2014 Chicago Bucket List, part 1

I’m so far behind in blogging about my resolutions and other adventures from this year. We’re halfway into December and I have drafts from outings from February. So how about rolling up this very fun resolution into a miniseries?

Around this time last year, I posted a first draft of my Chicago bucket list: an aspirational collection of 50+ outings and adventures that I’d like to tackle before I eventually leave Chicago. While I didn’t stick to my goal of one bucket list item per month, I knocked a number of them off this year:

Sandwiches and Petits fours
Tea at the Drake

Tea at the Drake Hotel with Mom: For the last few years, I’ve met my mom in the city for a birthday weekend. This year I requested high tea at The Drake in lieu of a birthday dinner. While pricey, it was a really nice thing to do for a special occasion, and something I look forward to doing with my nieces in the future!

The Brookfield Zoo: In February, we braved the cold to take advantage of a free admission day to visit the larger of the Chicagoland zoos. They don’t have a sand cat, but they do have black-footed cats! The highlight for me was probably the wolf habitat – it was amazing to watch the pack tear around in the snow.

The Oriental Institute: I took a whirlwind tour of this museum during a tour of campus when I first started my job, but hadn’t been back in the two years since. If you haven’t been and you have even a passing interest in history or archaeology, you MUST go. I wasn’t feeling well the day we were there, so I spent a lot of time reading the contents of cases that had benches in front of them.

We walked downtown for donuts.

Donuts from Do-Rite: It turns out I’d already had donuts from Do-Rite, but I hadn’t been to the main location downtown, so we made it our destination on a late spring morning when Nicolas wanted sweets and we both wanted a long walk. We’ve been a few times since, and their old fashioneds have been consistently excellent – possibly my favorite donuts in the city, though that might be the subject for another post.

Not bad.
Our view for the Sox vs Sox

More baseball with Tina!

White Sox game: I was raised baseball agnostic, but adopted the Cubs as my team by default when I was subjected to radio broadcast of the games at my post-college call center job. If you’re a Cubs fan, you can’t be a Sox fan. That’s just the rule. So this was one of the least likely items on the list – unless I got tickets to the Crosstown Classic. Instead, I went to TWO Sox games this year. In April, Tina and Jeff treated us to an extremely cold Sox vs Sox game (and a helmet full of nachos). And then in May, we got a good deal for tickets and snacks on Memorial Day. I’m still a Cubs fan, but I have a new appreciation for the Sox – or at least their ballpark.

Water taxi <3 <3
View from the water taxi

The water taxi: THE WATER TAXI. How did I live in Chicago for two years before taking the water taxi? How did Nicolas live here for three times that long without taking the water taxi? The water taxi was a highlight of our summer, and a frequent weekend activity – walk to Chinatown, take the water taxi downtown, have an adventure, take the water taxi home. It’s the cheapest way to see the city from the water. If you buy a 10 ride pass, it’s not much more than taking the El, and it’s considerably more pleasant. About half the time, they didn’t punch our pass, or didn’t punch it the right number of times, so we have a number of water taxi rides saved up for next summer. Seriously: take the water taxi.


SF Tourist Central

We hadn’t planned on a particularly touristy honeymoon. Living in DC and having access to world class museums and a zoo for free spoiled most tourist attractions for us – either because we have a hard time justifying the cost, or because we dread the crush of humanity. We’re much more interested in getting to know the places we’re visiting, eating in neighborhood spots, shopping off the beaten path, and basically avoiding anything that we have access to at home.

Today was the exception to that no touristy spots rule. We were already up on Telegraph Hill, it was a beautiful day, and we were still stuffed from breakfast. What could possibly be a better time to soak up the tourist spectacle that is The Embarcadero?

First stop, Pier 39, packed with tourist-friendly shops, tourists, and SEA LIONS.

Sea Lions!

Say what you will about those sorts of institutions, but I have many fond memories of going to Sea World with my family as a kid. My brother collected stuffed seals and sea lions, affectionately referred to as “whirrs” in our house. And there are few mammals more foreign to a Midwest kid than those that live in the sea. As a result, I might have been JUST A LITTLE excited to see all the sea lions hanging out on the docks at Pier 39.


Since 1989, hundreds of sea lions have congregated at Pier 39 every year. 21 years is definitely long enough to make a random occurrence into a tourist attraction, and long enough that even the most hard-hearted locals were concerned when the sea lions stopped showing up in late 2009. Fortunately for the good people of Pier 39, the sea lions are back, and we spent a fair amount of time watching them do their sea lion thing, making noise, basking in the sun, and pushing each other off of the dock. Just what I would do if I were a sea lion.

From there, we rolled on down to Fisherman’s Wharf, dodging the many food vendors who tried to convince all passers-by of the superiority of their crabs. We had no specific destination in mind – until I spotted the sign for the Musée Mécanique. I was hoping for the same sort of splendor as at the Musée des Automates, and I was not disappointed!

The Inquest

The Musée Mécanique is full of old penny arcade machines ranging from fortune tellers to bands of monkeys to old pinball and Pong games. In addition to lots of fun ways to spend a quarter or two, the musée had informative displays about the golden age of leisure in the Bay Area – boardwalks, the Sutro Baths, dancing, arcades, and other inexpensive but glamorous activities newly available to the middle class.

The Barbershop "Quart"

We were getting hungry and sun tired after all the walking and monkey bands, so we headed out of Fisherman’s Wharf and back in the direction of our hostel, stopping at the Rogue Public House for a quick lunch. Rogue’s Morimoto Soba is one of my favorite beers, and a crisp pint with a small lunch sounded perfect. Unfortunately they were out of the beer Shane wanted, my beer was flat-ish, and Shane’s lunch arrived barely cooked. The bartender was very apologetic and comped our drinks – but still, a disappointment. One thing I will say for Rogue, though – they offer a “hoppy meal” special between noon and 2pm – if you have lunch, your beer is a buck, or $2 if you “super size” to a pint. Not bad!

If you go:
Pier 39
The Embarcadero and Beach St
San Francisco, CA 94133
(415) 705-5500

The area is super touristy, but there are SEA LIONS U GUYS!

Musée Mécanique
Pier 45 Shed A
San Francisco, CA 94133
(415) 346-2000

The shining gem of Fisherman’s Wharf – free to explore, but bring cash so that you can play a few games.

Rogue Ales Public House
673 Union St (Union and Powell)
San Francisco, CA 94133
(415) 362-7880

Adequate food, but worth checking out if you’re in North Beach and love Rogue.