Escape Chicago Without Leaving Town By Visiting These 8 Places

You could use a break.

Itching for a late-summer adventure away from Chicago but not quite ready to pull the travel trigger yet? Thankfully, our beloved 312 is full of activities and destinations primed to pull you out of your daily humdrum and convince you you’re worlds away from home. Stay safe and satisfy your wanderlust at these eight in-city getaways.

Tour the tropics at Garfield Park Conservatory

Make like you’re charting a course through a far off jungle at this 184-acre Westside gem, home to one of the country’s largest and lushest botanical conservatories. Between the palm house, fern room, sensory garden, horticulture hall, and scenic bluestone terrace, you’re looking at a full day of stunning natural splendor without ever crossing over the city limits.

Claim a cabana and sip something beachy at Shore Club

Chicago’s sandy beaches might still be shut down for swimming but that doesn’t mean you can’t get your seaside fix. Claim your spot on this freshly-reopened North Avenue hotspot’s breezy open-air patio and gear up for an afternoon spent downing margaritas in full view of Lake Michigan’s crashing waves. Reservable cabanas and day beds, loaded party cooler packages, and upmarket bites like ceviche and poke, mezze plates, and lobster tacos keep the vacation vibes going long past sunset.

Treat yourself to a schvitz at Red Square Spa

Kiss 2020’s toxins goodbye in tried-and-true Eastern European style at this Division Street original, in operation since 1906. The multilevel bathhouse features a spa, steam baths, saunas, tanning booths, and a full-service bar and restaurant overflowing with blintzes, borscht, housemade pickles, and other restorative Ukrainian specialties. Also, vodka. Enjoy, comrade.

Paddle your blues away with Kayak Chicago

Get your Lewis and Clark on with help from this Chicago River-based kayak rental company. Traversing the city’s waterways from your man-powered vessel lets you scope out your hometown from an entirely new perspective and, an added bonus, gives you a hell of a workout without the stress of stepping inside a germy gym. Check out the different guided tour options -- the City Lights evening paddle is socially-distanced date night gold -- or simply opt for a quick lesson followed by an all-day DIY experience.

Discover clandestine beauty at Lurie Garden

Imagine a gorgeous garden bursting with vibrant indigenous flora and pristine, ecologically sensitive landscaping and protected from the outside world by rows of dense 15-foot hedges. Now stash that botanical oasis smack dab in the middle of the Loop’s Grant Park, practically hidden in plain sight, and you’re looking at the city’s most sublime (and best kept) secret garden. You’ll barely notice the skyscrapers towering overhead as you traipse through the fairytale-like expanse.

Travel back in time at a drive-in movie

2020 is shaping up to be the year of al fresco living with everything from restaurants and bars to yoga classes fully embracing the pandemic-quelling powers of the great outdoors. Take advantage of this sliver of a silver lining by planning a retro-inspired trip to one of the area’s newly established drive-in theaters. Urban pop-ups in Pilsen, Lincoln Yards, and Soldier Field cater to city folk in search of late-night escapism while repurposed stadiums in Bridgeview and Hoffman Estates lure Chicagoans to the ‘burbs for some good old-fashioned fun. Next month, Floating Boat Cinema brings its nautical screening series to town, inviting ticket holders to enjoy a mix of classics and new releases from the gentle rock of a socially distanced, eight-person mini boat.

Soak up the carefree college town vibes at Utopian Tailgate

Care for a round of cornhole or perhaps a little tableside keg service? Thanks to this 10,000-square-foot rooftop rager from local legends Fifty/50 Restaurant Group (Roots, the Sixth), you no longer have to duck down to Urbana or up to Madison to party like a co-ed. Between drinks, let the bright, neon-hued decor elevate your mood as you run the field on the foosball table or try your shaky hand at giant Jenga.

Break in those new binoculars at Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary

Think urban birding is all grimy pigeons and French fry-stealing seagulls? Prepare to have your nature-loving mind blown at this pastoral 15-acre Northside destination. Here, eager peepers can feast their eyes on over 300 different migratory species including warblers, thrushes, sparrows, woodpeckers, thrashers, and more. Make sure to set your sights on the Magic Hedge, a 150-yard stretch of fragrant trees and flowering shrubbery that serves as an internationally recognized hub for fluttering fauna.

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Meredith Heil is a contributor for Thrillist.