In a city of almost three million people, not much can be kept a secret. With close to 50 million domestic and international visitors a year, you can be sure some of them are looking for little-known gems to make their experience unique. As far as residents are concerned, in a city so large with so many events, it’s not a surprise natives are unaware of everything their home has to offer.
1) Clark Street Spooktacular
We all know of the Daley Center’s Chicagoween, there’s nothing new there. But if you and your family want to get out of the crowds and away from some tourists, head up Clark Street to Lincoln Park, between Armitage and Diversey (brown line accessible) and check in to the Spooktacular Headquarters (2324 N. Clark). On October 27th between 1:00pm and 5:00pm, you’ll see balloon artists, magicians, a parade, and jugglers. There are inflatables for the kids to bounce on, FREE refreshments, crafts, a costume contest, and of course, trick-or-treating.
Check out more at the Spooktacular website!
2) Hot Chocolate’s Pumpkin Hot Chocolate
Want a taste of the best hot chocolate in all of Chicago? You’ll want to visit Wicker Park’s award-winning Hot Chocolate restaurant during the fall. Owner and pastry-chef genius Mindy rolls out different flavors of her heavenly hot chocolate each season (peppermint during the winter is another must-have), and the pumpkin flavor during the fall will make you melt in your seat (the homemade marshmallows will make you cry with delight). While there, try anything on her menu, but for the love of goodness, make sure you have enough room for dessert!
3) Go to a Pumpkin Patch
This may only be doable for residents with the time, but it must be listed. There are pumpkin patches galore surrounding the city, each one offering what seems to be more than the last. I’ve been to my fair share of orchards and patches (they’re my autumn weakness) and have found one I refuse to miss: Siegel’s Pumpkin Farm. I don’t know what they DON’T have. Corn maze, petting zoo, haunted barn, inflatables, pumpkin patch, food food food, kiddy train, zombie paintball (!)… there’s something for everyone. Be sure to get the coupon on their website, or catch a groupon!
Want another option? I’ve found Odyssey Fun Farm to have almost as much (including after-dark activities for the older crowd).
4) Chicago Artist Month
October is Chicago Artists Month, and that means neighborhoods aplenty are showing off their talent. Check out a gallery opening, go to an after party, listen to live music, sip wine and discuss. Each event offers its own agenda; for example, Edgewater Fall Art Fair is family and pet friendly with Pet Parade and costume contest! So if one event doesn’t sound appealing, keep looking. There’s something for you.
5) Check Out the Sun
Thanks to a grant the Adler Planetarium received, they’re able to open their observatory daily to the public (as long as the planetarium itself is open). What does this mean? You get to check out the sun for free. No worries, though! The two telescopes you’ll be using to view our star have heavy-duty filters on them, so you can view the sun’s prominences without eye damage. It’s truly an experience to see a sun flare for yourself in real time! (Well, from when it happened on the sun eight and a half minutes ago.) Fall is a great time to go as tourists have waned and the sky is a bit clearer without all the humidity.
6) Picnic at the Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool
I’m pretty sure every resident knows about this secret garden, but each time I go the place is deserted. The lily pool is right next to Lincoln Park Zoo, so after a morning of checking out the animals, take your lunch and relax by the pond. The fall is an ideal time to go: the weather is perfect and the autumn leaves are beautiful to gaze upon. A great, quiet escape from the city.
7) Eat a Donut
Most Chicago residents are now aware of the donut boom, so this is for the visitors. We have Do-Rite, Doughnut Vault, Old Fashioned Donuts, Glazed and Infused… just to name a few. And all have their own way of how a donut should be, so who am I to recommend a specific place? I’ll give you this one: Do-Rite donuts, Wednesday mornings. S’more donuts. Grab any donut with a pumpkin-spiced coffee and boom! Autumn heaven.
8) Cycle Down Lake Shore Drive
Chicago is quickly becoming one of the bike-friendliest cities in the U.S. thanks to Divvy stations popping up everywhere. What is Divvy, you ask? Why, rentable bikes! Just check out Divvy’s map and the countless locations around Chicago where you can pick up a bike and drop it off when done. How does this relate to autumn? Easy. Lake Shore Drive has appeared on many lists as one of the most beautiful drives in America, especially during the fall. So pick up a bike and enjoy the sights.
9) Head to a Beer Festival
With the kickoff of Oktoberfest, beer events abound throughout the month and spill into November. Do an internet search of any weekend and you’re sure to find a spot to taste some sweet ales. If you want to skip the big crowds of the Chicago Beer Festival, there are plenty of smaller fests in one of Chicago’s quaint neighborhoods. There’s Pilsen’s Beer Hoptacular, Lincoln Square’s Bridetoberfest, Wicker Park’s OktoberFest Tapping, Andersonville’s Rum Tasting, Jefferson Park’s OktoberFisch…. The list goes on. For those brew connoisseurs, this is the time to head to Chicago.
10) Do Something for Free
I don’t mean for this to be a cop-out, but the facebook page Free Things To Do in Chicago With Kids has a crazy amount of fun, under-the-radar things to do – FOR FREE! For the residents – ‘like’ the page and get year-round updates. Autumn is a great time for fall festivals in Chicago’s neighborhoods, so now is the perfect time to like the page and plan your next several weekends, which will be full of hot apple cider, crafts, live music, and leisurely strolls as you enjoy the crisp, cool weather of the harvest.
If you have a hidden gem, food, activity for Chicago in the fall, please share in the comments!