Lincoln Park, Cost-effective Chicago in One Day

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“Time is what we want most, but what we use worst.”
William Penn

Sometimes when we travel, we find ourselves in a different place for a few hours or a day, and many times in the past, I have used those short breaks to take naps, rest up for the next leg of the journey, or sometimes to just sit and wait and wonder why I didn’t do something different to get my destination sooner. It wasn’t until I realized that the destination isn’t what matters, and the whole trip was my destination, that I started to use these moments to be able to see more.

Before heading out to New Zealand, I found myself staying a night in Chicago to meet up with a friend and lend her my book collection while I am gone. (By the way, if you have books and you don’t lend them out to your friends, you’re doing it wrong, quit wasting paper. Unless its erotica, then please, keep your sticky pages.) We grabbed an airbnb wherever it was cheapest, which happened to be Lincoln Park, not far from the lake shore, and didn’t have much of a plan on what we wanted to do.

The drive from Union Station to the airbnb up N Lakeshore Drive was beautiful. We took a small detour and parked on a side street (many side streets have free parking during the day) and walked around Halsted street and Armitage before heading to a nail spa for a quick mani-pedi.

Anyone who knows me will know that this is not like me. I don’t wear makeup, I don’t wear jewelry, and I certainly don’t paint my nails. However, Groupon had a sweet deal for $30 for both, so I decided it would be a good way to treat myself and be able to have beach toes to stick in the sand. I highly recommend checking a site like Groupon or Living Social before heading out to do anything in Chicago; you can find some really good deals, cash back claims, and ideas on what to do next. There is no cost to join and you can turn off the emails so you don’t receive any annoying notifications.

After our nail appointment, we headed to the airbnb and parked the car. My rule of thumb in Chicago is usually this “once the car is parked, it stays parked,” especially if you are street parking in a busy area. A $5 Uber or Lyft to your next destination is a small price to pay to not park 6 blocks from where you are staying.

For lunch, we headed to Argyle Street and Sheridan to find some pho, a vietnamese rice noodle soup, and some boba tea to compliment the meal. Argyle street has about 15 different pho restaurants and many more traditional Vietnamese shops. It also has some pretty cool murals and art if you walk around a bit. Pho is a meal for those who are hungry, but may not want to spend a lot. For $10-15 you’ll get a healthy helping of rice, vegetables and meat, and if you’re like me and tend to take leftovers with you, you will have a meal or two for later too! Needless to say, we had pho for dinner. And breakfast.

Mural on Argyle Street, Chicago

Not only does the Lincoln Park area have a whole street of Vietnamese food, but if you do your research, you can go hang out at all the places Al Capone did, including the Green Mill right up the road from where we were staying.

For night time entertainment, there are many bars in the area, and everything is reasonably within walking distance from other establishments. We chose to hit up a local bowling alley, complete with bowling leagues, stinky shoes and cheap drinks. We chose a place called Timber Lanes. Timber Lanes was a speakeasy during the Prohibition, and has some history as the wood comes from a Japanese bowling alley in the 1970’s. Although the wood is becoming weaker, the lanes were slick and straight. Another cool part of the alley was that they don’t have automatic score keeping, so you have to learn how to keep your own. Don’t let this deter you, it is quite simple and gives you a little leeway to cheat your way to winning without bumpers. Keep your eye out over the next couple years however, they may eventually replace this worn out wood with fresh lanes.

Timber Lanes Bowling Alley, Chicago

In the morning, we took the elevator to the rooftop patio to see the sunrise. We were a couple hours late from sleeping in, but the view was beautiful nonetheless. I highly recommend you find a tall building and see how far up you can go. The view from the top of a building really changes your perspective on how big the city truly is, and how beautiful the greens and blues of the lake are when they shimmer in the sunlight.

On top of Lawrence House, Chicago

Now, I’ve only told you about the Lincoln Park that is inland from the lake, but head towards the lake and you can spend a whole day in a couple blocks and never get bored. Between Fullerton and North Ave on N Lake Shore Drive, you will find the Lincoln Park Zoo, Lincoln Park Conservatory, Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, Chicago History Museum and North Shore Beach. The best part about Lincoln Park Zoo and Conservatory; they are free. We spent about 3 hours getting through half of the zoo, but it was also Winter, so in the Summer months, there is so much more to see. The Spring Flower Show at the Conservatory runs every year from mid February to mid May. They are open 9AM-5PM every day, but check out their website for more information.

The zoo was wonderful. We learned the female polar bear just came from the Detroit Zoo and they are acclimating her to her environment so they may possibly breed her with the male who is twice her size. The female seemed to be doing fine as she was prancing around her enclosure and posing for photos for the guests. We watched multiple monkeys receive cognitive testing and conditioning using touchscreen computers, and it opened up the conversation for “can monkeys really take over the world”. The answer is yes, they have learned to text, although the zookeeper told us they mainly only talk about food.

I hope that the next time you have a layover in a city, or have to spend a night somewhere that isn’t your destination, that you can think back and be inspired to go find something new, something exciting, and something local.

Safe Travels!


Holland Amtrak Station. Photo Credit: Diane Hanis




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