Top Five Friday: Winter Activities in Chicago | RebeccaWanderlusting

Top Five Friday #26

Winter Activities in Chicago

As you may or may not know, winters in Chicago can be pretty brutal.  There’s freezing rain/sleet/snow, darkness before work, darkness after work, slippery sidewalks, falling icicles, you name it.  It’s a dangerous, frozen tundra (Chiberia, anyone?), but there are ways we Chicagoans find silver linings to the cold weather.

Winter activities in Chicago range from the adventurous to the cozy and everywhere in between.  There’s something for everyone in this beautiful city, especially during the holidays and that problematic time between New Year’s and springtime.  So, without further ado, here are my personal favorite winter activities in Chicago:

  1. Skating at Maggie Daley Park: There are many places to go ice skating in Chicago, but Maggie Daley Park is probably the most unique.  The shape of this rink is a ribbon set in a wavy circle with peaks and valleys set into the ice.  Admission is free and skate rentals are $12 during the week and $14 on the weekends.  This attraction has already opened for the year.
  2. ZooLights at Lincoln Park Zoo: Every year, Lincoln Park Zoo puts on a free event where guests can enjoy the zoo at night in all its twinkly light glory.  They have winter activities for families, warm spiced wine and ice sculpture carving, along with all the normal zoo activities.  ZooLights starts today actually, and is open select dates through January 7.
  3. Walk Down Michigan Avenue: Michigan Avenue can be one of the most magical, albeit crowded, places in the city during the holidays.  Every space imaginable is decorated in twinkly lights and holiday ornamentation.  Plus, it’s mostly free, unless you decide to partake in the many, many stores that line the Magnificent Mile.
  4. Christkindlmarket: This outdoor Christmas market is located in Daley Plaza downtown and his home to a ton of small markets selling holiday fare.  Nestled in between the stores are vendors selling traditional German fare, hot chocolate and mulled wine.  Even if you’re not in the mood to shop, this market is super fun to walk around while you sip your hot wine.  It’s open now through Christmas Eve.
  5. Grab a Drink in a Cozy Bar: There are number of cozy places in Chicago to obtain a booze blanket to fight the cold.  The best ones have a fireplace and comfy chairs for that extra homey warmth.  My favorite bars for winter are Drumbar in the Raffaello Hotel (Gold Coast), The Broken Shaker in the Freehand (River North), and Scofflaw (Logan Square), all of which have excellent cocktails and cozy ambiance.

Top Five Friday: Winter Activities in Chicago | RebeccaWanderlusting

What are your favorite winter activities in Chicago?

Top Five Friday, Favorite Chicago Coffee Shops | RebeccaWanderlusting

Top Five Friday #22

Favorite Chicago Coffee Shops

Chicago is full of unique and wonderful spots to get your caffeine fix.  Through my nearly ten years of living in this beautiful city, I’ve amassed a list of favorites in most categories and favorite Chicago coffee shops is no exception.  While I’ve never met a coffee shop that I’ve disliked, there are five that stand out to me as the cream of the crop (in my humble opinion),  From their atmosphere, to their pastries and of course their choice of espresso drinks, these delightful cafes are my favorites:

  1. Dollop: This popular Wicker Park cafe is a cheerful place to enjoy a cup of coffee inside their brightly lit interior, or out on their patio.  They have cute floral arrangements and paper and crayons on each table inside.  Dollop is my favorite place to sit outside for breakfast with Michael and Brody.  I’m particularly fond of their iced lattes and almond croissants.Top Five Friday, Favorite Chicago Coffee Shops | Rebeccawanderlusting
  2. Jumping Bean: When I lived in Pilsen, Jumping Bean was my go to for a breakfast on Saturday mornings.  We used to walk over there, even in the dead of winter, to have a cup of coffee and a bagel in their cozy, artsy atmosphere.  I always liked their cinnamon raisin bagels and Mike loved their smoked salmon bagels.  If it wasn’t so far away from our current apartment, we would be there every weekend.
  3. Gaslight Coffee Roasters: This Logan Square gem actually is in our current neighborhood and happens to be directly on our way to the farmer’s market, so we’ve been stopping in every Sunday.  They have a full breakfast menu and delicious coffee, not to mention the cutest interior of any coffee shop I’ve ever seen.  This is the perfect spot to set up camp and read or work for a while.Top Five Friday, Favorite Chicago Coffee Shops | Rebeccawanderlusting
  4. Goddess & The Baker: This coffee/bake shop is my go-to spot for my caffeine fix before work.  It’s in the loop, right near where I get off the blue line to get to the restaurant.  Their coffee is extra delicious and their huge display cases of desserts make for quite the temptation.  They have a few other locations near downtown, so there’s really no excuse not to visit if you’re in the area.
  5. Cafe Integral: Cafe Integral is inside the Freehand Hotel in River North.  The first time I visited this amazing cafe was when Mike and I had a little staycation at the Freehand a couple of years ago.  They are a coffee shop with some class and some fantastic service.  Their coffee is fantastic and their avocado toast is even better.  The lounge area connected to cafe has the comfiest couches and the most chill atmosphere. It’s my favorite place to relax and read.Top Five Friday, Favorite Chicago Coffee Shops | Rebeccawanderlusting

Which are your favorite Chicago coffee shops?  What’s your go to order?

Lincoln Park Conservatory, Chicago, RebeccaWanderlusting

Lincoln Park Zoo & Conservatory

When I first moved to Chicago almost ten years ago (yikes), Lincoln Park was one of the few neighborhoods I knew of.  I would take the red line from the loop up to Fullerton and wander around the area, visiting friends that went to DePaul and lived in the neighborhood.  I always loved how many parks and green spaces there were in the area.  I actually spent my 20th birthday at the Lincoln Park Zoo for Zoolights, which is a program they put on in the winter months, consisting of light shows and different winter activities.  I hadn’t really been back since, up until last weekend when we met my family there to spend the day together.

Lincoln Park Zoo, Chicago, RebeccaWanderlusting

Lincoln Park Zoo, Chicago, RebeccaWanderlusting

The whole gang was there, mostly for the kids’ benefit, but I have to say, the grounds at the Lincoln Park Zoo are beautiful and made walking around all day a joy.  My niece, who just turned two a couple of months ago, is newly obsessed with animals, especially zebras, so it was fun to walk around and discover with her.  She was very excited to see each exhibit we passed and dutifully said hi to each animal.

Lincoln Park Zoo, Chicago, RebeccaWanderlusting

Lincoln Park Zoo, Chicago, RebeccaWanderlusting

It was really nice to spend some much needed quality-time with my family, especially in such a gorgeous setting.  We got to talk and catch up between popping into each of the separate animal houses.  The grounds of the zoo are beautifully landscaped, so we found ourselves stopping frequently to take in the scenery.

Lincoln Park Zoo, Chicago, RebeccaWanderlusting

Lincoln Park Zoo, Chicago, RebeccaWanderlusting

After walking around for awhile, we went across the street from the zoo to R.J. Grunts, the very first Lettuce Entertain You restaurant, for some lunch.  It seemed we weren’t original in this plan, as there was a bit of a wait, but the food was delicious.  It wasn’t anything fancy, we all ended up getting burgers and sandwiches, but it hit the spot after walking around in the heat.  The restaurant has a pretty lively atmosphere and was playing all the Motown hits, which I loved.

RJ Grunts, Lincoln Park, Chicago, RebeccaWanderlusting

After lunch, my sister and brother in law had to take the kids home for nap-time, so Mike, my parents and I walked over to the Lincoln Park Conservatory to check it out.  I had never been inside, and the lawns outside the actual building were a beautiful hint of what was to come:

Lincoln Park Conservatory, Chicago, RebeccaWanderlusting

Lincoln Park Conservatory, Chicago, RebeccaWanderlusting

Lincoln Park Conservatory, Chicago, RebeccaWanderlusting

Inside the conservatory, besides being so dang hot, was perfect.  It was like a little oasis, full of beautiful, blooming flowers and palms.  I could have stayed in there all day just wandering around, admiring.  There were ponds full of Koi fish and rare orchids, cacti and so much more.

Lincoln Park Conservatory, Chicago, RebeccaWanderlusting

Lincoln Park Conservatory, Chicago, RebeccaWanderlusting

We walked around the conservatory slowly so as to take it all in properly.  My favorite room was the one with the totem poles intermixed with the plants (see above).  It made me want to incorporate more greenery into our apartment.  My mom could tell us what each of the plant were (and whether or not I could keep them alive – the answer was usually no).

Lincoln Park Conservatory, Chicago, RebeccaWanderlusting

Lincoln Park Conservatory, Chicago, RebeccaWanderlusting

Once we were finished walking through the Conservatory, Mike and I walked my parents back to their motorcycle (yes, they drove the bike all the way from Johnsburg to the city) and said goodbye before walking back through the parks one last time.

Lincoln Park Conservatory, Chicago, RebeccaWanderlusting

One of my favorite areas in this part of Lincoln Park is the nature boardwalk, which is situated between the zoo proper and the children’s petting zoo.  It’s a complete little ecosystem for native wildlife and provides a beautiful juxtaposition to the bustling city around it. Mike and I walked through it on our way back to catch the bus back home and it’s just gorgeous.  The view from the boardwalk of the skyline beyond is perfect.

Lincoln Park, Chicago, RebeccaWanderlusting

Lincoln Park, Chicago, RebeccaWanderlusting

It was a beautiful day with my favorite people.  Now that I know these gorgeous parks are there, I’m excited to go back and visit again when I need some nature in my life.

Have you been to the Lincoln Park Zoo or Conservatory?  Where can you find some nature within your own city?

Lincoln Park, Chicago, RebeccaWanderlusting

West Town, Chicago, RebeccaWanderlusting

Neighborhood Spotlight: West Town

West Town is one of my favorite neighborhoods in Chicago, though I may be a bit biased because I’ve lived here for two years now.  Located directly west of the Gold Coast, straight down Chicago Avenue, West Town is a perfect mix of friendly neighborhood and big city cool.  It has a ton of fun and unique shops, bars, and restaurants, plus plenty of beautiful homes and parks to stroll through.  Just recently, we’ve decided to depart this lovely neighborhood, as our lease was up and it felt like it was time for a change of scenery.  We have a few weeks before we move, but we’ve been trying to hit all of our favorite spots before we go.  Without further ado, here’s a comprehensive list of my favorite shops, restaurants and bars in West Town, Chicago:

West Town, Chicago, RebeccaWanderlusting

For Breakfast:

  • Whisk – one of the most popular brunch spots in the neighborhood, with decadent menu items and Ron Swanson on the wall.
  • West Town Bakery – a casual bakery café with delectable baked goods, great coffee and a lovely atmosphere.
  • Breakfast House – our absolute favorite/most frequented breakfast joint in the city. Try the vanilla waffle with berries and bananas or the supreme chorizo hash.

West Town, Chicago, RebeccaWanderlusting

For Coffee & Sweet Treats:

  • Hoosier Mama Pie Company – a sweet little pie shop with a VIP table right in the front window and the best assortment of delectable pies.
  • Pickwick Coffee – a cozy coffee shop where they roast their coffee beans in house and craft the most delicious espresso drinks.

West Town, Chicago, RebeccaWanderlusting

For Lunch:

  • Kasia’s – this famous Polish deli has fantastic soups and sandwiches, along with fresh ingredients you can take home with you.
  • High Dive – a great beer list and the best burgers in the neighborhood, I promise. Try their togarashi fries, they’ll change your life.
  • Roots Pizza – the pizza at Roots is fantastic, particularly the ones inspired by local Chicago chefs.  We like to sit at the bar and have a beer and split a small pie.

West Town, Chicago, RebeccaWanderlusting

For Shopping:

  • Paperish Mess – art, home goods and jewelry from local designers fill this cute little shop. Be sure to check out their big selection of clever greeting cards!
  • Sprout Home – a green-thumb’s dream of a plant shop with indoor and outdoor plants and all the accessories. Don’t forget to take a look at their home goods store across the street.
    West Town, Chicago, RebeccaWanderlusting
  • Seek Vintage – the best vintage store on the avenue with decent prices and an excellent selection of vintage costume jewelry.
  • RR #1 – my favorite place to get unique gifts, this store is stocked from floor to ceiling with stationary, home goods, clothing and jewelry. Set aside enough time to explore it fully.
  • Study Hall – airy and beautiful new and vintage clothing and locally sourced jewelry.

West Town, Chicago, RebeccaWanderlusting

For Dinner:

  • Forbidden Root – a Chicago brewery restaurant with a great menu and a long list of brews to choose from. Any beer you choose will be delicious, enjoy!
  • Yuzu – sushi to die for in a relaxed BYOB restaurant where you’ll want to sit a savor each bite.
  • Charlatan – a fresh take on classic Italian fare with fantastic cocktails and the best happy hour deal in the neighborhood: $10 for a happy hour drink and a portion of their daily pasta.

West Town, Chicago, RebeccaWanderlusting

For Drinks:

  • Bar Deville – this classy bar has amazing drinks in a hip setting. Fair warning, it’s cash only, but the drinks are worth it.
  • Five Star Bar – a punk twist on the typical sports bar with pool tables and cheap beer. The food is also very good, for when you need some appetizers to soak up the booze.
  • EZ Inn – one of my favorite bars in the city, mostly because it’s jukebox is free and they have cocktails on tap.

West Town, Chicago, RebeccaWanderlusting

Have you been to West Town in Chicago? Where’s your favorite spot?

Top Five Ways to Explore Your City, Rebecca Wanderlusting

Top Five Friday #14

Top Five Ways to Explore Your City

With all of the great destinations in the world, it may be easy to forget the one right outside your door.  While it may or may not be a tourist hot spot or a large city, your hometown is sure to have its merits.  I grew up in the teeny, tiny Midwest town of Johnsburg, IL (any Tom Waites fans out there??).  Despite the lack of things to do there , I remember writing an article for our high school newspaper on how to have a staycation spring break, which is pretty similar to this here blog.  It was fun to research and, even then, I was compelled by the idea that anywhere can be a vacation spot with some research, positivity, and maybe a little imagination.  When researching how to make Johnsburg a fun staycation destination, I believe we walked to the Mobile Gas Station for candy, stopped into Video Villa for a movie, and walked over to the public library to check out the selection.  I remember it as being a pretty solid day.  Anyways, the point of the matter is this: not everyone has the resources to travel each instance they get their hands on some vacation time, but it’s important not to overlook the beautiful place you live if you’re in need of an escape.  Here are my five best tips to explore your city:

Johnsburg, IL, Explore Your City, RebeccaWanderlusting

  1. Plan a stay at a local hotel – See your hometown as a visitor would by planning a little staycation at a hotel that interests you. Look on Tripadvisor to find one that matches your needs and budget.  Go all out and pair it with a night on the town, or stay in and enjoy the hotel amenities.  Either way, you’ll get to see a different side of your city that you wouldn’t get to witness inside your apartment.
  2. Check Pinterest – The world wide web is obviously full of information, and Pinterest gives you a concentrated selection of the points of interest that are in your city. The attractions others found there might be things that never would have occurred to you.  Furthermore, it may direct you to websites dedicated to events and festivities near you that you may have been completely unaware of.
  3. Take a tour – “Take a tour of my own city?? That’s crazy” you might be saying to yourself right about now. But, think about it, when you first moved to your particular corner of the globe, did you bother looking into tours of places that interested you? No? I certainly didn’t.  And in this day in age, there are so many independent tour companies out there, that you’re sure to find one in your city that is centered around your interests.  For example, the walking cupcake tour of Chicago is something I’d definitely like to try.
    Explore Your City, RebeccaWanderlusting
  4. Pick a Neighborhood and go for a stroll – Within your hometown, choose a neighborhood or area that you have yet to explore and take a walk. Sometimes the best coffee shops/restaurants/stores are ones that you’ve stumbled upon randomly.  Better yet, stop into each restaurant that catches your interest and have an appetizer, drink or dessert there to create your own personal food tour.
  5. Attend an Event or Festival – This may seem like a given, but not everyone takes advantage of these opportunities. There can be a ton of possibilities that suit all interests in terms of fests and events, especially during this time of year.  For example, during the summertime in Chicago, there is an art fair, music festival or street fest happening almost every single weekend.  Choose one and discover a new neighborhood, new restaurant or new side of your hometown.

Lollapalooza, Chicago, Explore Your City, RebeccaWanderlusting

What is your favorite way to explore your own city?  How often do you try new things in your hometown?

Mario Tricoci Spa, Chicago, Spa Day

Spa Day Chicago

I don’t often get to treat myself, but I fully understand the importance to do so (and you should too!).  Today I treated myself to a Spa Day.  My very good friend, Amber (you may know her as the mom of adorable Manny the Frenchie), and I made appointments to get pampered at the Mario Tricoci Spa on Michigan Avenue a few weeks ago and today was the day.  I had been so looking forward to this!  Amber picked me up bright and early this morning and we drove over to the Gold Coast, specifically, the 900 North Michigan Building.  We checked in at the Front Desk twenty minutes early for our appointments
and were shown into the cozy locker room.  We changed into the provided robes and slippers and waited in the lounge for our massage therapists.  I was greeted by Judith, and she was absolutely amazing.  The massage was wonderful and so relaxing; she really fixed all of my aches and pains (computer neck is an actual thing that happens, apparently).  Afterwards, I met Amber in the “Quiet Room” where there was comfy couches and mood lighting.

I tried to soak it in but soon it was time for me to rinse off, change, and head to the nail suite for my pedicure.  The Spa is fairly large, so I had to stop at the desk to ask where exactly I was supposed to be.  A very friendly guest service agent showed me up to the nail suite where I was greeted by my pedicurist, Gwen.  She very sweetly brought me a cup of green tea and got to work on my feet.  I have to say, I don’t typically have very pretty feet but after this pedicure, they looked pretty dang good.  I chose a handsome purple polish by the name of Bahama Mama.

Afterwards, I had some time to relax and read (“American Gods” by Neil Gaiman”) while I waited for Amber to finish her second appointment.  I waited in the lounge where there were apples, hot tea and lemon water.  In hindsight, I should have booked more time between my massage and pedicure so I could have enjoyed the quiet room a little more.  I should have known better though, because I used to work in a spa, so I know a thing or two about spa etiquette.  Here are a few tips to ensure your own spa day goes off without a hitch:

  1. Always, always book your appointments in this order: massage, facial, nails. Do you want to put your facial fresh face in a face cradle?  No you do not.  Do you want to worry about wet nails while you’re enjoying a facial? Nope!
  2. Arrive early for your appointments and enjoy the amenities in the spa, especially the steam room.
  3. Typically, if you’re doing a shorter massage (50-60 minutes) the massage therapist will be pressed for time to do a whole body massage. Let them know what areas, if any, are hurting so they can make sure they work on them
  4. Try to tip your massage therapists, estheticians, and nail technicians with cash if you can

Once Amber was finished, we settled up at the front desk and went to Frankie’s Scaloppine on the fifth floor.  There, we had some dynamic pizza and good conversation, both agreeing that we need to do this more often.  It was a perfect day.

Where do you go for your perfect Spa Day?  What do you like to do to pamper yourself?

Planning the Perfect Staycation

Planning the Perfect Staycation

I firmly believe that it’s really important to explore your own city.  It would be such a waste of a perfectly good destination if you didn’t.  This is where the staycation comes into play. It’s a great way to get the feel of a relaxing vacation when you don’t have the time or funds for one.  While travel is obviously something that I’m passionate about, I have a fondness for staycations and the vacation vibes they provide in between big trips.  There are two ways to plan a fantastic staycation: 1.) think of yourself as a tourist in your own city and venture to unchartered territory (to you, anyways), or 2.) book a hotel with some sort of spa/pool facility, get yourself a good book and chilllllllll.  When my boyfriend and I staycationed at The Freehand earlier this year (see staycation blog here), we chose the first option.  We went to a popular restaurant we’d both never been to and wandered around the city, popping into bars and enjoying the River Walk.  I have to say, staying downtown and enjoying the city lights and attractions definitely made me love Chicago even more than I already do.  It’s about time we try the second option, but more on that later.  Whichever option you choose, you are sure to have an amazing time and a whole new appreciation of your hometown.  Plus, you get the added bonus of having the knowledge and experience to play concierge to your friends and family when they ask for accommodation or restaurant suggestions.  Below are my best tips for planning the perfect staycation, take them as you will and let me know what you’re favorite staycation plans are in the comments!

Chicago River

  • Choosing the hotel: This is most likely your first step in planning your staycation.  Base this decision on what kind of experience you’re looking for, i.e.- if you want to relax, book a hotel with room service, a pool and/or spa and a comfy bed, or if you want to explore, choose a hip hotel in the center of the action.  If you live in a big city like I do, the options for hotels are endless and can get a little pricey.  As I am not made of money, I usually check if there are any deals on LivingSocial or Groupon first.
  • Planning activities: Since you’re familiar with the lay of the land, I’m sure you already know exactly what you’d like to do.  Choose something that you’ve always had on your hometown bucket list, but haven’t made time for yet.  Maybe it’s finally caving in and checking out that city attraction all the tourists rave about, or seeing a play at the local theater or even trying out a trendy bar.  If you aren’t planning on venturing out, make a spa appointment or check if your hotel has any special in-room features you can utilize.
  • Doing dinner: Whether you’re relaxing or exploring, you gotta eat.  For the relaxing type – kick back in your hotel room with some room service or order delivery and eat it in your robe.  If you’re feeling adventurous, go out to a restaurant featuring a style of cuisine you’ve never tried.  Either way, order decadently and enjoy.Pierrot Gourmet Dinner
  • Sleeping in: I don’t really have a whole lot to say on this topic, other than, if you are staycationing, it’s imperative that you sleep in at least a little bit.  Bonus points for you if you order breakfast in bed.
  • The morning after: Take your time in the morning and don’t rush to leave the hotel.  Go for a dip in the pool, go out for breakfast, have a morning shopping spree… whatever you want!  Squeeze every last bit out of this staycation, and don’t even think about checking out early.
    Peninsula Chicago Pool
  • Going back to reality: Of course returning from any sort of vacation is always rough, but since you were only a few miles from home, it should be easier to get back into the swing of things.  Take the rest of the day to soak up all the good staycation vibes and go back into your weekly routine feeling refreshed and happy to know your city a little better.walkhome

Staycation at The Freehand Hotel

Staycation at The Freehand Hotel
Front Desk at The Freehand Hotel

I’d first come to The Freehand because my wonderfully talented friend was featured in a pop-up gallery there a month back.  I loved its cute haphazard style so much that I knew I needed to stay there.  The building held a certain mystique for me as it used to house the
ultra-creepy Tokyo Hotel before being renovated into The Freehand.  Front Desk at The Freehand HotelI’d never been inside when it was the Tokyo Hotel, but always passed it and wondered what went on behind its dingy exterior.  A month later, there I was checking in at the upscale hostel/hotel.  I had walked over after work on Friday; it was just a short jaunt over to the River North Neighborhood. The check-in process was casual and easy, and after a brief orientation of the property, I was on my way up to the tenth floor in a painfully slow elevator.  I chose to stay in one of their private rooms, which they offer along with shared and private bunk-bedded rooms.Private Queen Room at The Freehand Chicago

The room was straightforward and charming, with a queen-sized bed, small armoire containing hotel robes and a small safe and a desk facing the city-view window.  The desk had The Freehand Chicagotwo small shelves of books ranging from “The Help” to “The Mammoth of Best New Erotica”, as well as a house phone, hotel guide, and a mini bar in an interior cabinet.  The blue-tiled bathroom featured a stand-up shower, hairdryer, fluffy
white towels, and beautifully packaged toiletries.  After getting settled and changing out of my stuffy work clothes, I met up with my boyfriend to go out on the town, staycation style.  I was dying to try The Purple Pig, which I had never been to, despite living in Chicago for seven years.  We walked over there only to find out they had an hour wait for a table.  We put our name down anyways and went off in search of appetizers.  After pinging back and forth across MicThe Toiletries at The Freehand Chicagohigan Avenue, looking at menus and turning them down, hunger forced us to stop into Doc B’s Fresh Kitchen.  Right off the bat, I wasn’t crazy about this decision.  It seemed like an upscale TGI Fridays, only without the moderate prices.  We sat  down and ordered a couple of beers and decided whether or not we should bail.  Again, hunger won and we had our beers and a kale and artichoke dip which was good in the way that artichoke dip always is.  After we paid, we walked back up to Michigan Avenue just in time to finally be summoned to The Purple Pig because our table was ready.  We were sat at a table inside and immediately made work of reading and translating their extensive menu of share plates.
The Purple Pig ChicagoThe Chorizo Stuffed Olives, Whipped Feta Dip, and Pork Belly Rillon looked best to us.  They brought each dish out separately, which made for optimal enjoyment.  We started with the feta, which was served with thick slices of delicious bread.  The feta had cucumbers and peppers brunoise on top and was so tasty.  For me, there is literally nothing better than cheese and bread so of course I loved this dish.  Next came the olives, which were a little too salty for me, but my boyfriend very much enjoyed them.  Finally, the Pork Belly Rillons, which were the perfect mixture of crispy and melt in your mouth.  I only wish the serving was bigger.
The Chicago RiverAfter we finished the decadent dinner, we walked the few blocks across the river and walked down the steps to the River Walk.  The brightly lit river-adjacent sidewalk was vibrant and teeming with the after-dinner crowd.  We walked down a-ways and doubled back to pop into The Hideout for a beer.
The Hideout, Riverwalk, Chicago

The Hideout, Riverwalk, Chicago

The music venue/bar had an industrial feel; the area it occupied was fenced off by the green tarp covered fence that’s usually reserved for road work.  The furniture was mismatched inside and there were picnic tables and highboys outside.  The bar offered beer, wine, shots and snacks from Bridgeport Pasty.  We sat outside to enjoy our beers before walking back to The Freehand to have a nightcap in their bar, The Broken Shaker.  I immediately wanted whatever drink was encased in the enchanting golden pineapple that I saw other patrons holding.  It turned out to be Chicago Politics, a delectable and spicy cocktail that kicks you right in the throat.
Chicago Politics Cocktail at The Broken Shaker in The Freehand ChicagoThere was an extravagant process to making it that ended with lighting the garnish on fire with a blowtorch.  It was a hefty portion of booze worthy of two cocktails and priced accordingly.  The bar was crowded, but not uncomfortably so.  The bartenders were very attentive and continued to craft creative cocktails without the pretension of other “mixologists”.  We spent a good amount of time enjoying the cozy atmosphere of The Broken Shaker before retiring to our room for the night.

The next morning we rushed down to catch the complimentary breakfast located in the sitting room next to The Broken Shaker.  It was a free-for-all.  There was quite the crowd milling around the tables containing coffee, tea, juice and baked goods.  We fought to get our free muffins and hightailed it over to Café Integral, the in-house coffee bar/café.  I had a latte and my boyfriend ordered an Americano, both were superb.  The apple muffins were also very good, and we were happy to find out they were brought in from Lovely
Bake Shop, which is in our neighborhood.  We also ordered from Café Integral’s “on toast” menu, and chose the Avocado Smash.

The Avocado Smash Toast at Cafe Integral, The Freehand Chicago

I would gladly eat that every day if I could, it was that delicious.  It was served with thinly sliced radishes, pickled shallots and sprouts on top and a slice of lemon on the side.
Cafe Integral, The Freehand ChicagoPart of the beauty of a staycation is that every new thing that you discover and enjoy is easily accessible for revisiting.  And I plan to go back to Café Integral often, specifically for the Avocado Smash.
Cafe Integral, The Freehand ChicagoBefore we checked out, I wanted to explore the basement of the hotel, which is where the guest laundry and kitchen was located.  The kitchen was brightly lit and happily buzzing with a few other guests preparing their meals.  In addition to these in house amenities, The Freehand offers an activity calendar for their guests including workouts, walking tours, and other special events much like the pop-up gallery my friend was featured in.
Event Calendar, The Freehand ChicagoWe left the hotel at noon, after walking around and popping into a few shops in the area.  We walked the two miles back to our apartment, across the river and over the line that separates blissful staycations and real life.
The Freehand ChicagoThe Freehand ChicagoChicago RiverA big thank you to The Freehand for having us and giving us such a wonderful staycation experience.  I will definitely be back!

Have you ever tried a staycation? How did it compare to other vacations?