Oh Chicago. You were never on my radar but you sure are now!
To tell you our story of Chicago, there is a bit of backstory that must be shared. Summer of last year, Alex’s grandfather sadly passed away. He had a beautiful and full life, one worth celebrating! He was originally from Louisville, KY. I will always remember his slight Southern drawl and kind spirit. There was annual Kentucky Derby parties with mint juleps and family gatherings where he would tell the most amazing stories of his life. Grandpa Charlie wanted to be buried in Louisville. Talk started early this year of getting a family trip together to bury his ashes. Alex and I talked about joining and immediately starting to figure out other places to visit while on that side of the country. At one point we thought we might do a driving trip from Atlanta all the way to Washington DC. A tad ambitious on our parts! And after realizing we didn’t have enough time away from work, we visited the option of Chicago.
If you are anything like me, and maybe haven’t looked at a map of the U.S. in a while (embarrassing!), I didn’t realize how close Chicago and Louisville actually are. Having lived in California my whole life, it still takes me a minute to remember that in other parts of the country, it is easy to drive from one state to another. Turns out, Chicago is only 5 hours from Louisville! And thus our travel adventure was born.
Chicago was not often a place I dreamed of visiting. However in the past year, I have started following a few Chicago bloggers and have seen such amazing photos of the city! On top of it, many of my wedding couples come from Chicago. It started to seem like a vibrant, exciting city. As I always do before a vacation, I find all the articles I can about the place I am visiting. I research food, neighborhoods and activities. Chicago was startin’ to look real good! And let me tell you, it did not disappoint in the slightest! There were moments I actually thought I wanted to move. ME! The “California, never going to live away from the ocean” girl.
As always with EVERY vacation we go on, I never take as many photos as I hope. It becomes a bit cumbersome to carry our gear everywhere we go and truthfully, sometimes I just want to be free to explore. However, we did take some pretty awesome photos to document this amazing city that I am happy to share with you. And hear more of our story below!
Day 1: We checked into our CUTE Airbnb in the mid-afternoon. I immediately fell in love with the quiet, tree-lined streets and brick brownstones. When selecting an Airbnb, we decided we wanted a cozy place, close to amenities but not right in downtown. We settled on Ukranian Village/West Town. The neighborhoods of Chicago are awesome! Each are unique and have their own charm to them. I wanted to explore them all! After freshening up, we just started walking. We made it to the main drag of our neighborhood and stopped at a cute cafe for a pastry and iced tea. We decided we would just head to downtown Chicago, not really knowing where we were going. We figured out that most of the neighborhoods are about 2-3 miles from downtown Chicago. After we got tired of walking, we jumped on the L. *Travelers Tip: Don’t rent a car! The traffic is horrendous and I think you’d miss so much by trying to drive the city. We did rent a car to drive to KY and the whole process of getting in and out of the city was the only stressful part of our trip. There are plenty of ways to get around the city that are cheap and easy such as The L, rental bikes and Ubers.
First off, a river runs through downtown Chicago and it is stunningly beautiful! Something about tall skyscrapers and bustling city streets feel much more calm with this beautiful green/blue river meandering through it. The river walk is incredibly popular with restaurants lining the river. We realized pretty quickly that we got some of the best weather Chicago has to offer. Temps were in the 80’s with mild humidity and a cool breeze. Everyone was out either drinking, eating, walking their dogs or just touring the city. I loved the vibe so much! We had been told we HAD to take the architectural boat tour. It seemed touristy (which we tend to try to stay away from), but we decided it was worth a try. Chicago is know for it’s unique architectural buildings. After dinner at Duck Duck Goat (so good!), we took the twilight cruise which meant our tour ended with a stunning view of the city lit up. Totally worth it!! And one of the more memorable moments of our trip. *Travelers Tip:
Day 2: We woke up early and made our way to Doughnut Vault in River North. We had read about this spot and that they are known to sell out quick! We walked a few blocks to a Divy bike station and grabbed two bikes. We biked a few miles to tasty baked treats. Of course there was a line out front, but the cinnamon stacked doughnuts were worth the wait. The rest of the day was spent visiting local parks and Lake Michigan. In the late afternoon, we got drinks at the rooftop deck at the J.Parker, meeting a few friends who happened to be in Chicago for the weekend as well. After drinks, Alex and I took an uber to Ada St. for dinner. I had read about this place and the vibe just seemed on point. I seriously recommend this spot for dinner. Tasty food, delicious drinks and a stylish, urban vibe that we loved. We even met some locals at the table next to us and ended up chatting through the end of dinner. When we got back to our Airbnb, I was ready to put on p.j.s and turn in for the night. My food loving husband had other ideas! He convinced me to walk about 5 blocks down the street at 10 pm for a fried chicken sandwich. When in Rome…! * Travelers Tip: There are Divy bike stations ALL over the city, making it incredibly convenient to pick one up and drop it off at your next destination. And it is cheap too! You can actually see where the bike stations are on google maps.
Day 3: We biked to Parson’s Chicken and Fish for lunch. Another awesome hangout with a fun, young crowd. After eating way too much fried chicken and fish, somehow we got back on bikes and headed downtown to check out the Art Institute. It was nice to get out of the heat and see some awesome art. This museum is beautiful with a great photography exhibit. Afterwards we headed down to Lake Michigan to put our feet in the water. It felt amazing! I still have a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that Lake Michigan is not the ocean! It is so vast and there are tiny waves and soft sand on the beach. It was truly majestic. I wish we had one extra day to go swimming. With the weather being so nice, the beach was incredibly crowded! On our last night in the city before heading to Kentucky, Alex convinced me to go to the top of the Sears Tower Sky Deck. The views were certainly amazing. Now I can say I have done it and never have to again. On our way back to our Airbnb, we stopped for take out tacos at Big Star Taco in Wicker Park. There was a reggae festival happening in the streets. It was awesome people watching and so fun to walk home to the music.
Day 4: We woke up early, packed our bags and headed to Kentucky to visit family. I don’t have many photos from our time in the South. Truthfully, it was SO hot and humid that I couldn’t even think about carrying around my photo gear. We had the cutest Airbnb I have ever seen and would stay here again in a heartbeat. This is just about the end of our photo adventure. But here are some final highlights of Kentucky as well as our last night in Chicago.
- Kentucky is lush and green with beautiful historic homes and small town charm.
- We got to visit my wedding album company which is based in Louisville! Such a neat experience to actually be at their headquarters!
- We ate at an awesome pizza place called Garage Bar our first night in Louisville.
- Being that Kentucky is on the border of the time change from central to EST, the sun set super late! We went to dinner at 8:45 pm and it had just gotten dark when we were leaving around 9:30 pm.
- A large thunderstorm rolled through on night 2 and then we got the most spectacular sunset. True Southern style with fireflies and all. I just wanted to sit out on a back deck with some sweet tea.
- Meeting the Kentucky family at Grandpa Charlie’s burial and then having a big BBQ feast that night was by far a highlight. I felt so welcomed and that I have known these perfect strangers forever.
- We road tripped back to Chicago with Alex’s two cousins and the stories and laughs are something I will remember and cherish forever.
- On our final night in Chicago we ate at Green Street Smoked Meats (cafeteria tray, buffet of meats and sides + doughnuts – nuff’ said!) and then walked through the streets of Chicago under the moonlight after a mini rainstorm. It was absolutely perfect.