Allspark’s Botcon 2015 Chicago/St. Charles Travel Guide

Coming to the Chicago, Illinois area next week for Botcon 2015 in St. Charles?  Aside from the massive, world-famous convention featuring giant robot toys and media, and top-tier talent in the giant robot toy and media industry, are you considering what else might be worth seeing and doing in the area?  Presenting the Allspark’s Botcon 2015 Travel Guide!  Read on for details and to discuss with others!
I originally posted a version of this in our forums here when the location was first announced.
Carpool/rideshare thread here.
Discussing a possible Thursday night Allspark outing at 2 Brothers Brewery in a thread here.
I was actually born and raised in St. Charles, IL, and while I haven’t lived there in 15 years, I’m still in Illinois and spend plenty of time in the Chicago area, so can provide some personal experience about what to expect.
St. Charles is in the far west suburbs of Chicago.  Driving to downtown Chicago takes just over an hour in good traffic (can be closer to 90 minutes if traffic isn’t awesome).  O’Hare Airport is 45-60 minutes, Midway Airport is about a solid hour.  Pheasant Run is a resort property on the east edge of St. Charles.  Not middle-of-nowhere out-in-the-country resort, but not in a city.  It’s going to feel very suburban.
If you don’t drive, you’re probably taking a taxi.  That’s pretty much your only realistic choice.  Plenty of taxi companies do a flat-rate suburban charge.  Looking at the American Taxi site, O’Hare alone is a $50 one-way, Midway or downtown are more, if you have extra bags and by the time you tip the driver, you’re probably spending $60+ each way in transportation.  There isn’t convenient or cheap public transportation – no bus system and no trains usefully nearby.  I highly recommend seeing if you can find a couple of other people to split it with in the carpool/rideshare thread here.
Walking Distance to the Hotel
There’s a Walmart and McDonald’s across the street one way, a Target and Portillo’s the other way (and if you walk a little further, a Chili’s and Olive Garden), and kitty-corner to the resort is the a mall, but it was mostly vacant and was being redeveloped and I don’t know what sort of state that’s in these days.  There should still be a movie theater and some outlot restaurants, if nothing else.
In St. Charles

  • Gino’s East – Chicago style pizza just west of the hotel about 5 minutes by car (in the same plaza as the Super 8 Wheels mentioned).
  • Colonial Cafe – Family restaurant 5 minutes west of hotel.  I’ve personally never cared for this place more than any other casual diner, but others in the area absolutely love it for some reason, so I thought I’d mention it.
  • Downtown St. Charles – 10-15 minutes west of the hotel, the downtown area is nice and on the Fox River, and has itself undergone a redevelopment in the past few years, so I’m honestly not sure what’s there.  There’s a bunch of good restaurants of varying type, as well as a bunch of bars/pubs if you’re into that.  There’s also a bunch of antique and small stores.  Last time I was there, not much was open past midnight, and good luck finding food after 9 or 10.
  • Pottawatamie Park – Near downtown, this park has a big public pool, putt-putt course, a ferryboat attraction where for a few bucks you can ride a riverboat-themed ferry on the river.
  • Nature trails/bike trails – Not like many of us are going to pack our bikes and hiking gear, but there’s some nice river trails and even some rail trails in the area that are pretty long and well-maintained.
  • If you’re reading this list and thinking, “wow, there’s not a lot to do right in St. Charles,” you’re right, sorry.  You will most definitely get to focus on transforming robots for the weekend without much in the way of distraction.  :)

Nearby/In the Area

  • Kane County Cougars minor league baseball team plays just up the road from the hotel, 10-15 minute drive.  They have a home game every day of Botcon, between June 16-21.  They just won the minor league title last year, and is a good time out for a ballgame if you’re not able to go to a pro team.
  • Fermilab – 20 minutes drive, you can see this national research lab.  I don’t know what sorts of things are open to the public these days, but you used to be able to go and see live buffalo and there was an area of the main building open to learn about the collider there.
  • Downtown Geneva – 20 minutes drive, Geneva is the next town over from St. Charles, and is a little bit more upscale and quaint feeling in their classic downtown.  More boutique and antique shops, more restaurants, etc.  3rd Street is sort of the epicenter of their shopping district, and there’s an incredible chocolate shop there called All Chocolate Kitchen with really terrific gelato (closest I’ve ever had to actual authentic Italian gelato outside of Italy).
  • Riverboat Casino – 20 minutes away in Elgin is Grand Victoria Casino.  There’s a better casino called The Rivers near O’Hare Airport now though, so if you’re really into casinos, that might be your better option.
  • MB Financial Park – Right near O’Hare in Rosemont (pretty much right where the 2003-2004 cons were held) they’ve built an area with movie theaters, a premium outlet mall, indoor skydiving facility called iFly, and a bunch of good restaurants/pubs.  If you wind up near O’Hare for some reason, this is a nice option!
  • Chicago Premium Outlets – about a 20 minute drive south of the convention is an upscale outlet mall if you just want to visit an outlet mall to do some shopping.

If you’re not from the area, I fully endorse taking an extra day or two and getting to see at least some of Chicago.  It’s an incredible city with a ton to do, but the reality is that it’s not easily accessible from the Botcon location. You should probably explore a separate hotel room in the city if you want to do this.

  • Museum Campus – Field Museum, Adler Planetarium, and Shedd Aquarium are all pretty much right on top of each other, and they’re all world-class in their area.  (If you go to Shedd, pay for the upgrade that includes the saltwater-based exhibits, it’s well worth it in my opinion.)
  • Museum of Science and Industry is a bit south of town, slightly more dated IMO, but still a neat one to visit with a lot more hands-on and fun things to do if you have kids of any age with you.
  • Art Institute – It’s an incredible art museum with lots of important, famous works you’ll recognize.
  • The Museum of Contemporary Art is supposed to be great, but I’ve never been.
  • Millennium Park – This is where “the bean” is, but there’s other sights to see and things to do there and in the area.  Buckingham Fountain isn’t too far away and is a neat sight too.
  • Navy Pier – There’s the ferris wheel, shops, an IMAX theater, stained glass exhibit, and I don’t even know what else.  It’s a fun place and there’s always a lot going on.
  • Michigan Avenue – It’s called “The Magnificent Mile” for a reason, it actually is really fun to walk around and see all the big shops.  There’s a huge Disney Store, Lego Store, ESPN Zone, Nike Town, and all kinds of other shopping.
  • Willis Tower – Formerly Sears Tower, big tall famous building you can go to the top of.
  • John Hancock Tower – Big tall famous building you can go to the top of, BUT!  Instead of paying like $10 or whatever for the elevator up to the observation deck, you can go to the Signature Lounge one floor down – the elevator is free, get a table and have a $12-15 drink.  Then you get to sit there, soak in the city a bit more, and enjoy a drink for just a couple bucks more than what you’d have spent just to walk around and look out a window.
  • Chicago White Sox – The “south side” Chicago team plays a home game each of the days Botcon is in town from June 17-21.  The Cubs are on the road that week.
  • Architecture Tours – Either walking, bus, or boat, it’s really hard to go wrong with a Chicago architecture tour.  They’re popular for a reason: Chicago has interesting architecture with lots of cool stories.
  • Zoos – Lincoln Park Zoo is downtown in Lincoln Park, Brookfield Zoo is in the suburb of Brookfield.  These are both good choices, but I’m personally partial to Lincoln Park Zoo (and admission is always free).  If you’re going into the city anyway, it’s fun.
  • Second City Comedy and Improv – It’s famous because it’s hilarious.  I’ve never had a bad time there.
  • And all of this was practically off the top of my head.  I’m sure even a half hour on Google would bring up an endless list of other great stores, restaurants, and activities to entertain anyone in Chicago.  It’s a really great city, and none of these things take you to any dangerous neighborhoods.  Basically everywhere downtown is pretty safe if you follow basic tourist precautions anyway, pay attention to your surroundings, etc.

Pheasant Run