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Discover why Chicago is a favorite fall destination. With colorful scenery, cooler temperatures and fewer crowds, the October and November months are a perfect time to visit the city. It's a beautiful time of year, with abundant sunshine and crisp breezes in the air.

Come for the simple pleasure of watching the leaves change colors in Millennium Park and Lincoln Park along Chicago's scenic lakefront. You can pack a picnic or dine at Chicago's top restaurants where the menus are packed with the flavors of the Midwest harvest. Or book your stay around these top fall 2013 happenings:

Magnificent Mile Lights Festival illuminates Michigan Avenue

November 23: The holiday fun begins at The BMO Harris Bank Magnificent Mile Lights Festival with a day full of FREE musical performances, celebrity entertainers and family friendly activities along Lights Festival Lane at Pioneer Court. Mickey and Minnie Mouse serve as grand marshals of the evening parade, magically illuminating more than one million lights on 200 trees along The Magnificent Mile®. The parade, which features more than 30 spectacular floats, balloons and marching bands, is followed by a spectacular fireworks show over the Chicago River.

McDonald's Thanksgiving Parade fills State Street with gigantic helium balloons

McDonald's Thanksgiving Parade

November 28: Ronald McDonald, Santa and a cast of thousands march down State Street as over 400,000 people line the route for the annual McDonald's Thankgsiving Parade. Whether you're gazing at the gigantic helium balloons, moving to the beat of the marching bands or waving at the entertainers in decorative floats, there is fun for all at the biggest holiday parade in the city and the only one in Chicago to feature inflatable balloons every year.

Colorful Day of the Dead traditions are the nation's largest

Through December: The annual Dia de los Muertos, or "Day of the Dead," celebration (9/13-12/15) at the National Museum of Mexican Art is the largest in the US. You'll find colorful shadowbox altars, folk art skeletons and traditional sugar skulls as this spiritual Mexican national holiday gathers friends and family to honor those who have passed away. The museum offers several events and programs to celebrate and in 2013, will mark the 100th anniversary of the death of prolific illustrator José Guadalupe Posada with a special exhibition that pays tribute to La Catrina, his famous costumed skeleton lady. 

Museum of Science and Industry travels back in time with Walt Disney

Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives

Through May 2014: At the Museum of Science and Industry, Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives (10/16/13-5/4/14) explores nine decades of The Walt Disney Company's history through interactive experiences and nearly 300 artifacts, including iconic props, costumes, hand-sculpted models and original artwork. From Walt Disney's humble Midwestern beginnings, to the high tech digital animation of today, this exhibit will bring the 53 Disney animated films to life and spark everyone's inner child. 

The Field Museum travels back even further in time to the 1893 World's Fair

Through September 2014: At The Field Museum, Opening the Vaults: Wonders of the 1893 World's Fair (10/25/13-9/7/14) opens its hidden collections with displays that will bring to life one of the most spectacular events in Chicago history. Luring millions to Chicago in 1893, the World's Columbian Exposition was a glittering showcase of architecture, culture, technology, and peoples from around the world. Now, 120 years later, you'll explore at this exhibit large-scale projections and archival photographs that capture the experience, as well as a range of artifacts such as original tickets, the fair's financial ledger, taxidermied animals and botanical samples still in their original containers.

Newborns at Lincoln Park Zoo explore the fall surroundings

Lincoln Park Zoo

Year-round: See baby animals frolic outdoors in the season's cooler temps at the Lincoln Park Zoo. Meet such new faces as King, the Eastern black rhinoceros calf born on August 26. Including his dad, 27-year-old Maku, Lincoln Park Zoo is currently home to three adult rhinos and has been housing critically endangered black rhinos since 1982. Other fresh faces around the zoo include a white-cheeked gibbon, the child of mother monkey Burma, and a four-member crowned lemur family, which includes 5-month-old boy Azizi. The free zoo is open every day of the year and is located in lush Lincoln Park, a verdant setting along Chicago's lakefront.

Art Institute of Chicago shows how we are what we eat

November 14 - The newest blockbuster exhibit opening at the Art Institute, Art and Appetite: American Painting, Culture, and Cuisine (11/12/13-1/27/14), studies how American artists have used depictions of food to both celebrate and critique everything from the national diet to society and politics. Feast your eyes on the rich tradition of food and drink in American art with over 100 paintings, sculptures, and decorative arts from the 18th through the 20th century.

Massive restaurant transformations combine music, retail, food and drinks


September-November: This fall, Chicago's culinary and nightlife scene gets even bigger as large-scale projects set up shop both downtown and in the neighborhoods.

Late September saw Pilsen welcome Dusek's (1227 W 18th St.), the first-floor restaurant inside historic Thalia Hall, a massive Romanesque Revival style landmark originally built in 1892. Pair your draft with the hearty, farm-to-table menu of beer-inspired cuisine by Michelin-starred Chef Jared Wentworth. Named after the founder of Thalia Hall, Mr. John Dusek, this restaurant is just one part of the transformation. A lower level bar, Punch House, takes over the basement space and the spectacular public hall and stage is being restored as a music and event venue for 2014. 

In the hip Wicker Park neighborhood, a combination restaurant and bar/authentic salumeria and gourmet butcher shop/music and event space has moved into a vacant two-story building that was formerly an auto body garage. Chop Shop (2033 W. North Ave.) recently opened in October, with the monthly artisan food and fashion marketplace Dose Market becoming a regular fixture in the Chop Shop's hybrid space known as the 1st Ward.

If you need a fix for mozzerella or fine Italian olive oils, the heavily-anticapted opening of Eataly (43 E. Ohio St.) will surely satisfy. The 70,000 square feet emporium of Italian foods will house an astonishing eight different restaurants, in addition to a butcher, produce market and grocery. When it debuts in November, the two-floor complex will be only the second US location for Eataly, which has multiple locations overseas and is backed by famed chef Mario Batali.

Fall theater season packs a full calendar

Lookingglass Theatre

October-November: For the culture vulture, there may not be a better time to experience the arts and culture scene than fall. With over 250 theaters, including five Tony Award-winners and a renowned off-Loop theater scene, Chicago is known throughout the world for its critically-acclaimed theater.

Grab a seat for the Broadway In Chicago fall season, wihich features this month the return of Grammy- and Tony-awarding winning musical Wicked (10/30-12/21). The 10th anniversary production is back by popular demand with all the beloved show-stopping numbers that tell the story behind the Wicked Witch of the West and Glinda the Good.

Some of the fall 2013 world premieres include: It's All-Right to Have a Good Time (The Story of Curtis Mayfield) by Jackie Taylor presented by Black Ensemble Theater (9/15-12/29); Smokefall by Noah Haidle presented by Goodman Theatre (10/5-11/3); and The North China Lover by Heidi Stillman presented by Lookingglass Theatre Company (10/6-11/10). Other stand-outs on Chicago stages are the sensational play The Wheel at Steppenwolf Theatre Company (9/22-11/10) featuring Ensemble Member and award-winning actress Joan Allen, the first made-in-Chicago production of Alice Walker's The Color Purple (8/14-11/10) at Mercury Theater, and perhaps the greatest Chicago play, A Raisin in the Sun (8/8-12/7), presented by TimeLine Theatre.

And all season long, two ever-popular performances have open runs so adding them to your fall itinerary should be no problem at all. Part theater, part comedy and all fun, Blue Man Group mashes music, art and technology to create a multi-sensory, all-ages show at Briar Street Theatre. For audiences that love the classics, catch Million Dollar Quartet at Apollo Theater for a jam session that reunites rock legends Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Louis, Elvis Presley and Carl Perkins.

Fall performing arts season boasts music & dance of all genres

October-November: For its 10th season, the Harris Theater has planned a special year full of national and international music and dance luminaries with exciting premieres and debuts. Of note are the fall engagements from resident companies Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Giordano Dance Chicago, Deeply Rooted Dance Theater and River North Dance Chicago.

While at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University, several performances and events fill the calendar, including resident company Joffrey Ballet presenting their annual fall engagement, a company premiere of Stanton Welch's new evening-length La Bayadère: The Temple Dancer, set in exotic India.

At the Lyric Opera of Chicago, Shakespeare's drama Otello is the October kickoff to a season that brings seven new-to-Chicago productions and ends with a new production of The Sound of Music next spring. 

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