Carpe Diem. Seize the day. Make hay while the sun shines. This is the unofficial motto of Chicago families. From the first warm day of spring to the last glorious day of Indian summer, we practically live at our outdoor institutions. It is as if we are trying to pack a whole year's worth of visits into four months. But is that really necessary?
Why can't you take your kids to the zoo or the Botanic Garden or Millennium Park during winter? In fact, you can.
There is a particular charm to visiting a beloved outdoor spot in the cold weather months. Without the crowds and in the thin, gray February light, familiar outdoor landmarks-many of which have at least some indoor component-reveal a new side.
Emily Paster is an attorney and freelance writer who blogs at westoftheloop.com. She lives with her husband and two kids in River Forest.
In spring and summer, Millennium Park is a giant playground in the heart of downtown. Who doesn't love splashing in Crown Fountain on a hot day or listening to a concert at Pritzker Pavilion on a summer evening? But this favorite of locals and visitors alike has plenty to offer in the winter months. The free McCormick Tribune Ice Rink, which is open from November through March, is a huge draw for couples and families. What could be more fun on a winter evening than skating alongside the lights of Michigan Avenue under the Bean's reflective gaze? (Skate rentals available for $10.)
During the month of February, as part of the citywide Chicago Winter Dance festival, the McCormick Tribune Ice Rink hosts ice dancing parties and demonstrations on Friday and Saturday evenings. Saturday and Sunday mornings see free ice skating lessons and ice sport demonstrations-curling anyone?-that are perfect for families with early-rising kids.
But the McCormick Tribune Ice Rink isn't the only spot in Millennium Park for winter family fun. The beautiful Lurie Garden is surprisingly alive this time of year. The staff even offer special family workshops with a winter theme. For example, you can sign up for a Winter Walk to learn about the season's best-performing plants and why tending the garden is a year-round affair. (Feb. 4 at 10 a.m. Free, but pre-registration is required.)