Chicago at Christmas Guide

Chicago is less than 10 hours away from Kansas City by car, or just 1 ½ hours away by plane, making it a practical vacation destination. But how do you make the most of your time in Chicago, instead of visiting the same tourist sites as everyone else?



 

As a Kansas Citian-turned-Chicagoan, I quickly figured out that there’s so much to the Windy City. There’s nothing wrong with visiting some of the city’s most popular destinations if you’re coming up here for a winter break vacation, but let me give you some tips to make your trip a little less generic — and better.

    Instead of viewing the city from the Willis Tower, go to the Hancock Center

    As the second-tallest building in the U.S., the Willis Tower is rightfully a Chicago landmark — and its 103rd-floor Skydeck is a tempting offer. But just miles away, you can find the Hancock Center, offering its 360 Chicago observatory on the 94th floor. It has a prime location on the Magnificent Mile, or Michigan Avenue, where you can shop and eat as well. The Hancock Center is a few dollars cheaper, and will almost definitely have a shorter wait than the Willis Tower. Most importantly though, it boasts a better view: While the height difference is negligible, 360 Chicago is a more open observatory, and it’s pretty cool to actually see the tallest building in the city in the skyline. Not to mention, it’s open later than the Willis Tower, giving you more time to experience the city’s fully lit skyline. 360chicago.com

    Instead of taking the kids to Millennium Park, show them Maggie Daley Park

    Millennium Park’s Cloud Gate, affectionately known as “The Bean” may be a Chicago icon, but it’s always marred by families trying to take photos. Fight through the crowd for your photo op, but don’t stick around the park much longer — especially not for the ice skating. Take your kids just a few minutes away to Maggie Daley Park, which features an ice skating ribbon twice as long as a regular skating rink and for the same price. After skating, the kids will also enjoy the park’s age-specific playgrounds in its Play Garden, or a cup of hot chocolate from vendors throughout the park.maggiedaleypark.com

    Instead of visiting the Art Institute of Chicago, check out the Museum of Contemporary Art

    Chicago has one of the greatest collections of museums in the country, so if you’re spending time in the city, you have to visit a few. The Art Institute may seem like a compelling choice, but if you want to venture out of your comfort zone, explore the Museum of Contemporary Art instead. Known for its risk-taking and sometimes controversial exhibitions, the MCA will give you a worthwhile art experience, but for $10 less per ticket. This year marks the museum’s 50th anniversary, which it is celebrating throughout its galleries with the three-part exhibition, WE ARE HERE. And for the one in your group who may not be that into art, the museum also boasts an acclaimed restaurant named Marisol and an award-winning gift shop. mcachicago.org

    Instead of spending your weekends at the Christkindlmarket and ZooLights, beat the crowds

   These are two things that I can’t tell you to skip — the Christkindlmarket and the Lincoln Park Zoo’s ZooLights are just part of spending the holiday season in Chicago. But, if you’re going, you have to plan for it. Explore the Christkindlmarket on a weekday and earlier in the day if you don’t want to fight your way toward the booths or wait 15 minutes to buy a hot chocolate in one of those iconic mugs. And check out ZooLights earlier — it gets dark here by 5 p.m., after all. Come on a weeknight, especially if you want to be one of the first thousand people through the gates and snag a pair of 3-D holiday light glasses. christkindlmarket.com/chicagolpzoo.or