Spring is one of my favorite times of year in Chicago (a close second to autumn; I just can’t handle the extremes of summer and winter). The days get warmer, but not hot. There are warm-weather activities all over the city, but most of the crowds of tourists haven’t arrived yet.
Flowers line the streets of downtown and there’s just a feeling of promise, of possibility. Maybe it’s the joy of watching the city turn green (and not just because the river has been dyed for St. Patrick’s Day), or maybe we’re all just so darn happy that we can walk outside without out eyeballs freezing! Either way, spring time is a great time to visit Chicago.
Here are some of my favorite springtime activities in Chicago.
The Lincoln Park Zoo
The Lincoln Park Zoo is the largest free zoo in the country, and during the summer it seems to be the most-crowded one as well. You can’t take a step without running into a gaggle of screaming kids or a group of moms walking five abreast with their double-wide strollers. But in the spring, the older kids are still in school and on many days it’s still too chilly for the littler ones to spend much time outside. Which means on your average weekday, the zoo is blissfully quiet and you can actually get a view to animals like giraffes, hippos, and zebras without having to push dozens of eight year-olds out of the way. As an added bonus, because the stifling heat and humidity of summer have yet to arrive, many of the animals are much more active in spring than in later months.
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With spring comes the city’s many farmer’s markets where you can pick up fresh fruits, veggies, herbs and flowers along with artisanal, locally-produced cheeses, meats, breads, sauces and more. The Green City Farmer’s Market, held in Lincoln Park on Wednesdays and Saturdays is the undisputed champ of farmer’s markets. Come to do some shopping or just plan to picnic and enjoy lunch in the park.
During the summer, many of Chicago’s best sightseeing tours – like the Chicago Architecture Foundation River cruise – sell out regularly and are packed with people. For a more intimate tour experience, come in the spring and you’ll have fewer people to contend with as you learn all about the history of the city. Plus, if you plan on doing a more active tour, like a biking tour, you won’t be drenched in sweat by the time you are done, as you would be in the summer.
You couldn’t pay most Chicagoans to visit Navy Pier during summer. It’s hot, and the breeze from the lake does little to cool the steaming mass of humanity that makes its way down the Pier each day. At times it’s wall-t0-wall with tourists and kids. But during spring, it’s actually bearable. Take in a show at the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre or watch the sunset over the city from your view at the top of the Ferris Wheel.
The Cubs resume playing at Wrigley Field on April 12 and early spring is one of the easiest times to get tickets. As the summer wears on, they become harder and harder to come by, especially if our hometown heroes actually advance past the regular season . If you can’t score a ticket to Wrigley, you can watch the game from bleachers located on the tops of houses surrounding the field. They’re not cheap, but they do include unlimited food and drink.
Spring in Chicago is always volatile. It can be sunny and warm one minute and wet, windy and cold the next. Dress in layers, carry an umbrella and have a back-up in case weather interferes with your plans.
Photo by melekai