By: Chuck Hilston
Friday June 29th to Friday July 6th
What better place to start? Upon arriving on the afternoon of Friday, June 29th, you may feel a bit overwhelmed by everything. There is no possible way to explore a city this big with only a few days, right? Don’t sweat it. Instead of rushing to see everything, try to set some goals for yourself.
If you arrived in the early afternoon, odds are, as you check in to your hotel, the flight has made you somewhat hungry. Of course, the thing to do here is obvious: try to get yourself a Chicago style pizza! There is no shortage of potential options here, but some of the most famous ones would be Lou Malnati’s or Gino’s. Now that you have enjoyed some delicious pizza, you can think about strolling for a while on the magnificent mile to wrap up a good first day.
Even if you are not a huge art fan, the prestige associated with the Chicago Art Museum makes a visit worthwhile. After all, if you are traveling with your wife --who is big on art but not sports-- compromise might not be such a bad idea. Once everyone gets tired of looking at art, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to head over to the Chicago Navy Pier. If you have kids, they would definitely enjoy the rides and shops here, plus it provides great scenic views of the entire city.
Chicago Cubs vs. Houston Astros 3:05 PM (June 30th)
Ah, Wrigley! Despite over a century of complete ineptitude, your fabled walls and ivy grass outfield are romanticized in a way almost unrivaled in all of sports. Many fans have this on their “bucket list”, and with the amount of history and tradition associated with it, for good reason. Just make sure that at some point you get a picture taken reaching your hand out with an obnoxious facial expression over the fabled Section 4, Row 8, Seat 113. In case you don’t remember, let’s take a little walk down memory lane in regard to its significance. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6er1XE2j0pE (Poor Steve!)
Based on the order we are going in, it would seem that the next logical step would be to take over a parade or turn back the odometer on your rental car (if you didn’t understand that reference, you really should watch more movies). For the rest of the evening and the next day, there is no shortage of things to do. Among them are Wills (formerly Sears) Tower, Millenium Park (a must), getting a picture next to the Michael Jordan statue, a tour of Northwestern, and lots of famous places associated with the likes of Al Capone, Obama, Oprah, and many more.
This will likely be the longest stretch of continuous driving on the trip, but it isn’t all barren. Keep in mind, an unbelievably large number of America’s most important inventors, presidents, and most influential people came from this area. In order to be succinct, there are 3 main stops that may be of interest. Of course, a visit to Notre Dame’s campus and stadium (home of “Touchdown Jesus”) is a pilgrimage for many sports fans and isn’t far from the highway. Moving on, there are two more stops in western Ohio that may take up the rest of your “Sunday Funday”. The first is the Lake Erie Islands, especially Put-in-Bay, which draw comparison to places off the coast of New England for how nice they are, but not how expensive. For those thrill-seeking roller coaster fanatics, this is your “mecca”. Cedar Point is unquestionably the king of thrills at amusement parks around the world. From the Millenium Force which takes you down an initial hill of 300 feet and goes about 90 mph for a majority of the ride, to the Top Thrill Dragster, which lives up to the name, shooting you at 120 mph 420 feet in the air in less than five seconds, this is definitely not for the faint of heart.
If you decide to stay nearby in Sandusky for the night, it should be a little over an hour drive to get into Cleveland. Once there, your first impression will be how much the city doesn’t live up to its reputation as the “Mistake by the Lake”. To start with, many people would head to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, but that’s definitely not the only option. The art museum is one of best in the world, and is also completely free of charge, as is the house from the classic movie “A Christmas Story”. For lunch, Cleveland is very well known for two places in particular. One is Melt, which is famous for making overstuffed grilled cheese sandwiches on the west side, and the east side, to counter this, has a place called Slyman’s, known for its fantastic corned beef sandwiches. Cleveland also has many different restaurants, shops, and a new aquarium within close range of the stadium.
Cleveland Indians vs. Los Angeles Angels 7:05 PM (July 2nd)
This is probably one of the nicest parks in all of baseball, and also one of the most affordable. You should have no problem getting upper deck seats right behind home plate that give a spectacular view of downtown for a measly 9 bucks. Also, you can bring in food and water, and through stopping at various booths they are almost giving away additional food items and souvenirs. This is the epitome of a fan friendly experience!
One option as you’re leaving Cleveland in the morning would be to make a detour down to Canton and the Pro Football Hall of Fame. However, despite my disdain for Ben Roethlisberger and the rest of the Steelers, this is a great city. It’s funny how these two kind of complement each other. Pittsburgh is also well known for two famous sandwiches, the “Primanti “ which is sort of a smorgasbord of delicious unhealthiness (meat, cheese, tomato, cole slaw, fries, and whatever else you want) and I would also say a calzone, but there are so many different famous dishes there that it would be impossible to describe them all.
Pittsburgh has an answer to Cedar Point in Kennywood, which has more of an older, rustic feel to it (think Knott’s Berry Farm or Coney Island) but is a very nice place to explore and has added a share of new rides recently. Also, in response to Rockefeller setting forth money for an art museum in Cleveland, Andrew Carnegie responded by putting forth money for a science center that is almost unparalleled in the world. Walking around Pittsburgh, with the narrow one way streets, while confusing, is very scenic and almost reminds you a little bit of Europe. It wouldn’t hurt first for getting great scenic views, and also to get oriented with your location in the city, to take the Mt. Washington scenic incline.
Pittsburgh Pirates vs. Houston Astros 7:05 PM (July 3rd)
Grudgingly, I have to say that this is probably the most aesthetically pleasing ballpark in America. I’m not sure that anywhere can compete with looking out upon the Ohio River, a beautiful downtown, and the Roberto Clemente Bridge. Also, they have the self-proclaimed “Best Ballpark Food in America”, and from experience I know that you can order “Primantis” in the stadium at restaurant prices-- if you haven’t already crossed that off your list.
Now, the Nats DO have a game today at 11:05, but thinking about the practicality of the situation when you consider that it’s about a 3 hour drive from Pittsburgh to our nation’s capital, this may be better to avoid. If you’re keeping track, then you’ll know what day it is and either criticize or laud me for it. Yes, you are officially part of the chaos that comes with being in the nation’s capital on July 4th. Never having lived in this area, or even having been here for this holiday, I’m the furthest thing from an expert. However, I can tell you that any hotels within DC are always going to be absurdly expensive. Thankfully for you, though, they have one of the most expansive subway systems in the country, so you could potentially stay in a suburb like College Park (near the University of Maryland) and eliminate many of your headaches. Overall, the best thing to do if you plan to be in the National Mall this evening is exercise patience, since you will likely be waiting in traffic for hours at the end of the evening. Remember to keep watch on your possessions since pickpockets love crowds like this. Overall I would recommend doing this because how many times are you going to be in DC on July 4th? What could possibly be more patriotic for an American?
As far as tourist attractions go, it’s another place where there are too many to name. The brilliance of it is that they are all FREE. Any Smithsonian museum, national mall historic site, or even Capitol and White House tours (which require advance reservations) are complementary. Be careful though, since they attempt to earn that back on food, parking and public transportation. To end your trip, enjoy a relaxing evening at the ballpark.
Washington Nationals vs. San Francisco Giants 7:05 PM
While this may sound like a lot, and looking at prices for similar guided tours will have you convinced that it is, you really can do this pretty reasonably. Upon averaging the cost for food, tickets, hotel, car rental, gas, plane and miscellaneous items for a family of four, I honestly believe that as long as you don’t spend frivolously, you can go for around $1,500, with flight costs accounting for almost half of that. That’s cheaper than many family vacations without all the different travel costs incurred. Not too shabby!