I received a free tour from Vimbly for this review, but all opinions are my own.
Vimbly is the fastest way to book thousands of activities, classes & date ideas – their website displays available activities and times, and allows you to book tickets directly on the website. It’s easy to share a link with someone else to plan out an activity. There’s even a “Bucket List” feature that lets you bookmark things you might be interested in checking out later!
The coolest thing about Vimbly is that it’s sort of a one-stop-shop for tourists and residents alike. They have the traditional sightseeing tours, but they also have things like jiu jitsu and dance classes, pizza and dessert making lessons, and escape rooms.
This tour was even more fun. The scene was set as soon as we arrived – the bus was playing spooky music and the tour guide, Eric, leaned in as though I was giving him the password to get into a speakeasy.
The first spot we went was Washington Square Park, which was one of John Wayne Gacy’s hunting grounds. Eric also told us that the park used to be called Bughouse Square because a psychiatric hospital used to be nearby, and they used to be called bughouses.
Another really cool thing about booking tours in your own city with Vimbly is that you learn about other cool events in your city. At Washington Square Park, we saw flyers for the Newberry Book Festival. Neither of us had heard of it before and you can bet that we skipped on over to it a few weeks later.
From there, he continued to talk about other Chicago serial killers as well as Gacy. He and Jeffrey Dahmer used to be regulars at L&L Tavern, which is a bar that Dani and I visited after seeing My Favorite Murder live for that reason. We started heading over to the Logan Square Office Max, which is an area I know pretty well.
Eric told us about the Ripper Crew, which I’d never heard of. I definitely had no idea they happened in an area I’m so familiar with.
From there we headed back toward Lincoln Park and drove past the site where the Sausage King of Chicago killed his wife before driving over to the Congress Hotel. We’d been there on the first tour as well, so it’s definitely a known spot to visit if you’re a crime enthusiast in Chicago!
I definitely recommend using Vimbly in your own city, or for checking out things to do on your next vacation!
When I was 16, I came to Chicago on an art scholarship. I fell in love and knew in my heart that I’d live here someday. At age 30 (woof,) I finally did it, and I am so happy. Since I’m getting to explore the city more like a native and less like a tourist visiting the same spots over and over, I thought I’d start sharing some of the hidden gems that might be overlooked by people coming to visit for the first time. Today’s spotlight is on Wicker Park/Bucktown. It’s one of the trendiest “hipster”-ish parts of town, but that means there’s a lot of great food and drinks in addition to things to do and places to shop!
Dimo’s Pizza sign welcomes you!
Pizza, beer, salad, and friendly people. Yep.
Gotta start with my favorite food group. I love Dimo’s (and Dimo’s loves me!) If you’re in the Six Points area and just need to grab something quick, this pizza is where it’s at. Pop in, drop my name, and grab a slice of the white pie or another monthly special – I promise you won’t be disappointed.
Shining like a beacon (and like a true neon with lights out)
A sneak peek at the bakery and menu
How can you choose?!
With my traditional chocolate covered sprinkle donut!
If you have more of a sweet tooth, head across the intersection to Stan’s Donuts. Stan’s began in LA and their popularity has spread here to the midwest with two locations in Chicago. There’s not a lot of space inside, so be prepared to eat your donut and get on out. Go on the weekend to get the biggest selection (the beignets, buttermilk bar, and chocolate sprinkles are my favorites.)
Wicker Park is home to many great bookstores, and one of my favorites is Volumes Bookcafe. Part bookstore, part coffee shop, part bar, this is a really cool spot. Browse for books and cozy up in the cafe with a cup of coffee, or come in later on, grab a beer, and borrow a board game with friends.
Mahalo is the most Instagram-worthy spot on the block. It’s Hawaiian-inspired, and begging to be photographed. The drink menu is fantastic (grab the daily daiquiri and thank me later) and I look forward to visiting again for a meal. We went a few months ago and weren’t bowled over, but the chef has changed since then, and both the menu and website look much better!
There are a lot of great spots in Wicker Park to grab a cup of coffee – hop off the Blue Line and head straight into La Colombe, or head around the corner to the Starbucks Roastery. (Yeah yeah, I know, Starbucks. It’s a roastery, though, and they have more creative drinks – the Coffee Malt is amazing!) If you’re looking for a spot to set up and work, I love Brü. Very freelance-friendly, and they accept Brewpass. Use the code DESI1 when you sign up for a free cup!
Quimby’s is another great bookstore in the neighborhood. They feature indie and underground books, comics, magazines and – best of all – zines. Growing up I was really into zines (I still have a few of my favorites kicking around my parents house) and I could spend hours browsing the shelves here. They have both local and national authors, as well as lots of fun gifts and notebooks. They also host shows from time to time – the great Sad13 played here last spring.
If you want a cinnamon roll the size of your head (and quite honestly if you don’t, there’s a great Urgent Care I can recommend in Wicker Park because something must be wrong,) head down to Kanela Breakfast Club. It’s my favorite one in the city so far, and the rest of the menu is equally great. They have a nice bar area and it’s bigger than it looks, so don’t let a line deter you. They turn it over quickly.
While it’s not a strictly local spot, I can’t visit Wicker Park without buzzing in to David’s Tea. Their summer collection is gorgeous and the iced tea press makes it easy to make single batches of iced tea in one tumbler – just grab and go. Pop in, grab a tea of the day, and try not to walk out with a pound of tea.
Don’t leave Chicago without a souvenir! Transit Tees have some of my favorite t-shirts and knick knacks. Ever since I saw Rachel on The Real World: Back to New York I’ve loved transit-inspired stuff, and there’s plenty of it here. Whether you want to rep a specific line or stop, they’ll have it. (Plus a lot of awesome Michigan stuff, too!)
If you’re into records, stop over at Reckless Records. Wicker Park is just one of their three locations in the city. They have both new releases and used records, and their website has an up-to-date inventory search. I’ve found my one unicorn record by checking their website constantly! If there’s something you’re on the hunt for, head in. Actually, check them out anyway – the staff is always ready with recommendations.
Though it might not seem like it, there are a couple venues in Wicker Park where you can check out some shows. Subterranean features some of my favorite artists (including Doomtree in a few weeks!) and Chop Shop’s First Ward venue features some really great punk shows. (They also host the Pizza Summit where I attempted to eat my body weight in pizza against two competitive eaters in April, as pictured above.)
By the end of the day, you’ll be ready for some dessert. Jeni’s Ice Cream is a Midwestern classic (I highly recommend the salty caramel and brambleberry crisp combo) or head up on Damen to Mindy’s Hot Chocolate. Their whole menu is great, but I definitely recommend their namesake hot chocolates or cookies – chef Mindy even wrote a cookbook about cookies, so you know they’ve got to be great!
What are your favorite things to do on vacation? Any places in particular in Chicago you’re curious about? Let me know in the comments – I’d love to share the city with you!
This giveaway is presented in partnership with Cotopaxi!
It’s no secret that I love Chicago and one of my favorite things to do is explore. Whether it’s trying new restaurants, hiking a new trail, or hitting the newest fitness class, I love to check out new things. If I can combine that with fitness, even better! That’s why I was so excited to find the Cotopaxi Questival Adventure Race.
Different than a traditional 5k or running race, Questival lets you “spend 24 hours with your closest friends, in your favorite city, checking a bunch of amazing experiences off your bucket list?” Sounds pretty awesome, right?
Questival is a 24-hour adventure race that invites you to build friendships, push yourself, experience your surroundings, and have a whole bunch of fun. Your team of 2 to 6 people will do exciting, unpredictable, and downright good things you never thought possible. We guarantee it’ll be like nothing you’ve ever experienced.
I’ve been using it for about a month, and I’m absolutely loving it. It’s a great bag to wear when I head out to tour Chicago, packing up to organize a road trip with friends, or even piling my belongings into it to settle in for a long night at the rock show.
The bag features some really great details, including a Velcro key loop, adjustable straps, and a card holder inside the zipper pocket on the front of the bag. Since it’s built for a hydration bladder, I picked up this one on Amazon, and it’s worked great! If you’re an outdoorsy type or even someone who just carries a lot of stuff around, I highly recommend this bag. (Did I mention you get it for free if you do the Questival race?!)
Weird Chicago provided free tickets, but all opinions are my own.
If you follow me on social media (or remember this post from last year’s gift guide), you probably know that I love true crime. After a recent dive into a new podcast (holla at my ladies!) and living with Dani, I’ve grown interested in paranormal phenomenon as well. I’d heard of Weird Chicago before, and I’ve always wanted to do a tour of Chicago’s biggest crime stories. (Honestly, the only one I’m really familiar with is the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre – mostly because the scene of it is across from Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder Company.) I was really excited to see their Haunted History tour, and Dani and I jumped on the chance to go!
Our tour guide, Krystal, was energetic and engaging. She said that they can change up the spots they go based on the people on the tour and what’s going on in town. Since there weren’t any little kids on our tour, she added a stop where we could grab a drink at a bar – and it turned out it was a place I’d had an experience many years ago. One of the coolest parts of the trip was that Krystal gave us tips on the best way to shoot paranormal photography. She also asked if anyone was a medium or clairvoyant because some of the sites are very active and people who are sensitive have gotten sick in the past.
As a note – you can bring drinks and snacks on the bus, so I highly recommend that. (There’s a Walgreens and a McDonald’s near the pickup, if you need a quick place to run in.)
The first stop was on the Chicago Riverwalk, a beautiful paved walkway that’s super popular for tourists and locals. It’s also the site of the Eastland Disaster. Krystal told us the story, and I was shocked that I’d never heard of it before. In 1915, a company chartered this steamship (along with three others) to take their employees as a reward for great work. The ship’s infrastructure failed, resulting in a huge disaster: 220 people died, including many full families. (We were also there on the 102nd anniversary of the disaster, which was a coincidence.) People have reported seeing faces in the water and hearing cries for help – cries so real that emergency services are still called weekly for reports of drownings.
From there, we boarded back up on the bus and Krystal started telling us about how cemeteries (vs. graveyards) came about. She explained the history of how Chicago’s first cemetery came to be, and told us we were going there. I was really surprised when she told us what it was, because it’s a place I really love – Lincoln Park (including the Lincoln Park Zoo.)
It’s a great park now, so it was really surprising to learn that there are still thousands of bodies buried in the park. Even though people at the time were supposed to move their family’s remains after the city realized that having a burial site so near to the lake wasn’t going to work, many didn’t move them at all. There’s only one remnant left that symbolizes what the park used to be: the Couch Mausoleum. She told us that the most haunted place in Lincoln Park is actually the Zoo (which is one of my favorite places in Chicago!)
Since we were in Lincoln Park, I had a pretty good idea what the next stop would be, and I was right. Lincoln Park is just a skip and a jump from Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder Company… across from the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre site. Even though I’m aware of it, I didn’t know that much about it. Krystal used volunteers from the group to illustrate all the people who were killed, and it was really interesting to hear the history and full story of what happened. There’s a retirement community next door, and one of the first floor apartments had so many complaints from residents that they would hear knocking and yelling constantly. I got very nauseous at this location, it was very weird. It came on quickly and I had to lean up against the fence to keep my strength. (One of the major characters in this story was a dog, so maybe that’s why I was so affected.)
We headed downtown to the theater district to a nondescript alley by the Oriental Theater. Krystal told us it is referred to as Death Alley. In 1903, the Iroquois theater that was there at the time had a fire break out – not unusual at the time for theaters due to the heavy materials and lighting they used. It was billed as the world’s first “fireproof” theater, though, and they opened with a few important shortcuts taken – including no fire alarms and no fire escapes from the balcony. Hundreds of lives were lost (some due to fire, some due to people being pushed from the balcony out to the street) and today, it has a suicide rate of three times that of other places.
Finally, we wrapped up our tour at the Congress Hotel. I’ve actually stayed at the Congress Hotel once in 2009 for a conference. I was young, and “enjoying” the conference amenities, if you know what I mean, when I thought it would be a great idea to enter a stairwell that was marked “CLOSED – DO NOT ENTER.” It was so creepy. Cobwebs and dank smell that told you the door hadn’t been cracked for years. I was the only one in the stairwell, and I kept hearing scratches against the wall and a clanging sound on the steps. I hightailed it out of there, and I hadn’t thought about it again until we pulled up. Krystal told us stories about some of the ghosts that still live in the hotel (including one room that the hotel doesn’t rent out unless you request it – and even then, you’re waiting a year to get in) and it’s kind of cool to hear the backstory of some of these “residents.”
It was a really great experience and made me want to learn even more about the city’s history. If you’re a tourist, a transplant, or even if you’ve lived in Chicago your whole life, I highly recommend checking out one of Weird Chicago’s tours!
The holidays are stressful enough without throwing travel drama in, but more often than not, there’s some travel involved in getting to your destination. Thankfully, technology makes things a little easier now, whether it’s enabling faster phone calls to be made, or tapping in an alternate route in a GPS app. I’ve made heavy use of tons of travel tips both to make the trip easier as well as rerouting or rebooking when flights are delayed, so I’m sharing some ideas here as we get ready to head out for another round of holiday travel!
If your flight is delayed or cancelled due to weather, the airline won’t comp you a hotel room, but agents will have vouchers with specific discount codes for the airport hotels. It’s worth waiting in line to grab those, and the sheet will have all the steps to redeem the discount. (Pay attention to why your specific flight is canceled, and don’t assume that it’s based on weather – in my only canceled flight story, the agent rebooked me and tried to push me away with the discount code, but I had overheard that my flight was canceled due to mechanical issues. They bussed me out to a fancy five star golf resort, where my total bill for the day and a half was $14.53 for pizza that I had delivered – which I ate in the super luxe hotel robe.)