• Ella Malvino

mini chicago travel diary

For my 18th birthday, I spent a weekend in Chicago with some of my best friends exploring the city and embracing a true fall that includes chilly temperatures and beautiful leaves that actually changed colors. It was an amazing weekend full of fun adventures, so I decided to make a travel guide sharing my experiences from the short but sweet trip!

Hotel: Thompson Chicago

This is one of my favorite hotels I have stayed in. We got the double queen lake view corner room and the view was stunning. They brought me Sprinkles cupcakes for my birthday and the service was excellent. The location was perfect for everything we had planned and I was so sad when we had to leave the room. If you are afraid of heights, be sure to not get one of the top rooms, because the floor we stayed on was the 21st which was optimal for overlooking the sunset on the lake. Below is part of the view from our room.


Restaurants: Brunch: 3 Arts Club Cafe in Restoration Hardware

For my birthday brunch, my family and I went to this classy and sophisticated cafe nestled into Restoration Hardware. It might seem unusual for a restaurant to be in a furniture store, but the food was perfect for a birthday treat.

While the menu was quite expensive and the wait was over an hour for a Friday brunch, I would 100% go back.

I recommend the chai latte, it was truly one of the best warm chai lattes I have ever had and it was topped with the sweetest most decadent foam. Seriously try it.

For my entree, I got the gem lettuce salad with chicken and it was AMAZING. I still dream about it honestly.

Since it was my birthday, they brought my three giant cookies topped with salt which definitely something the fans of the sweet and savory combo would love.

If you are in Chicago and want to spend a little more money on a nice brunch or lunch, check out this beautiful cafe, you won't be disappointed.

Address: 1300 N Dearborn Pkwy Chicago, IL 60610

(312) 475-9116

Lunch/Dinner: LUXBAR

On the first night I arrived in Chicago, my family was starving since we got back from the airport at around 10 and needed food. Across the street from our hotel was LUXBAR which is bar and restaurant that makes you feel like you are in Old Chicago. If you are of age, the bar was fully stocked with cocktails and classic drinks but if not the restaurant is perfect for your lunch or dinner cravings.

For an appetizer, get the pretzel, they give you three long pretzels that are piping hot and topped with the perfect amount of salt.

For your main meal, I recommend the grilled cheese with tomato soup, one thing my close friends and family know is that this is my ALL time favorite comfort food, so I am a little biased towards it.

Other items that looked great were there Classic Burger, Tuna Tacos, and truffle fries.

Address: 18 E. Bellevue Street, Chicago

Dinner: La Scarola

I love Italian food so when we heard from a few Chicago locals that this was one of there favorite spots, I knew I wanted to celebrate my birthday dinner there. The restaurant is filled with black and white pictures of actors and actresses that have dinned there over the years and you can tell it has been owned by the same family for years.

I ordered the Penne Alla Vodka and I would get it again. It was delicious. Their tiramisu is also a favorite.

The only negatives about this place were that it was very loud and we had to wait 20 minutes for our table even though we had a reservation. Besides these two things, my experience there was great.

Address: 721 W Grand Ave, Chicago, IL 60654

Pass: Pancake House

While this place was packed with people the Saturday morning I went with my friends, the food was average and grossly oversized. They give you so much food that you feel stuffed for hours. It was moderately priced for being in Chicago, but unless you are with a bunch of pancake lovers, I wouldn't recommend it.

Activities: Must-Dos!!!

Chicago 360 and the Tilt

I was surprised with all the activities on my actual birthday and was so excited to find out I was going to the top of the Hancock Building in Chicago to overlook the entire city. Sunset is my favorite time of day, so it was fitting my mom took me around that time. Lucky for us, the sunset was an insane combination of pinks, oranges, and reds so my day was officially made when I saw the beautiful colors overtake the sky. They also have an option of taking their "tilt experience" where you physically tilt over the 94-floor building. It really feels like you are falling off the building, but I am proud of myself for doing it because I am scared of everything!

Definitely go if you are in Chicago, and do the tilt if you are up for it!

Btw, there is no filter on this picture.


The Bean!

This is a classic if you are going to Chicago mainly for the photo opportunities, but if you love modern art this is a great sculpture. We debated if it looked more like a cloud, donut, fortune cookie, or bean for hours. Millennium Park during the fall is beautiful to walk through, and if you are a California native like myself you have an out of body experience when you see that leaves actually do change colors. If you are in Chicago, you can't really miss out on this one.


The Second City Comedy Club

I was also surprised with a trip to the second city comedy club where some of the funniest comedians who were stars on shows like SNL started. I love comedy so this was a special treat for me. While some skits were funnier than others, I think this is a great way to spend an evening in Chicago.


Optional: Garfield Park Conservatory

This is a beautiful indoor botanic conservatory that houses countless species of plants from around the world. I enjoyed walking around and seeing all the greenery because it was a nice change from the concert jungle of the city. It is about a 20-minute drive from the city, but if you have extra time to kill I would recommend doing this. (Admission is free too, but is a bonus!!)


Helpful Tips:

1. Chicago is NOT warm, so make sure if you are going in the fall/winter months to bring gloves, a scarf, and a beanie to keep warm.

2. Chicago O'Hare Airport is a huge international hub. It takes a long time to get there from the loop of Chicago- at least 45 minutes- so make sure you have plenty of time so you don't miss your flight. I have heard flying into the other Chicago airports make your life a lot easier, so if you are going to Chicago, it might be worth it to look into the other airports.

3. It truly is the windy city. Just be prepared for your hair to be blowing in a million different directions at once.

4. Chicago is a very uber friendly city. But be aware that there are surges especially on Friday and Saturday nights that can cause fares to double or triple in price. Also if you are staying in the city and need to go to O'Hare, know that an uber can cost anywhere from 50-85 dollars.

5. I was only there for three days, so know that you can't get everything you want to get done in a weekend. I heard from a local that it takes one full day if you just wanted to explore the city with a car, let along walking everywhere. So just enjoy the time you have there and take in everything you can while you are there!

There you have a mini travel diary of my most recent trip to Chicago for my birthday. I had such an amazing time and am so thankful I had the opportunity to be surrounded by my friends and family on my special day.

I hope this gave you some ideas and tips if you are going to Chicago or planning a trip there soon.



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