Hunkering down at home in your PJs all winter sounds tempting, but there’s lots to see and do around town. So much so, you’ll want to slip into those winder duds and get outside STAT. From snowshoeing to sledding to sleigh rides (and some indoor fun, too), there’s a winter adventure waiting for you. Here are 25 events, exhibits and activities to add to your winter playlist.
photo: Chicago Park District
1. Brighten your winter with Tree Lights at Morton Arboretum
Tree Lights returns with more lights, sights and sounds that will transform a Chicago-area wintertime walk in the woods into a colorful, inspiring experience like no other.
2. Skate a figure eight
Chicago Park District’s outdoor ice skating rinks are located all around the city, welcoming both beginning and advanced ice skaters. Rent a pair of double-bladed skates for newbies, or bring a pair of your own. Skating season runs through the end of February at most outdoor rinks, weather permitting.
photo: Charlie Brown
3. Have a Charlie Brown kinda Christmas
Christmastime is here…and Charlie Brown can’t seem to find the joy in the season. Join the Peanuts gang at Broadway Playhouse as they discover the true meaning of Christmas in this 1970’s tv classic turned musical.
4. Take the the skies for a very special view
Buckle up and take your holiday lights enjoyment to all new heights with a birds-eye view from 1,200 feet above the crowd with Chicago Helicopter Experience. The pilot gives a guided-tour of the lights at Lincoln Park Zoo, Navy Pier, Millennium Park and the Chicago skyline, which is breathtaking no matter the time of year but exponentially so during the holidays.
5. Do Toddler Tuesdays at LEGOLAND
Escape the chill by taking the tots to LEGOLAND Discovery Center’s Toddler Tuesdays series. On Tuesday mornings from 10 a.m.-noon, families are invited to learn and play with special activities focused on foreign language, water art, music and even exotic animals.
photo: Lincoln Park ZooLights
6. Razzle and dazzle at Lincoln Park Zoo’s annual ZooLights
One of the nation’s only free-admission zoos flips the holiday switch with ZooLights. With the light displays throughout the grounds, your fam can stroll through the twinkling winter wonderland created by over 2 million lights, take photos with Santa, enjoy food and drinks, watch ice carving demos, partake in carousel rides and go-’rounds on the Lionel Train Adventure.
7. Check out a new display that’s hopped into Peggy Notebaert
Things just got a whole lot more colorful at Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum with 70 different exotic frogs from around the globe. The ex-“ribbit,” Frogs: A Chorus of Colors, provides families a chance to go eyeball to eyeball in the fun, colorful, vibrant and vocal world of frogs.
photo: That’s Weird Grandma
8. Be delighted with the creativity at That’s Weird Grandma
Kids say (and write) the darnedest things, right? The imaginations of children are celebrated in the That’s Weird Grandma variety show of short sketches and songs adapted from stories written by students in Barrel of Monkeys’ arts education programs. Now in it’s 15th year, the show runs the gamut from clever and funny to touching and poignant.
9. Explore Doane at dusk
Adler Planetarium is home to the largest aperture telescope available to the public in Chicago and they’re inviting guests for FREE to see a variety of celestial objects like the Moon, Jupiter, Saturn and more! At Doane at Dusk, stargazers will enjoy nighttime telescope viewings and related discussions with Adler Astronomers.
10. Take a winter hike in the middle of the city.
The North Park Village Nature Center offers a short hiking path, perfect for nature-loving little ones. Trek in the snow and see if you can spot the many deer that roam this winter wonderland.
11. Escape to the tropics in the city
It’s 80 degrees and balmy year ’round at Garfield Park Conservatory, where a slide and plenty of space to roam give Chicagoans a welcome (and free!) respite from the winter.
12. Unleash your family’s creativity
Lillstreet Art Center offers winter-themed family workshops throughout the season: create a new ornament with the whole gang and make memories along the way.
photo: Anne CN via flickr
13. Go sledding!
There are plenty of great sledding hills in Chicago and beyond. The Forest Preserve District of Cook County has a great guide for sledding in the city. One of the best is Caldwell Woods, near the corner of Devon and Milwaukee. Afterward, head over to Superdawg, home of Chicago’s best hot dogs, located just around the corner. Since it offers old-fashioned window service, you can keep your winter gear on and enjoy a delicious dog from the comfort of your car.
14. Strike a yoga pose
Bloom Yoga Studio offers drop-in family yoga classes throughout the winter, for families looking to stretch away the winter blues.
15. Learn to cook seasonal favorites together
At The Kids’ Table, families work side-by-side to make a delicious, warm, season-inspired meal and then enjoy it together. For ages 2 & up.
photo: Kohl Children’s Museum
16. Get your winter thrill fill at Navy Pier
Get your thrill fill at Navy Pier’s Winter WonderFest, which has rides for all ages. Being Chicago’s biggest and best indoor winter playground, it features 170,000 square feet filled with rides, giant slides, Chicago Blackhawks indoor ice skating rink and holiday decor that is sure to get you into the holiday spirit.
17. Take part in a Greek NYE tradition
The National Hellenic Museum will be celebrating the new year with the traditional cutting of the Vasilopita – a special new year’s bread, on January 7. Meet at the museum at 1 p.m. to experience this Greek tradition where finding the hidden coin brings loads of good luck and a surprise prize.
photo: MB Financial Park
18. Make Frozemont, we mean Rosemont, your winter destination
Winter has had quite a magical effect on Rosemont. As temperatures drop, MB Financial Park will once again transform into Frozemont and kick off the holiday season with the opening of an NHL-sized ice skating rink offering free skating and skate rentals for just $8.
19. Explore all things automotive at Kohl Children’s Museum
Vroom vroom! Check into the SpotHero Car Garage exhibit to take a trip through the wonderful world of automobiles, exploring car design, technology and gravity.
20. Snowshoe the shores of Lake Michigan
There’s nothing quite like snowshoeing with the icy lake on one side and the glittering skyline in the distance. Snowshoes are available for rental at the Northerly Island Visitor’s Center. Call ahead to the visitor’s center to check that the weather conditions are suitable for the trek (there must be at least three inches of snow).
21. Soar to new heights at MSI
Explore Museum of Science and Industry’s new exhibit, Above and Beyond, which is a fascinating look at aviation’s past while looking toward aerospace’s advancements for the future. Museum-goers will be fully immersed with hands-on simulations that demonstrate the powerful forces of flight.
22. Explore what’s happening under the ice
Throughout winter, the Little Red Schoolhouse Nature Center in Willow Springs offers excellent family programming focused on how animals survive the winter in the Chicago area. Learn how fish, reptiles and amphibians live underneath frozen waters during the winter months, how raptors catch their dinner on the go, and more.
23. Put 2016 to bed with Blue Man Group
Cap off a pretty sweet ’16 with a kid-loved performance with the men in blue. Kiddos will be transformed into members of the blue crew with pre-show face painting and will party like it’s 1999 with a pretend midnight countdown after the show, complete with party hats, noisemakers and a special performance of “Auld Lang Syne”.
photo: Starved Rock
24. See eagles at Starved Rock State Park
Winter, Spring, Summer of Fall, all you have to do is haul your crew to Starved Rock State Park for hiking with a stellar view. Starting in mid-January, thousands of eagles migrate to Starved Rock State Park and stay through March. They’re easy to spot as they soar through the sky or perch on the treetops. Bring binoculars!
25. Ski the slopes of the western ‘burbs
Board in the ‘burbs at Four Lakes, where snowboarding and skiing is located smack-dab in Lisle, making for an easy “mountain” getaway without the headache of road trippin’. Affordable season passes, a smaller terrain, and private and group ski or snowboarding instruction make it an ideal winter recreation spot for families or first timers.
What’s on your gotta-do list this winter? Shout about it in the Comments!
— Maria Chambers & Amy Bizzarri