Z is for Zoo

The day has finally arrived. It's Z day!

In Chicago "Z" is for Zoo. The Lincoln Park Zoo to be exact.

Polar bear

Flamingos in the city Giraffe

View from the Zoo

Nestled in the center of Lincoln Park, this 35-acre zoo is free to the public 365 days a year. With an impressive collection of animals and spectacular views of the city, Lincoln Park Zoo is a great way to spend an afternoon in the sunshine.


Y is for Yoga in the Park

Now that spring has finally arrived in Chicago, I'm remembering how many great opportunities arise when the weather is warm.

One of my favorite FREE things to do is work up a sweat under the Jay Pritzker Pavilion.

"Y" is for Yoga in Millennium Park.

Yoga in the Park

If Yoga isn't your thing, don't worry. Every Saturday from June 8th through August 31st you have choices. There's something for everybody. Millennium Park Workouts include Tai Chi, Yoga, Pilates and Zumba. Each class lasts an hour and is completely free of charge.

Tai Chi at 7am
Yoga at 8am
Pilates at 9am
Zumba at 10am

Needless to say, I'm counting the days.

What are you most looking forward to (or already enjoying) as the weather warms up?


X is for XOCO

When we arrived in Chicago we made sure to make a B Line for Rick Bayless' Frontera Grill. Our meal turned out to be the stuff of legends. So imagine my joy when I discovered that XOCO (449 North Clark Street, Near North Side), Bayless' quick serve cafe packs all the punch of its fancier siblings.

When you're tummy is growling and you need a little Mexican goodness, "X" is definitely for XOCO.


XOCO (pronounced SHO-co) will not disappoint.

So far, I've tried the XOCO salad, the Aztec hot chocolate and the churros with chocolate dipping sauce. Honestly, I'm not sure what I consider my favorite. Seems like there wouldn't be a comparison between chocolate and a salad, right? Then you must not have ever tried the XOCO salad. Who dreams about a salad? ME. Especially when the salad involves pork carnitas and avocado-lime dressing. I've come dangerously close to licking the bowl.

XOCO isn't a huge space, so you definitely feel cozy while dining. But the service, price and food is so top notch I don't mind snuggling one single bit.

I had the pleasure of meeting my friend Tammy there for a little get-to-know-you time earlier this month. And if it hadn't been our first time meeting I might have asked for a bite of her torta. I just thought maybe sharing should wait until our second friend date.


W is for Wrigley

In Chicago, W is for Wrigley field.

...because we all know it isn't for World Series Champion Chicago Cubs.


Built in 1914, Wrigley is the oldest National League ballpark and the second oldest major league ballpark (after Fenway built in 1912) still in use.

We have tickets to our first games at Wrigley this summer. Can't wait to wear my Cardinal red!

To be continued...


V is for Variety

This is one of my favorite spots in Chicago because it perfectly illustrates the incredible variety and diversity of Chicago's architecture.

  • The Equitable Building (on the far left | dark brown glass and steel prism) by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill is a great example of Miesian Modernism.
  • The Wrigley Building (the ornate white building in the foreground with the clock) by Charles G. Beersman of Graham, Anderson, Probst and White is a Spanish revival building.
  • The Trump Tower (the shimmering blue cylindrical building in the center) by Adrian Smith of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill is one of my favorite examples of Contemporary* modern architecture.
  • The Tribune Tower (the super duper ornate gray building just right of center with the flag on its top) by Hood and Howells is a neo-gothic masterpiece.
  • 444 North Michigan (linear white building with grid facade on the far right) by Perkins and Will is an example of a reinforced concrete frame modernist building with a redesigned post-modern lobby.
And this is just ONE CORNER!! I'm telling you, this city is heaven for an architecture geek like me.

*there's really no official name yet for this style of architecture since it's still happening...


U is for Union Station

Did you know there's much more to Chicago's Union Station than that final shootout in The Untouchables? Thankfully, the super-smart author of today's guest post does! As an urban planner with Metra, Ryan Richter is the perfect person to teach us all about this beautiful Chicago landmark. 

Heeeeeere's Ryan...

Union station is one of four passenger rail terminals in Chicago and is by far the busiest and most iconic. Opened in 1925, designed by Daniel Burnham (yes, that Burnham), it was built for a consortium of railroad companies that wanted to consolidate their terminal operations in one place. The term “union station” in essence is a station where tracks and facilities are shared by more than one railroad. Chicago is one of a number of cities that have union stations.

Union Station - Chicago

The current Union Station is the second station by that name and the third station located on its site in the West Loop. It is the third busiest railroad terminal in the U.S. and it handles approximately 120,000 passengers per weekday on 320 trains. It is a double stub-end station, meaning that trains do not pass through Union Station but rather terminate at Union Station.

There are 10 tracks at the north end and 14 tracks at the south end. Metra, the commuter rail service in Chicago has six lines serving Union Station that fan out across the region (Metra additionally operates the other three passenger rail terminals in Chicago. In total, Metra operates 11 lines). Amtrak, the national passenger rail operator, has 17 lines that serve the east and west coasts and parts in-between.

In terms of passengers, Metra riders comprise over 90% of the daily riders at Union Station (110,000 per weekday!), although Amtrak ridership is high enough to make Union Station one of the busiest stations in its network.

Union Station - Chicago

Union Station is iconic because of its beautiful Beaux Arts Great Hall. The Great Hall occupies an entire city block and is 110 feet tall. It is the headhouse; the actual boarding platforms and track are located one block to the east and are buried entirely by buildings that were developed over the tracks.

The original passenger concourse was demolished in 1968. It was developed into an office complex where the current passenger platforms and tracks are. Much of the leading tracks into Union Station from both the north and south have been redeveloped via air rights. Interestingly enough, at the original headhouse, there is an 8-story office building above the Great Hall. Daniel Burnham designed the headhouse to accommodate a 22-story office building, thus there is the ability to add 14 more stories. Amtrak, the owner of Union Station, has been actively trying to redevelop the station with this in mind.

Untouchables Staircase

Ryan Richter (@transportnexus) is an urban planner at Metra, the commuter railroad operator in the Chicago region. His professional focus is in the realm of land use and transportation planning and he blogs about those topics and more at Transport Nexus.


T is for Tribune Tower

T is for Totally Late and I Almost Missed a Letter in my Blogging from A to Challenge.

...or if you're feeling slightly less dramatic, Tribune Tower.

Up the Tribune Tower

I wrote a post on the Tribune Tower back in October called Hidden Passages and Gangsta Views.

Go ahead, click the link. I know you want to.


S is for Sears Tower

In 1970, Sears chairman Gordon Metcalf explained, “Being the largest retailer in the world, we thought we should have the largest headquarters in the world.” When the building was completed in 1974 it enabled the retailer to consolidate approximately 6,500 employees who had previously been working at seven separate locations.

The Hub

Structural engineer Fazlur Kahn, architect Bruce Graham and their partners at the firm of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM) are responsible for the groundbreaking design of what is still the tallest building in North America.

...today turned into a pretty fine day.

Its bundled tube construction was revolutionary. It consists of 9 tubes that are each seventy-five feet square. The tubes are then set back at the 50th, 66th and 90th floors leaving 2 tubes to rise to the building’s full height of 1454 feet. The setbacks provide lateral stiffness allowing the tower to resist the “Windy City’s” windy conditions and are also indicative of the original use of the building.

When Sears first occupied the building their merchandising department utilized the first 50 floors. The massive floors enabled employee interaction with limited elevator travel. The setback floors above were leased out and proved to be extremely profitable.

So, although now-a-days this beautifully sleek engineering wonder is more commonly known as the Willis Tower, in Chicago, "S" will always stand for Sears tower.

Who's been up in the observatory and looked down on the street like a roosting pigeon?


R is for {Chicago} River

Some views never get old
*Clearly this picture is from last spring since the trees 
are beautifully in bloom and we had SNOW flurries yesterday!*

Who has fun plans for the weekend?


Q is for {Chicago} Q

It was not easy figuring out "Q"for my blogging from a to z challenge.

Well, until I heard the "word on the street." There's an actual restaurant called Chicago q. Can you believe my luck?

In Chicago, "Q" is for Chicago q.


After 6 years of time served down south, I know a thing or two about barbecue. My expectations are high.

Chicago q (1160 N Dearborn, Near North Side) did not disappoint. We started our meal with complimentary chips and pickles and enjoyed every bite. Typically I'm not a sweet and sour pickle type of gal, but these were pretty delicious. They were perfectly tart and pleasantly crisp. My ribs were smokey and tender and tasted fantastic with sauce and without. Even more importantly, the portion sizes were so generous I had enough for lunch the next day!

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The restaurant's interior is warm and homey with a healthy dose of chic. You're smacked in the face with the tummy-grumbling aroma of smokey goodness from the minute you walk through the front door. This is no sawdust-on-the-floor barbecue joint. Chicago q is a sophisticated smokehouse. It's modern, it's inviting, and it packs a gastronomic punch.

We enjoyed a casual dinner with friends - haaaaaave you met my friend Heather of Smart and Savvy? But I've also heard pretty epic tales of their prix fixe lunch menu. Monday through Friday from 11am until 4pm Chicago q offers a three-course lunch special. It's most definitely on my to do list.


P is for Pizza

In Chicago, deep dish pizza is king.

Or is it?

Giordano's Famous Stuffed Pizza

During our first year here nearly every visitor we had insisted we indulge in some "Chicago Style" deep dish pizza. We happily obliged. Though I was never a fan of super cheesy, calorie laden deliciousness before we moved here, now, I'm a convert. Now I'm the one who suggests deep dish when friends and family come in town.

But you know what I've been surprised to discover? Most Chicago locals don't eat deep dish! I've met more Chicagoans loyal to hand tossed or thin crust pizza than deep dish. True. Story. It surprises the cheese out of me.

Your turn. Name your pizza weakness...


O is for O'Hare

There's a reason I chose O'Hare to represent the "O" in my A to Z Challenge and that reason isn't that I'm married to a pilot.

Chicago's O'Hare International Airport is consistently ranked as one of the busiest airports in the world. When construction began in 1959 it was the largest public works project ever undertaken in Chicago. Even while still under construction in 1960 it served 13 million passengers. That's a lot of miniature bags of peanuts! Throw in the fact that it is comprised of award-winning buildings designed by some of Chicago's (and the world's) best architects and it's undeniable that in Chicago, "O" is definitely for O'Hare.

CTA O'Hare Station | 1984 Murphy/Jahn

I took a little field trip out to O'Hare yesterday and brought my camera along for the ride. But, I ran into a problem. We're living in a post-9/11 world. Airport access isn't exactly given to just any average joe(ly) blogger. And I'm pretty sure TSA's first priority isn't making its airport structures easily photographable from the tops of parking garages (although I tried). Getting great shots of the airport wasn't as simple as I thought it was going to be.

I considered buying a ticket to say, Phuket or Barcelona so that I could have access to Perkins and Will's International Terminal. Or I even would have been willing to grab a ticket to NYC so I could check out Helmut Jahn's United Tunnel. But the handsome (and VERY frugal) hubby didn't think that was a reasonable "blog research" expense.

O'Hare Control Tower O'Hare Hilton
Former Control Tower | 1970 I.M. Pei and O'Hare Hilton Hotel | 1972 C.F. Murphy Assocs

Instead we will all have to settle for the pictures I was able to snag and cross our fingers that the next time we fly we will arrive several hours early so I can explore this treasure trove more thoroughly.

Did you know that O'Hare sits on the sight of what was once a very small airport called Orchard Place? That's where it inherited its call letters ORD.


M is for Monadnock

Until the late 1800s buildings were built with masonry walls. Masonry construction is a process similar to building with toy blocks. Construction starts at the base and walls rise up being supported from the ground up. As you can imagine, as buildings began to grow taller and taller, more and more substantial bases were necessary.


The Monadnock is the world’s tallest multi-story building with masonry walls. In order to support those 16-stories, its walls are 6 feet deep at street level. Completed in 1891 it was designed by architects Burnham and Root and took 5 years to design and another 3 years to build.

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I'm most impressed by the rich purple-brown corners that gently curve up from the base and back out at its top. This effect required more than 100 different shapes of pressed bricks to create. Imagine the skill and attention to detail required to put that puzzle together. The Monadnock is yet another architectural gem in Chicago's loop.

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"M" marks the half way point of the Blogging from A to Z Challenge!
If you've missed a letter or two, here's a quick recap: