December 17, 2018

Family-Friendly Downtown Chicago Hotel Review – Loews

Headed to Chicago and can’t figure out where to stay? I know the feeling. As I planned our family’s holiday getaway to Chicago, I knew I wanted to choose a hotel with a location that was convenient to major attractions, preferably one where we’d feel comfortable walking to said attractions with the kids. The Loews Chicago location fit our needs, plus it had a great package for families to sweeten the deal!

Disclosure: Our stay was hosted by Loews Hotels, though I paid a media rate for our stay. All thoughts, opinions and typos are my own. This post may contain affiliate links.

Where to stay in downtown Chicago: A review of Loews Chicago #familytravel #Illinois #hosted

What to expect at Loews Chicago

Loews Chicago, I’ve learned, is all about personalizing the experiences. So, no matter who we encountered, from bellhops to the concierge, once they learned your name, they greeted you all the time.  The same was true for our stay at Loews O’Hare.

The lobby at Loews Chicago was charmingly decorated for Christmas.

The downtown Chicago location is in a skyscraper (which is pretty exciting for my kids), with a grand lobby to greet guests. Being downtown, expect to pay for parking – unless you get the Snowed Inn package, in which case, you get free valet parking.

We spent one night in Chicago in our PJs watching a movie in our Loews Chicago hotel room. And it was exactly what our family needed to unwind after a busy day exploring the city.

The entire Loews Hotels brand is kid-friendly and pet-friendly. We saw a lot of dogs during our stay.

Chicago History & Flavor At Loews

One of the coolest things a hotel brand can do is to localize the experience when staying at a property. If you’re staying at either of the Loews Downtown or the Loews O’Hare, keep your eyes peeled to see hints of Chicago in the decor, as well as tasting locally-made products in restaurants and bars. Let’s start with the food and drink.

There’s no doubt where you are when you stay at a Loews location.

Flavor Chicago by Loews Hotels is a brilliant way to introduce travelers to local products. Flavor by Loews Hotels is built on partnerships with artisan food & beverage vendors, and its starting to roll out in Loews destinations across the nation. At the downtown location, try Chicago Honey Co-op honey in a cocktail at Streeterville Social as a honey-infused treatment in the spa; Here cold-pressed juices are available in ETA Restaurant + Bar; and Revolution Brewing’s Zephyr beer is exclusively available at Loews Chicago Hotel in ETA Restaurant + Bar, The Lobby Lounge and Streeterville Social.

On the wall of this elevator at Loews Chicago is Carl Sandburg’s “Chicago” poem.

For architecture in the Downtown Chicago Loews, there are few things to note. First, step into the elevators and find Carl Sandburg’s “Chicago” poem on the walls. In the lobby, it helps to know the design was inspired by two important architects to Chicago, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Louis Sullivan. The two story metal on either side of the fireplace represent train tracks, giving a nod to the importance of the railroad for industry in Chicago. Local artist, Ben Butler, designed a piece of art in the lobby made of wood. It represents the Chicago skyline and the bottom portion  is burned representing The Great Fire (except for the Water Tower, which was the one building that didn’t get destroyed by it).

What kids will like at Loews Chicago

The question every kids asks: Is there a pool? Yes, there is a pool at the Loews Chicago location. It’s on the third floor, and it’s more like a long lap pool. It still suits the needs of most kids.

No hot tub, so, sorry Mom and Dad.

View from Loews Chicago facing Navy Pier at night
We could see Navy Pier from our hotel room at Loews Chicago. In the day time, you can see Lake Michigan, too.

Kids are going to like the views from the room, at least, our view was impressive. We had a view of Navy Pier and Lake Michigan from our 14th floor room.

The Snowed Inn package at Loews Chicago included set up of a little tent and campfire set to play with.

Kids will also like the extras that come with the Snowed Inn package, particularly the hot cocoa. My kids were not too impressed with the cookies that came with it, though. They had some raisins in them.

What parents will like at Loews Chicago

I’m not going to lie, having complimentary valet parking with the Snowed Inn package was a huge perk. There are also discounts at the restaurant and spa included with the package.

Loews Chicago was in a prime location for our plans in downtown Chicago. 

I liked the hotel’s location, being so near all of the things we wanted to see and do: We walked to Millennium Park, for instance. And, places like the Field Museum were about an $8 cab ride away. We weren’t far from CTA stops, either.

If you’ve never used Chicago’s mass transit, the concierge is super helpful telling you which stops to go to for things. He also gave us some tips for a good route to just ride the train for the heck of it (if you have kids, you understand this).

More things to know about Loews Chicago

This hotel has a restaurant called ETA and lobby bar, but do not expect complimentary breakfast or a free happy hour. However, with the Snowed Inn package, you do get 20% off at ETA. We didn’t dine there, so I can’t tell you much about the restaurant.

ETA is located just off the lobby of Loews Chicago.

If you go

Loews Chicago

Where: 455 N. Park Drive, Chicago, Ill.

More Chicago vacation inspiration

You can see all the fun things we did on our Chicago holiday weekend getaway in this post. I started planning the trip using this Chicago Holiday Bucket List post.

Want to explore other hotel options in downtown Chicago? Trip Adviser is a good place to start!

If you want to see where I found my inspiration, then follow my Chicago Pinterest board! You’ll discover more family-friendly places to visit and things to do in the Windy City:

Get Travel Inspiration Directly In Your Inbox

Subscribe to the FREE twice a month(ish) e-newsletter sharing what’s new in Omaha, giveaways, family travel ideas, and more! Subscribe here.

Visiting Chicago and looking for a family-friendly hotel? Check out this review of Loews Chicago, a hotel located within walking distance of popular attractions. #Chicago #familytravel #WindyCity #hosted
December 6, 2018

Chicago Holiday Weekend With Kids

I’ve been wanting to take the kids to Chicago for years, and finally, the opportunity arose to take them on one of the first big holiday weekends of the year: Thanksgiving Weekend. So, I knew it was going to take some planning (it all started with this Chicago Holiday Bucket List). Here’s all that we did during three days in Chicago:

Things do do in Chicago at Christmas - Kid-friendly restaurants decked out for the season, holiday displays and more festive things to do in the Windy City #Chicago #Christmas #familytravel

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. At no additional cost to you, if you click the link and/or make a purchase, I may receive a small payment for referring you. 

Trees & caroling in Chicago

There were three places we had planned on seeing Christmas trees. For a meal under a giant Christmas tree, you’ve got to head to Macy’s Walnut Room. Many people go just to take a picture. We went on a Friday night and expected a terribly long wait (it was Black Friday), but got in pretty quickly.

The kids posing with a fairy princess at the Walnut Room inside Macy’s department store in downtown Chicago.

Fairy princesses strolled the room during the meal, granting wishes and handing out wishing stones. It was an unexpected experience that my daughter particularly loved. The service, by the way, was fantastic.

Tip: You cannot make a reservation for The Walnut Room during the holidays. We did not have much of a wait, but plan accordingly. They will not seat your party unless everyone is there.

And what should you try at the Walnut Room? Get the famous chicken pot pie. 

To see trees with an around the world theme, head to the Museum of Science & Industry. Their Christmas Around The World and Holiday of Lights display is full of impressive details. I liked looking at festive trees, but my kids were not interested (due to the fact that the rest of the museum was so stinking amazing). On the weekends, there are performances I wish we could’ve seen.

The four-story Grand Tree is located inside the Museum of Science & Industry in Chicago.

There’s also a gorgeous, giant tree that’s the centerpiece of it all. On the hour and half-hour is a “snowfall.” We hung around to see it once. It’s not too exciting, at least not for a 7-year-old.

Tip: If you have a membership to Omaha Children’s Museum, you get reciprocal free admission to the Museum of Science & Industry. This is a HUGE savings.

The extra exhibitions and experiences are a considerable add-on. We did the coal mining experience and it was OK (not totally sure it was “$40 OK,” though).

The extra I do think was worth it was the $5 toy building assembly line. The tops the kids made work great. The machine did have a few moments of not working, so it wasn’t a smooth process, but still, I’d recommend it.

On Friday nights during the holiday season, you might catch live holiday music being performed in front of the iconic “Bean” sculpture at Millennium Park.

For the ultimate Christmas tree experience, head to Millennium Park. There’s ice skating with the giant Christmas tree lit up in the background. We visited on a Friday night and they had live Christmas music by “Cloud Gate,” AKA, The Bean. Everyone in the crowd sang along. These concerts happen every Friday from 6 to 7 p.m. during the holiday season.

Christmas trees on Wabash Avenue in downtown Chicago.

Chicago is a great city to see holiday lights. We happened upon gorgeous displays on walks from our hotel, Loews Chicago. Two great trees can be found on Wabash Avenue by the river, right by the Ghirardelli store.

Holidays at Chicago museums

Museums were definitely on our itinerary, and the ones we visited had their own Christmas decorations to enjoy. I already mentioned Museum of Science & Industry, and that was, by far, the most decorated place of the three we went to.

The Field Museum has decorations up during the holiday season.

The Field Museum had holiday lights set up in the main lobby and on stairwells, plus some wreaths hung up. It was minimal but done really well.

Tip: If you have a membership to Omaha Children’s Museum,you get reciprocal free admission to the Field Museum. This is a HUGE savings.

The extra exhibitions at The Field Museum are a considerable add-on. Admittedly, the one we chose was not worth it.

The Art Institute of Chicago, the iconic lions out front have wreaths placed around them. If you head to the Thorne Miniatures Room, a couple of the rooms had some Christmas-y décor added to them 

The lions in front of the Art Institute of Chicago are each adorned with a large wreath during the holiday season. When we did the JourneyMaker activity at the museum, my daughter chose the lions as one of our stops.

Tip: If you take little ones to Art Institute of Chicago, you’ve got to stop first at the Ryan Learning Center in the Contemporary Building. There, in addition to some great art activities, you’ll find the JourneyMaker center, where kids can create a mini tour of the museum based on a theme they choose and the artwork they choose to see within that theme.

The kids loved it, and it made an extremely large museum manageable for a child. We had four stops on the tour – both kids chose creatures theme – and it took us to quite a few galleries, including my favorite, the Impressionists area. In about an hour, we had found the art, did the little activities associated with each stop and made it back to the learning center to collect their prize (a postcard of their choice).

The JourneyMaker at Art Institute of Chicago let’s kids create their own themed tour of the museum that includes activities for each stop and a prize to collect at the end.

Chicago restaurants decorated for Christmas

Most Chicago restaurants we visited had some sort of decoration, but one stood out for the decor and another stood out for the food.

The Walnut Room is a restaurant in Chicago that is truly decked out for Christmas.

I already mentioned the Walnut Room at Macy’s. The giant Christmas tree is a show-stopper, for sure, but the food is very good too. And, it’s kid-friendly with a menu for the little ones.

Another downtown restaurant we enjoyed was the family-owned Tortoise Supper Club.

Disclosure: We were guests of the restaurant on our visit.

Exterior of Tortoise Supper Club decorated for Christmas
For a special night out, we dined at the Tortoise Supper Club in downtown Chicago. Photo courtesy Tortoise Supper Club

While there was some classy holiday decor, the memorable thing for us was the food during our visit. It’s not as kid-friendly, in the sense that there is no kid’s menu or kid portions, but the staff warmly welcomed my kids and the other families in the restaurant.

I’ll write more about it soon, but if you do find yourself there, my tip to you is to get the dessert (key lime pie or tortoise pie).

Ice skating in downtown Chicago

Time did not allow for us to fit in a trip to an outdoor iceskating rink in Chicago, though there are two that were within walking distance of our hotel, Loews Chicago. The one at Millennium Park is traditional oval shaped with a very charming Christmas tree in the background.

The walk from Millennium Park to Maggie Daley Park in Chicago was easy thanks to this cool bridge.

The other is at Maggie Daley Park, which is just a bridge walk from Millennium Park. It’s an ice skating ribbon, which looks a little more fun than just going in loops.

We skipped the ice skating, though, and went straight to the amazing playground at Maggie Daley Park. I think we made the right call on a particularly mild winter day.

Maggie Daley Park in downtown Chicago has a massive playground as well as an outdoor ice skating ribbon in the winter.

Christmas while you shop in Chicago

The Christkindlmarket was on my wish list to visit for years. Modeled after German Christmas markets, it’s an outdoor market with vendors selling gifts, food, and drinks.

All smiles before the immensity of the crowd at Christkindlmarket really sunk in.

It’s very charming, in theory, but the crowds are overwhelming.  I was warned by many to go early, and man, did I try to get there first thing one morning. We ended up arriving  about 30 minutes after it opened, and it was packed. One particular aisle was crammed, and we shuffled our way barely seeing the booths. My kids still enjoyed it, and found souvenirs for themselves and a gift for one aunt.

An ornament found at the Christkindlmarket in downtown Chicago.

I did, at least, have some tasty pastries and gluhwein, so it wasn’t a total wash.

Christmas is everywhere in stores, and Chicago retailers do it up well. Downtown, you’ll want to check out Macy’s window displays of exquisite scenes.

Shoppers on Black Friday in downtown Chicago.

A train ride away, or in our case, a car ride, is the Fashion Outlets of Chicago in Rosemont, Ill. We were guests of the mall and got to try out a pretty high tech Santa experience called Santa HQ, presented by HGTV. The cost is comparable to photos with Santa at other malls, but this is an immersive experience that goes beyond the typical wait-in-line-for-a-photo Santa experience.

The entrance to Santa HQ at the Fashion Outlets of Chicago. It’s an immersive experience that ends with kids meeting Santa Claus.

The kids were able to go through the Elf Academy, and make digital elf versions of themselves, step on a Naughty Or Nice detector, and use an iPad to see virtual elves around Santa HQ. Pretty nifty stuff.

My daughter trying out some of the techy fun at Santa HQ at the Fashion Outlets of Chicago.

It ends with photos with Santa, and sharing wish lists with him, plus the kids receive goodie bags.

Where to stay for all the Chicago Christmas fun

I partnered with Loews Hotels for this trip and found the downtown Chicago location to be absolutely ideal for my family’s trip. Many of our destinations, like Millennium Park, are within walking distance.

Our hotel for most of the Chicago trip, Loews Chicago, was located in downtown Chicago.

In the winter, Loews Chicago offers the Snowed Inn package for families, which includes cookies & hot cocoa, a rented movie, and valet parking. Nice right? They also set up a cute tent and campfire set for the kids to play with.

We could see Navy Pier from our window on the 14th floor of Loews Chicago.

Can’t beat the view, either! That’s Navy Pier in the distance, with the big ferris wheel lighting up the background.

The lobby at Loews Chicago was charmingly decorated for Christmas.

If you think Santa HQ is another destination for you, there’s a Loews Hotel location (O’Hare) that’s super close. If the weather hadn’t been crummy, we could’ve walked to it.

The lobby at Loews O’Hare was large and set up for gathering. There were neat artistic touches throughout the hotel.

Check back in a few weeks for reviews about our stay at each hotel! I’ll tell you about the rooms and the family-friendly amenities at each.

Plan a Chicago Getaway

Want to visit Chicago with your family? Here are a few additional posts to help plan things. Start with my Chicago Holidays Bucket List – there’s quite a bit on the post that isn’t just for Christmas time in the city, too!

Dec. 17 – Staying In Downtown Chicago With Kids At Loews

Dec. 26 – Taking Kids To Tortoise Supper Club In Chicago

Jan. 3 – Tips For Visiting 3 Big Chicago Museums With Kids

Jan. 10 – Staying Near Fashion Outlets Of Chicago – Loews O’Hare

Get some more ideas by following my Pinterest board for Chicago!

Get Travel Inspiration Directly In Your Inbox

Subscribe to the FREE twice a month(ish) e-newsletter sharing what’s new in Omaha, giveaways, family travel ideas, and more! Subscribe here.

Family-friendly things to do in Chicago at Christmas - Where to find displays in downtown Chicago, kid-friendly restaurants, and more #holidays #familytravel #Chicago #OhMyChicagoHoliday
November 4, 2018

Free Things To Do In The Quad Cities With Kids

During our long weekend to the Quad Cities – a collection of cities around the Mississippi River on both the Iowa and Illinois side – we visited several family-friendly museums and places that I can’t wait to tell you more about. Three things that I want to highlight in this post stand out from the others in one particular way – they are free. If free fits your budget when traveling, read on.

3 free things to do in the Quad Cities that kids will love #Illinois #Iowa #familytravel

Fryxell Geology Museum

Where: Rock Island, Ill.

Hours: Academic year, Mondays-Fridays from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays from 1 to 4 .m. (plus seven evenings throughout the year)

Tucked in the beautiful Augustana Campus is the Fryxell Geology Museum.  This museum is a bit off the beaten path, but it was so worth the stop. It’s one of the largest and finest collections of rocks, minerals and fossils in the Midwest.

It’s a more hands-on museum than you’d expect, which is great for visiting families. The staff has found engaging ways to get your kids excited about the displays.

The Fyxell Geology Museum is a free museum that’s worth a visit for families. Explore fossils, gems and the area’s pre-historic history.

If you’re doing the self-guided thing, you can pick up scavenger hunt cards. They’re simple cards that encourage kids to look closer at displays to find the item that matches the picture.

There’s also a new iPad app that allows kids (or adults, because you know you’re going to want to try it) to aim the iPad at a fossil and see an image or an illustrated video to see what the creature might have looked like back in the day. This was way cool for the kids.

My family is in the background, learning about the discovery of the Cryolophosaurus, the first (and only) Jurassic dinosaur discovered in Antarctica. It was collected by a team of Augustana geologists led by Dr. William R. Hammer.

The highlighted was walking around with a staff member and having her point out cool fossils – like fossilized poop – and answering questions my kids posed.

Things to look for:

  • There’s a rock display behind curtains in theback of the museum. Take a peek to see the “glowing” rocks. It impressed myyoungest.
  • The Cryolophosaurus. This large dinosaur is one of the first things you encounter at the museum. It’s got a great story– the first dinosaur found in Antarctica AND found by an Augustana professor. There’s a display to learn more about that years-long process of uncovering the bones.

John Deere Pavilion

Where: Moline, Ill.

Hours: Monday–Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. Closed major holidays.

This river town is home to John Deere, and lucky for families, it’s home to John Deere Pavilion.

The John Deere Pavilion in Moline, Ill., is free to visit. You can climb into the cabs of many of the tractors and machinery.

This pavilion, to me, is half history museum and half children’s museum. Even the website tells you: “The only requirement for kids inside our doors — BE A KID. Climb on board. Pretend you’re driving…”

So, the history part is fairly obvious. You can see the earliest tractors and how they and other farming equipment have evolved over 180 years. Walking the whole length of the pavilion, you can’t help but be impressed. And, when you reach the other end of the building, you get a glimpse at present time and what innovations are ahead.

John Deere farming equipment from more than 180 years are on display at the John Deere Pavilion in Moline, Ill. You can climb into many of the machines.

What’s great for kids is that they can climb into the cabs of many of these huge machines.

The space that felt like a mini children’s museum part, the Discovery Zone, was the area my kids wanted to spend the most time. There are hands-on displays and train table, as well as a stop-motion table. My son’s favorite was a video he can manipulate, speeding the image up or slowing it down.

My daughter and I made a few stop motion movies set on a farm.

There’s a row of screens that you can sit in front of and try out simulations of driving some of the machinery. This appealed to the grown-ups as much as the kids. There were quite a few screens, actually, throughout the pavilion that allowed for a fun way to learn more about the brand and farming.

The John Deere Pavilion was a good rainy day stop for my family during our Quad Cities vacation.

This one was a fairly quick stop for us, whereas I think the others could spend about an hour or so there. If your kid is really interested in the machines, check out this John Deere website with coloring pages and videos.

Davenport Skybridge

Where: Davenport, Iowa

Hours: Daily, 5 a.m. to 11 p.m.

I first learned about the Skybridge through pictures, because this hidden gem (or maybe not-so-hidden) gives you a great birds-eye view of the Mississippi River.

If you’re in downtown Davenport, make a quick stop to see the Davenport Skybridge, which has great views of the Mississippi River.

Pretty much, it’s a walkway over a highway from a parking garage to the riverfront. But, it’s done in such a cool way, that it’s worth checking out. If the weather’s crummy, it’s also a nice, long corridor that kids can run up and down. When we were there, two women were running laps for a workout.

The Davenport Skybridge is safe way to cross a highway from the downtown area to the riverfront. 

At night, I hear the lighting inside is pretty sweet, too. We were there during the day, so I can’t vouch for the lighting. But, the view was neat.

The river was at flood-level, so we could see water seeping up onto the Iowa banks.

The Skybridge gave us a nice view of how far up onto shore the Mississippi River has flooded.

We didn’t head downtown just for this view. We actually decided to add a visit to the Skybridge at the last minute since we got downtown in record time and the Figge Art Museum wasn’t open yet. The Skybridge is super close to the Figge and killed about 10 minutes.

Plan a Quad Cities Family Trip

I’ll be sharing more in-depth posts about some of the places we visited in the Quad Cities in upcoming posts. Check back to learn more about:

Fun Things To Do With Kids In The Quad Cities

Where To Stay In The Quad Cities – Illinois Side

The Figge Art Museum And Kids

Exploring The Putnam Museum With Young Kids – Nov. 22

Comparing Hotels Around The Quad Cities – Dec. 13

What’s At The Family Museum in Bettendorf? – Dec. 26

Get Travel Inspiration Directly In Your Inbox

Subscribe to the FREE twice a month(ish) e-newsletter sharing what’s new in Omaha, giveaways, family travel ideas, and more! Subscribe here.

October 21, 2018

Where To Stay In The Quad Cities – Illinois Side

If you’re traveling to the Quad Cities and you’re planning on visiting attractions in several of those cities, you be wondering where best to stay. Good question since there are four cities making up this region. This post is looking at staying in Moline, Ill., and staying specifically at the Element Moline.

Disclosure: Our stay was hosted by Visit Quad Cities. All thoughts, opinions and typos are my own.

The Element hotel chain is a sleek brand, with airy and modern décor. This particular location was a brick building with gorgeous loft-style rooms, blending brick walls, cement, and modern furniture.

With cement floors and unique light fixtures, Element Moline didn’t look like a typical hotel.

Our room was spacious, with a small kitchen, two beds, a fold-out couch bed, and a second mystery room that was empty. The bathroom was modern with a large glass shower.

Our room at Element had the look and feel of a chic loft – brick walls, concrete, and a kitchen.

As a parent, I appreciated the room had blackout curtains. My youngest occasionally takes naps still and it was very helpful being able to darken our room enough for her to sleep.

The room had blackout curtains to help with an impromptu nap one of my kids needed during our trip.

The hotel had one of the best complimentary breakfasts I’ve seen at any hotel when traveling. There was someone preparing hot food made-to-order (pancakes on the weekend and two egg white options on the weekday).

Element Hotel in Moline had self-serve breakfast food plus someone making hot food to order. On the weekend, she was making pancakes and on Monday, she was making two different egg white dishes.

The fresh fruit and yogurt bar were healthier options I appreciated. My kids, on the other hand, liked the cereal bar and pastry varieties.

The breakfast crowd on a Monday morning was decidedly more business than families.

If you stay during the week, there’s a happy hour with complimentary beer and wine in the comfy lobby.  

For traveling families, the most important feature is that it has a pool. It’s a small rectangle of a pool, but my kids didn’t care.

There’s also a workout room and complimentary bikes to rent. There’s a nearby trail that runs along a river.

This trail is within walking distance of Element Moline. You can borrow bikes from the hotel to explore it.

The hotel is within walking distance a few restaurants. Some that we tried that were nearby included Lagomaricino’s and Bent River Brewing Co.

It’s also near to the John Deere Pavilion, a good place to take the kids that’s free to visit. It’s also next to the TaxSlayer Center, with a lot of good concerts and performances coming up.

If you go

Element Moline

Where: 316 12th Street, Moline, Ill.


Looking for a place to stay in the Quad Cities? Here's a recommended hotel on the Illinois side - Element Moline. The healthy breakfast, loft-style rooms and location will appeal to most travelers.

Plan a Quad Cities Family Trip

I’ll be sharing more in-depth posts about some of the places we visited in the Quad Cities in upcoming posts. Check back to learn more about:

Fun Things To Do With Kids In The Quad Cities

Taking Kids To The Figge Art Museum – Nov. 1

Free Things To Do With Kids In The Quad Cities – Nov. 8

Exploring The Putnam Museum With Young Kids – Nov. 22

Comparing Hotels Around The Quad Cities – Dec. 13

What’s At The Family Museum in Bettendorf? – Dec. 26

Get Travel Inspiration Directly In Your Inbox

Subscribe to the FREE twice a month(ish) e-newsletter sharing what’s new in Omaha, giveaways, family travel ideas, and more! Subscribe here.

October 16, 2018

Fun Things To Do With Kids In The Quad Cities

Our trip to the Quad Cities in eastern Iowa and western Illinois was supposed to be a fun getaway, including some beautiful fall scenery. Think autumn things like pumpkin patches, nature hikes, and changing leaves along the Mississippi River. Due to rain — so much rain — our weekend was spent mostly indoors, though. No problem since there are plenty of fun things to do in the Quad Cities that are indoors, including exploring kid-friendly museums and eating an embarrassing amount of ice cream and pancakes.

Disclosure: Our visit was hosted by Visit Quad Cities. All thoughts, opinions and typos are my own.

Exploring the Quad Cities in Iowa & Illinois with kids - Fun things to do in the Quad Cities, including family-friendly museums, restaurants, breweries & hotel

The Quad Cities, if you’re unfamiliar, consists of Betterndorf and Davenport in Iowa and Moline and Rock Island in Illinois. The Mississippi is the natural divider for the states and cities. They’re proximity to each made it feel like one large city with small-town atmospheres.

For a family-friendly getaway to the Quad Cities, here are some of my suggestions:

Where to play

My kids are 7 and 9 years old, so they they’re starting to age out of children’s museum-type experiences (hands-on) but still love anything that’s play-based. Here’s where we went in the Quad Cities.

Learning about mummies and Egyptian hieroglyphs at the Putnam Museum in the Quad Cities.

A mix between science center and natural history museum, Putnam Museum in Davenport was a big hit for my kids. It’s large and families could easily spend an entire afternoon here. My kids enjoyed the science center, mummies, and walking through the river exhibit featuring the animals, flora and fauna found along the Mississippi River.

Putnam Museum has a lot of hands-on activities for kids to explore STEM concepts.

I loved playing with the kids in the augmented reality room where you could see yourself on screen with dinosaurs.

Where: Putnam Museum, 1717 W. 12th St., Davenport, Iowa

Tip: If you’re a member of Omaha Children’s Museum, you get admission for four FREE at the Putnam Museum thanks to the ASTC reciprocal membership program!

I was impressed with the massive Figge Art Museum in Davenport. We were there to see the new traveling exhibit, “French Moderns: Monet to Matisse,” as well as glimpse at some of the permanent collection. Catch the traveling exhibit while you can, as it was impressive.

The inspiration for our visit to Figge Art Museum was to see the traveling French Moderns exhibit, but the large museum is worth a stop with or without a stellar traveling exhibit.

The museum also is known for having one of the largest collections of Mexican Colonial artwork outside of Mexico City and is one of the first U.S. museums to have a Haitian art collection.

The Figge’s Family Activity Center was my children’s favorite space in the museum. They could create art, perform, read and be a little louder than they normally would be in a museum.

My kids spent most of their time in the newly remodeled Family Art Center on the second floor of the museum. It was a space to draw, build, and try on costumes. It’s perfect for all ages.

Where: Figge Art Museum, 225 W. 2nd Street, Davenport, Iowa

If you go to Figge, you’ll be block away from the Davenport Skybridge. It’s a walkway from a parking garage that leads you to a neat lookout over the Mississippi River.

If you’re in downtown Davenport, make a quick stop to see the Davenport Skybridge, which has great views of the Mississippi River.

We went during the day, but I’ve seen pictures of the Skybridge at night and the interior is lit up with colorful lights.

Family Museum in Bettendorf was one of the museums we were not originally planning on visiting, but rain washed out our outdoor plans so this became our substitute. I’m glad we did!

The Family Museum in Bettendorf, Iowa, appeals especially to younger kids.

Consider this museum like a children’s museum with a very creative and fun pretend space filled with a farm, grocery story, Mississippi bridge replica, veterinarian clinic, post office and more, plus a large water table and maker space.

The Family Museum in the Quad Cities had so many opportunities for make believe play.

Its total exhibit space is small compared to Omaha Children’s Museum, but you can easily spend a few hours playing just in the one room I mentioned above. And if your kids love the role playing, the Family Museum is hard to beat.

Playing with clay in a studio at the Family Museum in Bettendorf.

We went upstairs to the clay studio before leaving (there is also a separate art studio upstairs). The make-and-take air-dry clay is free to play with and take home. For a few dollars, though, you can make something on the pottery wheel. It’s not a great option for visitors like us since that clay needs to be fired in a kiln and picked up a week later.

Tip: If you’re a member of Omaha Children’s Museum, you get admission for four FREE at the Family Museum thanks to the ASTC reciprocal membership program!

Where: 2900 Learning Campus Dr, Bettendorf, Iowa

On the Illinois side of the Quad Cities, we went to two other attractions that happen to be FREE. Both could be about an hour-long visit depending how into tractors or rocks & fossils your family is.

The Fyxell Geology Museum is a free museum that’s worth a visit for families.

The Fryxell Geology Museum is a few museum on the beautiful Augustana College campus in Rock Island, Ill. Leave a few minutes on your visit to explore the campus before or afterward.

The museum’s small but it’s easy to spend an hour here. See if your family can get a guided tour because the enthusiasm of the guide is going to be contagious with your family. 

There’s a surprising amount of hands-on opportunities at Fryxell Geology Museum in Rock Island, Ill.

Susan brought out fossils for the kids to touch like fossilized poop and a shark’s jaw.

They’re testing out an augmented reality app, too, and my kids loved seeing the fossils “come to life” in pictures and video with the museum’s iPad.

We got to test out an app at Fryxell Geology Museum where kids can “see” what a fossil may have looked like millions of years ago.

If you’re exploring on your own, there’s a scavenger hunt card game.

The museum’s biggest draw is the Cryolophosaurus, a 22-foot-long dinosaur fossil discovered by an Augstana College professor. It’s the first-ever dinosaur fossil found in Antarctica and it was a previously unknown dinosaur – so a doubly exciting discovery.

Don’t skip the small exhibit in back behind the black curtain. There are fluorescent stones back there.

Where: Fryxell Geology Museum, 820 38th St., Rock Island, Ill. Just a note: Finding a parking spot near the museum was difficult as we went when college was in session.

Moline is home to the world headquarters of John Deere, and so it’s no surprise there’s a place to learn about the history of the company and glimpse at the future. The John Deere Pavilion is a great place to explore with kids as there are several huge farming equipment for them to climb on, as well as an interactive kids area.

Antique and modern John Deere farming equipment are on display at the John Deere Pavilion in Moline, Ill. You can climb into many of the machines.

The kids area is small but it held my kids’ attention for a long time, especially video editor and the stop-motion video table.  

Adults even got in on the fun, especially with the simulators.

Where: John Deere Pavilion, 1400 River Dr., Moline, IL

Where to eat in the Quad Cities

This weekend getaway to the Quad Cities was extremely over-indulgent and if you’re on a diet, skip this part.

Breakfast is my favorite meal on vacation. The two I’d recommend are local institutions, and expect a wait if you go.

QC Coffee and Pancake House in Rock Island, Ill., is known for their cinnamon roll pancakes. So, we had to get one, right? We also tried the specials there – both plates were heaping with food. Mine was particularly colorful with a variety of fresh fruits and prepared vegetables. It’s all about balance when you also order a large pancake.

QC Coffee and Pancake House is known for their cinnamon roll pancakes.

The kids got Mickey Mouse pancakes, and again, too much for one kid to finish.

Jimmy’s Pancake House in Bettendorf, Iowa, is again, known for pancakes. They were fluffy and prepared just the way I like them. The perk of this restaurant, if you ask my kids, is the toy they gave them after the meal.
This restaurant is very close to the Family Museum.

Lagomarcino’s is a family-owned confectionery and soda fountain that’s been in business in Moline, Ill., for more than 100 years.

Lagomarcino’s has two locations in the Quad Cities and we went to the quaint original in Moline, Ill. You could walk to it from our hotel, Element, which is convenient.

Logamarcino’s is a century-old confectionery and ice cream shop with a deli thrown in for good measure. We ordered sandwiches, fully knowing we’d be splitting one of their famous sundaes afterward. They make their own ice cream and hot fudge.

This place is pretty charming and you’ll be tempted to buy candies and treats before leaving. I promise.

The homemade ice cream and hot fudge at Lagomarcino’s is legendary.

There are two locations. We dined at the downtown Moline, Ill., one. The second location is in the Village of East Davenport in Iowa, and that little area is absolutely charming.

Our other lunch was at Steel Plow Burger Co. You’d think you’d go here for the burgers (and those are good), but you’re really going because you want one of the over-the-rim milkshakes. These things are monstrous concoctions that must be shared.

So we did.

We split a brownie shake, which had little brownie bites and donuts on skewers, M&Ms and marshmallows along the bottom, and delish fudge dropping from the top. Four of us could not finish it.

How could we go to the Quad Cities and not have one of the pizzas that Food & Wine wrote about this year? We went to Harris Pizza (there are several locations, so we went to the one in Rock Island). The pizza is sliced in long strips rather than your typical triangle slices. Crisp bottom, thick crust and ample toppings, with just the right amount of sauce. All around, it was a great pizza.

There are several breweries in the Quad Cities, and I asked around for a few suggestions of family-friendly breweries so that I could try local beer without feeling out of place while on a family vacation. Bent River Brewing Co. in Moline was short walk from our hotel, so we decided to have dinner there one evening. While we were the only ones with kids there, we were welcomed.

Bent River Brewing Co. in Moline, Ill., is a local brewery with a kids menu and games to help pass the time while you wait for a meal.

There was a kids menu and several games to choose from while we waited for our dinner. We played Sorry and Jenga. The food was typical pub food, and the beer was exceptional. I tried their most popular beer, Uncommon Stout, and my husband ordered a seasonal sweet potato beer. The seasonal was so good, we bought a growler to take home.

Where to stay in the Quad Cities

Our hotel, Element Moline, was on the Illinois side of the Quad Cities, but given the proximity of the cities to each other, I don’t know if you can choose wrong when deciding which city to stay in.

Our room at Element had the look and feel of a chic loft – brick walls, concrete floors, and a kitchen.

I’ll be visiting a few more Quad City hotels in the next month and can report back to you on why you’d choose one of the Quad Cities over the other depending on your itinerary.

But, back to talking about Element. You may be familiar with the hotel chain by Marriott. It’s a sleek hotel, and this one in Moline has such a cool look. It reminded me of loft apartments in Omaha’s Old Market, blending brick walls, cement, and modern furniture.

The hotel had one of the best complimentary breakfasts I’ve seen at any hotel when traveling. There was someone preparing hot food made-to-order (pancakes on the weekend and two egg white options on the weekday). The fresh fruit and yogurt bar were healthier options I appreciated. My kids, on the other hand, liked the cereal bar and pastry varieties.

Element Hotel in Moline had self-serve breakfast food plus someone making hot food to order. On the weekend, she was making pancakes and on Monday, she was making two different egg white dishes.

Most important to traveling families, it has a pool. Our room was shower-only, so that was a drawback for my kids. I’d say, overall, this hotel would appeal more to business travelers than families, while still being pretty family-friendly.

The hotel is within walking distance to the John Deere Pavilion, as well as the TaxSlayer Arena. It’s also near a bike trail along the riverfront, and the hotel has complimentary bicycles if you have time to explore.

Where: 316 12th Street, Moline, Ill.


Plan a Quad Cities Family Trip

I’ll be sharing more in-depth posts about some of the places we visited in the Quad Cities in upcoming posts. Check back to learn more about:

Where To Stay In The Quad Cities – Illinois Side

Taking Kids To The Figge Art Museum

Free Things To Do With Kids In The Quad Cities

Exploring The Putnam Museum With Young Kids – Nov. 22

Comparing Hotels Around The Quad Cities – Dec. 13

What’s At The Family Museum in Bettendorf? – Dec. 26

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October 2, 2018

My Chicago Christmas Bucket List

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After many years of saying, “We should take the kids to Chicago,” we’re doing it. We’re timing the kids’ first visit to Chicago to be during the holiday season, so in this particular Chicago bucket list, I’ve included holiday shows, lights displays, and special events, as well as a few dining wishes. So, here’s my Chicago Christmas bucket list,  all the things I’d do in the Windy City if time and money weren’t a factor:

The Chicago Christmas Bucket List of shows to see, annual traditions, restaurants that get decked for the holidays, and winter activities. Use this wish list of things to do to plan a visit to Chicago in November or December.

Catch a holiday show

There are an overwhelming assortment of live shows in Chicago between November and December. Narrowing down holiday show choices, you can find anything from traditional options like Joffrey Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” to more contemporary shows like “How The Grinch Stole Christmas” at the Chicago Theater and for a unique take on “A Christmas Carol,” there’s “Q Brothers Christmas Carol.” It’s a hip hop take on the Charles Dickens’ tale at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater. Here’s a sampling of holiday shows on Chicago stages, just in November 2018.  And I’m just throwing it out there, because it’s on my all-time big bucket list – “Hamilton” is at the CIBC Theater for an open run. Just sayin’. I’d go in a heartbeat.

Shop the most famous Midwestern holiday market

Christkindlmarket is an open air holiday market in the heart of downtown Chicago. It’s modeled after German Christmas markets and looks completely charming. While browsing vendors, I envision myself warming up with some Gluhwein.  I’ve heard the Snow Balls (donuts) at Christkindlmarket are tasty and pair well with the Gluhwein, too.

Christkindlemarket in Chicago
The Christkindlmarket is an open air holiday market in Chicago modeled after European markets. Photo courtesy Ranvestel Photographic/Choose Chicago

Attend the biggest holiday celebration

I’m missing this parade this year, but since the Magnificent Mile Lights Festival is said to be to be the largest holiday celebration in the country, I’ve got to add it to my bucket list. This annual event is held the weekend before Thanksgiving, and includes a popular parade.

Enjoy winter outdoor fun…indoors

Here’s another annual event that sounds like fun, especially for my little ones, but just isn’t timing out to coincide with my visit. Winter Wonderfest is an annual event at Navy Pier is held in December and features bounces houses, slide, carousel and all the typical outdoor things brought indoors. I bet we’ll still go to Navy Pier this November to ride the ferris wheel and maybe take a walking food tour. 

Navy Pier ferris wheel in Chicago
The ferris wheel at Navy Pier in downtown Chicago. Navy Pier is home to Winter Wonderfest in December. Photo courtesy Ranvestel Photographic/Choose Chicago

See trees in a different light

OK, technically this is outside of the city, but I hear “Illumination: Tree Lights at The Morton Arboretum” is worth the drive. This annual holiday event at Morton Arboretum features an illuminated path of trees programmed with lights, video and audio.

See the city from way up high

Chicago will be my kids’ first encounter with legit skyscrapers. I can’t wait to take them to one of the tourist spots to get a bird’s-eye view of the city. If we’re feeling daring, there’s the TILT experience and viewing the city from Hancock Tower’s Observation Deck or The Ledge experience at the Skydeck at Willis Tower.

Willis Tower The Ledge view
Looking down at Chicago from The Ledge at the Skydeck on the 103rd floor of the Willis Tower. Photo courtesy Ranvestel Photographic/Choose Chicago

Holiday fun at Art Institute of Chicago

Wish we were in Chicago in December so we could attend the annual Holiday Treasure Hunt and Tea Party at Art Institute of Chicago.  This year, it’s on Sunday, Dec. 9. We’re also missing the annual Hanging the Wreaths on the Lions there (it’s earlier in November). I’m OK going to the museum without the additional holiday event crowds, though. I’ve never been there, and it’s been named the No. 1 museum in the world so I’d better fix that.

Art Institute of Chicago lion statue with Christmas wreath
The lion statues in front of the Art Institute of Chicago get a holiday makeover each year. Photo courtesy Adam Alexander Photography Photo/Choose Chicago

Holiday dining to remember

While researching dinging options, some restaurants in Chicago stood out for making dining between Thanksgiving and Christmas a special occasion, if only for unique decorations. First on the list is The Walnut Room at Macy’s, which was the first restaurant in a department store ever opening in 1905. Word is, at Christmas time, there is a 45-foot-tall tree, which sparkles with 3,000 ornaments and 6,000 LED lights, in the dining room. A bit more casual is Butch McGuire’s, a bar that goes all out for Christmas with thousands of lights and a double-decker model train. The Local Tourist says children are welcome for lunch and brunch.

Dine like a spy

OK, this is not holiday related, but my kids are at an age when a visit to SafeHouse Chicago sounds so perfect, it has to happen when we’re there. SafeHouse is often described as a spy-themed bar and club, but if you go during the day, you can dine at a restaurant that sounds surprisingly family-friendly (at least, that’s what it sounded like to me on this post on The Beckham Project). My kids’ imaginations will have a field day at this place.

Window shop

How could I not when the stores will be decorated for Christmas shoppers? I hear Macy’s has a good display each year.

Ice skate outdoors

One of my friends who lived in Chicago for years recommended two different places to ice skate: McCormick Tribune Ice Rink in Millennium Park, with its iconic skyline views, and Skating Ribbon at Maggie Daly Park, which breaks the mold of the typical oval ice rink. Rumor has it there may be a special Skate With Santa event. I’m crossing my fingers for an unusually warm winter day so we can visit.  

McCormick Tribune Ice Rink at Millennium Park in Chicago
Nighttime at the ice rink at Millennium Park in Chicago. Photo courtesy City of Chicago/Choose Chicago

Be in Chocolate Heaven

What’s the best drink for the holidays? Hot chocolate. Xoco has a churros and a spicy hot chocolate that are calling to me, but there are so many places to try, from Mindy’s HotChocolate to the over-the-top “hotter chocolate” creations at BomboBar.

Why stop with hot chocolate? Chocolate at the Pen is a chocolate bar at the Peninsula Hotel held every Friday and Saturday night and it is the stuff I’ve been dreaming about. Also, word is there’s a Nutella bar at Eataly (in addition to a ton of Italian food that’s rumored to be stunningly good).

Lights, Santa & animals

Winter isn’t typically the most popular time to visit a zoo, but I bet things get a little busy at ZooLights at Lincoln Park Zoo. It’s been running for 24 years. This evening event is FREE (just like the zoo itself), and I hear Santa waits for kids at the Kovler Lion House. My question – how many animals do we actually see at ZooLights? 

ZooLights at Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago
ZooLights runs from mid-November to early January each year at Lincoln Park Zoo. Photo courtesy Adam Alexander Photography Photo/Choose Chicago

Stroll the indoor gardens

Conservatories and indoor gardens are my favorite in the winter – they’re like a little oasis in the cold. Two places in Chicago have holiday displays to visit. Wonderland Express at Chicago Botanic Gardens features miniature trains, indoor snow and beautiful gardens from mid-November to early January. Garfield Conservatory has its annual Holiday Show from mid-November to early January, too, and this one has a bonus of being FREE.

Wonderland Express at Chicago Botanical Garden
Christmas celebrity sighting: Mrs. Claus at Wonderland Express at Chicago Botanic Garden. Photo courtesy Chicago Botanic Garden/Choose Chicago

Golden ticket to ride

How special is this? There’s The Polar Express Train Ride in Chicago. I’m visiting Chicago a little too early to do this one, though. It’s an Amtrack event from Chicago Union Station Nov. 30 through Jan. 1. Best part? You can wear PJs.

Making use of reciprocal membership perks

I’ve written about reciprocal membership perks, which you’ll want to read here. My Omaha Children’s Museum membership gets us FREE admission into quite a few Chicago museums. Two are on my list to visit: The Field Museum and the Museum of Science + Technology. One reason I want to go to Museum of Science + Technology this particular time of year is that there’s the annual display called “Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light.” This year, it runs Nov. 15 through Jan. 6, 2019.

Decorated trees at Museum of Science and Industry. The museum has an annual display called “Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light.” Photo courtesy J.B. Spector/Museum of Science and Industry/Museum of Science and Industry

See the gaudy Chicago Christmas lights

Time Out called the Christmas lights in Lincolnwood Towers as “straight-up Griswald sh**.”

I’m intrigued.

Getting “Snowed Inn”

I’ve been looking into Chicago hotels that cater to families and Loews Chicago might win for my favorite holiday/winter package: Each year, they have a “Snowed Inn” themed package that includes hot cocoa & cookies, an in-room movie, and a tent set up with a little kids campfire – PLUS, for the parents, valet parking. This year, they’re also adding passes to ride the Centennial Ferris Wheel for those who book on select weekends. The location can be beat, either, when it comes to seeing the most popular Christmas sights in the city. I’ll be staying there during our stay!

Read reviews and book a stay through TripAdviser!

Loews Chicago hotel at night
Loews Chicago is a hotel near Navy Pier, Michigan Avenue shops, and a ton of restaurants. Photo courtesy Loews Chicago

Santa goes high-tech

Santa HQ, presented by HGTV, at Fashion Outlets of Chicago sounds like a high tech experience that elevates a simple visit to see Santa. It involves iPads and apps and some nifty machines that calculates how naughty or nice you’ve been.

Once-in-a-lifetime experiences

Maybe seeing a beluga isn’t exactly holiday related but no Chicago bucket list is complete without mentioning Shedd Aquarium. When I read about some of their animal encounters, like one with a beluga, I knew I needed to add it to my bucket list. Alas, the age requirement is 12 and older, so it would just be me and the beluga, my kids would just have to watch. 🙂 They can, however, join me for a penguin encounter. Fun!

Santa and a beluga whale at Shedd Aquarium
Santa and a beluga whale at Shedd Aquarium in Chicago. Photo courtesy of Shedd/Choose Chicago

Check back later this year for a details on our trip and see how many of these items we checked off!

My Chicago Christmas Bucket List - A big wish list of sights to see around the holidays, restaurants to visit, and not-to-miss holiday and winter traditions.

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