Enjoy a Chicago Blues Tradition June 8-10

Grant Park at Night

The city of Chicago and the Blues go hand-in-hand. Starting in the beginning of the 20th century with the Great Migration of African-Americans from the rural South to the more prosperous and integrated cities of the north, Chicago has been seen as a haven for musicians and particularly those singing the blues. In 1984, Chicago’s Commissioner of Cultural Affairs, Lois Weisberg, began the Chicago Blues Festival. One of the largest and most famous of Chicago cultural events, Weisberg dreamed the Chicago Blues Festival up following the death of McKinley Morganfield (aka Muddy Waters). The event was and still is a way to celebrate the rich contribution of the blues to the Chicago cultural landscape and the life of a man considered its father.

Today, the Chicago Blues Festival is the largest free blues festival in the world. It is held each June in Grant Park and offers visitors the chance to see popular blues acts on five different sponsored stages. This year, the festival will be held Friday, June 8th through Sunday, June 10th and will run from 11 am to 9:30 pm Friday and Saturday and 11 am to 9 pm Sunday.

Amazing Voices and Good Times, but Be Prepared

Past performances at the Chicago Blues Festival have included such storied acts as Bonnie Raitt, B.B. King and Ray Charles. On average, over 500,000 people will flock to Grant Park for the festivities over these three days, making this one of the most prosperous and busy weekends for the Chicagoland area. Therefore, anyone planning to go to the festival should be prepared.

Here are a few tips to make your trip to the Chicago Blues Festival the best it can be:

  • Know where you want to go: The set list for this year’s festival has already been finalized. Therefore, figuring out where you want to be and when should be determined before leaving for the festival. For set schedules, go to the Chicago Blues Festival homepage.
  • Bring your own seat: With the exception of performances at the Petrillo Music Shell, folding chairs can be brought along to provide seating. If you plan on going all day and staying through several acts, bringing a chair, or at least a picnic blanket, is a great plan.
  • Consider your food: Several famous Chicago eateries including Gold Coast Dogs, Reggie’s Bar & Grill, and Robinson’s #1 Ribs will be serving up refreshments at the festival. However, you can save time and money by bringing your own picnic lunch to the park. Just remember that alcoholic beverages and personal grills are not allowed on park grounds.
  • Look for fun elsewhere, too: The Chicago Blues Festival is a city-wide celebration. Though the free music is limited to Grant Park on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, there are several other places throughout the city that will be offering free or low-cost blues themed entertainment throughout the week leading up to the festival. These venues can also be found on the main festival information page, here.

If you are planning on visiting the Chicago area the weekend of June 8-10 or if you live within driving distance of the city, the chance to visit the Chicago Blues Festival should not be passed by. In addition to hearing amazing, free music you will be participating in one of the most famous and memorable cultural events that this city has to offer.

Wintertime in Chicago: Three Great Ways to Celebrate the Cold in the Windy City

December is a magical month no matter where you travel, but for those who plan on visiting the iconic Windy City of Chicago, IL this Christmas season, there are many fabulous opportunities waiting. Whether you are there with your kids or just a kid at heart, consider these great options to get you in the holiday spirit.

Snow in Chicago

Winter WonderFest at the Navy Pier

Each year, Chicago’s Navy Pier is transformed into an indoor world of wonder for children and adults alike. Navy Pier is located on the banks of Lake Michigan and includes 50 acres of parks, gardens, walking paths, shops and Chicago attractions.

Winter WonderFest seeks to bring the magic of the holiday season to tourists and Chicago natives alike by offering indoor entertainment, rides, and activities. It runs from December 2, 2011- January 8, 2012 and includes an extensive list of rides, attractions and activities. Since the festivities are indoors, no matter the weather (which is always unpredictable in Chicago) you are sure to have a good time. In addition, admission to Navy Pier is included on the Go Chicago Card as well as ride passes for the carousel, Ferris wheel and Adventure Golf, meaning it can serve as one element of the total Chicago tourist package.

Ice Skating

What is more iconic than ice skating in winter? In Chicago, there are several venues that offer ice skating during the cold months. One option can actually be combined with Winter WonderFest, and that is at Black Hawks Indoor ice rink inside the Navy Pier; including ice skating with your admission to WinterFest is an additional $3, but includes the price of skate rental. Since the rink is indoors, this is an excellent option any time.

Those willing to brave the elements also have the option of going to Millennium Park’s McCormack Tribune Ice Rink located at the intersection of Michigan Avenue and Washington Street. Millennium Park is the venue made famous by President Barak Obama’s acceptance speech in the 2008 election and is home to many additional activities, concerts and events all year long. Skating at Millennium Park is free and lasts through March. Skate rental is available onsite for $10.

German Shopping at Christkindlmarket

Each December, Chicago’s Daley Plaza is transformed into a traditional German holiday marketplace. With roots in 16th century Nuremburg, Germany, Christkindlmarket is a one-of-a-kind open air experience in the heart of Chicago. The market offers both the traditional European-style open air feeling and exhibitions with distinct American flare.

At Christkindlmarket, food vendors straight from Germany offer traditional beer and wine, sausages and wursts, and even traditional baked goods such as Stollen. There are also several crafts vendors from Germany and the US alike offering everything from blown glass to wooden toys and handmade ornaments perfect for holiday giving. Throughout the month of December (the market closes on Christmas Eve) there are also performances from local school choirs, German folk singers and other professional musicians.

Chicago in December

Of course, there are many great activities, museums, tours and sights to visit in this amazing city year-round, but clearly, spending time in Chicago in December provides tourists with a wealth of unique opportunities. This year, taking a trip to the Midwest may be the highlight of your holiday experience.

10 Cities to Consider for Your Next Vacation

When it comes to choosing a destination for your next vacation, many different factors come into play.  Climate, activities and cost are all aspects to consider when deciding where to travel to next, and with choices ranging from Oahu to Chicago to London, there are many cities worthy of a trip!  We’ve compiled this list of 10 places to consider visiting on your next trip to make your decision making process a little easier.

1. New York, New York. NYC is a city full of good food and fun, with more activities to do than you can imagine.  There are plenty of sights to see no matter what age you are!  From amazing zoos (Bronx, Queens and Central Park) to a tour of the Empire State Building to visiting the NBC Studio, there is truly something for everyone.  If music is your passion, there is much history to be enjoyed in New York City, so considering checking out Radio City Music Hall and Madison Square Garden. And of course, don’t miss all the amazing museums New York has to offer, including the Museum of Modern Art, Brooklyn Children’s Museum and the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum.

The weather can vary – in the summer, temperatures and humidity levels are high, while the winter months will offer blustery days.  Fall days will provide a crisp feeling in the air, and picturesque streets with multicolored leaves covering the city.  Spring showers may bring flowers, but the fickle weather in spring has proven to be unpredictable. And though the city is beautiful in every season – you will want to visit when you are most comfortable walking city streets to see the sights.  Overall, NYC has amazing activities that are fun for the whole family – no matter when you decide to visit!

beach party Luau on Big Island Hawaii after sunset

2. Oahu, Hawaii. Hawaii is a beautiful state, and the island of Oahu has a lot to offer a tourist.  Since there is so much to do, it is recommended to invest in a Go Oahu card to enjoy activities and attractions at a discounted rate.  You can easily see all the sights of the island by taking a tour, including the Pearl Harbor and Honolulu City Tour or the full-day Grand Circle Island Tour.  And while in Oahu, you won’t want to miss the sea life native to the area, so be sure to check out Sea Life Park.  To see the sea life up close, consider kayaking, surfing or snorkeling!

Weather on Oahu is very stable – with most months averaging temperatures between 70 and 80 degrees, though the rainiest season is winter.  Even if it rains on your Hawaii parade – you will surely enjoy your trip full of gorgeous scenery, fascinating plant and animal life.

3. Los Angeles. Los Angeles, LA, The City of Angeles, LALA Land… whatever you call it, the city is a great place for a vacation trip!  If roller coasters, funnel cake and people watching are among your favorite pastimes – Disneyland, Six Flags Magic Mountain and Knott’s Berry Farm are all within a reasonable distance from the city.  If movies are of interest to you, LA is the perfect place for you!  Don’t miss Universal Studios, Warner Brothers Studio Tour and Sony Pictures Studio Tour for a behind the scenes look.

The weather in Los Angeles varies a bit – with the best months to visit reported as April through June and September through October. In the summer you can expect sunshine and high temps, while the fall is cool, winter chilly and spring full of showers.

4. London. If your budget allows for a trip overseas, consider visiting the city of London.  There is so much to see, including the Tower of London, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Windsor Castle, Thames River cruise and much more. The London Zoo and the London Aquarium are great activity options for children and adults alike.

With rainfall being common – the highest temperatures are naturally in the summer, but winter temps rarely plunge below freezing.  London is a city with much to offer from beautifully designed buildings to precious views – it is worth the trek!

Tower Bridge - London

5. Boston. Though the weather can be fickle in New England, Boston is an amazing city to visit any time of year. With winter bringing snow, sleet, and all kinds of precipitation – you must be prepared to visit in wintertime – though the snow on the trees and buildings is very picturesque.  Spring showers are frequent, summer months are full of sunshine and warm weather, with autumn breezes blowing colorful leaves around your feet.

With some much history surrounding it, the city of Boston offers a great deal of activities.  Between the Freedom Trail, the Trinity Church, museums, memorials, breweries and of course, Fenway Park, you will be busy every day of your trip!

6. Chicago. Known as the “Windy City,” be prepared for the weather in Chicago!  While winters are cold, summers can be humid.  Spring and fall can also be chilly but offers great scenery for sightseeing!

With the Adler Planetarium, Shedd Aquarium, Field Museum and architectural tours at your disposal, you definitely won’t be bored during your stay.  And if you are, be sure you add SkyDeck Chicago, Hancock Observatory and the Navy Pier to your list of must-sees!

7. San Francisco. If you love beautiful sights, amazing seafood and unique culture, then the city of San Francisco is for you!  You’ll enjoy the view of the Golden Gate Bridge, Twin Peaks and the entire city – especially if you ride the cable cars.  If you’re a foodie – you’ll be in heaven, as the San Fran streets are full of restaurants and cafes.

San Francisco temperatures are on the cool side all year round, with summer temps averaging between 60 and 70 degrees – though winter weather does not bring temps much lower than 45 degrees.

8. Las Vegas. If you and your travel buddies are over 21, Las Vegas is a city you have to visit at least once!  Vegas is full of bars and clubs – if that is your kind of vacation, but there are also a great deal of entertainment options.  With shows ranging from The Lion King to Cirque du Soleil to David Copperfield, there is surely an event that will suit your interests.  And don’t miss the roller coasters on the strip – including theStratosphere Tower and The Roller Coaster at New York-New York!

With more than 300 days of sun a year, chances are you will be able to enjoy at least one sunny day on your trip! And since the weather is usually warmer and drier than other parts of the country, don’t forget your sun screen!

9. San Diego. Beaches, museums, parks, and more – San Diego has it all!  With so much to do, San Diego is a great city to visit with family and/or friends!  The beautiful weather – withtemperatures barely reaching below 50 degrees – allows for outdoor activities all year round.

When making your San Diego itinerary, don’t forget to plan for the San Diego Zoo, the USS Midway Museum, Torrey Pines State Reserve and SeaWorld San Diego!  With so much to do, your San Diego trip will be full, but if you have time, try to plan for the amazing beaches in San Diego as well!

10. Seattle. Though Seattle is known for its sometimes dismal weather, contrary to popular belief – it does not rain all the time!  While it does rain often, summertime (specifically the last half of July and the first half of August) is the driest time of the year in Seattle and winter is the wettest season.

And if it is raining – have no fear. There are plenty of indoor activities in Seattle that will make your vacation worthwhile, like the Museum of Flight, the Seattle Public Library and the Original Starbucks – a must visit for coffee lovers!  If you are visiting and the skies are clear, don’t miss Pike Place Market, Kerry Park and the Space Needle!

With 10 great recommendations of cities to consider for your next vacation – start planning today!  Whether you decide to visit Boston, explore Hawaii with the Go Oahu card or drink coffee in Seattle, we’re sure you’ll have a great time.

Celebrate Gay Pride Month with Events Across the Country

40th Anniversary of Pride Celebrations in Many Cities

June is Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered Pride Month, and cities around the country are celebrating. Here’s a round-up of events in some top U.S. destinations, according to Smart Destinations. Revelers can use the company’s Go Cards and Explorer Passes for unlimited admission to many attractions around each destination and make the most of all these cities have to offer. Visit smartdestinations.com for more information as you plan your pride experience.

Boston, MA – June 4-13, 2010
Boston’s 10-day Pride celebration is New England’s largest, and this year marks its 40th anniversary. With the theme “Riots to Rights – Celebrating 40 Years of Progress,” the annual Pride Parade is a cornerstone of the events. Visitors taking advantage of the Go Boston Card can choose the Bay State Cruise to Provincetown, a world-class gay and lesbian vacation resort destination at the far end of Cape Doc. For three consecutive years, PlanetOut Travel has named Provincetown, “Best Domestic Gay Resort Town.”

Boston Harbor and Financial District in Boston, Massachusetts at Sunset

Chicago, IL – All month
“One Heart, One World, One Pride” is Chicago’s Pride celebration theme in 2010. Events are scheduled all month long, commencing with the annual parade on the last Sunday in May. With the Go Chicago Card, you can experience the Frank Lloyd Wright Architectural tour, take an afternoon sail on Tall Ship Windy, and visit the Shed Aquarium.  Hit up some of the Chicago’s best gay and lesbian bars in Andersonville and Boystown by renting bikes from Bike and Roll.

New York, NY – June 19-27, 2010
Constance McMillen, the Mississippi teenager who was denied the right to attend her senior prom with her girlfriend, is this year’s marshal of “The March,” New York’s massive pride parade. Rallies, more parades, and special concerts round out the 9-day celebration. Keep your budget in check while in New York with the New York Explorer Pass, which offers users up to 50% off admission to 45 sights around the city.

Los Angeles, CA – June 11-13, 2010
GLBT pride is always on display in LA’s Christopher Street West neighborhood, named after the New York City street that was home to the pivotal Stonewall Rebellion. Christopher Street West hosts the city’s 40th Pride celebration, “PRIDE 365: Power. Passion. Purpose.” Visitors can make the most of their visit to LA with Smart Destination’s Go Los Angeles Card, which includes admission to Pacific Park, Paramount Studios, the Queen Mary, and Kodak Theatre.

San Francisco, CA – June 26-27, 2010
Home to one of the most popular and well-attended Pride events in the world, San Francisco celebrates this year with “Forty and Fabulous.” Parties are sure to last all weekend long, but the Go San Francisco Card offers admission to many sights around the city to round your Pride weekend. Or unwind afterward with a trip to Napa and Sonoma Valleys, where the Wine Country Explorer Pass will give you admission to 17 wineries.