Chicago great destination for girls’ getaway

It has been almost 30 years (gulp!) since I shared an Oshkosh house with eight other women and one guy. My memories of college are fond, and I am so proud of the friendships that have endured since then.

We try to get together a couple of times a year, if not more, and one of the rituals is a fall shopping trip. This year, I’ve offered to take the lead in organizing it, and we are going to Chicago.

We will stay at the Chicago Hilton, 720 S. Michigan Ave., in a two-bedroom suite that is much closer to the city’s museum hub and Grant Park than the bustle of Magnificent Mile shops and nightlife. Rates tend to be a bit lower here, and the hotel offers a free 9-5 shuttle to get us where we need to go, with discount store coupons. For more, go to www.hiltonchicagosales.com or call (312) 922-4400.

A $5 visitor transit pass, good for 24 hours, also will give us the freedom to come and go as we want. And we’ll avoid parking fees, traffic headaches by hopping the train in Kenosha (or Waukegan, Ill., which has more departure options). For more, see www.transitchicago.com and www.metrarail.com.

I have gone from being skittish about Chicago to becoming one of its fans, so it has been easy for me to overwhelm five of my ex-housemates with all types of pre-winter amusements. Among my recommendations, so far:

Shopping. Certainly, we will mingle with the masses on Michigan Avenue and its Watertower Place. I also like the State Street area, particularly the Nordstrom Rack and Filene’s Basement discount havens.

But there also is the seasonal Christkindlmarkt, an elaborate, outdoor arts/crafts/food market with a European flair. It’s all about schnitzel, marionette puppets, fancy ornaments and handcrafted toys. Open daily to 8 or 9 p.m. until Dec. 22, admission is free. For more, go to www.christkindlmarket.com.

In early December, when we visit, there is a holiday bazaar at the Chicago Cultural Center, my favorite building in the city. Admission is free, and the only danger is that there always is at least one gallery or performance that grips my attention. Which means less shopping time. See www.ci.chi.il.us/Tourism/CultureCenterTour/history.html

Theater. We want to see a show at night, and I’ve presented two suggestions: “Mama Mia!” and “Menopause: the Musical!” The former (at the Oriental Theater, $37-$78) is likely to win out, as we want to relive our youth and know that all those goofy ABBA songs will help us. As if we needed the nudge.

My Guy, poor soul, unwittingly agreed to see “Mama Mia!” last year, when we were out for a stroll in Vancouver and happened to pass the right theater at the right time (his assessment would be different). The show is high-energy, silly, pure fun – and best left for female bonding, although My Guy was a good sport about it.

“Menopause,” described as “a hilarious celebration of women and The Change,” has been playing in larger cities nationwide for about a year. Some theaters give ticket discounts to Red Hat Society members; Chicago performances are at the Apollo Theater in Lincoln Park; tickets are $47.

For more about these shows, go to www.mamamia.com and www.menopausethemusical.com.

Dining. Truth be told, I’m fine with chowing down at the Marshall Fields deli, but I will bring along “The Slow Food Guide to Chicago” as a reference. The new guide (Chelsea Green Publishing, $20) talks up the places that make Chicago distinctive; there are 550 listings.

My priority, with or without company, is to finally attend the Sunday Gospel Brunch at the House of Blues. Good food and a powerful performance, from what I hear. A ticket is $38; go to www.hob.com or call (312) 923-2007 to learn more.

We have a Shanahan and a MacGrath in our group, so we’ll like get grub and a Guinness at Kitty O’Sheas, an Irish pub at the Chicago Hilton that has live Irish music every night.

Attractions. A logical one for us is “Jacqueline Kennedy: The White House Years,” which opens Nov. 13 at the Field Museum. The focus is on fashion, with curators contending that the former first lady used it to build international goodwill.

There are other artifacts, too, borrowed from the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum. Field Museum admission is for a specific time and date; the cost is $25. Go to www.fieldmuseum.org or call (312) 922-9410 to learn more.

If we were arriving before the end of this month, I’d also want to check out “The Changing Face of Women’s Health,” at the Museum of Science and Industry. It is a study of cultural change as well as health education.

The show ends Nov. 30. Museum admission is $9. For more, call (773) 684-1414 or go to www.msichicago.org.

To ponder your own style of Chicago getaway, go to www.877chicago.com or call (877) CHI-CAGO.