade coffee shop. Coffee & ethical shoe shopping? Yes, please!
Let’s End the Day on a High Note
Wow, what a day we’ve had in Chicago! There’s nothing left but dinner and a show. Now, everyone will have their own Chicago-style pizza recommendations, and I’m either going to make friends or enemies with my recommendation, but you guys… I’m a Giordano’s deep dish gal through and through. Get a traditional deep dish pizza and see why it’s famous. You should be filled with yummy goodness and ready to check out one of the many shows the city has to offer!
I’m a big fan of the Black Ensemble Theater. Shows never disappoint here, and it’s a cozy theater in the city. But, of course, there are tons of places to check out. For laughs, The Second City is always great. And then, well, there’s Hamilton. You can’t go wrong!
Thanks for coming along with me (and Claire) on our guide through Chicago! I hope you’ll visit this amazing city and check out some of my favorite spots while you’re there. These will surely make a girl’s weekend memorable!
Meet Lauren Horras
Lauren lives with her husband, Jordan in the Grandville, Michigan where they recently purchased a home and are fixing it up. She is addicted to committed to coffee, loves macaroons, a good book, flea markets, decorating her home, driving her Jeep (Rosie) and spending time with friends. She especially loves her work with college students and helping empower the next generation of world changers!