Thursday, October 17, 2013

Home is Where the Heart Is: From Atlanta to Chicago

Note: I was recently asked by Kendra Thornton to do a joint piece about our hometowns/towns and I was happy to oblige. This will be a departure from the usual sarcasm infused blog that you all know and love. Don't worry though, I will post another one soon. Until then, check out our piece.

Considering a move or looking for a vacation spot that offers something for everyone? Look no further than Atlanta, Georgia. I moved to Atlanta approximately 7 years ago and I am still discovering new and interesting things to do. Whether you are into music, food, entertainment, culture, or thrill rides, the Peach state offers something for everyone. 

For your first stop, be sure to head over to Centennial Park. There you'll find two attractions that are favorites of locals and tourists: The Georgia Aquarium and the World of Coca Cola.

800 million gallons of water host some of the most loved and most elusive creatures the sea has to offer. Watch as manta rays, hammer head sharks, tropical fish, and whale sharks surround you as you travel through the water tunnel. Once out of the tunnel, head over to Dolphin Tales and watch as those fun loving dolphins do tricks and put on a show that you won't soon forget. And if you just can't get enough of them, check out the new interactive dolphin experience. The Georgia Aquarium now offers interactive experiences with dolphins, sea otters, and penguins.
Octopus at the Georgia Aquarium

After you have said hello to all of the animals at the Aquarium make your way across the street to the World of Coca Cola. Step into the Bottle Works and watch as Coca Cola is made right before your eyes. By now you're probably thirsty and excited to get a taste of the bubbly beverage so head to Coca Cola FreeStyle where you can sample over 100 different beverages and see how the taste of Coca Cola differs from one country to the next. On your way, be sure to visit The Vault where the secret formula is kept. OH! Don't forget to say hello to and get your picture taken with the Coca Cola polar bear.

Speaking of bears, after you leave The World of Coca Cola, why not head over to the Atlanta Zoo and visit the two new baby pandas. Don't forget to check out the lions and tigers and bears, oh my!

If animals aren't your thing and you are in desperate need of some culture, the High Museum is the place to be. In addition to the numerous permanent displays, the High hosts traveling exhibitions, so there is always something new to see. For the ultimate experience of art and music, make sure you attend Friday night Jazz on the 3rd Friday of each month. 
Me at the High Museum

Now, if you would rather listen to your Jazz in a romantic setting under the stars then come to the ATL over Memorial Day for the annual Jazz festival. Prefer Rock to Jazz? Then the Music Midtown Festival is for you. A two day event featuring several different, popular bands, food, drinks, and tons of fun!

Atlanta is home to countless festivals. There is always something going on in the ATL. Be sure to check out The Inman Park Arts Festival, Stone Mountain's Yellow Daisy Festival, or Arts in the Park. Each festival offers an eclectic mix of art, food, and people and is a great place to pick up a souvenir to remind yourself of all of the fun you've had. Or head over to any of the countless International food festivals that boast some of the best cuisine you have ever tasted. If you get the chance try a particular favorite of mine, the baklava at the Greek Festival. I promise your taste buds will thank you!
Parade fun at the Inman Park Arts Festival

Looking for excitement? Check out Six Flags, Whitewater Water Park, The Fox, or Agatha's Mystery Dinner Theater. Are you more of the outdoors type? A day trip takes you to some wonderful hiking trails complete with beautiful waterfalls. Looking to relax? Visit the Chateau Elan vineyards and let your troubles melt away as you enjoy any number of services that are offered in their world class spa.

These are just a few of the many things that make Atlanta such a wonderful place to live and why I am happy to call it home.

Now, we have Kendra Thornton with us to discuss her Midwestern hometown, Chicago, Illinois! She has lived in Chicago for her entire life, and loves being able to call it home.

One of the things that I love the most about living in Chicago is that it is easy to create a perfect balance between a comfortable home life, and still have fun new experiences. For instance, relaxing on the terrace at the end of a busy day with some nice reading material is an experience that is only enhanced by the familiarity of the beautiful Chicago skyline. I feel as if I'm sharing my day with a trusted old friend during these times!

Whether you will be visiting Chicago for the first time or returning because you just can't stay away from the Windy City's magic, I'm sure that you'll appreciate the fact that Chicago is full of chances to have wonderful experiences and adventures. Some of my personal favorites are listed below.

The Michigan Avenue Bridge

No matter how many times I've visited the iconic Michigan Avenue Bridge, I always see it in a new light. I particularly love bringing my children here so that I can relive my own childhood wonder through their youthful eyes. A designated landmark of Chicago, the Michigan Avenue Bridge has been a prized destination for city residents and visitors for over a century. The entire area that the bridge is situated in features a historic ambiance that helps you feel the history of Chicago.

The Museum of Contemporary Art

While Chicago is ripe with history, it features contemporary fun as well! The Museum of Contemporary Art offers something new with every visit. Established in 1967, it's one of Chicago's newer landmarks. I have a special place in my heart for this museum because the two of us basically grew up together. My children love coming here, and I'm thrilled every time I witness the awe and delight in their faces when we come across a particularly enchanting exhibit.
Kendra and family taking in a Cubs game

The Enduring Magic of Lou Mitchell's Diner

If you and your family have a penchant for old school dining, you can easily satisfy it with a visit to Lou Mitchell's. Family friendly and reasonably priced, Lou Mitchell's is both internationally renowned and beloved by long-term neighborhood clientele. Owned by the same family since 1923, restaurant staff hands out boxes of Milk Duds to women and children as a part of a tradition established in 1958. We love coming to this place and feel lucky to have it in our city.

The Peninsula Chicago

The Peninsula is one of the best places for Chicago residents to take a mini-vacation of sorts. My husband is well aware that this 20-story luxury hotel is my favorite special occasion destination. The cuisine in their world-class restaurant is as good as anywhere in Chicago, and the spa services never fail to leave me feeling rejuvenated and relaxed. The Peninsula also has the added benefit of being located in Chicago's famous Magnificent Mile. To discover places like the Peninsula in Chicago, I use the site gogobot, which features comprehensive lists of hotels in Chicago, as well as user reviews of the hotels and their surrounding areas. If you are going to be flying in from out of town soon, keep in mind that the hotel offers transportation services to and from both of Chicago's major airports.

While it would be impossible to list all the reasons I love Chicago, the places I have discussed above are certainly a good start. I hope you someday are able to visit my Midwestern city, and I can’t wait to make a trip to the South to explore Atlanta!

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