Accessible Travel in Chicago!
Hi everyone! Thanks for joining us for another installment of our blog! It really is so exciting to talk to you about places and topics of interest to travelers with disabilities. I'm compiling a list of topics, so if there is something you want me to discuss or research on your behalf, please let me know!
I decided that this week I wanted to highlight some areas of Chicago. We are a bit impartial here at TravelinWheels about Chicago because it is our hometown! That being said, it really is a great city to explore, and most of the popular areas are accessible to all disabilities. My daughter Kelsey and I have made our way on public transportation to every major tourist attraction, as well as those off the beaten path. She is in a manual wheelchair. Main areas of the city have good curb cuts, sound and countdown stoplights, and a street grid system that is easy to navigate.
First of all, I have to tell you that Chicago's hotels were very welcoming to TravelinWheels when we requested site visits. TravelinWheels will have specific accessibility details when it goes live in April, but I can tell you I was impressed by the accessibility of hotels such as the Conrad, Trump International, Palomar, Residence Inn, Springhill Suites, and Amalfi Hotel in River North, which are in close proximity to some great restaurants, Michigan Avenue, and the lakefront. I want to go stay in all of them!
We chose hotels that were on the top of Trip Advisor's lists for great service because we want our visitors to experience the best in quality and accessibility. You can get a sneak peek at the hotels we visited by checking out the Accessibility Virtual Tours presented on our YouTube channel. Make sure you subscribe so that you can get updates when we add more!
It's hard to narrow down the best places to go in Chicago, but we will give it a try. Our favorite part of the city is the lakefront on Lake Michigan. Chicago has over 30 miles of lakefront paths lined with parks and beaches for everyone to enjoy. There are biking/walking paths that stretch the entire distance. There are restaurants and picnic areas to stop and enjoy. Be forewarned; summer weekends on the lakefront paths are very busy. The combination or cyclists, runners, walkers, and dog lovers can be a bit treacherous for those in wheelchairs or sight and hearing impairments, so do go and enjoy it, but try to go early in the morning or around dinnertime if you aren't up for the adventure of dealing with that many people.
One of our favorite stops on the lakefront is the Lincoln Park Zoo. There is no admission cost, although the parking lot is not free. There is street parking on Stockton Drive, which is just west of the zoo, with an area reserved for disabled parking near the Farm in the Zoo. Get there early to take advantage of this parking. If you are downtown and wish to take public transportation, the Chicago Transit Authority's #151 Sheridan Avenue Bus is wheelchair accessible.
The zoo is small enough to maneuver easily, but it has many, many exhibits to see. There are restaurants throughout the zoo to grab a bite to eat. All are accessible, and the bathrooms in the Park Place Café are clean and comfortable. If you are interested in paddle boating, make sure you go to the pond on the south end of the zoo. You can even paddleboat in a Swan Boat, if you'd like. I spent my summers here as a kid and fondly remember tooling around the south pond on summer afternoons before getting an ice cream treat at Café Brauer which overlooks the pond. For more information on accessibility at Lincoln Park Zoo, go to http://www.lpzoo.org/plan-your-visit/accessibility-information.
The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum is across the street, just north of the Zoo. It features a variety of nature exhibits as well as a butterfly haven. The museum is open every day
If you wish to have a lovely gourmet meal prepared with organic and local products, go to North Pond Café. This upscale restaurant sits in what used to be a warming building for ice skaters on the North Pond. The view is beautiful and very romantic. The food is beautifully prepared and fresh. Reservations are recommended.
North Avenue Beach is just south of the zoo and can be reached on the lakefront path. However, there is a bridge over Lake Shore Drive that can be a bit of a challenge. Kelsey has crossed it many times in her manual chair, but it requires some assistance, as it is a little steep and long. If you wish to drive to the beach, there is a small parking lot that has accessible parking. It is not cheap and fills up early, but unfortunately, parking in Chicago isn't.
This is a great place to play or watch some world-class volleyball, and there is always something going on in the summer. There are accessible bathrooms, and a restaurant, Castaways, that sits on top of what looks like a cruise ship in the middle of the beach. There is an elevator to get to the restaurant. They do have an accessible path across the sand to the water, and free beach wheelchairs. North Avenue Beach has bicycle rentals, a beach workout area, and food vendors for a quick bite. If you are interested in chess, there is a small pavilion just south of the beach on the bike path where some of the best players in the city come to play. Feel free to challenge them to a game and get your Bobby Fisher on!
Moving south along the path, you can see and be seen at Oak Street Beach, one of the more famous beaches in the city. The Oak Street Beachstro, which is open in the summer months, is a great place where you can enjoy salads or more upscale items such as salmon. Feel free to linger and do some great people watching.
Navy Pier has been a tourist draw for several years since they remodeled it from an old Navy port to the fun entertainment center that it is today. You can see concerts, go for boat rides, grab a meal or beverage, ice skate in the winter, or take in Shakespearean Theater. The restaurants vary from a food court to bar/grill options, as well as more upscale options. There are shops and attractions that line the entire pier that jets out onto Lake Michigan. Fireworks are every Wednesday and Saturday night. Accessible parking is available within Navy Pier and it is expensive. Saturday afternoon traffic at the pier can be very busy, so get there early. For more info on Navy Pier and accessibility, go to http://www.navypier.com/visit_us/disability_serv.html. In a future blog, I will write about the best way to see the fireworks, so stay tuned!
One of Kelsey's favorite things to do at Navy Pier is go on the Seadog Boat Tour and take a speedboat tour. She takes the ramp down to the boat, and transfers into a seat, leaving her wheelchair securely at the dock. The Seadog is the fastest tour boat at the pier, and she loves the spray of the water and the chopping the boat makes as it jets around the lake. It does slow down for a bit to give a tour, too. If speed isn't your thing, there are several other boat tours at the Pier; we will feature them on the site when they we launch in April.
So, those are some highlights from the north side of the lakeshore. We will continue to bring you more great places, restaurants, tours, and hotels, so stay tuned! Also, if there is something you are interested in us talking about, please comment! We read them all! See you next week!