What to do for 2 hours in Chicago
May 27, 2006 5:05 AM   Subscribe

Michigan Ave in two hours?

I will be accompanying my son on a school trip to Chicago in a few weeks and have an allotted 2 hours on a Friday evening for free time/shopping on Michigan Avenue. (The rest of the trip is planned to the Nth degree.)

What are must-sees for my son and I during that span of time? He's ten and has never been to a big city before.
posted by I_Love_Bananas to Travel & Transportation around Chicago, IL (23 answers total)
What is already on the plan?
posted by MrZero at 5:23 AM on May 27, 2006

Response by poster: The whirlwind weekend includes: King Tut, Science Museum, Shedd Aquarium, Navy Pier, Harbor Cruise, Hard Rock, Medieval Times. And lots of Advil.

This time slot is for us to roam the Magnificent Mile freely. We will be dropped off by bus at 6:30 and scraped off the asphalt 2 hours later. So it has to be on foot and in that immediate area.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 5:30 AM on May 27, 2006

There is a bike storage, rental and repair facility just east of the new Gehry ampitheater (well Gehry designed, I think the Pritzkers paid for it) that will rent bikes for $10 an hour. Chicago is an emminently bikeable city and a lot of fun. It sure beats 2 hours in nike town and cole hahn.

Another trip might be a trip to the top of the Hancock building. It really is an amazing view of the city.
posted by jmgorman at 6:17 AM on May 27, 2006

Doh, the Gehry think is in Millenium Park just south of Randolph on Michigan.
posted by jmgorman at 6:18 AM on May 27, 2006

Yep, the Hancock is really your best bet. There's not a lot in that general vicinity that a 10yo would like, unless he's really into shopping. You probably wouldn't need the whole 2 hours for it though.

If you really hurry, you could do the Hancock and the Sears Tower in 2 hours. You'd have to take a cab to get to the Sears Tower and back - it's too far to walk in that time frame.

Actually, you might consider just seeing the Sears Tower only. I think the Hancock has a better view, but the Sears Tower is/was the tallest, so there's a bit of mystique there. It's quite pricey though.

And both viewing decks are closed if the weather is too cloudy, so have a back-up plan in mind.

You might be able to take a quick (well, at the time of evening, "quick" is relative) cab ride to see the outside of Wrigley Field and/or Cellular Field, but you'd better check the team schedules first. You'll see Soldier Field from the museum campus, so don't make a special trip for that.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 6:33 AM on May 27, 2006

If you don't come from a city with a similar transit system, I think most ten year olds would love a trip on the el. Here's a recommended quick journey:

Go into the subway on State Street, and take the red line north. (When you are between Lake and Grand, you might point out to your son that you're going under the river.)

After North and Clybourn, the train will emerge from the underground. Continue going north to Addison, and get off the train. You can see Wrigley Field from the platform, but you're really close, so you can exit and take a close look if you want.

Take a short walk south on Sheffield to get back to the Belmont Station. (You can also take the train back there, but it might be fun to go under the tracks.)

From Belmont, take the Brown Line south. This will take the same route as the red line until you get to Fullerton, at which point instead of going in the subway, the train stays on the elevated tracks.

The Brown Line will return to the Loop and travel all around it, providing a great downtown tour. Get off wherever is most convenient once you've done most or all of the circle.

Total time: about an hour. Of course, you can do a much shorter version of this trip by just taking the Brown Line around the loop. But it's fun to get out of downtown.

Visit the CTA web site for more details about stops.
posted by j-dawg at 6:55 AM on May 27, 2006

If the rest of the trip is planned to the Nth degree, would you consider letting your two hours on Michigan Ave be unscheduled and just playing them by ear? This is a great area to explore and it sounds like you could really use a block of free time for exploring, rather than the stress of packing in one more carefully-planned thing.

Even stores can be exciting -- I'll never forget walking my small-town young cousin into a giant Borders Bookstore just west of Michigan Ave and hearing her say, "I didn't know there were so many books in the WORLD."
posted by allterrainbrain at 7:06 AM on May 27, 2006

I'd highly recommend stopping by Millenium park to run around in the fountain (the one that spits) and goggle at the giant shiny bean ("Cloud gate"). If you want to shop, the Apple store down there is pretty awe-inspiring.

Otherwise, I'll echo everyone else and say just wander around, let your son lead the way. Stop at Ghiradellis for some ice cream. Hail a horse and carriage and go for a little ride around the block. Gape at the skyscrapers. Chicago is an amazing city.
posted by bonheur at 7:23 AM on May 27, 2006

Personally, I'd duck into the first Irish bar I saw and saddle up for a few ;)
posted by JpMaxMan at 7:32 AM on May 27, 2006

I second j-dawg's suggestion of taking a train ride. My niece (10) and nephew (12) love taking the el. Try to get in the front of the front car.

There are two sweet shops around the Water Tower: Ghirardelli's Chocolate and Hersey's. The service at Ghirardelli can be awful. I haven't been to Hershey's, but my niece and nephew agreed that it looked more fun than Ghiradelli's (after we waited there for 30 imnutes for hot chocolate). The square around the Water Tower usually has street performers. Inside the Tower there is a photo gallery. Across the street is the Pumping Station, which I think has tourist info. Behind that is a neat old firehouse and a playlot. Water Tower Place, which is the high-rise shopping center kitty-cornered from the Water Tower, also has a candy store. Michigan Avenue also Nike Town and a Disney Store, if you're looking for specific stores. Nike Town is a flagship store, so it's pretty big. The Disney Store is probably the same as what you'd find in a mall, but your son might have fun looking for the dozens of Mickey Mouse's hidden in the facade.

If I had two hours with a ten-year-old in the city, I'd pick Millennium Park over Michigan Avenue. What kid wouldn't want to see the giant mirrored jelly bean? There will be a lot of kids running though the fountain, so plan accordingly if you do or don't want your son to get soaked.

On preview, what bonheur said.
posted by hydrophonic at 7:44 AM on May 27, 2006

Is he big on LEGOs? There's a LEGO store at 520 N. Michigan, in the Nordstrom mall, and it's my eight-year-old cousin's favourite place in the city to visit.
posted by Johnny Assay at 8:08 AM on May 27, 2006

I second the LEGO store. Its quite nice espacially if you or your son has never seen large LEGO sculptures before. Also in that same mall, there is a Vosges Chocolates which sells expensive and unique chocolates (think chocolate with ground chillies in them). Its quite good and different and might be a way of opening your sons eyes to a different cullinary experience.
posted by mmascolino at 9:31 AM on May 27, 2006

The train ride and Millenium Park are both fantastic ideas, so I'll just add that the thing that blew me away the most when I first came to Chicago was just walking down Michigan over the river (a river in a city!) toward the Tribune Tower. It's a walk that really gives you the feeling of Real City. Just beyond the Tribune Tower, there's the Intercontinental Hotel, which has blocks of other famous and historical buildings built into the side of it (and labeled) - if your son is into history, that could be especially cool. I think this walk also includes the Water Tower, so you'll get the deliciousness that hydrophonic mentioned as well.
posted by bubukaba at 10:00 AM on May 27, 2006

There's something no one's remarked about yet. The previously mentioned Tribune Tower has chunks of famous buildings of old in it: the Parthenon, parts of pyramids, etc. Depending on your kid's temperment, I think your kid might really groove on getting to touch a hunk of stone that's a few thousand years old. Failing that, their radio studio is right there on street level and visible through glass -- although don't know if they'll be recording whenever you stop by.

"The base of the Tribune Tower contains 120 stones from important locations all around the world, including the Parthenon, in Greece; the pyramids, in Egypt; the Taj Mahal, in India; the Alamo, in San Antonio; the Great Wall of China; and Injun Joe Cave in Missouri."
posted by WCityMike at 10:13 AM on May 27, 2006

My first thought was the LEGO store, so I'll third that recommendation. I know my little brother at age 10 could have spent 2 hours there easily. You might not be able to get out without big puppy-dog eyes beseeching you to buy something, though.
posted by MsMolly at 10:24 AM on May 27, 2006

i dunno what your kid is like, but when i was 10, i could never get enough of the armor and weapons exhibit at the art institute. it was sooooo cooooool.
posted by sergeant sandwich at 10:50 AM on May 27, 2006

By the way, there is a free trolley that runs from Michigan Ave. to Millenium Park. Here's a map (pdf) You want the red dot line.

Since you've only got two hours, the quickest (and cheapest) way to get to the top of a skyscraper is to breeze through the Signature Lounge in the John Hancock Center. The drinks are way overpriced (about the same as the cost of admission to the observation deck), but no one stopped me last time I went up to just look around. I'd call first to see if they allow children. Security will search your bags, and they'll open anything giftwrapped.
posted by hydrophonic at 11:34 AM on May 27, 2006

The Borders referred to above is on Michigan and Pearson, just across from Water Tower Place and the Hancock. Personally, I'd go up the top of the Hancock, then sit in the second-floor cafe area of Borders and looks out onto the street. It would be much more relaxing to watch the tourists than be one.
posted by MrZero at 12:59 PM on May 27, 2006

I'd second the Hancock building, but one thing you might consider is grabbing a meal at Ed Debevic's (640 N. Wells St., a nice walk west of Michigan Ave.), a 50s-diner-themed place that's kid friendly. The waitstaff dances on the counters. The wait may be long, but it's a cool kid place. Good chocolate milkshakes, too.
posted by adrian_h at 3:16 PM on May 27, 2006

Just wander around Michigan Avenue. You can kill two hours without even trying.

As for your other plans, I suggest you ditch Navy Pier, Hard Rock and Medieval Times (unless your son has his heart absolutely set on any of them). None are particularly relevant to the city, especially the latter two. Navy Pier can be interesting, but not beyond the amazing view of the lake it affords and, perhaps, the Ferris wheel. Beyond that, the pier is a massive tourist trap/shopping mall.

Hard Rock restaurants are everywhere. For something in a similar vein, but slightly more local to Chicago, try Ed Debevic's just down the street.

Medieval Times is out in the suburbs and has very little to offer. If you're son is into Medieval stuff and wants to see knights, armor and swords take him to the Art Institute instead. They've an amazing collection of Medieval arms and armor and it's only a few steps a way from Millenium Park (on preview, I see that this has already been mentioned - I'll let me recommendation serve as a second endorsement as it's really that good).

Also, pick up a copy of the Reader (the local independent weekly) and Time Out Chicago. You might find some great things going on while you're here and have a chance to get away from the tourist path.

Lastly, I third (or fourth, as the case may be) taking the train. Just make certain that you're not on the el during rush hours. It's fun to ride in relative comfort, but you and your son will be miserable if you're packed in with hundreds of others. As one who has to do exactly that every day, I speak from experience.

Chicagoans are notoriously friendly; don't hesitate to ask around if you get lost or are looking for something interesting to do. Have fun, and welcome!
posted by aladfar at 5:13 PM on May 27, 2006

Sigh . . . in my excitement to provide ideas, I failed to notice that this is a school trip, and you probably can't change the itinerary. Still, you might want forward this thread to the teachers involved. Hard Rock, Navy Pier and Medieval Times simply aren't all that great. There are lots and lots of alternatives that would be far more interesting - a visit to Chinatown, Pilsen or Bronzeville, for example. Or a walk around the Columbian Exposition fairgrounds near the Museum of Science and Industry.

Perhaps that's too much to ask of 10 year olds, but I'm saddened when tourists come to the city and stick to the cheap, plastic bits of it.
posted by aladfar at 5:18 PM on May 27, 2006

I'm the mother of a 10yo myself, and this question has been stuck in my head since I posted my first answer, which I'm going to amend.

After visualizing the schedule you've outlined, plus the commute time (which, btw, did whoever plan your trip realize that Medieval Times is about 1 1/2 hours away from the Loop, given traffic and construction, and is SO not worth it???) I would suggest going to the top of the Hancock, and then getting some chocolate for him and a coffee for you, and finding a bench in Water Tower Park to just SIT and people watch.

If you feel you must do something, you might try for a relaxing boat trip on the Chicago River. (I know you're doing a lake tour already, but the river is a different view and is much closer to all those tall buildings.) The boats leave from Michigan and the river, which is south of where you will probably be dropped off, but still within walking distance or a short cab ride.

The advantage of this is you don't have to do anything but sit there and enjoy the view. (Definitely try to arrange tickets beforehand.)

Good luck! I salute you in Tween Parenting Solidarity.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 6:27 AM on May 28, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks so much for all the great input.

I realize now that I should have stated all the pre-planned stuff is also pre-paid for, and we can't NOT do any of it. It's done through a third party trip-planning service. If I don't go I lose my $$$.

I never would have personally chosen Medieval Times, but after seeing their website my son is looking forward to this more than any other part of the trip. Go figure.

(Hancock Tower is also included, which I am glad of after reading all the good things about it.)

My son loves Legos, so once I present all the options to him, I think he may go for that. Thanks again!
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 1:57 PM on May 29, 2006

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