3 Days | 89 Miles | in Arts & Culture & History
Whether you’re celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15 -October 15) or looking to dive into Latino culture during any season, a Chicago-Rockford road trip is tough to beat. Enjoy authentic Mexican food, experience world-class public art and support local Latino-owned businesses during this exciting three-day getaway.
Make sure to check with attractions ahead of time for up-to-date operating hours, travel policies and health and safety information.
To ensure your trip kicks off with a happy belly, stop at one of four Cafe Tola locations spread across the city. Enjoy the vibrant Mexican vibe, choose from a variety of breakfast tacos and burritos, and grab an authentic Cuban coffee to go as you embark on your adventure.
If you’re unfamiliar with the city or have no clue where to start, the Chicago Greeter program is a wonderful option. You’ll get a customized guided tour based on your choice of neighborhoods and interests, and you can even request a Spanish-speaking guide.
Those following their own agenda can head to the Art Institute of Chicago, which showcases a number of artworks from Aztec culture, including the Coronation Stone of Motecuhzoma II. If you have time, stop by the Field Museum to feast your eyes on Máximo (which translates to “maximum” or “most” in Spanish). It's the largest dinosaur ever discovered, living more than 100 million years ago in what is now Patagonia.
Take a break from your educational endeavors at Navy Pier, where you can sit down for a lunch of Latin-inspired cuisine at Lírica before checking out some of the Pier’s attractions. After that, pop over to the Magnificent Mile Plaza that houses the statue of Benito Juárez, and gaze up at the first and only indigenous President of Mexico.
To round out your Latin American history experience, travel up to the Newberry Library, where you’ll find plenty of fascinating materials directly related to the Aztec and Nahua people, Tenochtitlan, and more.
A modest walk of a few blocks will lead you to Tzuco, an imaginative French Mexican restaurant led by Chef Carlos Gaytán—the first Latin American to earn a Michelin Star. After relaxing over appetizers and drinks, meander through the brightly lit city streets to Jaleo for dinner, where you’ll experience Chef José Andrés and his creative take on rich Spanish cuisine.
If a big, delicious dinner hasn’t zapped your energy, stop by Cruz Blanca Cervecería in the West Loop for a tasty Mexican craft beer before calling it a night. Stay at the Wicker Park Inn, a charming Latina-owned bed and breakfast.
Perk up in the morning with a pastry and a cup of Puerto Rican coffee from Café Colao, then stretch your legs with a leisurely stroll through Humboldt Park. The neighborhood is a hub for Latino culture, as Chicago’s newest landmarks, the enormous steel Puerto Rican flags that bookend Division Street will attest. You can even make it a guided, educational walk by booking ahead with Paseo Boricua Tour Company.
Next, make the trek down to Pilsen, another neighborhood famous for its Hispanic heritage. Once you get a feel for the area, walk along 18th Street to the National Museum of Mexican Art, where you can discover numerous centuries’ worth of fascinating collections. When you’re ready for a break, refuel with lunch at Azul 18.
Fill your afternoon taking in the sights of the neighborhood —and we assure you, they are plentiful. You’ll find an assortment of streetscapes (such as Sun Stones and Plaza Tenochtitlan), the historic Casa Aztlan mural, and a wide variety of additional murals and mosaics that celebrate the community’s Mexican identity.
On your way to or from Pilsen, don’t miss the collection of murals that adorn the 18th Street and Damen Avenue CTA Pink Line stations. The works are done by renowned artist Francisco Mendoza and students of Gallery 37 and illustrate various aspects of Mexican culture, including a stunning multi-media mosaic by Angel Chavez at 2100 S. Damen Ave.
Before settling into your hotel in Rockford, head over to Hacienda San Jose for dinner and margaritas. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, stick around for karaoke on weekend nights. Get your beauty rest at Embassy Suites by Hilton Rockford Riverfront in the downtown area.