Glinda said it best: “There’s no place like home.” So keep the Good Witch’s wisdom in mind before booking a vacation this summer, and don’t overlook the riches in our own backyard. There’s no better season to take advantage of the city’s cultural offerings, which range from flower-filled oases in Lincoln Park to a stunning art exhibition with works from Monet, Degas and Renoir (oh, my!). Stay-cate the premises at one of our city’s lush hotels and turn a cultural outing into a mini vacation with these four themed itineraries, all set in sweet home Chicago.
The flower fanatics
Known for being family friendly, the Hotel Lincoln (1816 N. Clark, Jdvhotels.com) is a great home base for flower-philes on vacation. Why? The property is directly across the street from Lincoln Park, which boasts some of the most vibrant, lush and free-to-explore gardens in the city. Inhale the scent of orchids at the Lincoln Park Conservatory (2391 N. Stockton, Chicagoparkdistrict.com/parks/lincoln-park-conservatory) or pick up some fresh flowers at the Green City Market, which hits the park on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
After, plant yourself somewhere for dinner. The new patio at the Gold Coast’s Local Chicago (198 E. Delaware, Thelocalchicago.com) has a living garden wall with 3,000 (yep, that’s thousand) types of plants. On the menu are burgers, salads and a special aptly titled the Shellfish Bouquet.
Before you go home, grab a souvenir of your garden-themed adventures at Aroma Workshop (2050 N. Halsted, Aromaworkshop.com). The tiny boutique lets you create custom perfumes using fragrances such as jasmine, rose and honeysuckle.
Extra credit: Book your sojourn on the weekend of July 20 and you’ll be in plant paradise. The Sheffield Garden Walk & Music Festival (intersection of Sheffield and Webster) takes place on Friday and Saturday, and offers tours of some 90 local gardens, plus architectural tours of the neighborhood’s historic homes, live music, food and drinks. View the full schedule at Sheffieldgardenwalk.com.
The beat buffs
A picnic on the grass, a starry sky and a world-class orchestra make for a pitch-perfect summer night. Enter the Grant Park Music Festival (205 E. Randolph), taking place several nights a week through August 17. The Millennium Park concerts range from a violin concerto to an organ symphony, and lawn seats are free. Visit Millenniumpark.org for the full schedule.
After the concert, switch musical genres with a rockstar-inspired night. Drop your bags at the nearby Hard Rock Hotel (230 N. Michigan, Hardrockhotelchicago.com), and head to West Loop restaurant Nellcôte (833 W. Randolph, Nellcoterestaurant.com). Modeled after the French villa where the Rolling Stones recorded “Exile on Main Street,” the glam spot has summer-friendly menu items like asparagus-and-burrata pizza ($19), accompanied by a well-edited drink menu. Try the crisp Sparkling cocktail, a blend of Maestro Doebel reposado tequila, pamplemousse, bitters and Prosecco ($12).
Take a spin around the city — and add a few more songs to your staycation playlist — by booking Chicago Detours’ (Chicagodetours.com) “Jazz, Blues & Beyond” bus tour ($65 per person; $60 for students, seniors and kids; under 5 free). The excursion encompasses music history lessons, stops at famous concert halls and even offers quick lessons on the blues harmonica.
The sweetest things
The Peninsula Chicago (108 E. Superior, Peninsula.com) just wrangled Dimitri Fayard as its executive pasty chef. (Fayard co-founded the local Vanille Patisserie.) So if you really want to treat yourself, book a night at the plush Mag Mile hotel for a dose of the sweet life.
On the menu in the hotel’s upscale restaurant the Lobby, you’ll find new confections such as a raspberry and lychee dessert with mandarin cream and pistachio cake. On Friday and Saturday nights, “Chocolate at the Pen” offers live music, chocolate martinis and the pastry maestro’s lavish spread of treats.Discover more local goodies the next day with Chicago Chocolate Tours ($40 per person, Chicagochocolatetours.com). The company’s outings, which typically last two to three hours, explore bakeries, candy shops and other sweet spots in neighborhoods including the Gold Coast and the Loop — and come complete with plenty of samples.
Wrap it all up at Candyality, a winsome candy store in Water Tower Place (835 N. Michigan, Candyality.com). The staffers can fill you in on what your favorite sweets say about your personality, and the in-house “Life is Sweet” candy museum features intricate fashions made out of candy wrappers.
The Art Institute of Chicago (111 S. Michigan, Artic.edu) is currently home to the megawatt — and très Français — exhibition Impressionism, Fashion and Modernity. The exhibit, running through September 22, showcases works from Impressionist masters such as Monet, Manet and Seurat in thoughtful environments. There’s even a room with park benches and a carpet of mock grass. Try to catch it on a Saturday evening, when the exhibit stays open till 9 p.m., drinks flow from a cash bar and guests are encouraged to dress up according to codes such as “stripes and dots” or “bows.”
Plant your feet firmly in the Impressionist era with a stay at the nearby Palmer House Hilton (17 E. Monroe, Palmerhousehiltonhotel.com), which opened in 1873. Don’t miss the “History is Hott!” lunch and tour, led by historian Ken Price, which includes a stop in the hotel’s museum, full of original historic artifacts from a range of eras. But before you head back to your room, grab a few Parisian-style bites from Toni Patisserie & Café (65 E. Washington, Tonipatisserie.com). With marble tables and specials scrawled on antique mirrors, the charming spot serves cheese plates and Niçoise salad; there are also gleaming cases filled with éclairs, petit fours, and pistachio financiers.
Story by Jenny Berg