In the most peculiar of years, there’s still a sleigh-full of outdoor events and activities to entertain mind and body.
Consider traditional snow and glow options like Zoolights at Lincoln Park Zoo; Holiday Magic at Brookfield Zoo; plus seasonal Instragram worthy opportunities like the breathtaking Illumination: Tree Lights at the Morton Arboretum, a drive-through spectacle of color and light. In between dodging ice patches, ornery shoppers and seasonal affective disorder (SAD), you can head out to The Forge: Lemont Quarries for ice skating, the largest aerial challenge course in the country, bouldering; walking and running trails, tactical laser tag and AR games.
Even in 2020, you needn’t completely surrender to the sofa. For easy cold weather exercise, head to the ice ribbon at Maggie Daley Park. Charming Andersonville, known for its Swedish roots, has a revised schedule of shopping, dining and virtual entertainment supporting more than 100 local businesses. Or head to River West any Saturday or Sunday to shop the outdoor Winter Market at The Dawson. Many of last year’s holiday pop-up bars are shuttered but count on a winsome holiday environment at The Press Room’s Christmas pop-up, Miracle on Washington St. which will put a kibosh on your missing the delicious fun of Chicago’s Christkindlmarket. History and architecture fans should reserve a spot for private tours of the former McCormick Mansion which closes for good on December 31.
Sing “ta-ta” to 2020 on a high note!
It’s worth the bundled-up outing as Art on theMart offers winter holiday imagery to the the largest permanent digital art projection on the planet. A 25-story-tall video installation takes over the side of the Merchandise Mart blanketing the historic facade with bold colors and moving images.
For the 2020 season, The Joffrey Ballet debuts a moving-image work of art featuring production images from its production of The Nutcracker set to Tchaikovsky’s familiar score. The Art Institute of Chicago presents images from two of its current exhibitions, Monet and Chicago, and Bisa Butler: Portraits; and Arts of Life, a nonprofit working with individuals with physical and intellectual disabilities, contributes the artists’ bold images, animated together as a video projection. The visuals take place daily beginning at 7 p.m. until Wednesday December 30, 2020.
Recommended for Things to Do in December because: The brilliant digital works of art projected onto the river facade of theMART at over a million lumens is a free, sensational activity for all.
Jacky’s expert tip: No more than 100 people can be on the Riverwalk jetty and all must comply with social distancing regulations and wear masks.
Read more about Art on theMart →
Charming Andersonville is known for its Swedish roots, unique shopping, destination dining and busy urban corridor, Clark Street. During the holidays, you almost expect Tiny Tim to turn the corner.
There’s a revised schedule of shopping, dining and virtual entertainment supporting more than 100 local businesses. The 2020 line-up includes annual neighborhood traditions with a COVID-friendly twist along with new events created to celebrate the season safely.
Retailers will keep shops open later on various December nights throughout the season specifically for order-ahead curbside pick-up. The Swedish American Museum is currently assessing the feasibility of a COVID-safe St. Lucia Festival of Lights, which would fall on Sunday, December 13 this season.
Among the shops in the National Historic District are more than a few antique and vintage stores; candy shops; bookstores; lots of spots featuring clothing and accessories; furniture; music; kitchenware; and foodstuffs.
Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Andersonville is recognized as the “shop local capital of Chicago,” with the largest network of local and independent businesses.
Jacky’s expert tip: Participating retailers will use a consistent promotional code AlwaysAndersonville to grant shoppers access to deals, discounts and offers online each Friday in December.
Read more about Andersonville →
Celebrating its 26th season, ZooLights (select dates now through Jan. 3, 2021) transforms Lincoln Park Zoo into a luminous winter wonderland with 2.5 million lights. Kida will go for larger-than-life animal designs and everyone gets a lift from light shows set to holiday music. Work off some pandemic angst by strolling the sprawling grounds
Count on socially distant photos with Santa; shopping opportunities; warm spiced wine, craft beer and seasonal snacks; and animals in their outdoor exhibits. Look into optional ticketed experiences: the Enchanted Forest; the Light Maze; pop-up bar Snowy’s Spirits & S’more; and others.
Tickets start at $5 and must be purchased at the ZooLights web site.
Recommended for Things to Do in December because: A visit to ZooLights is safe, outdoor, holiday cheer for all ages.
Jacky’s expert tip: There are a handful of free days that require advanced reservations: Dec. 9, 17, 21, and 29, 2020.
Read more about ZooLights →
Think you have an exceptional Christmas tree?
The Morton Arboretum is the champion of trees and Illumination: Tree Lights at the Arboretum revs it up with an interactive spectacle of color and light through Jan. 3, 2021.
Fifty acres of the Arboretum’s majestic trees are jazzed up with lights and music along a two-mile-long route reimagined for 2020 as a driving experience. Expect new displays, drive-up concessions and a customized music soundtrack â” all enjoyed from the safety and comfort of your vehicle.
The after-dark, illuminated trail, created just for the Garden, features cheerful songs as well as a spectacular waterfalls of light. There are fire-filled sculptures fragrant with frankincense and Crown of Light, created exclusively for The Morton Arboretum by Smithsonian-featured collaborative installation arts collective.
Purchase timed tickets in advance online or in-person at the Visitor Center in advance. Tickets will not be sold on-site during the event.
Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Show your ardor for arbor at the event starring 50 acres of the Arboretum’s trees brought to life with LED lights, interactive elements and sound.
Jacky’s expert tip: The exhibition stays open later in 2020, until 10 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays, and 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and will be open on Christmas Eve, Christmas, New Years Eve and New Years Day.
Read more about Morton Arboretum →
The Dawson (2020 Michelin Recommended) is host to a festive Winter Market every Saturday and Sunday in December and into the deep, cold-hearted winter. Stock up on local food stuffs to help make the season cheerier and pick up some culinary gifts for family and friends.
The Dawson Winter Market’s offerings include freshly baked whole pies and savory pot pies; seasonal snacks such as Three Sisters Garden Rosemary Smoked Candied Pecans; confections like Thai Coffee and truffles; cookies and brownies; preserves and dessert sauces; craft cocktails to go and gift packs of whiskey tasting flights; The Dawson’s Bacon Flights; and dry-aged Prime Catalpa Grove steaks.
But that’s not all: you can shop for quintessential holiday décor from Christmas trees to locally made wreaths.
Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Seasonal cheer in short supply? A visit to the Winter Market may help to nudge the merry meter up a notch or two.
Jacky’s expert tip: The market is held outside on the lovely courtyard-style patio so it’s a safe outing.
Read more about The Dawson Winter Market →
Unlike its skating rink neighbor to the west at Millennium Park, the ice skating ribbon at Maggie Daley Park weaves and turns through the park making for a more organic, natural experience – plus you’re in the heart of downtown Chicago, with the unparalleled skyline as your scenery.
Reservations are required to ice skate, whether you bring your own or rent skates, during the 2020 season. The good news is annoying lines, interminable waiting and heaving crowds are eliminated as there are limited spots allowing skaters to safely skate and social distance. Skate rental is $16 or bring your own and skate for $5.
Recommended for Things to Do in December because: The skating ribbon provides a lively experience as skaters travel a path twice the length of a lap around a traditional skating rink.
Jacky’s expert tip: Don’t forget your mask – they are required while skating and in the park during the 2020 season.
Read more about Maggie Daley Park →
Celebrating its 39th year in 2020, Brookfield Zoo’s annual Holiday Magic will be held on 24 nights. Don your winter duds to stroll various pathways lit with more than one-million LED lights, including the 600-foot-long Tunnel of Lights synchronized to music.
Stand inside a 20-foot-lit orb to snap holiday photos, and take a few of larger-than-life illuminated animal sculptures. Distract from the weirdness of 2020 by playing the Game of Gnomes, a scavenger hunt to 24 enchanting themed gnomes tucked throughout the park.
Need to nosh? Outdoor food stands offer seasonal fare from funnel cakes and burgers to spiced wine, beer, and hot chocolate.
Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Holiday Magic checks off all the festive boxes for an outdoor, socially distanced, spirited, December outing.
Jacky’s expert tip: To ensure social distancing, advance admission and parking tickets are required at CZS.org/OnlineTicketing.
Read more about Brookfield Zoo →
Missing the warm spiced nuts and glühwein at the Christkindlmarket this year? The Press Room hosts its first annual Christmas market: Miracle on Washington St. Open daily from 11am to 9pm throughout December, the holiday market offers hand-crafted ornaments; German steins; candles from Edgewater Candles; Italian holiday ceramics; wine and pasta kits; house-made loaves of bread; cocktails to-go; plus candied nuts and sweets.
You must purchase tickets for entry via TOCK (www.exploretock.com/thepressroom) for 90-minute increments to shop the market and allow for proper social distancing and capacity limits. Tickets include entry to the market, a holiday cocktail (spirited and non-alcoholic available) and a patio table reservation to enjoy the special market menu and additional beverages. The beverage menu features hot glühwein, spiked cider, Irish coffee, Old Fashioned and wine by the glass.
Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Christkindlmarket is kaput for 2020, but the next best experience is the Miracle on Washington St.
Jacky’s expert tip: Come hungry for Christkindlmarket-inspired items like raclette grilled cheese, schnitzel sandwiches, bratwurst and sauerkraut, sourdough pretzels, potato pancakes and nutella waffles.
Read more about The Press Room →
Chicago history buffs can have a behind-the- scenes look at the storied McCormick Mansion, home of Lawry’s the Prime Rib, before its impending closure on December 31. The historic steakhouse is offering small group private mansion tours in accordance with the city of Chicago’s safety guidelines.
During the two-hour tour, you’ll learn about the 128-year-old McCormick Mansion’s Kungsholm Puppet Theatre days during the 1950’s: see the Kungsholm puppet stage and lair; secret rooms on the second level; a miniature Opera workshop; and hear about paranormal occurrences at the mansion.
A tour ticket includes seasonal bites and classic Lawry’s fare which you take home. Tours take place between 4-7 p.m., Tuesdays-Sundays. You must make a reservation 48 hours in advance.
Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Private mansion tours provide small groups a glimpse into the rarely seen areas of the former McCormick Mansion which closes for good on December 31.
Jacky’s expert tip: The tour is not wheelchair accessible as guests are guided up and down various flights of stairs without elevator access.
Read more about Lawry’s The Prime Rib – Chicago →
The 300-acre adventure park, just 22 miles southwest of downtown Chicago, is welcoming guests for its first-ever winter season. In addition to cozy outdoor dining in your own outdoor globe, you can take on the 3,600 square-foot ice skating rink on the Upper Shelf of The Forge Quarry. Winter presents new challenges at The Forge: the Eight Tower Adventure (the largest aerial challenge course in the country); mountain biking; Bouldering Zone; walking and running trails, tactical laser tag and AR games; and Two Towers Adventure (for 13 and under).Don’t miss the holiday light show coordinated with seasonal sounds and grab a spot by the fire pits to sip drinks and nosh bites from The Foundry’s new winter menu.
Recommended for Things to Do in December because: The 300-acre adventure park allows for lots of physical activity as well as private dome dining during the winter.
Jacky’s expert tip: Safety protocols include a required reservation system to control the number of people in the park at any given time.
Read more about The Forge: Lemont Quarries →