Which Way to Weekend?
Hi, I’m Nicole, a downtown Chicago native who loves exploring and learning about new things in the city. I’ve lived here for the past 21 years, and I’ve seen many different types of people stroll The Magnificent Mile. Chicago is a huge city with a multitude of things to do for every type of person, you just need to know where to look.
That’s where I come in. I focused on three destinations that welcome a strong curiosity for the city titled "The Explorer;" and three which satisfy the persona of an outgoing individual like myself named "The Social Butterfly." Take your pick, and check out my guide for the perfect weekend in Chicago!
The Explorer vs. The Social Butterfly
The Explorer is an adventure seeker looking for an eye-opening experience to reflect on. This person has a passion to learn and is driven by inquisitiveness. One can find this person roaming freely, either alone or with a small group.
The Social Butterfly, nonetheless, is the exact opposite. This person thrives around others in a lively environment. The Social Butterfly is loud and energetic. One will typically find The Social Butterfly dining and drinking with friends and family.
The Explorer: Takashi Murakami, "The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg"
To kick off my blog, I meandered the Museum of Contemporary Art for the “Takashi Murakami: The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg” exhibit, which is available until September 24. The incredible exhibit is located on the fourth floor of the museum and invites you to witness the evolution of Murakami’s work as a painter. I began my journey with his earlier pieces, such as his 1945 Anselm Kiefer, and ended with an incredible 114 ft. masterpiece made of just over 35 panels called The Octopus Eats its Own Leg. This exhibit is perfect for someone who enjoys spending time finding layered meaning in artwork. Murakami’s mixture of fine detail and popular pop culture references, which feature Kanye West and the painter’s alter ego Mr. DOB, is also one of his smartest trademarks.
My advice for anyone planning to see this exhibit is to give yourself as much time as possible in these rooms. I’m embarrassed to admit that I rarely stop and think about how much time and devotion an artist must’ve put into a piece. At the Murakami exhibit, however, I found myself doing the opposite. It’s hard to describe how enthralled I was. Perhaps it was the pop culture references and use of vivid colors that made his work so appealing; or maybe Murakami’s rare vision of expansion and use of space that really caught my attention.
The exhibit does not stop in the museum: Complexcon has released limited edition Takashi Murakami merchandise for sale on certain dates outside the MCA. Murakami products include limited edition t-shirts, skate decks, hats, tote bags, and more.
Learn more about Murakami and his work.
*Kanye West’s album cover for “Graduation” featuring Mr. DOB, 2007.
The Explorer: 360 Chicago Yoga
My next adventure was a yoga class hosted by 360 Chicago Observatory. I crawled out of bed early Saturday morning, put on some massive sunglasses and strutted to the Delaware entrance of the building. In the elevator on my way up were three girls from Dallas who were visiting the city for a bachelorette party. It turns out there were supposed to be eight of the girls attending the class, but as bachelorette parties go, only three of them were awake to make it. Yet at 8:45 a.m. on a Saturday morning, 360 Chicago was already filled with visitors. There was even a running event before our class and Naked Juice welcomed us with free leftover drinks.
We walked down the floor to the left and were all stunned by the stillness of Lake Michigan. As a downtown native, I truly thought that I’ve seen it all before: my father used to take our family up to the observatory when I was a kid. What I walked into on Saturday morning, however, was certainly nothing I’ve seen. It was an incredible view of Chicago witnessed by a floor of excited people waiting for a one-of-a-kind experience.
Myself, my three new Dallas friends, and 17 other yogis rolled our mats along the carpeted floor and waited for the instructor to begin. We aligned our mats along the windows facing North Avenue beach and were told to focus on our breathing. I found myself staring at Lake Michigan along the shore. Unlike hot yoga or normal yoga classes where the room’s temperature and vibe is supposed to make you calm, this yoga class relied solely on the views to do so. The weirdest part? It worked. I was in one of the calmest states of mind I’ve ever been in, and I have a panoramic view of Lake Michigan to thank for that. I found myself falling more in love with this city during and after this class. If you love yoga or even just want to see Chicago in the best way possible, I highly recommend taking this class!
The Explorer: Polk Bros. Park and Navy Pier
My next stop was Navy Pier’s newest addition, Polk Bros. Park, as well as the pier itself. I was excited to explore this tourist destination because as a kid I would visit Navy Pier a ton, and I wanted to see if it was as magical as I remembered. As I first stepped foot in Polk Bros. Park, I was immediately taken by the pristineness of it all. The grass was perfectly cut and there were two stages, one facing Lake Michigan with a large lawn for guests and the other with stacks of fine wooden bleachers. As I once remembered Navy Pier and the streets near its entrance, they were always packed with people and cars, making the experience stressful. The Polk Bros. Park alleviates the congestion. The venue facing the lake is often used for movie screenings on Monday nights and the other stage is more for concerts such as the child favorite: WiggleWorms. It’s certainly a family-friendly addition to Navy Pier and the revamping of its once box-shaped fountain into a large open circle is a perfect spot for kids to play on a hot summer day.
I also had the fortune of strolling down the pier and taking a ride in new Ferris Wheel. While entering the gates of the pier, I continued reflecting on how clean and open the space felt. As a kid, I remember the walk down Navy Pier being hectic, but this stroll was quite the opposite of that. Some things seemed familiar, such as Bubba Gump Shrimp and Harry Carry’s restaurants, while some things were new, like The Rainbow Cone and Tamale pop-ups. There was also a large yellow box placed along the railing upstairs of the Pier called “Snapbot,” which allows visitors to purchase glasses that synch to one’s Snapchat and posts stories in real time while worn.
The remodeled Ferris Wheel, however, was the real cherry on top. The Ferris Wheel that I knew growing up and gazing over Chicago fit at most six people and had windows but no AC. This new Ferris Wheel fits as many as ten people in each car. Each car has an AC unit and they are all painted navy, which gives the ride a classy appearance and made more sense with the name Navy Pier. For $50, a guest can take the VIP Gondola which features four cushioned seats and a glass floor. I could see EVERYTHING directly below us and on all four sides. I truly had one of the most unique views of the city!
As I continued my walk around the pier, I continued to be more and more impressed. The pier is certainly not the same place I once knew, and that’s the best part about it. There are so many new features that can be useful for city natives like myself as well as tourists. In fact, I learned on my walk that 60 percent of Navy Pier visitors are locals, which certainly changed my perspective. From Valentine’s Day Speed Dating in the Ferris Wheel, movies and yoga on the lawn of Polk Bros. Park, Rush Hour Fitness classes, to a Snapbot machine, this place is certainly worth the visit!
*Photo taken by James Richards IV
The Social Butterfly: Hopsmith Tavern
As I adventured to find my new favorite lunch spot, Hopsmith Tavern, was high up on my list. My coworker and I grabbed a table along the open windows. We devoured the Double Layered Nachos that could probably feed an entire family, shared the Caliente Clucker tacos, and finished our meal with The Southern salad. Each dish had its own kick of flavor, and the service was incredible.
If you are a big nacho gal like myself, I recommend coming here with a large group as the portions were HUGE. The Southern salad had a zesty ranch dressing with the juiciest southern fried chicken along the edge of its serving bowl. And the chicken tacos had an insane spice to them from the jalapenos and spicy chicken. Even though I’m not the biggest spice buff, I ended up loving these tacos and would order them again (as long as a large glass of milk was alongside it).
Aside from the delicious food, we noted how easy it was to talk in this restaurant. There was no outside noise, making it a great spot for a work lunch or catch-up with friends.
When I compare it to my experience at the restaurant and bar at night, one takeaway was that despite the nighttime being more crowded, the staff – including the waitress, host and bartenders— were all consistently friendly. If you’re looking for a fun Saturday watching a sports event with a group or just want to come with a friend like I did and sit along the open windows, Hopsmith is your spot!
The Social Butterfly: Brunch at Highline Bar + Lounge
Ah, good ole Sunday brunch. I’ve been looking forward to brunching at Highline Bar + Lounge ever since I found their Bloody Mary photos on Instagram. I strolled into this hip spot located in the Loop around 11:15 a.m. My friend and I were greeted by a waitress dressed as Posh Spice and a man in a neon yellow t-shirt. This wasn’t a typical Sunday brunch: we were at “Saved by the Brunch,” a brunch with a 90s twist. Our table for two was decorated with old baseball trading cards and the walls had streamers all around. They were even playing the classic Mighty Ducks film on almost every television. Long story short, I was reliving my childhood in the greatest way imaginable.
I’m a firm believer that Bloody Mary’s are what make the world go ’round, and I quickly learned Highline felt the same. Our waitress gave us two glasses of vodka and let us roam the Bloody Mary bar. I’ve only seen this array of olives, pickles and meats in my dreams. I tried to recreate a Bloody Mary I found on their Instagram and failed miserably. Despite this, it still tasted amazing. We grabbed our silver trays and explored the meat station for freshly sliced brisket and ham. Next, I approached the omelet station and made my own creation with onions, cheddar cheese, spinach and tomatoes. After grabbing some bacon, choosing a doughnut with Cap’n Crunch toppings, snatching a mac and cheese popper, and trying to make myself feel healthy with a few cubes of fruit, I was ready to eat.
As someone who talks a lot, this was one of the few moments that I was speechless. Everyone has had a great brunch before. What made this so unique, however, was the plethora of food in front of me. I was eating a tray of breakfast, lunch AND dinner food all at once. Not only that, I was surrounded by waitresses and bartenders who were excited about the theme and wanted to create the best atmosphere possible.
Highline was simply a fun time and if you’re someone who loves food as much as I do and want a notable experience, making the trek to this downtown location will not disappoint!
The Social Butterfly: Eataly’s “Preserving Summer Bounty – the Italian way with special guest Annie Novak”
My last stop was a specialty cooking class at Eataly. I’ve always wanted to take a class at Eataly because I’ve heard they are always unique and easy to follow. I decided to bring my mom as my plus one, which was a great decision because now we can cook together and bond over what we learned. We were greeted with a glass of prosecco and grabbed two seats at our table. The room was designed more like a lecture, but with a very nice China set and two tables facing La Scuola chef Jeremy Williams, Beverage Director Jordan Anderson, and Growing Chefs founder Annie Novak. One of the best parts of this class was Novak and her family who cheered her on with hilarious questions and family insight.
With Williams preparing most of our meals in front of us and the guidance of Novak’s gardening background, the two gave an interesting outlook on how to correctly preserve our vegetables. They emphasized the value of canning, something that is needed for people like us who live with unpredictable weather. We learned that by placing tomatoes in a Mason jar filled with olive oil and then boiling it in water, the fruit will maintain its original condition for up to three months.
As we feasted over our first meal of the night, a tomato and ricotta crostini, Novak informed us of seed saving and how plants with too much nitrogen in the soil will result in an abundance of leaves with few pieces of fruit. The crostini was delicious and Anderson served us some of the best sparkling wine I’ve ever had. In fact, I went ahead and bought three bottles of the Emilia-Romagna Lambrusco right after. Our second dish was a Roman-style pizza with burrata, prosciutto, and zucchini. This was my first time ever tasting zucchini and although the vegetable seems bland, the pairing with the pizza’s other flavors made it delicious. After finishing the square of pizza, my mom and I noted how the simplicity of the two meals made them not only easy for us to make at home, but also something that our relatives who have many dietary restrictions could still enjoy.
Our next wine pairing was a glass of Chianti Rùfina from Selvapiana which had a more bitter flavor than the previous sparkling wine, but certainly tasted delicious with the pizza. Anderson spent a lot of time explaining how the origin of each bottle and winery gives them deep value.
While my mom and I sat with full stomachs and an overwhelming appreciation for Novak and her work, we awaited the final dish of the night. Williams created an eggplant parmigiana and demonstrated how to correctly make mozzarella cheese.
(Side note: This was my first time trying eggplant. My mom told me she never really thought about making it as a kid and therefore I have grown up eggplant-less. My curious stomach was rumbling.)
Eggplant is incredible! The texture was very foreign, but I liked it. The tomato sauce and melted mozzarella on top brought the entire dish together and the skin of the eggplant had such an amazing flavor of salt. By the third meal we were really feeling full. My mom and I made sure to meet Novak and buy her book: The Rooftop Growing Guide: How to Transform Your Roof Into a Vegetable Garden Or Farm.
I’ve never really thought about the importance of knowing where my fruits and vegetables came from until I took this class. As I live in a high-rise building, I know that I need to make more use of growing my own produce to rid myself of harmful chemicals. Novak has such a friendly personality, we could truly feel how passionate she is about her work and I think that’s part of what made the class so much fun!
Sign up for a class today!