Chicago – MK: The Restaurant

The final night for our Chicago vacation had arrived and Random Esquire wanted to treat Sunshine and I to dinner at MK Chicago. This was Random’s favourite restaurant in the entire city, so we were all excited to go.

Let me preface this post that saying my camera really doesn’t take the best interior shots, and it REALLY doesn’t take the best pictures without a flash…so these photos (even though I’ve tinkered with them a bit) do not really serve the food justice. Still…it was a meal that simply has to be discussed!

When we arrived, everybody knew Random and the waitress even shared a big hug…so we immediately knew we were in good hands.

We kicked off things with an appetizer. We were given French fries, which you would think isn’t that big of a deal. But this was a NICE restaurant…these weren’t just your average every day run-of-the-mill fries. These were pommes frites…and honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever had fries any better than what I had at MK this night.

MK Chicago

Another appetizer came to our table. It was one that neither Sunshine nor I had ever tried before: raw oysters. The actual menu description is “chilled on the half shell, salumi picante, mignonette”. I don’t know what this actually means, but we gave it a shot anyway. I can honestly say that while I didn’t hate them, I don’t think I’d order them again voluntarily. They were slimy and fairly tasteless, so I don’t know if there would be any reason to order them again.

MK Chicago

The next appetizer was a lobster salad. I don’t know if I’ve ever had a salad before than didn’t include any greens, but this one was unique and extremely entertaining to eat.

MK Chicago

The final appetizer was, as described by the menu, “baby octopus grilled over hardwood charcoal, merguez sausage, dried apricots, green acres farms shsishito peppers, harissa creme fraiche, cilantro”. The merguez sausage was lamb sausage, which Sunshine didn’t care for but I really enjoyed.

MK Chicago

Then came time for the entrees. I wanted to get the steak, but Random Esquire was going to get it and I wanted to try something different, so I ordered the bison: “Grilled cook’s ranch ribeye, french beans, green acres farm heirloom carrots, pickled shallots salsa verde”. Per Random’s suggestion, I asked for medium rare and this was what I got…

MK Chicago

Absolutely awesome.

Sunshine ordered the scallops: “Pan seared maine diver scallops, braised napa cabbage, sherry-ginger gastrique cumin scented pumpkin nage, fried parsnips.” Yes, they tasted as good as they look here…if not better.

MK Chicago

As mentioned, Random ordered the steak. I ended up getting almost half of it because it was a MASSIVE piece of meat and I was tearing into the bison like a kid on Christmas morning. UN-BE-LEEEEEVABLE!!!

“Prime new york sirloin grilled over hardwood charcoal, roasted nichols farm sunchokes green acres farm baby leeks, red wine sauce”

MK Chicago

You would think that we were completely full from the meal, but we were ready to force some dessert down our gullets. I took the easy road and ordered the Cake & Shake. I’ll be completely honest…the cake was only “okay”, but the shake was excellent. If given the opportunity again, though, I’d probably order another dessert.

MK Chicago

Because Random has connections, the kitchen ended up bringing out a Greek yogurt panna cotta for us to try. It was very…ummm…interesting. I wasn’t the biggest fan of it, but the others liked it.

MK Chicago

Random ordered You’re The Apple Of My Pie, described in the menu as a “mick klug honey crisp apple turnover, apple butter, salted caramel cheddar cheese tuile, cinnamon ice cream”. I didn’t try this one, but I was told that it was excellent.

MK Chicago

Sunshine ordered the You’re Killing Me S’Mores, which was “dark chocolate ganache, marshmallow, Spanish peanuts, graham cracker ice cream”. Because of Sunshine’s gluten sensitivity, they gave her cinnamon ice cream instead of the graham cracker ice cream. If given the opportunity again, I would have ordered this:

MK Chicago

So that was the end of the meal. From beginning to end, it was simply an incredible feast and I realize why Random loves the place so much. I can’t recommend this place enough. My only wish is that on my next trip to Chicago, we’re the ones treating Random to this incredible meal.

Chicaco – The Food!!

Some of you who know our good friend, Random Esquire, already know that “foodie photographer & reviewer” is already a staple on the dude’s resume. So we were definitely looking forward to enjoying the food in Chicago. Needless to say, we weren’t disappointed.

Well…we were a bit disappointed on the way to Chicago. At Toronto’s Pearson Airport, Sunshine and I were pretty hungry so we looked around for something to eat. Where she’s gluten sensitive, there weren’t many options available to us. We found a place called True Burger and thought that I could eat a burger while she could eat some fries. Better than nothing, right?

HOWMUCH?

That’s right. A burger, a small order of fries, and a soda added up to $14.69. The burger was greasy and gross. The fries tasted like anything except potatoes. The soda fountain wasn’t regulated properly so the soda itself had zero flavour.  All around, it really wasn’t a good way to start off the weekend. Thankfully, it wasn’t a sign of things to come.

On Friday morning, before heading out to explore the city, Sunshine and I had a wonderful breakfast prepared by Random. While food was being prepared, I was asked to try something I had never tried before: Naked Fruit Smoothie. I know that this isn’t specifically an American beverage as it’s available in Canada, as well…but I had never seen it before and it looked absolutely disgusting to me.

Naked

Random said I had to at least try one before turning up my nose. I decided to “suck it up” and try it. I’m happy to report that this tastes a LOT better than it looks. While I don’t think I’d go out of my way to find some, I can’t say that I wouldn’t buy one if given the opportunity.  After breakfast, Sunshine and I went out for the day to explore the downtown area.

Sunshine and I were getting quite hungry by mid-afternoon, so we stopped into the Nordstrom food court on Michigan Avenue. I didn’t take a photo of my meal, but I ended up trying Potbelly Sandwich Shop and boy, was I glad that I did! I had a grilled chicken & cheddar sandwich that was extremely tasty. I also decided to try a vanilla milkshake, which is one of my favourite beverages. I always say that you can tell a restaurant knows what they’re doing if they can make a great vanilla shake. Without a shadow of a doubt, this was one of the best shakes I have ever had. If I ever have the opportunity to try Potbelly again, I’m definitely doing it!

That evening, Random knew that we were in the mood to try some authentic Chicago-style deep dish pizza. After an hour, a tremendous pie arrived at the door. We ordered a sausage deep dish from Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria and were quite impressed with how everything looked:

Lou Malnati's Pizzeria

This was my second attempt at trying Chicago-style deep dish pizza (my first time was with Gino’s East), and I can’t lie to you…I’m not the biggest fan. I’m not saying that it’s bad because it wasn’t…I’m just a guy who grew up in the pizza industry (my dad owned a pizza restaurant for 20+ years) and I’m a fan of “traditional” pizza. There’s just something about the sauce being on top of the cheese that changes the taste enough for me to not really love it. Oh well…at least I gave it a shot.

Saturday morning had the three of us ready to tackle the city head-on. We went to part of Chicago that is kind of a “Greek town” area, with lots of Greek  restaurants and shops. The place we went to was the Meli Cafe & Juice Bar. Random was excited to have us eat here for breakfast so we just knew it had to be good. Upon recommendation, the two of us had the “Mana Mou!!” skillet, which is described on their website as: “Truly the mother of all skillet creations, grilled certified Black Angus skirt steak, Portobello mushrooms, red onions, peppers, topped with Provolone.” I can honestly say that this, my friends, was the greatest skillet I have ever had. My photo simply doesn’t do it justice…

Meli Cafe & Juice Bar

The day went on and we did our fair share of sightseeing. As afternoon approached, we were waiting to go on a 90-minute Architecture River Tour when we decided to grab a quick bite. We tried going into The Purple Pig on Michigan Avenue, but there was a pretty big line and an hour wait. So we just scooted around the corner to a Corner Bakery Cafe.

I wasn’t overly hungry after such a big breakfast, so I decided to just grab a couple of cookies and a beverage. I gotta say, though…my cookies were incredible! I started with just a old-fashioned chocolate chip cookie (which was good) but then finished with a peanut butter whoopie pie (pictured below), which was…ummm…let me just say YUM~!! Peanut butter cookies sandwiching chocolate gooey goodness. Trust me when I say this thing was awesome!

Corner Bakery Cafe

The boat tour concluded and Random decided that we should head over to Navy Pier. After going on the Ferris wheel, we decided to walk around the area and soak in the attraction. While we walked, I happen to notice two things that I should have tried but didn’t.

The first was Garrett’s Popcorn. Sunshine and I had never heard of it before and were surprised that there was a line-up of people waiting to get in. Apparently, similar to a freshly-made Krispy Kreme donut, people will actually stand in line for this incredible “Chicago mix” popcorn, which is a combination of caramel popcorn and cheese popcorn. We didn’t think much of it at the time and continued to walk on.

As a side note, once we returned to Canada, Sunshine and I saw some “Chicago mix popcorn” in a local grocery store. We simply had to give it a shot and see what it was like…

Chicago mix popcorn

Needless to say, we wished we had stayed around in the line-up so we could try the “authentic” product itself. If nothing else, it’s a reason to go back to Chicago and try Garrett’s ourselves!

We continued to walk around Navy Pier and I saw something that I wish I stopped to try:

Scotchy Scotch Scotch

Without question, Anchorman is one of my favourite movies of all time. I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I’ve seen it and how excited Sunshine and I are about the upcoming Anchorman 2 movie. And heck…I’m not even a fan of butterscotch that much, but I’d be lying if I said I wished I stopped to try a butterscotch shake…just to say that I tried it.

That evening, while on the way back to Random’s, we stopped downtown and went to the Sweetwater Tavern & Grille. And par for the course, I ended up having one of the best burgers I’ve ever had (which is saying something considering how many burgers I’ve had in my 41 years). I had an Allagash White Ale with the special of the day, which was a beef brisket burger with a tangy BBQ sauce and Provolone cheese.

OH. EMM. GEE.

Sweetwater Tavern & Grille

No…seriously…LOOK AT THIS BURGER!!!

Beef brisket burger at Sweetwater Tavern & Grille

Yes, that’s a cheese-covered hamburger patty UNDERNEATH the beef brisket!! Sigh…I’m already wishing I was back in Chicago if only to have this burger one more time.

That’s all of the food porn that I’ve got for today. Tomorrow I describe the final meal we had in Chicago at one of the most incredible restaurants I’ve ever had.

Chicago – Day Three – Lincoln Park Zoo

Lincoln Park Zoo

It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon in mid-November. The sun was shining, the sky was blue, and both Sunshine and I had time to spare. It was glaringly obvious that it was the perfect opportunity to spend a couple of hours in a fantastic area of Chicago, the Lincoln Park Zoo.

The Lincoln Park Zoo is a FREE 35-acre zoo located in Chicago’s Lincoln Park area. It’s one of the oldest zoos in North America, having been founded back in 1868. I’m not sure when it was last “modernized”, but it certainly is located in one of the more beautiful sections of the Chicago area.

Lincoln Park Zoo

As Sunshine and I began walking around, it almost seemed like an oasis smack dab in the middle of an urban jungle. All around us were skyscrapers and apartment buildings, yet we were in the midst of a park with water and greenery at every corner.

We grabbed a quick bite at the Park Place Cafe before heading over to the Kovler Lion House. It was very cool to see the outdoor exhibits as the lions and tigers had the ability to go inside or outside. The only concern was that, if angered, either big cat could seriously take a running leap over the pit if they wanted to get to somebody. Of course, that wasn’t going to happen…but we did kind of joke about it. The cats were beautiful, though.

Lion at the Lincoln Park Zoo

We went into the zoo’s gift shop (called Wild Things) and looked around at everything. Between the toys and the clothing and the various knick-knacks available, we were quite impressed. Sunshine wasn’t impressed with everything, even though I was a big fan of the sock monkey winter hat…

I'm not impressed

I wanted to show Sunshine some of the animals that she hadn’t seen in person yet, so I was eager to head to the Regenstein African Journey exhibit. Where I’ve been fortunate to have visited zoos in Toronto and Houston, I had seen giraffes and rhinos up close already…but was anxious to share the experience with her.

The giraffes were majestic…

Giraffes at Lincoln Park Zoo

The black rhino was imposing…

Black rhino at Lincoln Park Zoo

And the polar bear was hiding inside. Bastard.

We continued to wander around and did our best to take in the sights. We made our way to the Regenstein Center for African Apes, which was a huge deal for Sunshine. Y’see, for years Sunshine has been a massive fan of chimpanzees and an even bigger fan of Jane Goodall and her books. Having never seen a chimp in person, going here was a really special moment for her.

We walked inside and realized that two chimps were hanging out in the corner of a massive indoor exhibit. Sunshine was awestruck and while I continued to walk around and view the rest of the chimps and gorillas, she stayed to watch these two chimps up close and in person. I stood back for the next ten minutes and let her take it all in…standing in awe of this almost mythical creature that she had only read about in books and watched in movies.

Chimps at the Lincoln Park Zoo

As we left the exhibit, tears came to her eyes…HAPPY tears. She was as happy as I’d ever seen her…a moment she’ll never forget. Of course, I decided to act like an ass…

Totally fitting in at Lincoln Park Zoo

Sunshine & CBG at Lincoln Park ZooThe more we walked around the zoo, the more we thought that the place must look absolutely incredible in the summertime. Heck, we even thought it must look fantastic in the winter, as well…with snow covering the area and lights strung from exhibit to exhibit (they were beginning to set-up the lights when we were there). Still…we were really happy to have shown up when we did on this awesome fall afternoon.

Lincoln Park Zoo

One more animal was left to see before we called it a day: the camels. This is another animal that, funny enough, isn’t native to Canada…so to see these incredible creatures in person was a sight to behold. It’s just another one of those things that many people who live in large cities take for granted. If you’ve never been to a large zoo that housed camels before, how cool would it be to see one in person?  Exactly.

Camel in Lincoln Park Zoo

At the end of the afternoon, we found a location that offered the most incredible view of the city from the zoo grounds (photo below). It was here that we truly appreciated just how lucky Chicago was to have this amazing FREE zoo so close for everybody to enjoy and appreciate.

Needless to say, this is one tourist attraction that I would highly recommend to anybody visiting the city.

The view ofdowntown Chicago from the Lincoln Park Zoo

Chicago – Day Three – Willis Tower

Willis Tower

Kids, let me tell you something about me: I’m afraid of heights. Some of you may have picked up on that before from previous posts, but it’s true…I’m deathly afraid of heights. I turn into some kind of vertigo-machine where looking up or looking down just curdles my stomach and makes me want to keel over.

CN TowerI do attempt to overcome that fear, though, by tackling it head-on. I’ve been to the top of the CN Tower in Toronto and the Willis Tower in Chicago on a previous trip, but for some reason I still can’t quite handle heights. However, on this particular day, both Sunshine and our amazing host, Random Esquire, wanted to make sure I did whatever I could to fully appreciate the attraction.

Willis TowerWillis Tower used to be called (and is still commonly referred to as) Sears Tower. It’s a 108-storey, 1,451-foot skyscraper of epic proportions and is one of the most popular tourist destinations in all of Chicago, with over a million people visiting its observation deck each year. Named the Sears Tower throughout its history, in 2009 the Willis Group obtained the right to rename the building and it’s been called Willis Tower ever since.

We arrived just after the Skydeck opened on Sunday morning. We thought that we’d be getting there at a good time, but we ended up standing in a line that would result in a 60-minute wait (for the record, when we left around 1pm there was no line-up anymore). The hour passed by rather quickly as you go through different areas before finally stepping on board the elevator that takes you up to the 103rd floor.

Once the video ended and the doors opened up, we stepped out and saw an absolutely incredible sight.

Chicago from Willis Tower

You truly cannot appreciate the size and scale and scope until you’re standing on the 103rd floor of one of the largest buildings in the entire world. Random Esquire had been to the Skydeck many years ago, but had forgotten just how incredible the views are.

Chicago from Willis Tower

It certainly didn’t hurt that this was truly one of the most beautiful fall days I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing in a VERY long time. On a day like today, you can see four different states: Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan. The visibility from the Skydeck is approximately 40-50 miles (65 – 80 kilometers). The shimmering waters of Lake Michigan looked spectacular…as if you could see for miles and miles.

Downtown Chicago

Random reminded me that the Chicago Bears were playing at home to the Detroit Lions on this day, so we looked over at Soldier Field and noticed that the parking lot was full and, if you looked closely enough, you could see a large screen showing footage for those in attendance.

Soldier Field from Willis Tower

At this point, both Random and Sunshine pulled me over to the Skydeck Ledge area. The “Ledge” is a number of glass boxes that extend 4.3 feet out over Wacker Drive and the Chicago River. They couldn’t wait to stand on it…sit on it…jump on it.  I was nervous as hell just to even get close to it. I mean, I had tried to stand on it previously but only could manage my foot before snapping a quick picture and chickening out:

Skydeck 2010

Yeah…that was me trying to put on a brave face in a moment of total fear and terror. How would this time be different? Well, for one, both Random and Sunshine would mock me mercilessly if I chickened out. I didn’t want that to happen and, as you’d expect, I really wanted to tackle my fear head on.

So it was our turn to stand on the ledge. I inched out just enough to put my phone out over the glass floor and take a blind photo of the street below:

The view from above

I couldn’t hold off any longer…it was my turn to actually stand on that floor. Random held the camera, Sunshine held me, and I held the wall (for all of the good it would have done):

You can tell just how much glee Sunshine is having from watching me squirm. I, on the other hand, am not having fun at all.
You can tell just how much glee Sunshine is having from watching me squirm. I, on the other hand, am not having fun at all.

Oh but the fun wasn’t over yet for Sunshine…

Really...could this get ANY more uncomfortable for me?
Really…could this get ANY more uncomfortable for me?

Finally, after numerous attempts, Random was able to capture my best attempt at a smile just so we could get off of that damn ledge…

All smiles at Willis Tower

I can’t begin to tell you about the feelings I was going through while standing on that glass floor.  Even looking at the picture now, I see my shoes and cannot believe that I can see clearly underneath them. It was nice to stand on, but I was glad for it to be over.

103 snacksAfter picking up a bottle of water (and checking out the chocolate bars, pictured at left), the three of us made our way back to the elevator to make our way down to the bottom floor again (at an elevator speed of 18mph). We had to go through two different souvenir shops in order to actually find the exit to the outside. Of course, going through that many shopping opportunities, one couldn’t simply stand idly by and NOT at least LOOK at something…

Thirsty?

The Skydeck of Willis Tower is absolutely one of the most incredible tourist attractions is all of North America, without question. With a price tag of less than $20 per person, it’s also well worth the money.

Chicago from Willis Tower

Chicago – Day Two – Navy Pier

I have to admit…before traveling to Chicago I had never even heard of Navy Pier before. Even once I landed and spent the first day walking around the city with Sunshine, Navy Pier wasn’t on my list of tourism destinations to visit.

After hitting up the Shedd Aquarium and taking the Architecture River Tour, Random Esquire and Sunshine were stoked about taking me to Navy Pier and getting on the 15-story tall Ferris Wheel. This was my first time seeing it from the boat tour…

Navy Pier Ferris wheel

Ummm…nope. Not happening. Do you see how large that thing is??

NOAP~!!!

Yet on we began to walk…making our way through the city streets to the Navy Pier. I started to wonder…just what in the heck WAS Navy Pier, anyway?

Navy Pier

Navy Pier is a 3,300-foot long pier that was built in 1916 at a cost of $4.5 million. Navy Pier was planned and built to serve as a mixed-purpose piece of public infrastructure. Its primary purpose was as a cargo facility for lake freighters, so warehouses were built up and down the Pier. Today, Navy Pier is Chicago’s number one tourist attraction with 50 acres of parks, promenades, gardens, shops, eateries, and attractions.

The Navy Pier wharf

As a side note, Random’s grandmother was sworn in as an American citizen at Navy Pier around twenty years ago. She immediately turned to Random and asked who she should vote for (I believe “Clinton” was the answer). How awesome of a memory is this to have of your grandmother and of a local landmark?

So we arrived and, as you’d expect, I could see the Ferris wheel from down the frickin’ block. I was told that I’d be mocked mercilessly if I didn’t go up on the slow-moving attraction, so I was pretty much backed into a corner. As we continued to walk towards it, I became more and more nervous about the whole experience. I mean, it was moving extremely slow (one rotation takes about seven minutes) and it was extremely safe, but to someone who is afraid of heights it still wasn’t the most comfortable situation to be in.

Looking up at the Navy Pier Ferris wheel

We stood in line and I could barely look up without wanting to fall backwards. As Random and Sunshine got on board, I almost said “Have fun!” and walked towards the exit. I didn’t, though…and nervously got on.

My stomach did somersaults but I did my best to hold it together. Random took a couple of shots and even managed to capture me looking adoringly at Sunshine in the midst of my own personal “Fear Factor”:

On top of the Ferrish wheel at Navy Pier

Sunshine and I then took some pics while we were at the very top…

From the top of the Navy Pier Ferris wheel

From the top of the Navy Pier Ferris wheel

We spent the next hour or so walking in and around Navy Pier, trying to soak in as much of the atmosphere as we could. The only problem was that Navy Pier is primarily a summertime attraction, so most of it was shut down for the fall and it wasn’t very busy at all. That actually helped us not feel rushed when walking around.

As the sun began to set, we snapped a few more pictures on our way out.

Downtown Chicago from Navy Pier at sunset

Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Navy Pier

Having enjoyed Navy Pier in the off-season, I can only imagine how much fun it would be in the summer. I’ve been told that the Fourth of July fireworks have to be seen to be believed and that it’s truly a hot-spot in the warmer months. I look forward to visiting Chicago again just for that very experience.

Random took this fantastic photo of Sunshine and I while on Navy Pier with the Chicago skyline in the background. Thanks, friend!
Random took this fantastic photo of Sunshine and I while on Navy Pier with the Chicago skyline in the background. Thanks, friend!

Chicago – Day Two – Architecture River Tour

Any other day in November and it would have really been too cold to enjoy a 90-minute boat ride in and around Chicago. However, on this particular day, the stars aligned and it was absolutely beautiful.

Preparing for the Architecture Boat Tour in Chicago
Thanks to Random Esquire for taking this great photo of us on Michigan Avenue, overlooking the Chicago River below…the starting point for our Architecture Boat Tour.

Myself, Sunshine, and Random Esquire were fresh off our morning spent at the Shedd Aquarium and decided to go on one of the many Architecture Boat Tours that Chicago has to offer. This one, in particular, would not only take us up and down the Chicago River, but also out onto Lake Michigan to provide even more incredible views of this incredible city.

View of the Chicago River from the bridge on Michigan Avenue.
View of the Chicago River from the bridge on Michigan Avenue.

The beauty of the tour is that not only are you enjoying fantastic views from a unique vantage-point, but you’re also learning a LOT of really interesting facts about how the city of Chicago rebuilt itself after the devastating fire of 1871 that burned over 3 square miles of the downtown area.

One of the facts I remember is that the Chicago River, at one time, was so polluted from sewage spewed out by the booming Chicago industrial industry that fires would actually start spontaneously on the water. That was one of the reasons (of many) that led to the reversing of the actual flow of the river back in 1900…a spectacular feat that is still impressive today.

A photo of "Marina City" from the Chicago River. Although there are docks under Marina Towers, there are no transient docks available; therefore, you cannot enjoy these restaurants while on your boat. There also used to be a fueling dock but it is no longer operational.
A photo of “Marina City” from the Chicago River. Although there are docks under Marina Towers, there are no transient docks available; therefore, you cannot enjoy these restaurants while on your boat. There also used to be a fueling dock but it is no longer operational.
The unique view of Adams Street in Chicago from the Chicago River.
The unique view of Adams Street in Chicago from the Chicago River.
The Chicago Merchandise Mart...an incredible structure with over four million square feet of floor space.
The Chicago Merchandise Mart…an incredible structure with over four million square feet of floor space.

Some of the buildings we saw were not only beautiful, though. Stories were woven throughout the tour and my interest never waned. Buildings with their own zip codes…buildings considered the ugliest in Chicago…buildings held by a suspension system similar to a bridge…so much history and information that I found utterly fascinating.

Inside the Chicago Lock.

We made our way out to Lake Michigan, stopping in the Chicago Lock (pictured left) to make the transition. Because the lake has a higher elevation than the river (and to continue the whole “flow reversal” thing), the Chicago Lock is an area that encloses a boat and opens slightly to let in the water from the lake so that the water level ends up being the same.

Opening the Chicago Lock
If you look closely at the photo right in the middle, you can see the water level differential between the lake and the river.

Once on Lake Michigan, the views of the city were absolutely spectacular…

The view of Millennium Park and Downtown Chicago from Lake Michigan.
The view of Millennium Park and Downtown Chicago from Lake Michigan.
The Adler Planetarium, a planetarium and astronomy museum.
The Adler Planetarium, a planetarium and astronomy museum.
The Chicago Skyline from Lake Michigan
The Chicago Skyline from Lake Michigan
The view of Navy Pier from Lake Michigan.
The view of Navy Pier from Lake Michigan.

We made our way back in from the lake and cruised back to the point of origin, which was right beneath Michigan Avenue. I have to be honest…I wasn’t entirely looking forward to the tour when I was planning to come to Chicago. I can’t tell you how happy I was to be wrong because this, without a doubt, was one of the most fascinating tourist attractions I’ve ever been on. Of course, that probably has a lot to do with the fact that I thoroughly enjoy architecture…but the history of the city told through the tour made for a unique experience I’m not soon to forget.

One of my favourite shots of Chicago from my architecture boat tour on Lake Michigan.
One of my favourite shots of Chicago from my architecture boat tour on Lake Michigan.

Chicago – Day Two – Shedd Aquarium

Shedd Aquarium, Chicago

We were wide awake early on Saturday morning. Well…let me clarify that. Random Esquire and I were up bright and early on Saturday morning. We hung out and swapped stories before Sunshine got out of bed to join us for some conversation. We quickly showered and head out for a spectacular day in which Random would be showing us just why Chicago is an incredible city.

We first went to the Greek section of Chicago (who knew??) and had a SPECTACULAR breakfast at the Meli Cafe & Juice Bar (but I’ll be saving all of my Chicago food porn for a separate blog post) before making our way to the Shedd Aquarium. Thankfully, we arrived there early enough to secure a really good parking spot and not have to stand in any lines.

Shedd AquariumGroundbreaking for the Shedd Aquarium took place back in 1927 and took just over two years to complete at a cost of over $3 million (which is pretty crazy for the 1920’s). It contains over 1,500 species of fish, animals, birds, & insects and contains over 25,000 fish. It is one of the largest indoor aquariums in the world with over five million gallons of water and sees over two million visitors annually.

Basically, this is one of the best aquariums you’ll see anywhere in the world.

Shedd AquariumThe only real downside about visiting an aquarium is that if you don’t have the proper camera equipment, you’ll never be able to get truly awesome photographs because of the (a) lighting, (b) water, and (c) fast movement of the fish themselves. Needless to say, though, this is one stop that you don’t really need photographs of in order to remember how great of a time you had.

Shedd AquariumThe most incredible exhibit, for me, was The Caribbean Reef. It was built in 1971 and is a 90,000-gallon circular tank that features some incredible species of fish. We were also lucky enough to have been there when a diver entered the tank and actually interacted with the fish while answering questions fielded by a host who was walking around the tank. I mean…talk about interactive exhibit!! Unfortunately, none of the photos I took turned out, but trust me…it was absolutely incredible!

I also had a fun time enjoying One World, which is an animal show featuring their beautiful beluga whales, Pacific white-sided dolphins, and sea lion. It didn’t have the excitement of, say, a show at Sea World…but it was really entertaining and informative.

The blinds lowered over the windows and the One World animal show took place right here. Fantastic!
The blinds lowered over the windows and the One World animal show took place right here. Fantastic!

The Amazon Rising exhibit was also really cool, primarily because the feel of walking through the area made you feel like you were inside of a flooded forest. I also saw one of the largest fish I’ve ever seen in my entire life (though the name of it escapes me).

Shedd AquariumThere are so many more areas of the Aquarium that I could talk about (like the 4-D “Sea Monster” movie that we saw or the incredible Oceanarium, which allows you the opportunity to go beneath the surface and see the beluga whales, penguins, sharks, and Pacific white-sided dolphins all in the water. It truly was a sight to behold.

Shedd Aquarium Shedd Aquarium

Shedd AquariumIf you’re only going for one day, I highly recommend purchasing the Total Experience Pass for $34.95. If you’re going to be in Chicago for about a week, I’d HIGHLY recommend picking up the Chicago CityPASS for $89. What this gives you is immediate VIP entry to Shedd Aquarium (which is extremely important when the line forms around the block) in addition to admission to The Field Museum, Adler Planetarium OR Art Institute of Chicago, the Willis Tower Skydeck, and either the John Hancock Observatory OR Museum of Science and Industry. We ended up only having time to see the Skydeck (which I’ll discuss later), but if we had been there longer we DEFINITELY would have gone to a museum and the Art Institute (more reason to go visit again). The only catch is that the CityPASS is only valid for nine days, but you’re saving 49% off the price of separate tickets so it’s definitely worth it.

To me, there are three tourist attractions is Chicago that are a MUST for any tourist and the Shedd Aquarium is definitely #1 on that list. If you’re ever in the city, go out of your way to visit. You will NOT regret it!!

Shedd Aquarium