Visiting Chicago’s Chinatown

When you hear Chinatown, you may think of New York or San Francisco, but you might be surprised to find that Chicago actually has a bustling Chinatown not far from downtown. I recommend adding a morning in Chicago Chinatown to your Windy City itinerary!

2.5.17 Chinese New Year - Chicago's Chinatown

Chicago Chinatown is south of the Loop and is easy to reach from the Loop and Mag Mile areas.  You can take the “L” (the red line stops right at Chinatown), drive (parking is plentiful and affordable), and the water taxi is a fun option in the summer.

CTA - Chicago Transit Authority - El Map

If you happen to be in Chicago in February, check out the schedule for Chinese New Year festivities.  I made sure to catch the parade this year and I am so glad that I did!  The parade kicked off with a bang, literally, as the entrance gate had ribbons of firecrackers streaming down.  It was quite loud to be so close, and many around me covered their ears, especially the little ones. It was so fun to see the colorful dragon costumes and experience a little bit of a different culture for the day.

2.5.17 Chinese New Year - Chicago's Chinatown

2.5.17 Chinese New Year - Chicago's Chinatown

My favorite part of a Chinatown visit is, of course, the food!  If you haven’t tried Dim Sum, this is the place to give it a shot!  Dim Sum are dumpling style food served in small plates or steamer baskets. It’s like tapas in that you order lots of items to share with your table.  The larger the group, the more dishes you will sample.  Some restaurants provide a menu to order from, others have carts that circle the room and you select what you want as the cart passes by.  It seems like most of the Chicago Chinatown restaurants go for the menu approach, which I liked.  As a picky eater, I am not prone to grabbing random things off a cart and just eating them! I like to know what I’m getting into!

Chicago ChinatownDim Sum at Phoenix Restaurant

On a recent visit, we went to Phoenix Restaurant for Sunday brunch. We arrived before 10am and got a table right away. By the time we left at 11:00, there was a line out the door! I’ve found this to be the case all over town. I don’t consider myself a morning person, but compared to the rest of Chicago, I guess I am!

Chicago ChinatownDim Sum at Phoenix Restaurant

You know what else I love about dim sum?  The price!  We ordered 5 plates, plus tea, and our bill was $24.  A visit to Chicago can be pricy, so this is a good option if you are traveling on a budget.  We sampled a variety of sweet and savory items, including Sesame Ball, creamy egg yolk bun, and seafood dumpling. The menu at Phoenix has about 70 small plates and a “regular” menu of rice and noodle dishes as well.

Chicago ChinatownDim Sum at Phoenix Restaurant

Be sure to save some room for dessert as Chicago Chinatown is lined with bakeries and pastry shops.

Chicago Chinatown Bakery

As with most Chinatown areas, shopping is plentiful in Chicago Chinatown as well.  Unlike New York, I didn’t see the faux designer stuff being sold on the streets here.  The shops are stuffed to the ceiling with your typical tourist trappings, Chinese trinkets, Buddha statues and regular household items.

Shopping Chicago Chinatown

If you’re visiting with kids, check out this post on WellTraveledKids.com for an afternoon itinerary in Chicago Chinatown.

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8 Destinations For Your Next Girlfriends’ Getaway

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Something I look forward to every year is a girl’s getaway with my best friends from high school.  We have been friends for over 25 years, some of us over 30 years, and we’ve continued a tradition of girl’s getaways that started the summer we graduated. So much has changed (marriages, babies, moves) but these ladies are a reliable constant in my life and are like sisters to me.  We’re now scattered from the Midwest to the East Coast, and have added 4 husbands and 9 children to the mix. (Although, girl’s getaways are husband- and kid-free, otherwise it’s not really a getaway!)

Graduation - Julie, Lisa, Jenny, Olivia and I

Our first “official” girl’s getaway was a short road trip to the Chicago-land Great America where we all crammed ourselves into 1 cheap, dingy hotel room.  There were a lot of those low-budget trips early on, followed by destination weddings, hometown reunions and honest-to-god vacations.  Not everyone can make it every year, but we’ve managed to keep this tradition going for 24 years now.  (yeah, do the math, we’ve been out of high school a while.)  Each year, we vote on the following year’s destination and we’ve racked up some pretty good miles over the years.

Annual Girls weekend to Great AmericaAmy, April, Olivia, Jenny, Andrea, me, Lisa

Looking back on those trips, here are some of my favorite places we’ve gotten together.  We all agree that it’s the company that makes the trip and it doesn’t really matter where we are, but for a travel junkie like me, seeing a new place is the icing on the cake!

Chicago, IL – I’ve lived in Chicago for most of my post-college life. As a major airline hub, and the 3rd largest city in the US, it’s an easy meeting spot, so I have hosted several girl’s weekends.  We have done street festivals, dinner cruises on Lake Michigan, Cubs games, bar hopping and museums.  Most recently, we got together to celebrate a Cubs World Series win, along with 5 million other fans.

Lake Geneva, Wisconsin – Lake Geneva is a weekend destination a few hours outside of Chicago.  The lakeshore is lined with mansions once belonging to Chicago’s elite families, like the Wrigley’s.  We used VRBO to rent a house in town, and spent the weekend grilling out, imbibing on many cocktails and cruising the small town looking for trouble.

08/04 - Beach at Lake Geneva

Las Vegas – Every gaggle of girls ends up in Vegas at some point, usually for a bachelorette party.  One of our girls held a destination wedding in Vegas so it was a great excuse to meet up in Sin City.   Everyone needs to experience Vegas at least once, why not grab your best girls and check it out!

Screaming time

Arizona/Utah Road Trip – I was planning a solo road-trip through the Southwest US and to my surprise, the girls wanted to come along.  We hatched the plan in the wee hours at a bar and still laugh about the drunken phone call one girl received well after midnight, with 4 of us screaming into the phone: “WE’RE GOING TO THE GRAND CANYON”  Instead of our usual weekend trip, 4 of us managed a full week, and a 5th joined us for a few days at the end.  We flew in and out of Vegas, hitting the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, Sedona and Zion & Bryce National Parks. They even joined me for an overnight backpack down into the canyon. You know it’s true friendship when someone is willing to schlep a 40 pound pack with you!

9/7 - Bright Angel Trail - Jenny, Amy, me, Olivia

Austin, Texas – one of our girls lived in Austin for a few years so we took the opportunity to head down and check it all out.  We were shocked by unseasonably cold and wet weather, but still had fun in this city known for live music and BBQ.

Lake Austin from the top of Mt Bonnell(photo by April)

Vermont – our Austin girl later moved to New Hampshire and we all agreed we wanted to see Vermont in the fall.  We spent two days up in Stowe, at the Green Mountain Inn, exploring country roads and this small ski town, stumbling upon the Trapp Family Lodge and hitting up the Ben & Jerry’s factory for a tour and free samples.  We also spent a night in Burlington to check out the foodie scene.  There is so much to do here, I would love to come back and spend some time around Lake Champlain.  I was surprised how short the flight from Chicago was, too!

Asheville, North Carolina – Asheville was a great location, centrally located for those of us in the Midwest or East Coast.  We used VRBO again to find a cabin in the woods where we could kick back and catch up.  We visited Biltmore, which was super fun, but I think we spent the rest of the weekend in our PJ’s.  With this well-stocked kitchen, can you blame us?

A well stocked cabin in the woods!

Ft Lauderdale, Florida – we actually had two trips to Ft Lauderdale – first for a wedding, and again a few years later when our Miami friend had twin babies at home and wanted to stay nearby.  FTL is a calmer, more casual alternative to super-hip Miami, although we stayed at “The W” last time and I remember feeling a little old for that scene, haha!  We were more interested in the dessert menu at the Cheesecake Factory than the clubs on that trip!

Up next…

Santa Fe, New Mexico – I’m adding Santa Fe because it’s our 2017 destination and I think it’s going to be awesome! It’s new for all of us, so we’ll get to explore together and those of us who enjoy travel planning will get to do tons of research ahead of time.  I don’t want to jinx it, but it’s looking like it might be the first time all 6 of us have been together in 11 years!!!  Check back in October for more posts on that trip and feel free to leave any recommendations in the comments!

Girls Trip Bryce Canyon

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