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Top Ten Cities For You and Your Kids: Chicago, Illinois

by Elaine Sosa Labalme

A big city adventure during the holiday season is the stuff of which dreams are made.  Think Currier and Ives print, but with brighter lights and bigger buildings.  We tick off the list of possibilities:  New York – booked up; Los Angeles – too warm; Miami – even warmer; Las Vegas – not real; Chicago – ding ding ding!  The Windy City might be downright chilly in December but it's accessible, friendly and filled with possibilities for fun-seeking families.  Our long holiday weekend plays out like this...


We opt to drive to Chicago from our home in Pittsburgh so as to avoid lengthy flight delays – a Google map pegs the journey at just over seven hours, which sounds reasonable.  A travel plaza on the Indiana Toll Road beckons about halfway through our trip.  As we exit our car, we are standing – make that slipping – on an inches-thick sheet of ice.  My husband, Fen, points out that the hood of our car is sheathed in a similar sheet.  We slide inside and make a bee-line for McDonald's, a place our seven-year-old son, Steven, has visited only once.  Fen orders an Egg McMuffin and Steven and I each get a warm drink.

“Mom, it's funny how everything here starts with 'Mc,'” Steven says.

It's true – McMuffin, McChicken and now even McCafe.  We are soon sprinkling our sentences with words like McTable, McChair, McPaper and McPeople.  Steven decides he wants an Egg McMuffin of his own and I decide to join him for this rare treat.  We both find the warm egg breakfast satisfying and continue with our McSilliness.

“You'd better finish McEating or we'll never get to Chicago,” I warn him.  Steven McLaughs.

An unexpected delay on the Indiana Toll Road gets us into Chicago late in the afternoon and we're famished.  Seeing as how the city is known for its hot dogs and pizzas (read: kid heaven), we head to Portillo's Hot Dogs, which has an outlet not far from the Magnificent Mile, Chicago's premier shopping destination.  I order a classic dog and it comes with mustard, relish, sliced tomatoes and a pickle spear – all inside the bun.  Surprisingly, it works, even if the dog isn't much bigger than the pickle spear.  Steven orders the chili cheese dog and he slurps the entire creamy mess.  Fen's Italian sausage with hot peppers is meaty and mildly sweet but also on the small side.  I return to the counter and order more food for Fen and me, which brings the original steal deal up to more typical meal pricing.

We bundle up and head back outside, where Steven is fascinated by the amount of ice on the ground, the buildings, the trees.  Fen spots a fellow valiantly trying to get his car out of its frozen-solid parking spot.  Two big guys are already on the job, pushing the car from the back while the driver revs up the engine.  Two more men join in the pushing and Fen makes it a quintet.  It takes every bit of this muscle to propel the car out and onto the road.  A crowd on the sidewalk cheers at their feat.

It's a few more blocks to the stretch of Michigan Avenue known as the Magnificent Mile.  This roughly mile-long shopping and dining district is graced by luxe retailers Nordstrom, Neiman's and Saks and a host of desirable men's and women's stores.  Those nifty family shopping emporiums, the Apple Store and Disney Store, stand almost cheek to cheek.  As dusk settles in, I am enchanted by the beautifully-dressed women striding purposefully to their destination.  I'm in a big city again and it feels magical.  Fen seems to be caught in the moment as well – he pulls me into Nordstrom and insists I try on a pair of winter boots.  Surprisingly, I demur.  We make our way toward the Chicago River, passing the iconic Wrigley Building and equally elegant Tribune Tower, both shimmering against the night sky.  The whole of the Chicago skyline as seen from here is a postcard for the ages.

At the Swissotel, an angular glass tower snug against the Chicago River, we're greeted with keys for the Shedd Aquarium Suite.  The hotel offers three two-bedroom suites, each themed after one of the city's premier family attractions:  the Shedd, the Adler Planetarium and the Field Museum.  Our son has voted aquatic and his room is an underwater fantasy perched on the 30th floor.  Plushy Nemos are everywhere, along with an assortment of stuffed sea creatures, piles of toys and games and dozens of bath toys in a soaking tub.  The bathroom light is a neon orb filled with swimming fish and a small bedroom desk offers coloring books of the sea.

“I love it!” Steven squeals.

His room connects to ours via a dramatic living space enveloped in floor-to-ceiling glass.  A long desk and console look out over Lake Michigan to the east while a sprawling sectional sofa is positioned to take in both an eastern and northern view.  Tables and chairs complete the space along with a flat-screen TV.  The second bedroom also faces north and features a dreamy king bed and ample Jacuzzi tub, a dead heat if there ever was one.

“Mom, there are three bathrooms and three flat-screen TVs in our suite,” Steven announces.  I hear him, though I'm smitten with the view of Chicago through the mist and fog.

Our last stop of the evening is a National Hockey League game at the United Center.  The Chicago Blackhawks are playing host to the Philadelphia Flyers, which makes it doubly easy for us to root for the hometown team and against our dreaded cross-state rivals.  A friend back home has told us that hockey is the best professional sport to see live, and we quickly see why.  Despite the enormity of the space, the noise level is intense and a nearly ten-minute multi-media introduction brings the house down.  Once the teams hit the ice, the Blackhawks score two goals in short order, raising the noise level even higher.  Steven is in heaven, dancing after each goal as if he'd been rooting for the Blackhawks his entire life.  Fen ducks away for some eats and returns with a barbequed chicken sandwich the size of my fist.  At the second intermission, we make our way down to Fan-demonium, the team's gear store and home base for its most ardent fans.  The red-and-black gear is all that, everything from jerseys to hoodies and teensy boy shorts for the girl in your life. Back inside, the home team continues to dominate with razor-sharp play and bests the Flyers by a score of 5-1.  Steven dances all the way back to the Swissotel.


Navy Pier is one of those all-in-one, family-friendly destinations that aims to keep you amused morning, noon and night.  There's lots to do along this re-purposed pier perched on the shores of Lake Michigan:  the 15-story tall McDonald's ferris wheel (Mc is back!), an IMAX theatre, the Chicago Children's Museum, scads of stores and dining options galore.  The holiday season rings in Winter WonderFest at Navy Pier, an indoor carnival in a cavernous hall that must host trade shows the rest of the year.  A stand of fancifully-decorated Christmas trees greets us as we enter but Steven doesn't gawk for long – countless inflatable slides populate the space and are buzzing with bouncing kids.  Our young son runs the circuit, pausing long enough to ride the Wind Glider with dear old Mom.  We soar like birds but Steven proclaims bouncing better.  He takes a pass on the ice skating rink and climbing wall and we pull him out of the Fest two hours later, dripping with sweat.

It's a rainy stroll over to Gold Coast Dogs, another hot dog shop favored by locals.   A Magnificent Dog becomes a magnificent mess in Steven's hands but he loves his steamed dog with ketchup, mustard and neon-green relish nonetheless.  My Mag Dog with everything is mild in flavor though the hot peppers pack a vinegary punch while Fen's double char with everything also appeals.  Much like Portillo's, the décor is a zero but we've come to eat so we let it pass.  We dodge more raindrops on our way to Millennium Park, a corner of Grant Park that was re-imagined for Y2K even if it did open a few years late.  The 24.5 acre green space acts as a canvas for great public art as seen in sculptor Anish Kapoor's Cloud Gate.  Dubbed “The Bean” by locals, the silvery, bean-shaped creation is a stories-high mirror for the city.  Like everyone else under and around it on this wet afternoon, we make faces at the bean and pose with our likenesses, reflected back to us from the opposite side (it sounds confusing but it makes sense once you step into the underbelly of the bean).  Across the way is artist Jaume Plensa's Crown Fountain, an interactive whim that showcases faces spurting water.  The water's off on this cold winter day but we happily admire the diverse faces towering over us, composed of millions of LED lights that blink along with their subjects. 

Across from the park is The Art Institute, the grande dame of Midwestern art museums.  I've looked forward to a visit for years and make a mad dash for the Impressionist collection.  Face to face with countless Van Goghs and Monets, I beckon Steven to my side.  He yawns.  I pick up the pace, ending with Edward Hopper's Nighthawks, possibly my favorite painting of all time.  Steven tugs at my arm, begging for the exit.  I direct him, with Fen in tow, to the Kraft Family Education Center, the museum's overture toward bored kids.  As we walk in, a screen titled “Morphing Faces” rotates from one  of the museum's masterworks to the next using sophisticated morphing technology.  Steven is mesmerized – my boy sits still for nearly ten minutes, taking the art in.  We work our way through assorted interactive exhibits, with the “Bill Peet Storybook Menagerie” the big winner (who can resist Pamela Camel and Cowardly Clyde?).

The rain and chill have finally taken their toll so we head back to the Swissotel, where Steven wastes no time in sizing up the euro-coffeemaker in our room.  Made by a company named Keurig, it brews coffee and tea using small capsules that are catapulted into the brewing mechanism.  Steven plays barista while I orchestrate a tea party with some homemade muffins and a loaf of Stollen baked by a friend back home.  We sprawl on the sofa and eat and drink the afternoon away. 

Shifting gears later in the evening, we pay a visit to ESPN Zone, a mash-up of sports bar, pub grub and gaming arcade, all of it on steroids.  The Sammy Sosa Skybox, a private suite usually reserved for athletes, is available so we give it a spin.  Chocolate couches and plump wing chairs pair with the requisite TV screen (remote included).  From our glass-walled chamber, we peer down onto the main seating area, where diners are dwarfed by a giant TV screen flanked by yet another dozen screens.  There are a hundred screens in all at ESPN Zone, including one in each and every bathroom stall.  Our server, Kate, is a Chicagoan with an earthy sensibility who runs us through the menu and convinces me to order a pomegranate margarita, the kind of drink I usually pooh-pooh as so much silliness.  I eat my words and drink the whole thing.  We wolf down an order of boneless chicken wings and Fen and I fight over his apple-walnut salad.  My husband's falling-off-the-bone ribs are also spot-on, leaving me to wonder why I ever ordered salmon at a sports bar in the Midwest.  Steven pronounces his mac and cheese delicious and two NHL games later, we leave the food zone and head to the game zone, where Steven is a dud at hoops but excels at every game that involves driving.  I coax him into a game of air hockey and he cleans my clock.  We pay one last visit to our sky box for a delicious brownie sundae and soon pad out into the Chicago night, visions of sporting events dancing in our heads.


Winter in Chicago brings with it the outdoor ice skating rink at Millennium Park.  The skies have finally cleared so we soon find ourselves doing revolutions in the shadow of The Bean.  Countless Chicago skyscrapers are set against a deep blue sky and further enhance the already stunning setting.  Hunger calls so we step in to the Park Grill overlooking the ice rink.  The room is a brown and white mosaic where dark suede booths play against white-napped tables.  A fireplace adds to the palpable warmth.  Local, sustainable cuisine is the order of the day so we begin with a roasted red pepper and tomato soup topped by a goat cheese crostini.  A scallop dish is revelatory thanks to the accompanying plantain puree and a pumpkin-cocoa vinaigrette.  Our server reminds us that the Grill's Kobe burger is rated tops by Chicago Magazine so we take his advice and eat what is arguably the best burger of our lives:  melt-in-your-mouth meat is topped with Gorgonzola, balsamic onions and grain mustard.  My excellent fettucine with shrimp is shoved aside as I insist on sharing Fen's burger.  Steven's grilled cheese is also a winner and I toast the event with a glass of buttery Far Niente Chardonnay.

I drop my guys off at the LEGO Store on the Magnificent Mile, the better for me to rummage around American Girl Place, a mecca for girls and their very special Girl.  It was schoolteacher Pleasant T. Rowland who started the company in 1986 after she grew frustrated with the lack of sensible dolls available for her nieces.  Her American Girl dolls, each of whom speaks to a point in history and all that came along with it, quickly became a hit.  These core “character” dolls were soon joined by nearly two dozen “just like you” dolls, playmates that are chosen by their owner as a mini-representation of themselves.  But it doesn't stop there:  girls can dress like their Girl and even snap up some siblings, known as Bitty Babies and Bitty Twins.  With the launch of American Girl Place, girls finally had a place to commune with their Girls and all the other girls who felt just like them.  At the Place, girls can bring their Girls to a Doll Hair Salon (coiffure and ear piercing are both on the menu), a Doll Hospital (scratches are taken just as seriously as broken bones) and even enlist the services of a Personal Shopper  (matchy-matchy may no longer be in Vogue but it's always in style here).  While I never had this relationship with my Barbie (and it's hard to say if I'm the better or worse for it), there's no denying that these girls are over the moon in their Girl world.  At the second-floor American Girl Cafe, a confection of pink and black, young girls and their Girls are seated for lunch alongside Mom and assorted female friends.  I ask one of the moms if she has any boys.

“I do have a son,” she tells me, “but there's way too much pink here for boys.  I dropped him and his dad off at ESPN Zone.”

Reminded of my own boys back at the LEGO Store, I scoot across the street to the John Hancock Center, where we've agreed to meet.  Fen gives me the report:  only $7 spent on a “LEGO cup” filled with the spare parts Steven needs for his building projects.  After a brief search in the Hancock's lower lobby, we step into a line that snakes around for, oh, about a mile.  Looks like we're not the only ones eager for the view from the top of one of Chicago's most beloved buildings.  A high-speed elevator finally whisks us to the 94th floor, where we are handed an audio tour via an iPod-type device.  The tour is narrated by “Friends” alum and Chicago native David Schwimmer, who'll always be Ross to me.  Steven flits from one designated audio stop to the next, grinning as he goes.  I'm not sure if he's enjoying the view or the audio tour more so I switch from the adult's tour to the kid's version and do find it more appealing.

“Mom, are we really seeing four states from here?” Steven asks.

I'm sure we are, as it's a clear day and the views are incredible.  I am especially intrigued by the Gold Coast beaches on the shores of Lake Michigan.  They seem so incongruous on this cold winter day but I'm sure they're a savior come the heat and humidity of June.

Our room for the night is at the Hotel Monaco, part of the Kimpton Hotels group and a place where the court jester has clearly come to play.  Bold colors are everywhere and fanciful flourishes abound.  The walls in our room have wide green and yellow striping and there are splashes of red and gold on the beds and chairs.  The one bit of understatement is a masterstroke:  wide window sashes (as in six by eight feet wide) are graced by a plump pad with red and white ticking.  The window is equally large, making for a nifty cube in which my boy wants to live.  The Chicago skyline is at Steven's feet as he settles into his singular space.

“Dad, I want to sleep here tonight,” Steven announces, and he seems in no mood for negotiation.  Fen proceeds to strip one of the double beds and creates a snoozing chamber so appealing I wish the window seat was for me.

“Mom, once I close these curtains tonight, you and Dad are NOT allowed in to my room,” says Steven.

“Deal,” I say with a smile.

We have tickets to “Blue Man Group” and while Fen and I aren't sure this type of theatrical performance will appeal to Steven, our fears are quickly dispelled.  The three blue men of the eponymous group spend close to two hours engaged in a mix of music and gross-out humor.  One blue man makes paint spurt out of a drum with every whack of his stick while a second blue man lobs marshmallows across the stage into the mouth of the third blue man.  Marshmallow Man proceeds to regurgitate and the resulting white blob resembles the shape of the Hancock Building.  Later on, an unwitting audience member becomes a foil for the men's Twinkie lunch and it it Steven who catches a gob of Jello that is launched into the audience for no apparent reason.  Our son cackles throughout these set pieces, the last of which is an endless toilet paper shower – thankfully, clean.

Once back at the Monaco, Steven and I send Fen for take-out pizza.  Our deep dish pizza from Pizano's isn't particularly deep but it is fresh and flavorful and I make a point of eating everyone's buttery cornmeal crust.  Belly full, our son hops onto his window bed and bids us good night.


The Field Museum is best known as the home of Sue, a 90%-complete dinosaur skeleton unearthed in South Dakota in 1980.  Our girl (though she could be a boy named Sue, no one knows for sure) is on glorious display in the museum's main hall and she is truly a sight to behold.  Sue's T-Rex head has gotten heavier over time thanks to fossilized bones, which means her head now rests in a glass case on the second floor while the one on the rest of her frame is a re-creation.  Gawking at Sue will take a good bit of your time but there are plenty of other reasons to be here – as an institution dedicated to the study of anthropology, zoology, paleontology and botany, there's something for the scientist in everyone.  Taking a cue from Steven, we proceed to “Nature Unleashed,” an interactive exhibit on the forces of nature.  In no time, we are startled by earthquake (videos) and seemingly pelted by hurricane-force winds.  The wraparound video of a tornado proves addictive to our adrenaline-fueled kid and I finally prod him out of the exhibit after the fourth twister.  At “Aztec World,” another excellent exhibit (and exclusive to the Field), this oft-misunderstood ancient civilization is brought to life thanks to a comprehensive selection of artifacts and a fact-filled audio tour.  Steven once again engages in electronic speed-touring, moving faster than I can grasp the various stone figurines and intricate jewelry carved without the aid of metal tools.  The Aztecs' penchant for sacrifice is also detailed and it's the youngest member of our family that's least affected by what he's seeing.  We spend the rest of the morning poring over the permanent collection and wind up, at Steven's request, at “Underground Adventure,” a study of bugs from their point of view.

Hankering for more pizza, we pay a visit to Giordano's, which bills itself as the place for stuffed pizza.  No one in Chicago can seem to tell us the difference between deep dish and stuffed pizza so we attempt to suss it out ourselves.  Our pie is piled high with spinach, onions and sausage and topped with cheese and a chunky tomato sauce.  The resulting pizza looks stuffed and is deep and the only thing missing is a really buttery cornmeal crust.  If I could engineer a merger between Pizano's and Giordano's, life would be grand.  Determined to walk off our lunch, I point us in the direction of Michigan Avenue.  I've fallen in love with this street, even giving it a pet name:  Michy Ave.  Steven keeps asking me to call the street by its real name but I stubbornly refuse.  We stroll past Millennium Park and cross the Chicago River, once again finding ourselves on the Magnificent Mile.  I could easily be tempted to shop but the window shopping is more than enough on this glorious, sun-kissed afternoon.  We end up at Teuscher Chocolates in a vertical mall near the end of the Mile and come face-to-face with some of the prettiest truffles I've ever seen.  I finally shop.

Our last night in Chicago is spent at the Hotel Allegro, a sister property of the Hotel Monaco.  Walking into the hotel's stunning lobby, fresh from a multi-million dollar makeover, I totally get how Cinderella's sisters felt once she turned into, well, Cinderella.  Copper-colored leather ottomans shimmer under the lobby's keen lighting and anchor cozy seating areas filled with pink, red or orange couches.  An adjacent lobby is done in bright white and sapphire blue and graced by a grand piano; a third lounging space calls to mind The Mod Squad and is a medley of black and white vinyl.  All around, people are sipping drinks and chatting, some animatedly and others not in that “I'm-so-hot” Paris Hilton way.  A glance toward the far end of the lobby reminds us that we've arrived during the Allegro's happy hour, when wine flows freely for guests.  Fen and I ask for red and request a glass of water for Steven, since soft drinks aren't part of the mix.  My men play card games on Fen's cell phone as I sink into a chair and take it all in.  Our eleventh-floor suite is a continuation of the icy blue and white theme and is coolly Scandinavian in feel.  A mod sofa bed and chair invite living and lounging in front of the flat-screen TV while the bedroom is a study in plentiful white and comes with an iPod docking station and more outlets than I'll ever need.  We take turns tubbing, at which point I outfit each of us in Kimpton-issue animal-print robes that totally clash with the décor.

“Hey, it's not 'Project Runway,'” I say to Fen as I finish my wine.

At the Frontera Grill, chef Rick Bayless indulges his love affair with all things Mexican.  The dining room is awash in color, with Mexican primitives dotting the perimeter.  Our guacamole is perfect, its lime-splashed perkiness the perfect foil for crisp-as-can-be house made chips.  My chicken enchiladas benefit from a mild mole sauce while Fen's tacos “al carbon” prove to be the real deal.  A plate of plump corn tortillas awaits a filling of pork flecked with caramelized onions and mushrooms and topped with guacamole and black beans.  Thankfully, there are enough taco fixings on Fen's plate to feed the three of us.  Conversely, an order of plantains with sour cream and cheese destined for our threesome becomes a single serving in Steven's hands.  Too full for dessert, we head back to the Allegro and promptly fall asleep.


Intelligentsia Coffee is known to java junkies as the place for single-serve cups of coffee brewed in a Clover machine, a piece of equipment that garners an inordinate amount of press.  You can also get coffee brewed in a generic machine but when in Rome...  I order a cup of the Nicaraguan blend while Fen chooses Rwanda, a country I didn't even know to be a producer of coffee beans.  My brew is full-flavored, fresh and in no way acidic while Fen's cup is nutty and equally lovely.  We decide that Intelligentsia not only talks the talk, it walks the walk.

The final stop of our visit is at the Museum of Science and Industry, the most thrilling place Fen visited as a kid and an ode to things both mechanical and scientific.  It's likely things will be different all these years hence so we peruse the visitor's map and hatch a plan.  Our first stop is The Great Train Story, where the growth of the country's rail system from Seattle to Chicago is laid out over a series of scale models.  Actual train engines are placed about the cavernous room, which looks more like an airplane hangar – something it might have been judging from the real airplanes hanging from the ceiling.  Over at Farm Tech, we find ourselves in a full-sized John Deere combine complete with audio and video loop of a farm at harvest time.  Steven pretends to drive while I marvel at the size of the machinery.  “Follow me!” commands Steven, as he escorts us into the Energy Lab, a scale model of Thomas Edison's first electric power plant.  There are lots of things to touch and turn and learn from, with the bottom line being we consume WAY too much power in our society.  Amid shouts of “Let's go! Let's go!”  Steven steers us to ToyMaker 3000, where twelve robots are tasked with making Gravitrons, a toy top that's a hit with kids – and you will get to take home your very own.  Our son continues to  process complex exhibits at a ridiculous clip and after nearly four hours at the museum, we've barely scratched its surface.  We resign ourselves to visiting the Coal Mine and the U-505 Submarine (the only German sub in the U.S.) another day.  It's all for the best, as we can't wait to have another Windy City weekend.



Portillo's Hot Dogs, 100 W. Ontario Street  (312) 587-8910  portillos.com.  Open seven days a week.

The Magnificent Mile runs along Michigan Avenue from the Chicago River to E. Oak Street.  A useful map with store info can be found at http://www.chicagotraveler.com/chicago_magnificent_mile_shopping_map.htm.

Swissotel, 323 E. Wacker Drive  (312) 565-0565  swissotelchicago.com.  Standard doubles from $229; themed two-bedroom family suites, including four museum tickets and full breakfast, start at $699; online packages and promotional rates available.  The hotel is home to The Palm Restaurant and a penthouse health club with pool and panoramic view.

The Chicago Blackhawks play from October-March at the United Center.  Ticket and game information can be found at blackhawks.nhl.com, with seats ranging from $15 to $300.

Navy Pier is Chicago's lakefront playground.  Open daily; check navypier.com for hours at specific venues.  The Winter WonderFest runs daily throughout the holiday season with a variety of ticket combinations available for purchase.

Gold Coast Dogs, 159 N. Wabash  (312) 917-1677  goldcoastdogs.net.  Open daily.

Millennium Park is at the northwest corner of Grant Park along Michigan Avenue.  Notable art and architecture, including the Frank Gehry-designed Jay Pritzker Pavilion, complements the many green spaces.  The outdoor ice rink is open November-March and is free; skates can be rented for a fee.  Visit millenniumpark.org for more info.

The Art Institute, 111 S. Michigan Avenue  (312) 443-3600  artic.edu.  Open daily.  The museum's Modern Wing opens May 2009.

ESPN Zone, 43 E. Ohio Street  (312) 644-3776  espnzone.com.  Open daily for lunch and dinner; free wi-fi throughout.  Skybox rates run from $125-$150 per hour and are the only reserved seating available (all other seats are first-come, first-served though priority seating reservations can be made online).

Park Grill, 11 N. Michigan Avenue  (312) 521-PARK  parkgrillchicago.com.  Open daily for lunch and dinner; reservations strongly encouraged.

LEGO Store, 520 N. Michigan Avenue  (312) 494-0760  lego.com.  Open daily.

American Girl Place, 835 N. Michigan Avenue  (312) 943-9400  americangirlplace.com.  Open daily.  The Cafe serves brunch, lunch, dinner and afternoon tea; reservations are essential and can be made by calling (877) 247-5223.

John Hancock Center, 875 N. Michigan Avenue  (888) 875-VIEW  hancock-observatory.com.  Open daily.  Tickets include elevator ride, multimedia tour and history wall and are priced at $15 (adults), $9 (youth) and $13 (seniors).

Hotel Monaco, 225 N. Wabash  (312) 960-8500  monaco-chicago.com.  Doubles from $199 with suites starting at $299; Internet packages and promotions available.  The hotel offers free wi-fi throughout and is pet-friendly; the South Water Kitchen is on-site and serves breakfast, lunch and dinner.

The Blue Man Group performs at the Briar Street Theatre, 3133 N. Halsted.  Show times and ticket information are available at http://www.blueman.com/tickets/chicago.

Pizano's, 61 E. Madison Street  (312) 236-1777  pizanoschicago.com.  Pizza available for eat-in, take-out or delivery seven days a week.

The Field Museum, 1400 S. Lake Shore Drive  (312) 922-9410  fieldmuseum.org.  Open daily and free the second Monday of the month.  The Nature Unleashed exhibit will travel across North America over the next several years, with confirmed dates in Denver, Atlanta and Toronto, Canada; Aztec World is at the museum through April 2009.

Giordano's, 310 W. Randolph Street  (312) 201-1441  giordanos.com.  Open daily for dine-in, take-out or delivery; they also ship pizzas nationwide.

Hotel Allegro, 171 W. Randolph Street  (312) 236-0123  allegrochicago.com.  Standard rooms from $179 with suites starting at $279; Internet packages and promotions available.  Excellent theater district location and two on-site dining destinations, 312 Chicago and Encore Liquid Lounge; a quick breakfast is available at Cameo in the lobby.

Frontera Grill, 445 N. Clark Street  (312) 661-1434  fronterakitchens.com.  Open for lunch and dinner Tues-Sat; reservations essential.

Intelligentsia Coffee, 55 E. Randolph Street  (312) 920-9332  intelligentsiacoffee.com.  Open seven days (from 6 a.m. Mon-Fri and 7 a.m. Sat-Sun).

Museum of Science and Industry, 5700 S. Lake Shore Drive  (773) 684-1414  msichicago.org.  Open daily.

Elaine Sosa Labalme is a food and travel writer based in Pittsburgh, PA . When she's not busy as a domestic goddess she's out traveling with husband Fen and seven-year-old son Steven. She hopes to be the next Charles Kuralt.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the businesses in question before making your plans.

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