Chicago is an easy city to fall in love with. Chicago is an easy city to fall in love with when it’s warm outside. Infamously cold and blustery winters make most people, myself included, want to flee to warmer climates and never look back – and I say that as a Vermonter.
Luckily, we got off easy these past few months, with fall hanging on until well into December. But while it may have taken longer than usual, winter is finally in full swing as we settle into the new year. I’d say better late than never, but I don’t think that really applies here as I’m generally pretty set to march straight from the holidays into spring. Unfortunately, a quick look at the weather forecast confirms that, for now, winter here to stay, and with Christmas ornaments packed neatly away and one pair of boots already lost, I’m bracing for the greyest days of winter. To help get us through, here are a few things to keep in mind.
Dress the Part.
The part, of course, being someone who is going to regularly have to endure sub-zero temperatures, fierce winds and slushy sidewalks. Find a warm coat and layer up. You may feel like that kid from a Christmas Story, but at least you’ll be warm. Good boots are also a must and something you definitely shouldn’t skimp on if you can help it. Last year, I made the mistake of buying cheap boots. Come the first cold, rainy day this year and what do I discover? Holes. Holes in the bottoms of both boots and a day of meetings with very soggy feet. No fun.
If you are looking to pretend that what is happening outdoors is somehow in your imagination, seek solace in one of Chicago’s most beautiful tropical spaces. The Lincoln Park Conservatory is not only warm and incredibly beautiful but it’s also completely FREE! When I was in college, and learning to appreciate the temporary freedom of my pre 9 to 5 schedule, I used to venture here in the winter to study or read. There are a handful of benches scattered throughout the halls, which each showcase a different variety of plant life. My favorite has always been the Snow Room, which is used for seasonal flower exhibits, though the Orchid room is beautiful as well. The annual Spring Flower Show starts in January, so if you’re looking for a winter escape, however temporary, definitely check it out. You’ll feel like you just went fast-forwarding into Spring.
If you want to look on the bright side of the season, winter is prime time to explore Chicago’s many museums. My personal favorite is the Chicago History Museum in Lincoln Park, with the Museum of Science and Industry a close second, but really you can’t go wrong no matter what you choose. Don’t forget to check out this list of museum free days before you plan your trip.
If you’re looking for a way to avoid the school groups and Wisconsin tourists, try one of the many barcades that have been popping up throughout the city. What better way to spend a dreary afternoon than trying to beat the high score in Ms. Pac-man? Headquarters in Lakeview offers free plays on tons of fun, retro games. Wicker Park’s Emporium and the games at Logan Arcade on Western and Fullerton aren’t free, but they are reasonably priced and the latter’s collection of Pinball Machines could keep me entertained for hours.
I love going to cafes in general, but especially during the winter. You can have the feeling of being out and productive, but you still get to cozy up in a comfy chair with a yummy beverage. It’s a win/win, because nothing cures the chills like a nice cup of something hot. I’m a tea girl myself, and I’m especially enamored with David’s Tea. They’re an awesome chain with so many different flavors and types of tea that are constantly being added to. My favorite right now is the vanilla orchid – so delicious.
If you find yourself on the North-West side of the city, Portage Grounds has a great tea selection, and a cozy fire to snuggle up in front of. My coffee drinking friends seem to agree that they brew a pretty stellar cup of that as well.
If tea isn’t your thing, how about something sweet? Mindy’s Hot Chocolate in Wicker Park serves up some of the yummiest drinks I’ve ever tried, including a Chocolate Chai – the perfect sweet and spicy antidote to the winter chill. They even let you decide what percentage of cocoa you’d like to sip (the darker the better, for me).
Plan (or take) A Trip
Click your heels together and repeat after me, “There’s no place…like someplace else.” In the vein of trying to forget where you are until you can bear to venture outdoors again, focusing on taking a trip somewhere new (and presumably warmer) can provide a much-needed distraction. Most of the trips I’ve taken in the past few years, including ones to Italy and Paris, were born of the winter blues.
Much to the chagrin of my homebody husband, I’m someone who has a hard time sitting still for too long, so planning an adventure, even if it’s just a weekend away, keeps me from feeling stagnant and gives us both something fun to look forward to. In fact, we just started planning a long weekend in New Orleans. We’ll be heading there in March, which is usually the death rattle of Chicago winter, and I can’t even tell you how excited I am!
If all else fails, it might just be time to hunker down in your PJs with someone cuddly (in my case, the husband and two snoring pugs), and your Netflix queue #makingamurderer.
How do you do to keep your sanity when it’s cold outside?