Mother Nature is serious about winter. While we haven’t quite hit “polar vortex” levels, yet, this Valentine’s Day was the coldest since WWII. And even though the Groundhog predicted an early spring, it can’t come soon enough. Instead of hibernating, check out these favorite places to warm up and keep your kids busy.
Visit the desert and the tropics (and get your groove on) at the Garfield Park Conservatory
Whether you’re craving a tropical rainforest or an arid desert landscape, you can find both at Garfield Park Conservatory, one of the largest conservatories in the nation. Kids will love the Elizabeth Morse Genius Children’s Garden – it’s both fun and educational. While you’re there, be sure to smell the French fry plant across from the bottom of the slide.
Free Juicebox concerts are held at 11 a.m. on the first and third Saturdays of the month in the Horticulture Hall until summer. Dancing is a great way to warm up!
Also be sure to check out the 2020 Spring Flower Show, which highlights sunrise and sunset flowers. The Spring Flower Show is open until May 10.
The Judy Istock Butterfly Haven at Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum
Summer never ends inside the Judy Istock Butterfly Haven at Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, which is why some consider it the warmest spot in Chicago. You’ll be singing “In Summer” just like Olaf as you watch hundreds of brightly-colored butterflies flit about their toasty warm habitat. Time your visit to see the first flight butterfly release that takes place daily at 2 p.m.
Go Ape at Tropic World at Brookfield Zoo
Admittedly, it’s a bit of a hike to get to here from the zoo parking lot, but once you’re inside, you’re transported to a warm climate where primates from three continents – South America, Africa and Asia – live. It’s a nice change of pace to have the Western lowland gorillas take your breath away instead of the cold.
The zoo is free for all guests, Sundays, Tuesdays, Thursdays & Saturdays through Feb. 29.
Sit under palm trees at Crystal Gardens at Navy Pier
The Crystal Gardens at Navy Pier may be steps from the water but you’ll feel like you’re far away from the cold. Located on the second level near the main entrance to Navy Pier, this is a fun place to escape. There’s plenty of seating to enjoy a picnic or just hang out and soak up the beauty of this botanic garden. Hit the Chicago Children’s Museum while you’re there and your kids can climb, build and work the wiggles out.
If your family picks an evening in February to escape to the garden, check the schedule of the Winter Music Series to catch a performance while you’re there.
Surfs up at the Wild Reef at Shedd Aquarium
The Wild Reef exhibit at the Shedd recreates a coral reef in the Philippines, which is an opportunity not only to learn about aquatic life but also to forget all about the snow and windchill. The sharks, stingrays and live coral call this reef home.
Time your visit to Shedd with an Illinois Free Day to save money on the entrance fee and your wallet will be happy being warm, too.
Travel with your taste buds
We can’t transport you to Hawaii, but you can find local Hawaiian restaurants that will make it easier to pretend that you’re in the islands. Also, a steamy mug of hot chocolate can be a wonderful way to warm up, and these seven Chicago spots offer up fun and delicious options.
Dip your toes into Monet’s Water Lillies
OK, so not literally, but standing in front of Claude Monet’s Water Lillies in the gallery at Art Institute of Chicago can transport you to France and the memories of spring. Schedule your day around a chance to drop in to The Artist’s Studio near the Ryan Learning Center and you can try art making or an activity station.
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This story originally published Jan. 3, 2018 on ChicagoParent.com. It has been updated with the most recent information.