Chicago: Places to Dine, Shop and Enjoy

cloud gate Millenium Park Ibrahim Cetindemir photo

A Weekend in Chicago: Tasty Tips for a Champagne experience on a beer budget

By Magdalena Zenaida

Water tours near the Chicago River Walk. Samantha Tricia photo.
Water tours near the Chicago River Walk. Samantha Tricia photo.

It takes some daring to bring a little person into a luxury environment. Unless you are a celebrity with an army of nannies, it’s daunting to sit down knowing your toddler only has the patience for appetizers.

Yet as parents become more and more adventurous with more tolerant and well-traveled children, the travel world is opening up for families. As a world-class city with a family feel, Chicago is a great place for parents to add a hint of luxury to their lives without blowing their travel budget.

Dine: Mercadito and Mercadito Fish are popular with locals for an evening out, but just a little behind the Magnificent Mile they have a sister location that’s open all day, Mercadito Counter.

Mercadito counter is open til 4 am!
Mercadito counter is open til 4 am!

You can split the difference between one sibling’s desire for tacos and the other for hot dogs– they have both, and sometimes together. A Fundido dog fried with melted cheese and chorizo and topped with chile de arbol ketchup ($4.50) is worth the extra few blocks walk it to get to the cheery counter-service space.

Milkshakes like the Happy Chino made with rich ice cream and tropical flavors and can be spiked up for the adults to include a shot of tequila. 738 N. Clark St.
Italian for Everyone

Eataly has something Italian for everyone under a very large roof. Mario Batali’s sparkling market space is a sprawling 6,000 square feet of gelato counters, pizzerias, salumi counters, wine bars, beer rooms, and any other Italian delicacy you could want. Spread across three floors with a very open feel, you can explore the levels as part of a wandering feast, or skip the sit-down restaurants and take your antipasti for a picnic at Millenium Park.500 N. Michigan Avenue

Pierrot Gourmet is a few minutes from the Disney, Apple, and American Girl doll stores, housed at the first level of The Peninsula. An unintimidating space, it is separate from The Peninsula entry and has communal tables near cases of inviting rainbow-colored pastries. Adults can choose from artisan flatbreads like the gruyere, bacon, and sautéed onion Alsatian, while the children’s menu is more traditional.
The children’s mac and cheese ($6) isn’t the least expensive in the city, however it is a very large portion of egg noodles in rich cheddar cheese, preceded by a bound Peninsula Bear coloring book with stickers and full pack of crayons. 108 E. Superior St. 

Chicago skyline Ibrahim Cetindemir photo.
Chicago skyline Ibrahim Cetindemir photo.

See: If you’ve already made a stop at Pierrot Gourmet, there is another luxury open to non-guests at The Peninsula; the spa. Manicures and pedicures are available for parent and child using UK-based Espa products. Private swim and yoga lessons are available (call for pricing).

Big sue dinosaur at the Field Museum.
Big sue dinosaur at the Field Museum.

With two hours of services booked, the fitness center and pool with views over the city are available for day use before and after treatments. During the winter, lunch and spa guests also have access to the private SKYRINK. With skate rentals at $10 per child and $15 for adults, it is a uniquely private and magical experience skating near the hotel’s tiny chalet high about the Mile. 108 E. Superior St.

The Field Museum is already a must-see destination for children because of the colorful Crown Family Play Space on the ground level. There, children can stock and ‘grind’ maize in an adobe hut or go wild in a world drum room at no additional admission cost. (Good to know: the space has its own coat and stroller rooms, as well as a family restroom.)

The Viking exhibit--only in Chicago.
The Viking exhibit–only in Chicago.

Yet from now until October 4, the museum is home to a new special exhibit: Vikings. The exhibit is at its only stop in the US and includes a chance to see authentic scale Viking ships from Sweden, an impressive collection of artifacts, and interactive screens to play historic games.
A child ticket including admission for the exhibit is $18, while an adult ticket is $25, but don’t forget to check out special opportunities for such as student discounts or group rates. 1400 S. Lakeshore Dr.

Chicago Theatre
The Chicago Theatre will host family-friendly shows this year, like “Pentatonix” (March 8-9) and Derek and Julianna Hough’s “Move Live on Tour” (July 25). However, the budding actors and actresses in the family can go beyond the famous marquee and stand on the world famous stage as part of the backstage tour ($10 children, $15 adults.) Search for your heroes on the autographed wall and get a peek into the history of one of the last remaining movie palaces in the country. 175 N. State St.

Cloud gate Millenium Park Ibrahim Cetindemir photo
Cloud gate Millenium Park Ibrahim Cetindemir photo

Shop: The 900 N. Michigan Shops building is anchored by Bloomingdales, an expansive six floors of fashion at all price-ranges. Just across the atrium the stores begin with mid-level fashion (J.Crew, Adidas, and Cache) with plenty of high-end window-shopping to be done at stores like Max Mara and Gucci.

If you aren’t in the market to spend triple digits on your accessories, the center of the ground floor has a Sermoneta pop-up shop.
The Italian gloves have had a devoted following of Hollywood and fashion types since the 1960’s, and the rainbow spectrum of leather gloves are often less than $99. Wee ones can pick a treat of their own at the British-based Galt Toys + Galt Baby.

The store stocks big ticket items like strollers and trampolines, but there are also plenty of kites, kooshes, and stuffed toys. Check out their Swedish dollhouse collection, Smaland. 900 N. Michigan Ave.

Exit Bloomingdales to E. Walton and cross the street to the giant pink cupcake ATM. Sprinkles cupcake bakery stocks a variety of changing flavors like Cuban Coffee and Salty Caramel in their streetside cupcake ATM. Slide your card and make your selection before watching a robotic arm pick out your box and deposit it in the chute. Open 24/7, it even has cupcakes for hungry pups. 50 E. Walton,

Rest: The secret to traveling with kids is little breaks, and plenty of them. Argo Tea is a glass-housed refuge in the center of the Gold Coast, providing some of the best people watching in town. The locally-based chain serves teas of all varieties, chilling out in the summer with specialties like Hisbiscus Tea Sangria and Mojitea. Light snacks are available, as is a changing selection of frozen yogurt. If you really need to a beat the line, orders can be placed online and picked up at the counter. 871 N. Wabash,

Magdalena ZenaidaMagdalena Zenaida lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan and is currently writing a series of essays about travel and mythology in Northern Europe. 

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