Eat Travel Rock

Kelly Rizzo

Hey Chicagoans! How about a Staycation? (2012)

So I have to admit, and this is no secret, but my day-to-day life can be pretty fun. This summer has really been the epitome of me enjoying La Dolce Vita…and I haven’t even left Chicago yet! I do hear from people all the time, “Hey Kelly, do you work??” The answer of course is, “Yea, kinda!” I have managed to make the most of my summer here in Chi while still attending to life’s lame responsibilities. Since I have made my last 2 months feel like freakin’ Yacht Week, I figured I’d help my fellow Chicagoans turn the next 2 months into a memorable vacay…right here at home. And I WILL NOT discuss boring tourist activities such as Navy Pier or Architecture Tours. These recs are legit and are what the real locals do.

There are a couple different themes I want to dive into (no pun intended), as my awesome activities are quite varied.

For those of you who like a cosmopolitan type of vacation, let’s say to New York, here is a fun way to spend your day: When I’m in chic chick mode I usually begin my day with some shopping. I will ALWAYS hit up Oak Street, which is renowned for its world-class boutiques. If you really want the New York vibe, you can always pop into Barney’s New York, but I usually opt for smaller non-corporate shops. My FAVORITE boutique in all of Chicago is Sofia. They’re moving to Walton Street (1 block over) this summer, so don’t be alarmed if it looks like they’ve closed. But they have the best collection of the season’s best trends and looks. Plus you actually feel you’re in a walk up in The Village. After I’ve put my credit card into panic mode, I’ll head to Rush Street for brunch or lunch at Tavern on Rush. Now, this place is no secret…but if you haven’t had a table on the sidewalk in the summer… you do NOT know what people watching is. This is probably one of the scene-iest places in the city and I always feel like I'm on vacation when I’m relaxing and gossiping outside at this hot spot. A crisp glass of Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc and their Bellevue Salad with rock shrimp will definitely make you feel like you’re lunching on Madison Ave.

If that’s a bit too fancy-schmancy for you, and you’re more the active beachy type, well fear not, I’ve got you covered. If you have not yet heard of Stand Up Paddle Surfing (or Boarding) or SUP, where have you been?! This is the sport that has captivated cool people everywhere. Celebs and athletes go nuts for SUP and it’s the most popular activity on the West Coast and Hawaii. Fortunately for us, some bad-ass folks called Great Lakes Board Company, decided to bring this trend to our gorgeous lake front. It is one hell of a workout. It stabilizes your core, can burn up to 500 calories in an hour, and is somehow still relaxing. The view of the city you get while floating around on your board ain’t bad either. I paddle at least twice a week and it’s definitely become my favorite new sport. Don’t take our lake front for granted people!!! Head to North Ave. Beach, spend $25 for an hour rental (package deals are avail) and magically transport yourself to the Pacific. To finish off a good beach/paddle day, you can always head to Castaways on the Beach for a delicious frozen cocktail but I’m usually in the mood for some fresh seafood. To really feel like you are on a vacation head to El Barco Mariscos. It’s in East Ukranian Village on Ashland and it reminds me of so many places I’ve eaten at all over Mexico. You feel as if you’re in an old wooden boat- sounds strange but the seafood is awesome. They specialize in whole Huachinango (red snapper) and ginormous seafood platters that could feed a village. Everything is delicious and their margaritas are amazing. It’s super affordable too, so it’s a great way to end your beach staycation!

Finally, if you’re a fan of Jamaica and reggae music (I’m obsessed) here is an awesome way to spend a Thursday or Sunday evening. Check out Ja’Grill in Lincoln Park on Armitage. The chef hails from Ocho Rios in Jamaica, and makes a mean Red Snapper Escoveitch (sweet, spicy, and tangy, sautéed with peppers and onions) and Spicy Curried Goat. Their coconut cabbage side dish is addictive, and they have an impressive collection of Jamaican Rum cocktails to cool you down. The reggae is always booming and the huge Bob Marley mural on the wall will transport you right back to the Caribbean. After dinner and drinks head to Underground Wonder Bar in River North on Clark Street. Every Thursday and Sunday from 1am to 4 am they have live reggae. The bands are always incredible and can literally put you into a musical “One Love Mon” kind of trance. Order a Red Stripe beer from the bartender brothers, Jordan and Elliott, who have dreadlocks down to their knees, and just jam in front of the stage with the crowd. ALWAYS a blast, Wagwan!!

So that’s a typical staycation week in the life of EatTravelRockOut. Chicago has so many wonderful and exciting things to do that so many natives are even unaware of. If you can’t get away this summer you can make the very most of your time at home and still feel like you just traveled to NYC, Mexico, Jamaica, or a ton of other places. I have dozens of more fun things to do as well, so if you want some ideas, just shoot me an email or comment below. Enjoy, ChiTown!!!