10 Thanksgiving Activities in Chicago That Are Not to Be Missed
1. McDonald's Thanksgiving Day Parade
Originally called the Christmas Caravan, the parade was started in 1934 to lift the spirits of people suffering during the Depression. It now kicks off the holiday season on Thanksgiving morning from 8:00 am to 11:00. The parade follows State Street from Congress Parkway up to Randolph.
Despite the cold, expect crowds. People start staking out spots on the parade route at 6:00 am. Dress warmly and then add another layer. The parade route is about 4 blocks from Lake Michigan and the wind can be biting.
2. Magnificent Mile Lights Festival
Mickey and Minnie Mouse are the grand marshals of the lights festival. Parading down Michigan Avenue, they "light" each tree they see with white twinkling lights and finish with a spectacular fireworks show over the Chicago River where Michigan Avenue intersects Wacker Drive.
The best viewing spots for the parade are on the east side of Michigan Avenue and north on Michigan Avenue by the Water Tower. The best spot to see the fireworks is, however, where the parade ends at Michigan and Wacker. If you do plan to see the fireworks from this spot, get there before 3:30 as they close the bridge to all traffic.
As with the Thanksgiving Day Parade, dress warmly and then add an extra layer. It will undoubtedly be cold and windy. It gets dark at 4:30 but there are plenty of coffee shops to get a hot cup of joe or cider to keep the bones warm.
3. Black Friday at Woodfield Mall
If you haven't shopped at Woodfield Mall on Black Friday, then you have never really shopped. With over 300 stores and restaurants, the parking lot is quite full by 9:00, and the inside of the mall is a huge sea of humanity. The lines to check out your purchases or wait for a table are long but that's part of what makes shopping here such a crazy experience. The other part is, of course, the variety shops and amazing restaurants.
Anthropologie, Nordstrom, Coach, Fossil, Michael Kors, and Skechers are just a few of the shops I make a point of going to. The Cheesecake Factory has fantastic food (try the avocado eggrolls—amazing), Red Robin (the best burgers) or P.F.Chang's (delicious Kung Pao and gluten-free options!).
The mall is large so if you have specific places you want to visit, view their online map to get a rough idea where you will try to park and how to get from store to store so you don't end up wandering aimlessly throughout the mall.
Woodfield Mall is located in Schaumburg about 45 minutes by car northwest of Chicago. There is no public transportation to the mall so a car is a must.
4. Historic Long Grove
If your idea of shopping does not include arm wrestling the woman next to you for the last pair of cashmere gloves, then you might enjoy visiting the shops in Long Grove. Step back in time as you stroll through a quaint, historic village where artisans ply their wares, afternoon tea is served and antiques suggest a simpler time.
Stop by 2 Fancy Gals and shop their repurposed furniture. Take a tour of Long Grove Confectionery and sample some of their signature Turtles. Drop in to The Back Porch and get a great gift for your favorite gardener. Steep yourself in history and lunch at The Village Tavern, established in 1847, and the longest continuously running tavern/restaurant in Illinois.
Long Grove is located 35 miles northwest of Chicago and is accessible only by car.
5. The Sound of Music Sing-Along at the Music Box Theatre
Each Thanksgiving, the Music Box Theatre in Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood, celebrates the holiday with a special sing-a-long screening of The Sound of Music starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plumber. Song lyrics appear on screen for those of you who don't know the words. There is a costume contest (with prizes - be creative) and a fun pack with props to be used throughout the movie. It's good clean fun for the whole family and a wonderful tradition that my family does every year. It's one of my favorite things.
Tickets are $12.50 per person and should be purchased ahead of time as they will sell out. The surrounding area has wonderful shops and restaurants within walking distance. Duck into Julius Meinl for a steaming hot cup of coffee to take the chill off the day. Southport Grocery and Cafe is a great place to grab a bite for breakfast. Try the baked french toast stuffed with apples and cheddar cheese. It's absolutely delicious. Persona sells some great boho jewelry and is one of my favorite jewelry stores.
The Music Box Theatre is easily reached by taking the Brown line or by taxi. Tickets can be purchased on their website.
6. Ice Skating at the McCormick Tribune Ice Rink
Located in Millenium Park, in the heart of Chicago, is the McCormick Tribune Ice Rink, located on Michigan Avenue between Madison and Washington Streets. Skating is free. No skates? Not a problem. Skates are available for rent for $12 on a first-come, first-serve basis. Hot chocolate and snacks are available from Park City Cafe.
The ice rink is open from 10:00 am–4:00 pm on Thanksgiving day and from 10:00 am–10:00 pm the following Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Parking is available at Millenium Parking Garage but the ice rink is easily accessible by mass transit.
7. Christmas Around the World
Another holiday tradition we enjoy is Christmas Around The World at the Museum of Science and Industry. Starting with a single tree in 1942 which was dedicated to the Allies, it has grown to include 50 trees decorated by volunteers representing Chicago's ethnic cultures and representing their holiday traditions.
A 45-foot Grand Tree takes center stage in the Rotunda. Walk through the trees. Enjoy the falling "snow". Take in a concert performed by one of Chicago's school choral groups.
Break for lunch and then spend the remainder of the day exploring a real German U-boat. Learn how coal is mined. Take in a movie documenting the life of the humpback whale. There really is too much to see in one day. Purchase your tickets in advance online to save time waiting in lines and guarantee yourself a spot for the more popular exhibits.
The Museum of Science and Industry is located at 5100 South Lakeshore Drive in Chicago. Parking is available on site and a taxi from the Loop will cost about $25.00
8. Brew Lights at Lincoln Park Zoo
If you intend to extend your stay in the Windy City, on December 2nd, check out the annual Brew Lights at the Lincoln Park Zoo. This beer-tasting event takes place during Zoo Lights, a beloved Chicago holiday tradition. Guests can enjoy a dozen different draft beer samples, from stouts to pale ales, even as they enjoy the brilliance of 2 million holiday lights.
Advance tickets are $50, $60 the day of, and food will be available for purchase throughout the evening. This year's beer list includes:
- 5 Rabbit Cerveceria Super Pils
- Anchor Christmas Ale
- Around the Bend Beer Puffing Billy
- Baderbrau Red Velvet
- Begyle Brewing Crash Landed
- Berghoff Rowdy Root Beer
- Brauerei Hirt Morchl
- Delirium Noel
- Noon Whistle Brewing Cozmo
- Stiegl Goldbrau
- Temperance Root Down Porter
- Unibroue La Fin Du Monde
The Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago is easily accessible by mass transit but also has free parking.
9. Try One of Chicago's Best Pizzas
If you're a thin crust fan, you won't be disappointed by Coalfire, Chicago Magazine's first choice for Chicago's best pizza. The hands down favorite pie is the lasagna, a crispy thin crust with dollops of creamy ricotta, spicy fennel sausage, fresh basil, sweet red pepper and blanketed in mozzarella cheese.
Coalfire is located in Chicago at 1321 W. Grand Ave., 312-226-2625 or 3707 N. Southport Ave., 773-477-2625.
If you're a thick crust fan, you can't go wrong with my personal favorite, Pizzeria Uno. Pizzeria Uno is where the original deep dish style, a crispy buttery dough crust, topped with cheese first, then crushed tomatoes, was invented in 1943 and it is still going strong to this day. Try the Chicago Classic if you're a sausage fan. It's our favorite. Be prepared to hit the gym. While their pizza is delicious, a personal pan pizza packs a walloping 1750 calories!
Pizzeria Uno is located at 29 East Ohio in Chicago, 312-321-1000.
10. Bang Bang Pie Shop
If your idea of a pie shop includes breakfast biscuits that put McDonald's to shame (try one with candied bacon) or the beef brisket, then you've come to the right place. Scratch-made dessert pies (Try the chocolate pecan. It's pure heaven.), savory chicken pot pie and great coffee are just a few of the reasons this has become one of my families favorites. Don't have time to stop by for a slice? Whole pies can be ordered in advance online and picked up in their shop.
Located at 2051 N. California, three blocks south of the Blue Line California Stop. Follower of food porn? Check out Bang Bang's Instagram page and be prepared to drool.
© 2015 Chantelle Porter