This summer we stayed close to home. Sometimes playing tourist is a great way to learn more about the area around us and we can appreciate new discoveries. We have spent most of our time in Illinois, so a Wisconsin getaway was a new idea for us. A quick drive up from the Chicago area, we met up with family in the suburbs of Madison and went out for a quick bite for dinner. Our hotel was situated outside of the city. We chose it because it made it easier to wander around and never have a long drive.
Here are the highlights:
We decided to explore the town of Mount Horeb. It’s a must-stop place to look around and take pictures of their trolls. Yes, you read that correctly, trolls. If nothing else, there is no place like it! It’s cute and quaint and funny. We got a pastry at a small café, wandered over to the Duluth Trading Post, and checked out the trolls. Mt. Horeb provided us with a scenic way to ease into the day.
Then we went to downtown Madison. Date night for the parents was started by a walk by the lake and then we made our way through the beer garden. We wandered through an eclectic neighborhood, past the Capitol, up to Naples 15 for dinner. This location may seem small at first, but most noteworthy is a menu with so many options! We selected a seafood appetizer and two individual pizzas. There were plenty of choices so that most guests probably will be satisfied. We continued to Eno-Vino bistro for drinks and a view. Located on the 10th floor of the AC Hotel, it features a spectacular view of the capitol as we sat near a window and watched the sunset. I highly recommend it!
The next day, we visited the Henry Vilas Zoo. It is free to the public and it offers a nice range of animals. It was clearly a hit with families. Then there was a return trip to the center of the city so we could visit the Capitol up close. I’ll offer a tip that the Capitol was open on a Sunday. Traffic was light, we could park easily and the crowd was also pretty small. We wandered upstairs for a closer view of the dome.
We also ventured over to the Wisconsin Veterans Museum. This stop offered a very interesting, educational experience for my family. You can choose to focus on a specific war or travel through history and see the evolution of guns, equipment, and even planes are on exhibit. Well worth the visit with multiple generations.
We closed out the day at the Old Fashioned. It’s a fixture in the square and we all enjoyed it. Madison as a worthwhile weekend adventure for your family.
Summer is officially here and I am continuing with a collection of trip recommendations. We often overlook opportunities to explore in our backyard, at least I do. Last summer I embarked on hitting some sites that were obvious to tourists but I had yet to do them. Here is a quick recap of some options to try next time you visit Chicago. I am not suggesting these can be done in one day—they are highlights of a few trips.
I have one son, who was 9, and sometimes the adventure was for him to have a first-time experience downtown.
We did breakfast at Margie’s, which is an ice cream parlor located in the Bucktown neighborhood. Now that I am thinking about it, another breakfast there may be in order!
Let’s be clear: the weather in Chicago is not great for about six months out of the year. Summer is really the most reliable time to venture around. And it is also the best time to be on the water/Lake Michigan. A ride on the Chicago Water Taxi is a fun way to skip traffic and take a look at the architecture that makes the city unique. You can board at Union Station and take it to Michigan Avenue. A walk down the “Magnificent Mile” provides a terrific mix of retailers and history. The views are spectacular day or night.
Navy Pier offers visiting exhibits, places to eat and rides. The giant
ferris wheel is new this year (replacing one that was here) so that’s worth a visit. Live music and an IMAX theatre provide other options to keep everyone occupied. And fireworks shows occur on Wednesdays and Saturdays throughout the summer, from Memorial Day through Labor Day.
The museum campus has a cluster of wonderful options to explore. If you are prepared to do some walking, venture through Millennium Park, over to Buckingham Fountain, then back to the Art Institute to take in an array of sites. The Chicago Architecture Foundation offers tours to maximize your experience.
Visit Chicago this summer and make some new memories with your family!
Summer is officially here. You have probably already made your plans but I will share some tips from our last vacation that just could not have been better. I have one son, who was 9, and neither he nor my husband had been in New York City. I lived there once upon a time, so I love to visit and explore. It was fun to plan for that first experience and fill three days with a wide range of sites.
I had never used a City Pass but found it really helpful. One purchase, many options to try (a few I might not have considered on my own), and a quicker line to enter (occasionally) even during a holiday.
loves dinosaurs and this place had a showcase of bones. We began the day here and then walked across Central Park. The park is huge and there are so many corners, ponds and statues to see. We happened upon Belvedere Castle. Aside from the unusual building there were musicians playing live for us to pause and enjoy. We continued onto the Metropolitan Museum. As a family, we had looked over the map and there were so many exhibits it was hard to narrow our options. Depending on how many days you can spend there, I would suggest picking 2-3 to fill an afternoon. History continued to be the theme for the day, so we took in the Arms and Armor, The Temple of Dendu and The American Wing.
If you have a major holiday fall during the trip, it is good to know that the Empire State Building is open 365 days a year. We went there on Christmas Day.
Using my PC and smartphone to plan and navigate was key to a successful vacation. I used Trip Advisor for assistance when picking a hotel and could not have been happier with our choice. We stayed at the Warwick. It is located Midtown, which made it convenient to walk to a number of places. It was smaller than many bigger named chains, which was nice after a hectic day. We also found the 2nd Avenue Deli and while there are tons of delis you can try, our meal and service were great. I also used the app TodayTix to check availability and prices of Broadway shows. You can get some terrific deals on short notice.
A few more days and the mix of options in NYC might be endless, but definitely make time to go to New York.
We just spent eight days in California. It was special for a number of reasons. As we departed, we just beat a big storm that hit Chicago. Weather at home was 6-16 degrees plus a wind chill. In California, while not “warm” by most people’s standards, it was 55-65 degrees. My son got to see the beach for the first time. That was awesome! He and my husband walked down by the water and ran away as the waves almost reached them. I stood back and took pictures. I got some very good shots. It would have been perfect if it had been warmer but he enjoyed it. And, I did too. He said it was “the best day ever.” And here is what else made this week special: he said it was “the best day ever” almost every day.
We visited friends and family and they almost all had gifts for him. I never expected it but he came home loaded with new toys. And, many were dead-on favorites. Lego and Star Wars, Transformers and Toy Story, these all made him very happy. He had fun meeting new people and seemed surprised at how much family was in California. He’s seen my husband’s family more often because we live in the same state. This was his third trip back west but he really doesn’t remember past visits.
We went to San Francisco and there was a street performer who captured his attention. He was dressed all in silver and wore a silver mask, so he had a bit of a robotic appearance but he would stand still like a statue. Then, he’d start moving around because he had music playing. I gave him $5 and he jumped down and waved us over to take a picture. Funny, now that I think about it, that we understood his intentions even though he did not speak. That was a bit of an adventure.
There were some more sobering moments, too. We saw aunts and uncles who are aging and two aunts are no longer with us. Their husbands carry on now, after 50+ years of marriage, and it is obvious that they miss their spouses. Those visits brought to mind years gone by but you can’t go back.
We got to one winery, two parks, two libraries, many restaurants and shops. We enjoyed “Tangled” in 3D and got back to the church where we were married. How’s that for variety?
As we were taxiing on the runway, he looked out and I told him to say goodbye to California. He waved and then he quietly started to cry. He turned away as he wiped away his tears. He said he would miss it. Me too.
Balancing Motherhood & Work a little later than most