I always like to keep my skills up to par. I am a graphic designer by trade and found a great annual conference to attend. I grew up using Quark, but the Adobe products are now the tools of the trade from basic and complex print layouts to websites to mobile apps. PePCon is a great way to learn about new techniques and innovations in the Adobe graphics world as we know it. I attended last year’s event in Austin, TX and definitely wanted to catch it again this year in Chicago, IL.
One thing I love about traveling now is utilizing the airline clubs in the different airports. I have been a member of the United Club for a few years now and it has been totally worth the money. In the mornings, they have continental breakfast items like donut holes, bagels, cereals, yogurt, coffee (some clubs even have a cappuccino/espresso machine) and a variety of fruit. Around lunch time, they swap out to snacks like snack mixes, baby carrots and ranch dressing, shortbread cookies, Tillamook cheeses and Pepperidge Farms crackers. The seats are comfortable to relax in and wait for your flight. Other amenities include workstations with electrical outlets to charge your laptops, phones, tablets, etc., small conference rooms to knock out some meetings if you’re travelling with fellow co-workers, and my favorite, concierge service to help with rebooking cancelled flights. The staff at the United Club has helped me numerous times. They are always professional and caring. The United App is also a great tool to keep all of your flight information at your fingertips with up-to-date flight information, locations of United Clubs worldwide, and your boarding passes.
After a day of flying, we finally made it to Chi-Town. It was almost midnight and we were starving. Luckily, we stayed at the Homewood Suites Downtown Chicago. They have a small on-site convenience store next to the front desk where we picked up some frozen meals to warm up in the room. The suites are cozy with a small living room area complete with a sofa bed and large LCD TV. The kitchenette had a full size refrigerator, countertop range, microwave, dishwasher, coffee maker, large sink, and was stocked with pots, pans, cooking utensils, plates, silverware, and glasses. The bedroom had a king size bed (which was surprisingly comfortable) and LCD TV. The bathroom was roomy and was recently remodeled with granite tile floor and countertop, and new water fixtures. The long day had caught up to us – we quickly ate, hit the hay, and dreamed of what Chicago had in store for us.
Complimentary Breakfast was served downstairs each morning (They also serve dinner complimentary Monday through Thursday as well.) Breakfast consisted of eggs, sausage, sweet baked items like danish and sliced pound cake, fresh fruit, cereal, juices, coffee, hot cocoa, and more. After fueling up with breakfast, we were ready to explore.
One restaurant chain that is synonymous with Illinois and the rest of the Midwest is White Castle. For us on the West Coast, we only see White Castle in the grocery store in the frozen food aisle. But to have a fresh White Castle burger is truly something amazing. I met with Darrin Cotton, the District Supervisor for White Castle in the Chicagoland area. I was able to tour the facility at 2140 S Wabash Avenue, which is the closest location to Downtown Chicago, to see how these fabulous sliders are made and learn a little history of this iconic institution. This location is one of the newest since it moved from the iconic White Castle “white brick” building directly across the street. The first White Castle opened as a little shack in Wichita, KS in 1921 selling the first ever “slider” for only 5 cents. Metal spatulas were invented by White Castle to flip the burgers. In 1951, White Castle patented the 5-hole frozen meat patty which integral in how their burger is cooked. White Castle was also the first hamburger chain to sell a million and then a billion burgers. Darrin has been with White Castle since he was in high school. While his friends went off to college, he stayed on with White Castle and learned more about the business. His pride in what White Castle stands for keeps him loving his job and enjoying every minute of it. I met one of the gals preparing the sliders. She has been with White Castle for 27 years and she loves every minute of it. The Wabash location is one of the busiest White Castles around with catering orders (meetings and weddings) to most of the hotels in Downtown Chicago. After the tour, the scent of burgers cooking just made us hungrier and it was time for lunch. My favorite is the Bacon Cheese Slider. The juicy burger with melted cheese, caramelized onions, and smoked bacon atop a soft bun is just heavenly. White Castle is always a must-stop when I am in Chicago!
After our White Castle adventure, it was time to head back to the hotel to rest up for our trek Downtown to the see 360° CHICAGO (formerly the John Hancock Observatory).
TRAVEL TIP: If you are in Downtown Chicago, it is very easy to walk around town. Rentals cars are not necessary if you don’t plan on leaving the Downtown area or if you’re just not in a hurry to get anywhere. The city is very limited in parking. Storing your rental car at your hotel can cost you $50 or more per night, plus the cost of renting the car and gas. You are better off walking or just taking a taxi.
360° CHICAGO is a great place to see the city from 1,000 feet above The Magnificent Mile®and also see Lake Michigan in all its glory. If you have time to go twice, I would recommend visiting once in the morning around 10am and again right before sunset. The colors that you will see in the sky and then how the city looks during the day versus night are spectacular. On this occasion, we decided to go an hour before sunset so I could point out some landmark buildings out like the old Playboy corporate headquarters. The observation deck has changed since I had been here in 2012. Other than the name change, they have interactive monitors that go into the facts and history of the city and the John Hancock Center. The also added a new attraction called “Tilt!” in which a glass and steel moveable platform holds up to eight visitors per cycle. Once the guests are safely situated inside, the platform slowly tilts outward to an adventurous angle, generating downward-facing views of Chicago. For those of you who ever watched the movie, “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”, the sensation would be like when Ferris, Cameron, and Sloane were at the Sears Tower and stood on the railings, leaned forward and put the tops of their heads on the glass. I give props to the guests that tried “Tilt!” – too scary for me! The sky turned into hues of yellow, orange, red, and purple as the sun met the horizon. Nature’s daily show and we had a front row seat next to the Cafe. As we sipped our Diet Cokes, we watched in awe as the sun disappeared and the lights of the city were now visible. Time for dinner!
Another great Chicagoland food is the Deep Dish Pizza. After trying deep dish pizza from numerous restaurants in Chicago and even in SoCal, the best is still Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria. Lou Malnati opened his first location on March 17, 1971 and now has 38 locations in the Chicagoland area. The location closest to our hotel was the on Wells Street. I had been to this location back in 2012 and loved the bustling atmosphere. I’ve also experienced the carryout location in Rosemont as well. We started with the Calamari Fritti. The batter was a little heavy (would be great on fried chicken), but crispy. The calamari was cooked perfectly and not rubbery. The marinara sauce added a sweet, tanginess to balance with the salty, spicy batter. We ordered a Pepperoni Deep Dish Pizza with olives and butter crust. The crust was crispy and buttery. The pizza was full of gooey mozzarella cheese. The sauce was mild, but brought all of the ingredients together. The pepperoni and olive combination is onolicious! Their pepperoni is more like salami versus the pepperoni that you would traditionally get on a regular pizza. The taste hasn’t change since my first Lou Malnati’s Deep Dish Pizza in 2007. You can taste every ingredient. It’s truly amazing! We ended our meal with the Tiramisu. It had great espresso flavor. The mascarpone was creamy and light. I loved the touch of chocolate sauce and chocolate chips!
With our tummies full, we walked back to Homewood Suites. We reminisced about the day’s sights and tastes – only a sleep away from Day 2 in Chicago.
For more information:
Homewood Suites by Hilton Downtown Chicago
40 E Grand Ave
Chicago, IL 60611
White Castle (nearest location to Downtown Chicago)
2140 S Wabash Ave
Chicago, IL 60616
875 N Michigan Ave
Chicago, IL 60611
Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria – River North
439 N Wells St
Chicago, IL 60610