Opening their city up to bustling shoppers, fanatically festive foodies and performance hungry patrons is what the city of Chicago, Illinois, does best … on a daily basis. But over the holidays, this kid-friendly city really shines as millions of twinkling lights go on display amidst hundreds of family-friendly holiday happenings. From holiday shopping ‘til you drop along Chicago’s famous Magnificent Mile and grabbing a thick slice of authentic Chicago deep-dish pizza to ice skating in Millennium Park before joining other families to sing Christmas carols at Cloud Gate (or “The Bean”), Chicago offers travelers a truly iconic holiday experience the entire family will remember for years to come.
Where to stay
Located in the heart of the city, and within walking distance to all of the hot spots for the holidays, Hotel 71 offers contemporary accommodations with both luxurious and kid-friendly amenities. This boutique hotel has played host to numerous celebrities, and even made an appearance the film The Dark Knight as Bruce Wayne’s penthouse hideaway. Although the penthouse may be more suited for Christian Bale, the guest rooms and suites provide the perfect space for families to unwind with stunning views of either downtown or the Chicago River. Each room comes with complimentary high-speed Internet access, a flat-screen plasma TV, iPod dock, a Keurig one-cup coffee maker with Green Mountain coffee, sumptuously soft beds, and so much more.
Guests of the hotel can take advantage of the 24-hour business and fitness centers, the friendly concierge staff (who know all of the cool kid spots in town), an abnormally outstanding room-service menu (try the Mac and Cheese with white cheese truffle sauce or the free-range young roasted chicken), and the option of a “haute” meal at the hotel’s hip, onsite restaurant Hoyt’s Modern American Tavern, where dad can sip his locally-brewed beer while the kids enjoy a bottle of locally-brewed Goose Island soda. Before calling it a day, make sure to visit the hot chocolate bar at Hoyt’s for a warm but wintry treat.
What to eat
Any trip to Chicago would be amiss without trying some authentic deep-dish, Chicago-style pizza. And there’s no better place to grab a slice than the famous Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria, regarded as the oldest family name in Chicago pizza. This family-owned and operated pizzeria has been making Chicago-style pizza since the early 1940s, and turns out some of the best pies in town. Their kid’s menu includes cheese ravioli, chicken nuggets, spaghetti, and a mini burger, but make sure your little ones save room for the star of Malnati’s … the chocolate chip pizza served deep-dish style with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and spoons for 2-3 people. The best part of this local joint is that they deliver … to Texas! That’s right; once your family returns from your trip and those “I’m-missing-Chicago” cravings start kicking in, you can go online and ship your next Malnati’s fix right to your home.
What to do
The holidays seem to touch every corner of this city over the winter months, as ice skaters take to the rink at Millennium Park (skate rentals: $10; ice skating: free) from mid-November to early March, and Daley Plaza lights up with its annual Christkindlmarket. This Chicago tradition begins November 21 and goes until Christmas Eve at the plaza, recreating a traditional German Christmas market like the famous Nuremberg market that dates back to 1545 in Bavaria. Here families can purchase handmade gifts and ornaments while sampling German treats like potato pancakes, gingerbread cookies and Gluhwein (a warm, spiced wine) before getting in line to meet the big man himself at the Daley Plaza Santa House, a replica of Santa’s workshop where kids can have their picture taken on Santa’s lap while telling him their holiday wishes.
Over the holidays, Chicago’s Navy Pier becomes Winter Wonderfest from the first week of December through the first week of January as this 170,000-square-foot-park turns into an enchanting land with an indoor ice skating rink, giant inflatable slides, rides, live entertainment, and more (free entrance with activity wristbands available for purchase). For more holiday merriment and glimmering strands of lights, head to the Museum of Science and Industry for their Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light interactive exhibit – a Chicago tradition since 1942, with a grand 45-foot tree, falling snow, and holiday performances from cultures around the world – or the Lincoln Park Zoo for ZooLights, a free annual event that runs Fridays through Saturdays from November 23 to January 6 and features more than two million lights and the chance to get a picture with Santa. Little ones not up for the trek down the Magnificent Mile? Take the Chicago Trolley Holiday Lights Tour to see all of Chicago’s brilliant holiday attractions in a lightly-narrated, two-hour ride through the city. Sights and stops include Macy’s Holiday Windows, the Navy Pier, Buckingham Fountain, Christkindlemarket at Daley Plaza, the Art Institute Lions, and more.
For more information on all that Chicago has to offer your family over the holiday season, visit choosechicago.com.