How to Navigate Chicago's Thanksgiving Day Parade Like a Pro

Be sure to check out our guides to the Thanksgiving Parades in NYC and Philadelphia too.

No, you haven’t gone insane. You’ve decided to attend the McDonald’s Thanksgiving Parade in Chicago this year. In person. But in order to dominate the parade Ferris Bueller-style instead of being sucked into a tourist-heavy vortex of corporate sponsorship, you’ll need to know a few essentials first. Thankfully, that’s where we come in. So quit freaking out over the traffic and be thankful for this: Your official guide the Thanksgiving Day Parade in Chicago.

What time does it start?

The parade starts at 8am and culminates at 11am. The parade will feature around 5,000 participants including floats, marching bands, equestrian units, and performers with over 100 groups walking the parade route. Ronald McDonald is the grand marshal, Teddy Turkey is the mascot, and featured balloons include Scooby-Doo, Yogi Bear, and Fred Flintstone. (And yes, Teddy Turkey has his own Twitter handle.)

What does the parade route look like?

It will be a straight up State Street, starting at State and Congress, then heading north approximately 1 mile along before ending at State and Randolph.

What kind of guests should we expect?

This year’s honored guests include local celebrity chef Graham Elliot (member of the Chicago Chefs Hall of Fame and Lollapalooza’s culinary director), Miss Illinois 2017 Abby Foster, and local hip-hop artist Twista (fastest rapper in the world according to the Guinness Book of World Records). There will be 18 high school marching bands from across the country (including Mount Greenwood’s Marist High School), 14 float units (including offerings from Brookfield Zoo and Garrett Popcorn), and 11 equestrian units.

What's the lineup of performers?

Old parade standbys like the Harlem Globetrotters and Jesse White Tumblers will be back in action, in addition to staged performances of Peter Pan and 'Twas the Night Before Christmas. Also look out for cultural performances from Ecuadorian and Polish folkloric groups in addition to more out-there offerings like feats of strength from Mongolian strongman The Titanic Tulga, dance numbers from the Galaxie Girls showgirls, and a “tournament of knights” from Medieval Times (no word yet on whether or not Cable Guy’s Chip Douglas will be in attendance.)

What are the best viewing spots?

If you want to snag a great spot, you’ll need to show up between 6 and 7am. State & Washington is known as the best viewing area, while some less-crowded areas include State & Adams or State & Van Buren near the Harold Washington Library. Public transit is obviously the best move here (the parade is located steps from most el lines) but if you insist on driving, book a parking space beforehand with Spot Hero.

What do my VIP options look like?

If you really want the best viewing area and are willing to shell out a little cash to get it, grab VIP tickets for $60 which enable access to the VIP grandstands in the center of the action with private restrooms and a pretty decent chance your mug could end up in the background during WGN’s live telecast of the event. You’ll also become an “individual sponsor” of the parade, which is kind of a nice thing to brag about.

What are the best food and drink options along the parade route?

Yes we know you’re going to eat in a few hours, but you’re probably gonna work up quite a hunger anyways. From south to north all within a few blocks of the parade, here are the best restaurants to eat and drink at along the way:

HERO Coffee Bar: Start your day with a prosciutto and salami-packed HERO Sandwich and pour-over at the best coffee shop in the Loop.

Fontano’s Subs: The roast beef sandwich is not to be trifled with at the one of the Loop’s best lunch spots.

Hannah’s Bretzel: This rising pretzel bread sandwich chain (sirloin-stuffed Organic Hot Mess anyone?)

Revival Food Hall: The place where you can find everything from the best-on-the-North Side Smoke BBQ to one of the best food trucks-turned restaurants The Fat Shallot.

Nando’s Peri-Peri: Go here for best-in-class South African chicken chain. (Chicken thigh skewers FTW!)

Rudy’s Bar & Grille: This massive local burger joint is home to one of Chicago’s most ridiculous eating challenges.

The Halal Guys: These famed NYC street meat exporters have a white sauce-topped gyro that will send you into an early Thanksgiving nap.

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Jay Gentile is a Thrillist contributor and he always likes to eat a gigantic meal before eating a gigantic meal. Follow @innerviewmag.