Events

Actually Cool Things You Can (Still) Do in Chicago This Spring

Celebrate spring right.

Congratulations. You made it through winter, Chicago. Now it’s time to enjoy the fruits of a long year of sacrifice as Chicago’s museums, entertainment venues, and sports stadiums slowly start to welcome back visitors in accordance with local reopening laws. There’s still plenty of virtual fun for those not yet ready for a full return, and the sheer number of offerings from Chicago’s bar and restaurant scene allows you to ease back into society at whatever pace you choose. From boat tours and candlelight concerts to pizza delivery and virtual magic shows, here’s everything fun you can do in Chicago this spring. Be safe and wear a mask, and be sure to monitor local sites for the latest closures and safety information.

Reacquaint yourself with a local museum

It’s been a long year, but most of Chicago’s museums are reopened and ready to welcome you back this spring. Stop by the Art Institute of Chicago for current exhibits such as Monet and Chicago and Basia Butler: Portraits, The Museum of Contemporary Art for The Long Dream, The Museum of Science & Industry for Marvel: Universe of Superheroes, The Field Museum for Apsaalooke Women and Warriors, The Chicago History Museum for Millions of Moments: The Chicago Sun-Times Photo Collection, The Illinois Holocaust Museum for Mandela: Struggle for Freedom, and many more options at museums across the city. While you’re at it, pay a visit to the new Museum of Illusions.

Get ready for some baseball

While we don’t yet know exactly when or what it will look like, one thing we do know for sure: fans will be allowed back into Wrigley Field and Guaranteed Rate this season. And that’s just about all we could ask for. Well, that another World Series win would be nice.

 Aba Restaurant Spicy Hummus
Participating in Chicago Restaurant Week | Courtesy of Aba Restaurant

Kick off spring with Chicago Restaurant Week

This annual winter event has been pushed to spring this year, with 250+ participating restaurants across the city offering special prix fixe meals from March 19 though April 4. In a new twist for our new era, diners will now have the choice to experience Chicago Restaurant Week through indoor and outdoor in-person dining, takeout, or delivery.

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PHOTO COURTESY ZYRTEC

Whether it’s more hours of sunlight or the sight of new budding greenery, there’s just something about spring that makes you want to get back out there. With allergy relief from ZYRTEC®, your allergies don’t have to get in the way of your plans, either. ZYRTEC® starts working at hour one, and works twice as hard when you take it the next day, so whether you’re planning on biking a city park or escaping to a nearby trail, you’ll be ready for wherever the season takes you.  

 

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Hit a local drive-in (or in-person) movie theater

One positive byproduct of the pandemic has been the re-emerge of the drive-in movie, with drive-in flicks still being shown on a regular basis at ChiTown Movies in Pilsen. In the meantime, local movie theatres like the historic Music Box Theatre have also started to reopen in recent weeks, so be sure to check their websites for the latest information.

Get on a boat

If there’s one spring rite of passage on par with the start of baseball season in Chicago, it’s the start of boating season. Grab a few buds and set sail on the Chicago River and Lake Michigan with a drink in hand for an instant reminder as to why Chicago is the greatest city in the world. Wendella and Shoreline are always popular choices, but you can also check out our full listing of boozy cruises here. Touristy? Yes. One of the best things you’ll do all year? Also, yes.

Check out trippy paintings come to life at Immersive Van Gogh

The US premier of this international project lands in Chicago’s Germania Club Building for an immersive experience featuring moving images illustrating the works of Vincent Van Gogh now through September 6. The 600,000-cubic-foot experience includes bright flashing lights set to soundtracks in a historic Gold Coast building.

Get lost in some local nature

The Chicago Lakefront Trail remains open, but it’s not the only place to get some fresh air in the city. Did you know the entire Chicago metro area is surrounded by a 210-mile nature trail complete with Cook County Forest Preserve campsites and lakes? How about a 2.7-mile urban hiking trail along a former railway corridor? How about one of America’s newest national parks just across the Indiana border? If all else fails, your local park will do just fine. Also be sure to stop by Morton Arboretum for their new Human+Nature outdoor art exhibition starting April 9.
 

Support Chicago’s Black Community

Whatever else you do this spring, be sure to do your part and make the community we live in a better place for all its residents. Aid in the fight for racial justice and social equity taking place across the city, while also supporting Chicago’s Black community from nonprofits and community organizations to restaurants and bookstores. Here's our guide to doing just that.

Take a quick road trip to discover some Illinois hidden gems

While air travel is finally starting to tick back up, it’s no secret that the Great American road trip has made its presence known in the last year. Luckily, you don’t have to travel too far to check out some amazing spots right here in Illinois -- from the quaint small town vibes of Galena to the sprawling Shawnee National Forest near Carbondale. Check out some more options here and, if you’re looking to cross state lines, we’ve got you covered here.

Go see some live music (virtually)

While we aren’t yet ready for packed sweaty shows in crowded clubs, there are plenty of excellent virtual options from The Hideout, Empty Bottle, Lincoln Hall/Schubas, Experimental Sound Studio, and more. The City of Chicago is also hosting its own streaming channel as well in honor of “The Year of Chicago Music.” In-person options currently include intimate performances of classical music by candlelight with Fever Chicago, live jazz at the legendary Green Mill, and local music/variety acts at Untitled Chicago (with no doubt more venues reopening their stages soon.)
 

Remember how to laugh

If Netflix reruns of The Office aren’t quite as funny as you remember them, you might need to turn to the experts for your comedy fix. Comedy clubs across the city are doing their best to keep you laughing through America’s ongoing nightmare, so be sure to tune into the virtual editions of Second City, ComedySportz Theater, Cornservatory, Annoyance Theater, and others. For in-person shows, check out the recently reopened Zanies.
 

Party hearty with a boozy cocktail kit from a local bar

It’s no secret that it’s been a rough year for Chicago bars. And while most are reopened and eager to see you again, those not yet ready for crowds can continue to mix a cocktail at any hour of the night from the comfort of their home—from upscale offerings by folks like The Aviary and Violet Hour to more down-to-Earth booze creations such as Big Star margaritas and Twisted Spoke Bloody Marys. You can also go tiki with tropical creations from 3 Dots and a Dash, which you obviously should do.

Swing from the trees at North America’s largest aerial adventure course

From outdoor adventure courses and trail running to laser tag and escape rooms, The Forge: Lemont Quarries certainly isn’t lacking when it comes to the much-needed world of outdoor entertainment. If that’s not enough, you can also dine in an outdoor globe as part of their Forgefire experience. Well, what are you waiting for?

Go on the ultimate Chicago outdoor mural crawl

One thing Covid can’t stop is the city’s thriving street art scene, which can best be enjoyed IRL via an urban mural crawl. Start your excursion in Pilsen, where dozens of vibrant murals turn the neighborhood’s streets and alleys into an outdoor feast for the senses. Check out standout options like the Hector Duarte Studio at 1900 W. Cullerton before making your way to Logan Square to marvel at the famous Robin Williams mural outside Concord Music Hall and the nearby “Greetings From Chicago” mural at 2226 N. Milwaukee. Finish the mural crawl with a trip to Rogers Park, where you can see a mile-long stretch of wall art along the Red Line path as well as the brightly colored seawall of murals off the lake at Tobey Prinz Beach Park.
 

Check out the public art downtown 

Looking to get out of the house and stretch your legs a bit? Yes, you can go see The Bean, but don’t stop there. Swing by the “Chicago Picasso,” or the Calder “Flamingo.” Head down to the southern end of Grant Park to walk among the giant, headless sculptures that make up “Agora.” Take a selfie with the Art Institute lions. And be sure to check out the new “People in Your Neighborhood” installation along the Chicago Riverwalk between Lake and Franklin. The concentration of world-class public art in downtown Chicago is astounding and not to be missed. And, even better, Art on theMART—the world’s largest permanent digital art installation—returns to the south façade of the Merchandise Mart April 1.

Cruise Chicago’s Emerald Necklace

A scenic drive around the city is never a bad idea, especially now that winter is in the rear-view. Yes, you could certainly cruise Lake Shore Drive. And by all means, you should. But for a lesser-known option that allows you to see the actual beating heart of the city instead of just highway, seek out Chicago’s Emerald Necklace, a 26-mile network of interior city streets and wide boulevards. Linking together some of the city's most grandiose parks like Humboldt, Garfield, Washington, and Jackson parks, this is the way Chicago was meant to be seen—with the added bonus of being excellent quarantine therapy.

Make a mental health pilgrimage to the Shit Fountain

If you’re in the Ukrainian Village area and looking to do the whole public art crawl thing, you may not have as dense of a concentration of murals as Pilsen or as many fine art sculptures as downtown. But you have one thing those other places can’t touch: the one and only Shit Fountain. The human feces-shaped sculpture is located on a residential front lawn just off Augusta and Wolcott, created by a Chicagoan fed up with dog poop. Cheers.

Hit up a virtual magic show

Chicago-based magician/mentalist Dennis Watkins has announced a newly extended run of the virtual edition of his popular Magic Parlor series, now streaming Friday and Saturday nights through April 30. And yes, it’s better than re-watching The Incredible Burt Wonderstone.

Smoke some of Illinois’ “essential” legal green

Who knew that just a few months after Illinois became the 11th state to legalize recreational marijuana that a full-blown public health emergency would bring our society to its knees? Can you imagine dealing with the current situation without a little green? We don’t even want to imagine it -- and you don’t have to either. Deemed "essential" businesses with more than $1 billion in sales in 2020, legal weed is clearly here to stay in Illinois. Check out our full dispensary rundown for details.
 

Listen to a local podcast

If the sheer number of choices between new streaming services has left you overwhelmed, it might be time to catch up on that podcast you’ve always been meaning to listen to. Luckily, Chicago is rife with an array of interesting options. Get your politics fix with David Alexrod’s The Axe Files, nerd out on music with Greg Kot & Jim DeRogatis’ Sound Opinions, learn about unique aspects of local city life with WBEZ’s Curious City, drink virtual beer while exploring the brewing industry with Good Beer Hunting, or give Hollywood a lesson or two via Chicago-based Please Make This. And that’s just scratching the surface.
 

Take a virtual tour of Chicago filming locations

Chicago has long been a popular TV and movie filming location, and the City of Chicago has assembled some of the finest spots to appear on both the big and small screen that you can visit during the age of coronavirus. On the tour of movie filming sites, hit up outdoor screening locales from Blues Brothers, High Fidelity, The Untouchables, and more. On the tour of TV filing sites, check out Google Street View images of sites such as the Gallagher House from Shameless, Molly’s Pub from Chicago Fire, District 21 Police Station from Chicago PD, and more.

Take part in Chicago’s ongoing pizza Renaissance

Chicago’s world-renown bona fides in the department of pizza got even stronger during the pandemic, with a wave of new pizza-centric eateries opening up in a comfort food-craving city. Check out recently opened pizza hotspots like Pizza Friendly Pizza next to Empty Bottle, Pizza Lobo in Logan Square, PB&J in the West Loop, Bill’s Original Tavern Pizza and B Square Pizza from Lettuce Entertain You, Pazza Pizza for pizza by-the-slice in Old Town, Detroit-style pies from Chef Bill Kim’s Pizza & Parm Shop, and new deep dish entry Ruth’s Panmade Pizza from the folks at Roots Handmade Pizza. Throw in new offerings from Honey Butter and Hot Doug’s at Piece and never has there been a better time to be a pizza fanatic in Chicago.

Discover a new cool neighborhood

While you’re cooped up during Covid, it can be tempting to never leave your six-block radius. But if you look at things another way, there’s never been a better time to discover a new favorite 'hood. As any Chicagoan knows, the real heart of the city lies within Chicago’s spectacularly diverse 77 neighborhoods. From the laid-back residential enclave of Norwood Park to the cool historic sights of Bronzeville, there’s always a new neighborhood to explore in a city that’s meant to be explored on foot. Yes, even during a pandemic.

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Jay Gentile is an award-winning freelance journalist specializing in travel, food & drink, culture, events and entertainment stories. In addition to Thrillist, you can find his work in The Washington Post, The Guardian, CNN Travel, Chicago Tribune, Lonely Planet, VICE, Outside Magazine and more. Follow @thejaygentile
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