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Having lived in Chicago about 15 years, we knew where to take our Minnesota junior high Girl Scout troop on a Memorial Day trip.
Low cost, comfortable, tour bus connects Union Station Chicago to Milwaukee, Minneapolis, St. Louis and cities in Ohio.
We walked from Union Station, where the Megabus stops, to the HI-Chicago youth hostel, a Girl Scouting - approved hostel where we had booked a room.
See my review... as urban hostels go, this one deserves its rewards. It's greatest asset is an absolutely fantastic location, right in the loop --- walking distance from great attractions, and right on the State Street El line and bus lines that lead to others.
We walked to Ada's for dinner after settling in at the hostel...Get the potato pancakes, pastrami or corned beef sandwiches, knishes.... ooo it makes me hungry to remember...
On Saturday morning, we walked to the Cultural Center, stopped at the visitor's center to buy a 3-day pass for all buses, subway, El and commuter trains... and, get a CityPass book that will let you into 5 museums... we ended up saving 10-15 dollars apiece on the places we went...
A good weather walk: we crossed the street into Millenium Park... visit the Bean, then walk through the south end of the music pavilion towards the Lake, south through gorgeous gardens towards the Art Institute (I'd stop there on my own, the girls vetoed it, sad...) then down along the lakefront, past the harbor, to the museum campus...
I would stop right here if alone, but the girls voted no.... so we kept walking along the lakefront beside the harbor... people-watching the skaters, bikes, skateboards, walkers of all ages and nationalities.
The girl's 1st choice.... Great dolphin show and beluga whales, always interesting special exhibits... be sure to see the dolphin tank from underneath, very zen...
Next door to the Shedd, easy to pop in with CItyPass; imagine being miles above earth in the teeny Galileo spacecraft; how nice of Jim Lovell to donate an astronaut's bathroom bag, one of the girl's favorite recollections in the category of "things you always wondered about but didn't dare ask..."
We did NOT go in the Field this time, most had been there before; this would be the 1st stop for most groups with younger kids, though, there is so much for the elementary age kids to do there.. again, girl's choice... but it is right next door to the acquarium and planetarium.... What we DID do is buy and eat wonderful VIenna beef Chicago hot dogs from the cart in FRONT of the Field, with all the fixin's... why do they taste so much better here on a breezy, sunny day, with the BEST Chicago skyline view and all the photo-taking wedding parties decorating the lakefront lawns?
this is authentic Chicago pizza, doughy and cheesy... it'll never be my personal fav but the girls were crazy about it, and, when in Rome.... there are a bunch of branches, all accessible via buses, we should have gone to the one on Jackson which would have been closer to the hostel, and Merle Reskin theater, than the one we visited farther north...
Merle Reskin, which was formerly the Blackstone, is an historic theater building now owned by DePaul University and a venue for shows including their prizewinning Theater School productions. The seats are worn and it won't be packed, but the price is right and you'll see some great talent and good shows. It is just a couple of blocks away from the hostel. The other great theaters also are within a few blocks... we would like to have seen Wicked, for instance, but tickets for those shows run pricey.
we were a bit late and had to take 2 taxis to the theater... and even doing this became an adventure, for several of the suburban girls who had never ridden in a fast, crazy, urban cab before!
Sunday morning, we took the red line on State Street to the Chinatown stop, and walked a couple of blocks to Phoenix for the BEST dim sum in Chicago... You definitely want to make a reservation or get there no later than 10:30 AM because the lines will be out the door and down the block by 11:00.... dim sum is a Chinese brunch with little dumplings brought around on rolling steam-carts... all of us stuffed ourselves, including our one vegetarian who are mainly sweets for breakfast (declining the offer to order a veggie stirfry)...the atmosphere is very fun, with many multi-generation families... and the cost per person is so low for such a feast. Try everything... the waitresses will cater their offers to your apparent level of sophistication, so you if want the more unusual dishes but you look like a Minnesota tourist, you may need to ask.
We rode the red line back up to State Street, then got on the Jackson Park bus right in front of the Chicago Public Library, rode it express down Lakeshore Drive (one of the most scenic roads in the world) to Hyde Park, hopped off at the MSI... using our CityPass again to jump the VERY long ticket lines, we spent the day (during which it poured!) visiting ... the Genetics and Internet exhibits were hits, and the miniature City... and, of course, the Ice Cream Parlor.
Took the bus back to the hostel, at State and Congress... by this time, the girls were leading the way, starting to feel confident and comfortable in the city.
After sharing a FREE spaghetti dinner with a GS troop from Ohio at the youth hostel, we were ready for Chicago night life... which, for junior high girl scouts, meant riding the State Street El (a big adventure for those new to it) up to the old watertower, and visiting the top of the John Hancock Center. In my opinion, this is the best "sky high" view of Chicago, high enough to be exciting and beautiful, right on the lakeshore, great maps and telescopes to look through, a very good exhibit about Chicago's history, but (unlike Sears Tower) not SO high that you can't really see details. On a clear night, the city lights are like sparkling jewels on black velvet... ok, a cliche, but it's true!
This was one of the girl's choices, and the only shopping option we allowed... but, as it turned out, it closed just as we were coming out of the Hancock Center... it's across the street, so, if you've got a bunch of chocoholics, you might want to stop in here BEFORE going up to the Hancock Observatory...
Personally.... I'd pick this one... it's across the street from Hershey's. But, to each her own taste.... any chocolate in a storm.... or something like that.
Monday (Memorial Day) morning, across the street from the Hostel, we buy good coffee, bagels and cream cheese at Panera to make lunch on the Megabus back to Minnesota. Since the coffee at the hostel is not potable, it's nice this is here... and they have free WiFi for checking e-mail. (Panera is a chain but it's a good one, they also make good soups and sandwiches).
We made a point of getting to Union Station a bit early, to see the old part, which is so gorgeously restored...
There's no place like home... but, more about that another time.