City Highlights with Big Bus Chicago

I am a sucker for Hop On Hop Off (HOHO) buses while traveling – I think it’s a great way to see the city, and I don’t care how touristy I look, even in my hometown! As I prepare to leave the Midwest, I’ve been extra touristy this summer so naturally I wanted to take a ride with Big Bus Chicago. I always like to ride the full route, if time permits, and then loop around again to hop off where I want to. The Chicago route takes about two hours for the full loop. Here are all of the fun stops you will see if you take a ride with Big Bus Chicago.

Fort Dearborn

Stop #1 is at Fort Dearborn, along the Chicago River near Michigan Avenue. Before or after your tour, you can check out the new Chicago Riverwalk, which is growing each season with bars and restaurants catering to the boating crowd and pedestrians.

Chicago Theater

Stop #2 is the Chicago Theater, which houses the famous “Chicago” sign on State Street. Early in the summer, I joined the tour at this stop (after a delicious lunch at Latinicity in nearby Block 37) The stop wasn’t marked and I wandered around quite a bit before waving down the bus on the southbound side of State Street. (Later in the summer, BigBusChicago appears to have an attendant stationed here so it should be easier to find, but it’s across the street from the theater if you can’t spot it)

The Willis Tower

Longtime Chicago residents know this building as the Sears Tower, once the highest skyscraper in the world. You can visit the Skydeck, 103 floors above the city and test your mettle on one of the clear ledges that leave you suspended high above the city. Summer weekends will find lines snaking around the block, so plan accordingly! This stop is also a great place to hop off and grab the water taxi to Chinatown!

Millennium Park & Palmer House

Stop #4 is Palmer House, a Hilton hotel located just off State Street. I love browsing through Merz Apothecary on the ground floor of the hotel. Nearby Millennium Park has a full schedule of events year-round. There are concerts, sculptures, and fountains for the kids to splash around! Make sure you stop at the Bean for a photo sesh!

Millennium Park

Art Institute

The beloved Art Institute of Chicago is easily recognized by the lion statues flanking the Michigan Avenue entrance. This museum is a must-visit for any art lovers visiting Chicago.

The Hilton Chicago

Stop #6 is the Hilton Chicago on South Michigan Avenue.This is the best stop to hop off and explore Grant Park, which has been called Chicago’s front yard.

Adler Planetarium

The eastern-most point of the tour stops at Adler Planetarium along Lake Michigan on the museum campus.

Shedd Aquarium

Right next to the planetarium is the Shedd Aquarium, one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions. Lines can get pretty long here as well, so plan ahead for your tickets.

Field Museum

Sitting across from Soldier Field, the Field Museum houses so many collections, including a rotating schedule of special exhibitions. Visit T. Rex Sue, the most famous resident of the Museum and then spend up to a full day exploring the hallways of this grand museum.

Field Museum

Image Courtesy of the Field Museum

Sheraton Grand

Stop #10 is at the Sheraton Grand, along the Chicago River. This is a great place to hop off to explore the Streeterville neighborhood, which includes AMC River East movie theater, Lucky Strike bowling, or Pinstripes Bocce Ball & Restaurant.

Navy Pier

Navy Pier attracts millions of visitors to Chicago each year. If you’re into chain restaurants, this is a great place to stop for a meal. Harry Caray’s and Margaritaville are two of my favorites. There’s also a Bubba Gumps and Giordano’s, home of Chicago-style deep dish pizza. Navy Pier also houses a giant ferris wheel, children’s museum, Shakespeare Theater and an Imax theater. This is the departure point for many boat cruises, so hop off the bus and get out on the water!

Water Tower

Water Tower Place is the heart of the Mag Mile shopping district. We used to take bus trips here from the Quad Cities when I was young, which seems funny now, but people still come from all over to shop here. There’s a great food court and American Girl Place is a big attraction as well.

John Hancock Center

As seen in the photo above, the last stop on the Mag Mile is the John Hancock center. The Hancock Center is now known as 360 Chicago and in an effort to one-up the Willis Tower Ledge, 360 Chicago offers The Tilt. That’s right, not only are you suspended 94 floors above Michigan Avenue, you are tilting out at an angle. Or, you can save your cash and just enjoy a drink at the Signature Room on the 95th floor.

Hard Rock Cafe

From the Mag Mile, your BigBus will head west on Chicago Avenue, to the final stop at the Hard Rock Cafe. Here you’ll find the Rock N Roll McDonald’s, Portillos and the Rainforest Cafe, among many other restaurants. You can hop off here, or continue back to stop 1 at Fort Dearborn.

Big Bus Chicago

Big Bus Chicago has open top double decker buses like you’ve seen in many cities. On busier summer days, they also deploy trolleys to handle overflow traffic. (I recommend the bus as the trolley is enclosed on top, and very loud, so it’s hard to hear the tour guide) When you arrive at each stop, often there will be another bus just ahead of you. Rather than waiting around for your bus to depart, you can run ahead and jump on the next bus. I did this several times as I was just riding the loop, not hopping on and off. Of course, if the buses are full, you may not want to give up your prime seat and chance it on a new bus! Big Bus Chicago also offers a night route, which is not included in the basic ticket, but definitely sounds like a fun time to see the city!

So, what would be your first stop on a BigBus Chicago tour?

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I was a guest of Big Bus Chicago on this tour. These are solely my personal opinions and I was not financially compensated for this post.

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24 Hours in Detroit

Have you sensed a theme to my summer yet? I’m hitting up as many Midwest destinations as I can before I move away in August. Also, I love traveling solo to places that people don’t think I should, like Mexico City. Or Detroit. Yeah, I’m stubborn. And a bit contrarian. It’s genetic. This summer is just flying by, so I didn’t have time for an extended weekend, which is how I found myself with just 24 hours in Detroit. There are so many Detroit activities and attractions, I would highly recommend at least a 3-day weekend here. If I had more time, I would definitely make a return trip just to visit all the cool museums!

Downtown Detroit

Detroit History

Detroit was founded in 1701 by the French (Cadillac) and became most well-known as the hub of the American auto industry after Ford opened his factory here in the early 1900’s. By 1950, Detroit was America’s fifth largest city, with 1.85 million residents. In addition to the auto industry, Detroit became famous for Motown Records, which was founded here in 1959, spawning superstars like the Supremes, Marvin Gaye and the Jackson 5. The 70’s oil crisis helped spur the popularity of smaller, foreign cars, which further hastens Detroit’s decline. Since it’s peak in the 50’s, Detroit has lost over 60% of its population, with over 30% of the remaining residents living below the poverty line. As recently as 2013, the city of Detroit filed for bankruptcy. Fast forward to 2017 and Detroit made the NY Times 52 Places to Go list!

Downtown Detroit, Campus Martius Park

Detroit’s Rise, Fall and Renewal Tour

If you follow my blog, you know I enjoy tours. I think they are a great way to get to know the landscape and layout of a city, as well as get some local history. I joined Detroit Urban Adventures for their Detroit’s Rise, Fall and Renewal Tour. We met our tour guide, local attorney Bob, in the late afternoon and set off on a walking tour of the downtown area. Bob gave us really interesting insight into the rise and fall of Detroit as we strolled around viewing the signs of renewal all around us.

Urban Adventures Detroit Tour

Bob told us about two major players in the Detroit real estate market: Dan Gilbert (Quicken Loans) and the Ilitch family (Little Caesar’s) who have bought up most of the downtown area and begun to renovate older buildings, driving up value in the downtown area. For someone who has only heard stories of the downfall of Detroit, I was surprised at the caliber of downtown hotels in the area. After a couple hours of walking around the downtown area, our tour concluded with a complimentary beer at Detroit Beer Co.

Heidelberg Project

Heidelberg Television

I met a woman from Detroit in Baja last winter, and she told me about this street full of art that attracts visitors from all over. The Heidelberg Project on Detroit’s East side was started by artist Tyree Guyton, who grew up on Heidelberg Street.

The Heidelberg Project’s mission is to inspire people to appreciate and use artistic expression to enrich their lives and to improve the social and economic health of the greater community.

Heidelberg Project, Bubble House, Detroit

There are a few blocks in the area, with “art” scattered throughout the neighborhood. I am firmly in the “left brain” camp, so I don’t really “get” modern or abstract art. Nevertheless, it was interesting to walk around and snap a few photos.

Detroit Street Art

I am sure you can find posts and/or tours to give you a sense of Detroit’s best street art. I had to mention it as it really stood out to me that Detroit is a city that values art. Even several of the high rise buildings in the downtown area featured large multi-story murals. Sculptures were also frequently sighted in the area. As I drove around Detroit, I often stopped to jump out and photograph different murals that I saw.

Detroit City Street Art

Bailey was particularly fond of this sculpture commemorating legendary Detroit boxer Joe Louis. (Okay, there was a piece of pizza up there that she was after!)

Joe Louis sculpture

Campus Martius Park

Smack in the center of downtown is Campus Martius Park, a bustling park filled with fun Detroit activities. There’s even a beach! For those picturing downtown Detroit as a place to get murdered, taking a stroll through this beautiful green space will totally change your mind! In the winter, there is an ice rink, concerts in the summer and many restaurants are readily available with outdoor seating to take advantage of our super short Midwest summers.

Belle Isle State Park

A local blogger recommended Belle Isle as a good place to take my dog. What a fun island in the river! Since it’s a state park, the entry fee is $9 for out of state residents, but if you visit Michigan often, the annual pass is well worth it.

Detroit and Windsor skylines from Belle Isle

Belle Isle has a lot to offer including an aquarium, conservatory, zoo, museum and golf course! You could easily spend a full day at Belle Isle, especially if you have kids in tow!

Belle Isle Conservatory

Dog-Friendly Eats

Grizzly Peak Brewing Company - Ann Arbor, Michigan

Traffic Jam & Snug is a  restaurant with a dog-friendly patio, located in the Midtown neighborhood, which seemed like a hip area to explore. I enjoyed a pasta dinner here while Bailey was lavished with attention by all the wait staff.

Near my Corktown hotel, the Detroit Institute of Bagels serves up delicious New York style bagels and has a spacious outdoor area where you and your dog can enjoy the Detroit skyline.

Detroit Institute of Bagels

Trumbull and Porter Hotel

Trumbull and Porter Hotel Detroit

I stayed at the Trumbull and Porter Hotel for this visit. Located in Corktown, this artisan boutique hotel is rising from the ashes of a Holiday Inn popular in Detroit’s heyday. The hotel relies heavily on locally sourced goods and partners with many local businesses, like Detroit Bikes. There are still some upgrades to be made around the property, but the hotel rooms are very well done. I loved the crisp, minimalist decor, and my dog loved the cool concrete floors on a hot summer day!

Trumbull and Porter Dog-Friendly Hotel

The Trumbull and Porter Hotel also has great outdoor space. Behind the hotel is a courtyard that will soon be a music venue, art venue and beer garden. Some of the first floor rooms feature a patio overlooking a fire pit.

Trumbull and Porter Hotel Courtyard

Trumbull and Porter is a good mid-range option close to the downtown area. Summer weekend rates range from $159-$209 per night. The Trumbull and Porter allows dogs, although the fee per stay is $100, which isn’t exactly “pet friendly” but it will do in a pinch (or for longer stays)

What are your favorite Detroit Activities?

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I would like to thank Detroit Urban Adventures for hosting me on the downtown tour. These are solely my personal opinions/experiences and I was not financially compensated for this post.

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