I visited Chicago for the first (but definitely not the last) time a few weeks ago. Yes I know, why in the world did I go in the winter? I have no answer to that except to say that $120 round trip tickets from Southwest and I missed my best friend who lives there. Well, she lives in Evanston, but more on that adorable town later.
I super loved my time in Chicago. It was cold, but not as cold as it is now. And it was snowy — and I realized (not being skier or snowboarder) that this was first time seeing real snow (Texas snow doesn’t count).
Here’s how I did a quick trip to this exciting city in the winter:
Detox before the retox at The Dailey Method
I figured I would be eating a lot of hotdogs and deep dish pizza, so I signed up for two back-to-back classes at The Dailey Method. I visited the Bucktown location, but there are plenty of locations across Chicago (and the US, just not Houston).
The studio was super cute — and large! When I think boutique exercise studio, I think one exercise room and a locker room. But the studio had a huge entryway and a whole area for coats/belongings, one pilates room, one spin room, locker room, bathrooms, ANOTHER coat area and a daycare. That daycare is such a great idea — I bet moms flip over that perk.
I walked in and was immediately greeted and, being a newbie, given a tour. Here are the two classes I took:
Spin: I hear this is a newish class for Bucktown’s The Dailey Method, but it didn’t feel like it. My instructor was an absolute doll. She met me, learned my name and then proceeded to teach the class, occasionally calling me out personally (love getting a shout out!!). The class was nothing like Soul Cycle or Revolution here in Houston. It was super manageable. You spent a lot of time in the saddle, as they say, and not focused on riding to the beat of the music. The bikes there were super high tech, so you had a screen where you can see your watts or speed and basically race yourself. It was similar to RYDE here in Houston in that way.
Fusion: I was scared of this one — mostly because I’ve never heard of this class format before. It’s barre meets interval cardio — so, I’m thinking of OTF or something. But, when taking the class, I kind of forgot that there was even any cardio aspect to it. The heart rate raising moves are sneaky! I also met the instructor before, also a doll. Also personally motivated me. What a life.
I was so scared I would be 100% exhausted after these back-to-back classes, but I did it! And survived.
Adventurous workout alternative: Air was also on my Chicago must-do list! It’s an extreme core workout that defies gravity. It’s also in multiple cities in the US — just not Houston. 😦
Lunch at Taco Joint
I migrated to Lincoln Park area and had, what I am told to be, some of the best tacos in Chicago. I got the taco of the day, which was a grilled fish one and a chicken taco. Both came on corn tortillas and were both delicious. Not Torchy’s level, but very tasty. I also had a really good drink — my friend said Taco Joint tends to be more of a watering hole, and I see why! I got a Negra Modelo with frozen margarita. Basically a beer-rita, but way, way better. The Modelo is a game changer.
Treat yo’self at Blueberry Moon
I figured since Chicago would be cold and dreary, a treat yo-self day was in order. I visited Blueberry Moon in Lincoln Park, which I would come to find out, basically your one-stop shop for all beauty and spa things. Need highlights? Get ’em. A mani-pedi? Done. Facial or body wrap? Sure, why not?
I honestly think Blueberry Moon was my favorite part of my visit. I got a Dual Exfoliation Peel facial (a specialty) and a mani-pedi. We started with the facial, and my esthetician was a sweetheart. The facial reminded me of Milk + Honey, actually! Except everything at Blueberry Moon is Aveda products… and you can buy them in the store or online if you fall in love.
I was a little scared, since the treatment had “peel” in the name. My head went straight to “chemical peel”, but it needn’t have. Zero parts of the facial hurt or stung — everything was so gentle! And my face was not a bit red at all!
Next was a pedi (followed by a mani so that my toes would have ample time to dry before going back into the boots!). You can’t be too creative with a mani-pedi, but I loved the little nail nook and all the Aveda products used! My non-shellac nails lasted two weeks (what a Christmas Miracle!).
I’d be remiss to not mention one of my favorite things at Blueberry Moon: Their amazing Aveda tea. I got a glass as soon as I walked in, and it was warm, sweet and delicious. I wanted to take some home with me!
Cheap and quick alternative: Mud. Facial Bar (right next door to Air) specializes in mud facials. You sign up for a 30-minute appointment for about $50 a facial. Total pampering follows.
Shopping at the Christkindlmarket
This market is free and right by Millennium Park. It’s usually very busy, and only get busier the closer you go to Christmas, but I still think it was worth it! For us, it was less crowded (thanks snow!). Your shopping list must include: Mulled wine, candied nuts, large cookies with weird things written on them, cheese, apple cider and all the hand-crafted goods! You could also eat a full meal here! We didn’t. Thanks snow.
Deep dish at Lou Malnati’s
Depending on who you ask, Lou Malnati’s is either the first or second best pizza spot in Chicago. But for me, it was amazing. We got the classic (and added green peppers). It was cheesy and delicious. A total knife-and-fork dish — hands would be impossible. I ate two pieces, with no shame. But I will say, those two pieces were super filling. One pizza and one bottle of wine later, I was obsessed and ready to be rolled right out of the restaurant.
Out on the town
Full disclosure: The snow kept us drinking inside at a house party (with a fire… yasss). However, our plans were to hit one of the bar-centric hoods of Chi-Town. Here were our options:
- Division and State: Lots of divey fun bars.
- Old Town: Midwest bar central, meaning all the sports bars.
- River North: More upscale — people dress up!
Brunch at Zella
I really didn’t do Zella justice with my photography, but, to be fair, when I visited the Chicago staple known for it’s bottomless brunch buffet, I was a little too busy eating and drinking to take photos.
For $50, you can literally spend hours at Zella. And we did. We got there around noon and closed the brunch down at 3. Zella, which has a beer garden patio that was closed and covered in snow when I visited, usually has a line out the door. But we sat inside (obviously) and near the TVs (the Texans were on).
The food was ehh, aside from the mac and cheese. That was some of the best mac I’ve ever had. The mimosas were also just solid (although my table must have split a dozen carafes, so we didn’t hate it), but Zella’s saving grace was its throwback playlist. So many great tunes — the kind you forget you know all the words to. Everyone in the bar was so, so drunk and so, so happy.
Sky Deck, Millennium Park and the Bean
I did these touristy things in two parts, but since they are both so close together, you can definitely knock them out in one go.
SkyDeck: It’s $22 to go up to the 106th floor in Willis Tower. The line when we went wasn’t so bad, but be prepared to wait — especially on a clear and pretty day (which ours was not). I’ve done both the Top of the Rock and the Empire State Building in NYC, so I wasn’t really thinking it was scary or anything — until we got close to the SkyDecks, which hang over the city by a couple feet. Still, I can’t say that I was too freaked out. Honestly, it all moves so fast (mainly because people are waiting), so I didn’t have time to be freaked out. I think this is a must if it’s your first time to the city!
The Bean and Millennium Park: Both are also must-see attractions, but these are free! The park is so festive in December — huge tree, snow everywhere and ice skating! A snow-covered bean isn’t that cute, but hey! at least the crowds were managable. We walked around until casually someone sang to us, “do you wanna build a snowman?” Like Elsa, we declined, but we did watch the magic happen.
Brews at Half Acre
This was a busy spot when we went. I feel like Half Acre is the Karbach of Chicago: The beer is great and it has a great place to hang. I got two flights (because I thought I was sharing). Unfortunately, there weren’t any labels, but I liked all the different beers! I definitely recommend going on a Saturday morning to do the tour!
Dinner at Purple Pig
We got super lost finding The Purple Pig, and when we did find it, there was a line out the door, which wasn’t great for us, since we were in a rush to get to Second City. Thankfully, there were exactly two free barstools, so we grabbed them. A quick Yelp search informed us that the pork shoulder was one of the best things on this earth, so we ordered that, a half bottle of wine and some spanakopitas!
All the stress and craziness finding the place was so so so worth it. The pork literally fell apart on the plate, and the mashed potatoes were amazing. Honestly, one of the best meals of my life.
Second City Show
I couldn’t go to the comedy capital of the world and not see comedy, right? I really didn’t know what I was in for, but it ended up being a sketch show that had some improv opportunities. Most of the improv was pretty hilarious, and I loved a lot of the sketches. There was a lot of election/political sketches that reminded me so much of SNL.
The show was 2 hours long and had an intermission. I laughed my butt off during so many different sketches, but I will forever chuckle over one in particular: The Bassman.