12 Cool Things to Do in Chicago This Spring

From wrestling to world-class barbecue, Chicago is full of fun things to do this spring.

If you’ve looked up towards the sky the past couple of weeks, you might have noticed something surprising. The sky… an unfamiliar shade of blue? Those gnarled tree branches slowly budding and becoming speckled with green? Could it be? Is our long Chicago winter finally coming to an end, ushering in a season where you can almost smell the mustard and poppy seeds from the local hot dog joint on the warm breeze? We think so. From bravely taking a dip in the still-frigid waters of Lake Michigan to comfy porch drinks with friends, here are all the ways to make the most of spring in Chicago.


Get your game on

While arcade bars like Mission Control, Emporium, Logan Arcade, and Replay will always show you a great time, better weather calls for a visit to gaming paradises outside the city limits. Round 1’s Chicagoland locations feature a huge selection of new video games, both domestic and imported from Japan, alongside bowling, billiards, and karaoke. Better yet, certain games are set to timed play, meaning you can play all you want for a low fixed price. If that’s not enough for you, Galloping Ghost Arcade, one of the world’s largest arcades with over 885 games, is just a short drive from the city. All games are set to free play for a $25 entry fee — and that’s not even mentioning the special events and tournaments the venue hosts.


Scream your lungs out at a local wrestling show

Yes, Wrestlemania weekend was in early April, but you can still experience some of the best, high-flyingest, hard-hittingest wrestling action right here in Chicago. Freelance Wrestling, AAW, and Warrior Wrestling, the largest promotions in the area, boast some of the best established and up-and-coming talent in the industry (if you’ve never seen a Bang Bros match, you need to), alongside international stars like Thunder Rosa, Eddie Kingston, and tons of others. If you’re curious about stepping into the ring yourself, Freelance Wrestling Academy offers amazing classes with world-renowned instructors to help you live your pro-wrestling dreams.


Compete in yard games

Outdoor lawn games like bocce, volleyball, bags, and Kan Jam abound at spots across the city this spring. Kaiser Tiger has already kicked off bocce and bags season at its legendary outdoor beer garden. We’d also be remiss not to mention the roof deck at Reggies, featuring ping-pong, Pop-a-Shot, bags, and billiards. If you’re missing those winter vibes, pay tribute to our neighbors to the north by taking part in curling, bocce’s cooler cousin, on the rooftop at The Gwen, complete with fancy cocktails and skyline views.

The Salt Shed
The Salt Shed

Experience Chicago’s newest live music venue: The Salt Shed

Built on Chicago's historic Morton Salt factory complex, The Salt Shed kicked off its highly anticipated debut season with an impressive lineup of bands like Fleet Foxes and Death Cab for Cutie. This season’s lineup keeps the bar high with legends like Bikini Kill, Bright Eyes, and a can’t-miss show featuring The Hold Steady, The Mountain Goats, and Dillinger Four. Along with a great selection of local food and drink vendors, superb acoustics, and an unparalleled view of Chicago's skyline, The Salt Shed checks all the boxes.

Take in some outdoor art at Millenium Park

Though locals eagerly anticipate Millenium Park’s summer concerts, the park is definitely worth a visit in the spring. Take in some incredible art installations from local artists. Highlights include Christine Tarkowski’s thought-provoking amalgamation of blown glass and rock, a beautiful commentary on the intersection of nature and design, as well as Edra Soto’s “Screenhouse,” an installation that pays tribute to rejas and quiebrasoles, decorative metal screens that are ubiquitous in the artist’s birthplace of Puerto Rico.

Chicago Botanic Garden
Chicago Botanic Garden

Find tranquility at a nearby nature conservatory or botanical garden

Sometimes spending a peaceful hour or two at a nature-filled haven tucked inside the city is just what the doctor ordered. Nature conservatories and botanical gardens are accessible ways to enjoy the natural beauty of the season without having to drive very far. Chicago Botanic Garden, Garfield Park Conservatory, Lincoln Park Conservatory, and Oak Park Conservatory are great destinations to press pause and recharge. Chicago Botanic Garden hosts a full calendar of must-do events for nature lovers, including yoga classes; guided, peaceful walks among the trees; tai chi; and guided greenhouse tours.

Shove off to sea—or, rather, lake

The city sure looks beautiful shoreside, but the best way to capture Chicago’s impressive architecture is from a few knots off the coast. You won’t need any excuse to round up some buddies and check the upcoming events calendar for any of the ships docked at Navy Pier. There are regular architecture tours, culinary cruises, and party jaunts—something for every Chicagoan scouting for a sail. Check schedules and book on Viator or City Cruises.

Chicago Wolves
Chicago Wolves

Cheer on your favorite sports team

The Cubs, Bulls, Blackhawks, and Wolves are all currently active, and if you haven’t been to a single game, you’re missing out. No matter your team of choice, make sure to grab your tickets early and often (or just post up in an outstanding local sports bar for the ultimate game day festivities). Blackhawks, Bulls, and Cubs tickets are available through Stubhub and other apps, though we recommend trying to snag them at official team sites to avoid the dreaded scalper surcharge. For a more affordable option, check out a game with the fiercely competitive Chicago Wolves. The Wolves may be a minor league team, but they’re five-time league champs, the top minor league affiliate of the Carolina Hurricanes, and last year’s division winners. Now that the Blackhawks have been eliminated from playoff contention, you might want to snag a ticket to watch the Wolves if you want to see a Chicago hockey team, well, win.

Babygold Barbeque
Babygold Barbeque | Photo by DTKINDLER PHOTOGRAPHY

Slather yourself in Chicago’s barbecue scene

Though Chicago’s barbecue tradition isn’t as deeply rooted as those of Kansas City or Memphis, the Windy City traces its barbecue history back to the 1930s. Be sure to visit iconic haunts like Lem’s (a south side staple since 1954) and Earl’s (where the barbecue comes with a side of freshly fried donuts) but don’t discount newer spots like Lillie’s Q (for a true taste of southern-style barbecue) and perennial Chicago favorite Smoque (the best place outside of Texas to order a Texas-style brisket). Meanwhile, El Che chef and owner John Manion is pushing the envelope at his newer spot Babygold by bringing Cajun flavors to the menu. All this has led to something of a barbecue renaissance in Chicago. Don’t be shy, and pick up a full spread from one of Chicago’s top smoker specialists.

Old Town Ale House
Old Town Ale House | Photo by Jim Vondruska for Thrillist

Lose yourself in a dive bar… or double your luck at a slashie

Fancy new rooftop bars are cool and all, but warm weather can make Chicago rooftops so busy that they become inhospitable to most forms of sentient life. That’s when Chicago’s rich civic treasure—aka dive bars—really shine (metaphorically, of course). Quality options run rampant in this city, but no one’s ever regretted a late-night foray into Old Town Ale House, Nisei Lounge, Woodlawn Tap, or Bernice’s. They’re all perfect spots to hole up and sip your way through baseball season. If a “slashie” (half bar/half liquor store) is more your style, we suggest Rite Liquors for its unpretentious vibe, great selection, and unbeatable prices.

Field Museum
Field Museum

Visit a world-class cultural institution

With spring’s more hospitable weather, a trek down to Museum Campus is an undaunting way to emerge from winter hibernation. Go full Ferris Bueller ogling the Monets at the Art Institute. Be sure to spend some time hanging out with Sue at the Field Museum, where over 300 artifacts, including costumes, comics, and interactive displays should satisfy anyone feeling some post-C2E2 FOMO. For more offbeat options, including the educational-yet-slightly-unsettling International Museum of Surgical Sciences, check out our guide to Chicago’s best museums. There’s even a museum dedicated to leather and bondage.

Gear up for a thrilling road trip

While air travel has mostly returned to its pre-pandemic form, it’s clear that the great American road trip isn’t going out of style anytime soon. Luckily, you don’t have to venture too far to get in on some amazing destinations near Chicago, from hikes along lush, green forest trails to indulging in some rest and relaxation at a luxurious cabin or resort (preferably with a fancy outdoor hot tub). Looking for a staycation? No problem. Need an Airbnb? We’ve got you covered.

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Elanor Bock is a contributor for Thrillist.
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
Sam Greszes is a Chicago-based writer who contributes to Kill Screen Magazine, GameSkinny, and ION Magazine.