Day of the Dead: Chicago Celebrations

Dia De Los Muertos

Dia de Los Muertos, or Day of the Dead is a relatively new concept to me. My grandmother was born in Mexico, but it doesn’t seem that this is a tradition that the Amesquita’s brought to the States. It was only in Mexico City last year that I learned the real meaning and tradition of the holiday. As one of my tour guides explained, Dia de Los Muertos is a time to honor those who have passed on. An altar is built, and the deceased person’s favorite foods are cooked and left on the altar. The family goes away and upon returning, they will find that the food has lost its flavor, a sure sign that the spirit of their deceased loved one has visited and feasted upon their favorites.

Here is some interesting background I found at

They believe that the gates of heaven are opened at midnight on October 31, and the spirits of all deceased children (angelitos) are allowed to reunite with their families for 24 hours. On November 2, the spirits of the adults come down to enjoy the festivities that are prepared for them.


OCT16 - Dia de Los Muertos - Pilsen, Chicago

Day of the Dead Chicago

In late October of last year, I was riding the train home from watching a depressing Game 4 of the World Series, where the Cubs had fallen for the second night in a row to the Cleveland Indians. Scrolling through my phone, I came upon a story featuring the Dia de Los Muertos celebration in Pilsen the following day. Despite being exhausted from travel and late nights watching baseball, I knew this was my last fall in Chicago and if I wanted to experience it, the following day was my only chance. Knowing that you are moving away is a great motivator to seize the day! Fine. It was free bread – they were advertising free Day of the Dead bread. What can I say? You’ve got to try this bread!

Families had altars set up on a football field behind the museum. In addition to baked goods, sugar skulls are a popular symbol of Day of the Dead. Many altars included non-food items as well, representing the passions and joys of the deceased. It was touching to see the altars, many of which appeared to be for very young family members. I so love this tradition of honoring and celebrating those we’ve lost.

OCT16 - Dia de Los Muertos - Pilsen, Chicago

OCT16 - Dia de Los Muertos - Pilsen, Chicago

In addition to altars, there was a kid station with craft projects and face painting, and booths selling food and hot drinks. Another field had a stage set up where a band was playing.

OCT16 - Dia de Los Muertos - Pilsen, Chicago

Getting to Day of the Dead Chicago

The festival is located at the National Museum of Mexican Art in the Pilsen neighborhood. (Check their website for the most up-to-date information, including dates and times of the next festival) An Uber from my River West neighborhood was pretty inexpensive. Street parking is also usually available, although you may have to walk a few blocks at the peak of the festival.

CTA or public transit is a great way to reach Pilsen – these three are the best options:

Pink Line train to the Damen stop or 18th Street stop
Number 50 Damen bus to 19th Street
Number 9 Ashland bus to 18th Street

Have you attended a Day of the Dead celebration? Tell me where!

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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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Big Bus Chicago

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.

Dog-Friendly Hikes Near Chicago

Whether you live in Chicago, or are just visiting, getting outside the city for some time with Mama Nature is always a good thing.  When I moved here, I bought the book 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles and proceeded to work my way through nearly all of them. While Illinois is not known as an outdoor recreation paradise, there is some good hiking near Chicago. There are a few botanical centers and state park areas that do not allow dogs, so I’ve compiled this list of my favorite dog-friendly day-hike destinations near Chicago.

Skokie Lagoons Forest Preserve

The nearest spot to Chicago on my list is Skokie Lagoons. I started visiting Skokie Lagoons with a local kayak club. You’ll find canoe & kayak rentals here if you want to get out on the water. Parking along Tower Road, you can join up with the North Branch Trail for a 4.5 mile loop around the lagoons. Starting on Tower Road, you will head north to Dundee Road and then go East to catch the trail south again. There are many options for loops in this area.

Drive from Chicago: 20 miles / 25-30 minutes

Deer Grove Forest Preserve

My favorite hiking spot in the northwest suburbs is Deer Grove in Palatine. I like to park at the Deer Grove West parking lot on Dundee Road. From here, you can access a network of crushed gravel trails, including the 5.4 mile Yellow trail. Other trails criss-cross the yellow, so you can cater your hike to any length you want. There are a few stream crossings along the way for your pup to grab a sip or cool her paws.

Deer Grove East features a 2.8 mile paved walking loop, as well as a model airplane field!

Drive from Chicago: 30 miles / 45 minutes

Palos Hills Forest Preserve

There are several interconnected forest preserves in the Willow Springs area, southwest of Chicago. I like to enter at Red Gate Woods and hook up to the trail system from there. It’s a great area with lots of hills and trails that are very popular with mountain bikes and hikers. As with many of Cook County trails, there are several different loops that you can combine to design a hike of any length. Each intersection is well marked with trail maps and markers, so you can choose your route as you go. We like the 5.5 mile orange loop as it has a good balance of single-track dirt trails and crushed gravel paths.

Swallow Cliff Woods is also in this area, and you’ll find lots of people training on the steep staircase next to the toboggan area.

Drive from Chicago: 25 miles / 35 minutes

Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve

A bit farther than Palos Hills and just outside Cook County, Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve has the longest single loop I’ve found in the area. The main trail here is 9.5 miles, so it’s a great place to go for those training hikes where you need a lot of miles. Unlike other spots I’ve mentioned, there aren’t a lot of trail options here, so you have to commit to the 9.5 miles. The trail has several water crossings, which are great for the dogs, and even a few waterfalls, which are kind of rare around Chicago!

7.4.09 Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve

Drive from Chicago: 25 miles / 35-45 minutes

Nordic Trails – Kettle Moraine South Unit – Eagle, WI

If you are looking for a challenging hike, this is the place. It’s a bit farther from Chicago, but I used to come here often when I lived in the Northwest suburbs because it’s my favorite on this list. The Nordic Trails at Kettle Moraine offer some pretty cool glacial terrain that’s as close as you’ll get to mountain hiking. The Blue Loop is 9.2 miles, but there are many loops within this one and you can shorten your hike at any time. Each intersection is marked with a number corresponding to the maps. As the name suggests, these are used for XC ski in the winter. Across the road, you’ll find the very popular John Muir mountain bike trails.

Nordic Trail at Kettle Moraine South

This is a Wisconsin State Park, so you’ll need to get a vehicle sticker to park at any trailheads. ($11 daily pass for out of state vehicles, $38 annual pass) Now that I live in the city, I prefer to head up and camp the night before so I can get an early start on the trails.

Drive from Chicago: 100 miles / 105 minutes

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hiking near chicagoThis post is part of the Weekly Postcard blog roundup. Click the photo below to check out other travel blogs this week!

Two Traveling Texans