According to most Route 66 traditionalist, historians, and devotees Chicago is the start of Route 66. In transportation speak Chicago is actually called the Eastern Terminus of Route 66, i.e. the beginning and/or end. Historically and also in transportation terms Chicago is the start of Route 66 since the city is the transportation hub of the United States. At the time the route was developed Chicago was the railroad hub of the US, and still is to this day. Since then though the city has also been able to boasts having O'Hare Airport as the world’s busiest airport, and the Dan-Ryan Expressway as the nations and one of the world’s busiest stretches of multi-lane highway.
Besides all this though Chicago is one other thing; the best spot to start your Route 66 trip hands down. Chicago may seem like a dauntingly huge city, but it is surprising easy to get around in your personal vehicle or through a wide variety of public transportation methods. The city also offers an excellent variety of activities and attractions for everyone in your family.
Chicago offers excellent hotels many 4 or five star, world class dining in restaurants owned and operated by celebrity chefs, superlative shopping opportunities on the Magnificent Mile (Michigan Avenue), and pro-sports teams galore. Add to all this museums with treasures you have only seen on TV or in books, and entertainment options of all types.
I know what you’re thinking it sounds like Chicago will cost you half your vacation budget to visit. Although the city offers a lot of first class luxury a family can still indulge in what the city has to offer without worrying about blowing the family vacation bankroll.
Before you visit Chicago on your Route 66 vacation, take some time to determine what you want to see and just how long you can visit the city. I have to warn you that Chicago is such an extraordinary place with so much to see and do and can easily become a time bandit, so try to know how much time you do have before you arrive.
Here are some great places to visit on your trip that won't break the bank and allow you to experience Chicago and Route 66.
Anyone who knows anything about traveling the route will tell you that you need to make Lou Mitchells one of your stops. The first one in fact if you are heading West or perhaps the last one if you are going east. Lou Mitchells is located near the corner of Jackson Blvd and Jefferson, at 565 W. Jackson, which is also east, bound 66. The restaurant has numerous Route 66 decorations and memorabilia, but has a more important place in history as the place Milk Duds where first introduced. The food here is excellent and there are options for everyone in the family including a children's menu. Prices are very reasonable too, and you can get everyone a good meal without going broke. Some of the favorites here are their homemade Chicken Pot Pies, Milk Dud Pancakes, and a turkey platter that will make you think Thanksgiving has arrived early. As a word of warning Lou Mitchell's is only open from 5:30 AM to 3 PM Monday through Saturday and 7 AM to 3 PM on Sundays, also they do not take debit or credit cards, but there is an ATM near the entrance. Also if you’re in a rush because you spent too much time shopping on Michigan Ave, you can phone ahead for a to-go order in, including box lunches.
Located at 17 W Adams (West bound 66), the Berghoff is one of Chicago's premier dining establishments. Behind its bar you will find City of Chicago Liquor license #1, meaning they have been around for a while. A lot of tourist pass the Berghoff by thinking it looks a little too expensive for their budgets, especially with kids along. Actually although the Berghoff has prices slightly higher than the afore mentioned Lou Mitchell's, most people who venture in find that prices in the Berghoff are very reasonable, and the food beyond their expectations. The restaurant also has a kids menu and more then welcomes kids and families.
The Berghoff offers fine quality German and eastern European foods. They also make their own phenomenal Root Beer, Beer, and Brandy. Some of the favorites here are their one of kind Sauerbraten, Mascarpone Mac and Cheese, and Schnitzels. Be sure to get the kids some of their root beer. Their hours run from 11AM - 9 PM, Monday through Saturday, closed Sundays.
Keep in mind the restaurants I mentioned here I named do to proximity to Route 66's start in Chicago, and family friendliness. Chicago has hundreds of fantastic dining options depending on what you crave, how far off the Route 66 path you want to get, and how much you want to spend.
This is kids and tourist central and kids really do love it here. One of the parks biggest attractions in a sculpture known as "The Cloud Gate", but locals call it "The Bean" it's a sculpture shaped like a large bean and covered with a mirrored finish. Tourists from around the world come here to get their pictures taken with, or in the reflection of "The Bean".
But one of the favorite spots for kids in the park is a place called the "Crown Fountain". The fountain is two block towers with moving projections of everyday Chicagoans that at certain intervals "spit" water from the towers. On warm days you will find kids here galore playing in the water of these fountains and waiting for those lips to pucker and water comes spitting out. You may want to put a bathing suit on your kids under their clothes and bring some towels because no kid can resist the fun of playing here.
The park also has a large metal sculpture of a T-Rex, that looks like one of those wooden kids’ puzzles. During summer months the park also host a corporate sponsored (usually Target) Family Fun Fair in a tent at the Chase Pavilion. Here kids can do story time, play games, dance, and make arts and crafts all for free.
Access to the Cloud Gate, Crown Fountain, sculptures, and Family Fun Fair are all free, making Millennium Park a definite family favorite.
The park also has concerts, operas, and plays in the Pritzker Pavilion but usually tickets have to be purchased for these events although they are usually inexpensive. The park also has a great grill if you’re looking to make a day of it. The park is located to the north of the Art Institute (the start of Route 66 West bound @ Adams and Michigan) on Michigan Avenue between Monroe and Randolph.
The Willis (Sears) Tower:
Willis Towers formally the Sears Tower is one of the world’s tallest buildings, as a matter of fact it is the tallest building in the U.S., North America, and the Western Hemisphere. Many in the architectural community still debate whether the tower is or isn’t still the worlds tallest based on things like roof heights, spires, antennas and what not. But any way you look it it's one of the tallest building you’re going to find within several thousand miles.
Willis Tower is a Route 66 attraction based on location since the building is bordered to the North by Adams (Westbound 66) and to the South by Jackson (Eastbound 66), with the cross streets of Wacker to the West and Franklin to the East. The Willis address is 233 South Wacker Dr.
If you should decide to visit the tower on your trip keep in mind that at certain parts of the day wait times to see the tower can get pretty long, so try to get there as early as possible to avoid a long wait. Also keep in mind you will be required to go through a security checkpoint to enter the tower so try to avoid having a lot o metal items, or weapon like items (keychain Swiss Army knife, and similar items). Also be sure to check the weather the view and how much you see depends on cloud cover a good rule of thumb is if you can't see the top of the tower through clouds and fog, you probably won't see anything up there although the tower will still be open. The price for admission is $17.50 for adults and $11 for kids under 11, there are also extras that you can add, and gift shops. Trust me it may not be cheap bit your kids will love it just the same.
Here are some other items worth mentioning that may be off the Route 66 path.
-Blue Man Group: Family fun and lots of laughs
-Navy Pier: Ferris wheel, shopping, restaurants, boat rides and more.
-The Field Museum: Sue the T-Rex, and more
-The Shedd Aquarium: Tropical Fish, Sharks, and Jellyfish all inches from Lake Michigan
-The Adler Planetarium: Travel the universe without leaving Chicago
-John Hancock Building: A little cheaper than the Willis Tower, but a heck of a view.
-Museum of Science and Industry: Control a tornado, and visit a coal mine
If you are interested in seeing a lot of sites in Chicago and don't want to spend a lot you may want to consider a Citypass. Citypasses are available all over the country in larger cities, and you may also want to consider one once reaching LA as well. Citypass runs $89 per adult and $79 per child for a one day pass that gets you into just about everything.