I make a big deal out of my birthday. I generally expect others to as well.
I love having a summer birthday, especially one that’s only two days from Independence Day. The weather is usually beautiful, holiday-related parties and activities are usually going on… it’s always a good time.
This year, the boyfriend was asked to be in a Fourth of July weekend wedding in Columbus, so I incorporated that Friday night adventure into a long weekend celebration.
I had to take a little time off work to join him Friday afternoon in Columbus, and we headed to the early evening wedding, which happened to be on the same night as Red, White and Boom.
It was very memorable and a beautiful ceremony and reception. It was lovely out, and during the reception, we all headed outside with sparklers to watch the fireworks over the city. We didn’t stay out too late, though, because early the next morning we packed everything into my car and hit the road, bound for Chicago.
We were lucky to use his hotel points to stay at a Holiday Inn only a few blocks south of Navy Pier, and it ended up being an excellent neighborhood. There were all kinds of restaurants and bars within walking distance, and we weren’t too far from the lakefront and all of the activity there.
I asked a foodie friend who frequents Chicago often to recommend some great restaurants, and she did one better– she let me know the Taste of Chicago takes place every year around the Fourth of July! I was able to look everything up ahead of time so we had a good idea of how many tickets to purchase and all of the restaurants and food groups we wanted to sample.
I had prepared a pretty aggressive agenda so my boyfriend immediately set out to eliminate about half so we could actually enjoy some time relaxing together. It turned out to be a blessing and curse that we were there for the holiday, though; blessing= the city was bursting with people and very exciting, curse= a lot of restaurants, bars and sites were closed.
We still made it through a good number of activities and sites I wanted to hit, including the following:
- Taste of Chicago: We made a point to take in the Taste of Chicago our first day so we wouldn’t miss it and could move on to other activities we wanted to do. It was so crowded and hot, it was almost not enjoyable. We stood in line forever to get tickets and then literally pushed people out of the way to make it from one side of the street to the other to get to the vendors we wanted to visit. I did get to try some amazing food, though, including goat, Irish egg rolls, churros and more.
- Navy Pier: We went to Navy Pier each day we were in Chicago, exploring the restaurants and shops and checking out the ships docked along the pier. We ended up taking a boat ride around the harbor area and got some great pictures of the pier and skyline as well as the lighthouse and park. It was incredibly hot in the middle of the day, so we tried to get our time in during the early morning when it wasn’t as busy or late at night when the bands and beer gardens were happening.
- Willis Tower: We had to wait in line forever at Willis Tower as well, and my boyfriend was completely over the experience by the time we left. We made it to the top, waited in a series of confusing lines to get over to the Skydeck, but then had a great time standing out on the glass and taking pictures of the air and ground below. The experience was a little unnerving and very cool. It was horrible trying to get back down to ground level as the lines were not clearly marked– I think we rode in a freight elevator at one point– but it’s certainly a staple of the city.
- Millennium Park: We really enjoyed walking through Millenium Park after we escaped the hectic, chaotic experience of the Taste of Chicago. We got some great pictures of and with the sculptures and surrounding buildings.
- Shedd Aquarium: We were smart to head over to Shedd Aquarium early in order to be there right when the doors opened. We had an amazing breakfast at a nearby restaurant called Yolk. and then waited in line briefly for tickets into the aquarium. We were able to take some really nice pictures of the waterfront and skyline from a different angle, and we enjoyed riding the L for our first time to get to that side of town.
In addition to enjoying the different sites, we also ended up watching the Fourth of July fireworks display on Navy Pier. You had to buy tickets ahead of time to actually go out on the pier, which we didn’t do, and which I didn’t regret. We camped out near the pier and were lucky enough to find seats on a little ledge. There was a family near us with kids running around so we were entertained watching them play and watching other random people walking around. The fireworks were ok, but not as good as the ones we saw in Nashville.
The whole trip we enjoyed incredible food and drinks. My favorites included Portillo’s, where we had the famous Chicago dog as well as the much acclaimed Italian beef, the Redheaded Piano Bar, where we enjoyed drinks in front of the little piano stage, Atwood Cafe, where we had delicious and wonderfully presented appetizers and Lou Malnati’s, where we had the famed Chicago pizza.
We also made a stop at a little bar outside of town (we were trying to get to the Velvet Lounge at a friend’s recommendation, but it was closed for the holiday) where the bartender made me an amazing drink without a name, and we visited the W lounge briefly the night before my birthday for a drink in the dimly lit bar overlooking the city. The pub food immediately following was pretty great too.
Who says they’re too old for birthdays?!