Visiting Chicago Nov 16-22; advice on public transit and free fun? - Mothering Forums
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#1 of 13 Old 11-12-2008, 07:02 PM - Thread Starter
 
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So my dh is being sent to Chicago Nov 16 - 22 for mechanic training (ACE? ASC? something like that) and we (dd is 17.5 mo, I'm 26) get to come! I'm super excited, I've always wanted to visit Chicago and I've heard so many good things! But I'm starting to get a little nervous. I'd prefer to do public transportation since dh's company (car dealership) doesn't want me driving, and though I'm a quick study with streets and maps I do get pretty intimidated in a new town where I don't know landmarks... and Chicago's BIG, right?

So, Chicago mommies (or those who have visited), any advice? We are doing this on a shoestring, btw. Staying on company's dime at Hampton Inn, Aurora, which offers a free hot breakfast. Planning to take bread and whatnot for sandwiches for lunch, and the company is paying $20/day for dinner. I can afford to bring another $50-80 maaayyybe, and would prefer to spend as little of that as possible.

Activities I've already explored for keeping me & dd entertained while dh is learning:
Adler Planetarium - free Mon & Tues
Shedd Aquarium - free Mon & Tues, "Tots on Tuesday" activities, so will aim for Tuesday AM.
The Zoo - free every day, yay!
3 conservatories, all free from what I can discern online, seem to be kids activities in the mornings at the Garfield one.
Chicago Cultural Center - also free!
Notebaert Nature Museum - Thursday is "suggested donation" day, which makes me think I can donate less than their suggestion perhaps?

Will this be enough? I'm hoping to do this on the super cheap so we can maaaaybe afford to go to the Wait Wait taping Thursday evening. I LOOOOVE that show and I am SO excited about the prospect!

So yeah, any advice is appreciated. Anywhere we should definitely check out or definitely avoid, what public transportation and getting around with a toddler is like, etc etc...
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#2 of 13 Old 11-12-2008, 07:31 PM
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Actually, I would recommend not driving and using public transportation even if it weren't your DH's company's preference - driving in Chicago is both a huge pain and generally very very expensive and difficult to find parking. We use public transit to get almost everywhere, and it's great (and our 17-month-old daughter loves it).
I'm not sure about getting into the city from Aurora (but I'm sure the hotel can help you with that), but once you're here, the el and buses are both great. Check out http://www.transitchicago.com/ for system maps, schedules, etc. Buses are particularly good for things along the lake - the 151, for instance, will take you up from Michigan Ave to both the zoo and nature museum.

The places you mentioned are all good. We spend the most time at the Nature Museum and the zoo, both because they're closer to us and also because they're so good even for a pretty young toddler. They're quite near each other, so you could do them on the same day, although you could also easily spend an entire morning at each. The Nature Museum is pretty reasonable (unlike other Chicago museums) even if you go on a day you have to pay. At the zoo, make sure you check out the petting zoo (also free) just to the south of the main zoo, in addition to the main one. It has farm animals, tractors to climb on, etc, and is a lot of fun for young kids.

I haven't been to the Planetarium in years and years - my guess is that there's less there for a 17-month-old, but maybe I'm wrong? Either way, it might be interesting for you...

If the weather isn't too bad, you could also spend some time walking in Lincoln Park by the lake, or exploring Millennium Park, or other outdoor activities, but that's a big if this time of year in Chicago.

Have fun! Chicago is a great city, even in November, which is definitely not my preferred time of year here, and it's a great city for kids and very easy to get around by public transit.
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#3 of 13 Old 11-12-2008, 11:10 PM
 
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Actually, I would recommend not driving and using public transportation even if it weren't your DH's company's preference - driving in Chicago is both a huge pain and generally very very expensive and difficult to find parking. We use public transit to get almost everywhere, and it's great (and our 17-month-old daughter loves it).
I'm not sure about getting into the city from Aurora
I second the suggestion that you avoid driving and use public transportation. To get into the city from Aurora, try Metra (www.metrarail.com) It is a great way to go, and will connect you with pretty much anywhere you want to go once you get here!

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#4 of 13 Old 11-13-2008, 02:19 AM
 
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I would definitely take Metra downtown from Aurora, but it does get to be a long day with the trip back and forth and then walking around with a toddler trying to catch buses to other locations.

Unless you get on an express trains, it is an hour and 20 minutes each way, so I can't imagine doing it for several days in a row. Maybe plan to go down 2 or 3 days of the 7 and then find things to do in the suburbs the other days.
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#5 of 13 Old 11-13-2008, 10:11 AM - Thread Starter
 
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Thanks for the advice and replies so far, but please don't stop yet! I'm starting to worry a bit about this public transit idea... I went to the "Plan Your Trip with the RTA!" site and plugged in the hotel address and then picked one of our possible destinations at random - Adler Planetarium - and told it we wanted the quickest route to arrive at Adler at 10am.

We would have to get ON OUR FIRST BUS AT 7:12AM?!?!

I reeeeally don't want to spend 3 hours negotiating public transit. Not with a 17-m-o. Not really even by myself, to tell you the truth! Whew. THREE HOURS?!

So if I can figure out where dh is doing his training AND if it's feasible for him to drop us off at the Aurora Metra station before his 8 am class (would shave an hour off our transit), I guess that's a liiiiittle more doable.

What am I getting myself into? I'm starting to think maybe this is not such a good idea, especially with purplelilacs indicating it might be better to find things to do in the suburbs a few days... ?? I don't know ANYTHING about Chicago and surrounding area except what I've noted here. Any suggestions on what exactly to even begin to look for in the surrounding area?

And what about the evenings, when dh is done with class (presumably 5ish)?? There's a pool at the hotel, and obviously dinner to be had, but all these fabulous coupons I found are (I think) for Chicago restaurants, and we're going to be... how far away from downtown? It said on the hotel reviews it was "minutes from downtown" and "convenient to downtown", but if it's an hour train ride...?? DH's coworkers estimated it was 45 minutes for them, but that seems like an awful lot looking at the map... but if the train ride is that long....

eep!

Advice please. Should I stay home?? lol.. really don't want to miss this opportunity, but it's NOT worth making myself crazy.

Anyone here actually live in Aurora?? Oh please oh please, because I'd loooove to have your input here.
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#6 of 13 Old 11-13-2008, 11:27 AM
 
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Originally Posted by mamamarley View Post
Thanks for the advice and replies so far, but please don't stop yet! I'm starting to worry a bit about this public transit idea... I went to the "Plan Your Trip with the RTA!" site and plugged in the hotel address and then picked one of our possible destinations at random - Adler Planetarium - and told it we wanted the quickest route to arrive at Adler at 10am.

We would have to get ON OUR FIRST BUS AT 7:12AM?!?!

I reeeeally don't want to spend 3 hours negotiating public transit. Not with a 17-m-o. Not really even by myself, to tell you the truth! Whew. THREE HOURS?!

So if I can figure out where dh is doing his training AND if it's feasible for him to drop us off at the Aurora Metra station before his 8 am class (would shave an hour off our transit), I guess that's a liiiiittle more doable.

What am I getting myself into? I'm starting to think maybe this is not such a good idea, especially with purplelilacs indicating it might be better to find things to do in the suburbs a few days... ?? I don't know ANYTHING about Chicago and surrounding area except what I've noted here. Any suggestions on what exactly to even begin to look for in the surrounding area?

And what about the evenings, when dh is done with class (presumably 5ish)?? There's a pool at the hotel, and obviously dinner to be had, but all these fabulous coupons I found are (I think) for Chicago restaurants, and we're going to be... how far away from downtown? It said on the hotel reviews it was "minutes from downtown" and "convenient to downtown", but if it's an hour train ride...?? DH's coworkers estimated it was 45 minutes for them, but that seems like an awful lot looking at the map... but if the train ride is that long....

eep!

Advice please. Should I stay home?? lol.. really don't want to miss this opportunity, but it's NOT worth making myself crazy.

Anyone here actually live in Aurora?? Oh please oh please, because I'd loooove to have your input here.

Aurora is not really the best place to be staying if you want to spend most of your time downtown - if you were just doing it by yourself and could hop on the train with without a diaper bag/stroller/etc, I think it wouldn't be so bad. But I live pretty close to Aurora in the western suburbs and honestly I get exhausted taking my older DD downtown for a day so I can't imagine doing it for several days in a week with a toddler unless you love doing that kind of thing.

Without a car and much money, the western suburbs aren't going to have much to offer you either, especially in the late Fall. There just aren't a lot of places you could be dropped off for the whole day from 8-5. And what about naps for your child?

Minutes from downtown? Well you will be about a 60 minute drive from downtown Chicago during a non-rush time (rush hours here last for several hours) so dinner in the city would probably not be the best option. There are lots of fast/cheap food options around Aurora/Naperville but they probably wouldn't be any different than you can get at home.

I would say if you don't mind hanging around the hotel and want to be with your DH for the week, then I would still come. However, if I were you, I probably would stay home knowing what I know, but I am a lot older and less adventurous so take my opinion FWIW!
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#7 of 13 Old 11-13-2008, 12:47 PM
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Yeah, i actually hadn't even thought about where Aurora is when I first replied – I've never been out there and was just assuming you were in a suburb not far from the city. But Aurora is pretty far. I would think maybe you could go into the city one day (two if you're ambitious?), though I would definitely take the metra, NOT the RTA bus to get in there. It'll still be a long (60 minute?) train ride with a little one, and a tiring day downtown.
How is your toddler about naps? I know my 17mo definitely needs a nap in the afternoon, and she no longer naps easily if we're out and about and in a distracting environment. But if yours is more adaptable and can nap on the go that will make things easier.
Since you're staying in Aurora, I would REALLY talk his company into letting you rent a car. Not for going downtown - metra still makes more sense for that - but for getting around the suburbs. There are a fair number of things you could probably go do and visit in the surrounding areas - forest preserves, nature centers, farms, etc - but they'd all require driving, as would any restaurants.

If you can't have a car, and it looks like you're going to be stuck in the hotel with a little one all day, I'd only go if you want to be there with your DH, because you might get a little stir crazy. Chicago is a great city to visit with kids, but Aurora is definitely not a good place to do it from...
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#8 of 13 Old 11-13-2008, 04:35 PM
 
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Yes Aurora is pretty far from downtown. You may want to make one trip and do a little bit of the things you planned.

Lisle, Il has a arbitorium which I have never been to, but people rave aobut it. There are some nature parks up that way also. Not to sure about how public transporation would work in the suburbs though, I am a city girl
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#9 of 13 Old 11-14-2008, 12:25 AM
 
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Just wanted to add that with the way the fares are structured on the CTA, you will be much better off buying a day-pass for $5, or even a multi-day pass, rather than a pay-per-fare card.

...and yes, Aurora is a real trek from the city. The zoo in town is free and very fun. Most museums have free days. Field Museum free day is Wednesdays, and they have a great kid's section in the lower level. Chicago Children's museum is free on Thurs. nights from 5-8, on Navy Pier.

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#10 of 13 Old 11-15-2008, 11:29 PM
 
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You don't want to take a bus from Aurora. Take Metra. It is much, much faster. Then, use the RTA trip finder to find out how to get from teh Metra station to your preferred destination.
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#11 of 13 Old 11-16-2008, 10:37 AM
 
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You don't want to take a bus from Aurora. Take Metra. It is much, much faster. Then, use the RTA trip finder to find out how to get from teh Metra station to your preferred destination.
The Metra train from Aurora is going to take you to Union Station, which is kind of in the middle of a lot of neat stuff. It is about a block away from the Sears Tower -- the view from the top is pretty amazing. It is also a pretty short walk from there to Daley Plaza, home of our goofy Picasso statue. You could also walk past the federal buildings, where Obama is scheduled to meet with McCain on Monday. They were mobbed with Federal and Chicago police on Friday, and I am guessing will be even more so tomorrow. Who knows -- maybe you could catch a glimpse of a motorcade...

And if you wanted to continue walking, it would take you less than 30 minutes to get to the lake (and the Art Institute and Millennium Park and Grant Park). At that point, I might take a bus down to the Museum Campus, with the Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium, and the Adler Planetarium.

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#12 of 13 Old 11-17-2008, 11:40 AM
 
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My boyfriend & I are going to Chicago in December, the 7th, 8th, & 9th, we are staying at the Renaissance in Northbrook because I work for Marriott so it'll be very affordable. I'm hoping to go to Medievel Times in Schaumburg on the way there then once we are there we plan to go to the Christmas exibit at the Botanical Gardens, it's free on Tuesdays, plus the Shedd Aquarium is free every day right now while the oceanarium is being remodeled. We also plan to go to the Lincoln Park conservatory and the German Christmas Market.

Kenzie & Jesse (WA 8-14-2009) : Kimmy (BD 3-5-00) & Josh (BD 7-28-05) :::
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#13 of 13 Old 11-17-2008, 04:56 PM
 
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My boyfriend & I are going to Chicago in December, the 7th, 8th, & 9th, we are staying at the Renaissance in Northbrook because I work for Marriott so it'll be very affordable. I'm hoping to go to Medievel Times in Schaumburg on the way there then once we are there we plan to go to the Christmas exibit at the Botanical Gardens, it's free on Tuesdays, plus the Shedd Aquarium is free every day right now while the oceanarium is being remodeled. We also plan to go to the Lincoln Park conservatory and the German Christmas Market.
Botanic gardens are always free - they just charge for parking. Shedd is NOT free every day - it's just reduced - $14 I think. Gargield park conservatory is free and great - take the green line el train - not the bus - b/c the neighborhood is a bit sketchy.

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