The Magnificent Mile Lights Festival is where our family kicks off the holiday season. Every year we bundle up in our winter's best and hit Michigan Avenue for a full day of shopping and fun. But we're not the only family who makes this day our own. In fact, there will be hundreds of thousands of people flocking to see the Tree Lighting Parade and holiday festivities. So here are 7 secrets to enjoying one of the nation's most popular holiday celebrations with your family.
This year's event takes place on November 17th, and offers a day chock full of entertainment, culminating in a grand fireworks display over the Chicago River. Here are seven tips for a festive day of family fun at the Magnificent Mile Lights Festival:
Catch the Lights Festival Lane for fun and musical acts appearing in Pioneer Court. Many people think of the big parade (and the big parade only) when it comes to this holiday festival - but there are so many other fun events happening throughout the day! At Lights Festival Lane (in Pioneer Court, next to the Tribune building), kids can take a photo with Santa, decorate a slice of Eli's Cheesecake, and try Chicago's best popcorn mix (butter, cheese and caramel) from Garrett Popcorn Shops. Also, at Pioneer Court, from 11 - 5, you'll find musical entertainment for all the kids in your family, from the toddlers (Justin Roberts and the Not Ready for Naptime Players at 11:15! Check out his latest, sweetest songs to date, lullaby) to the tweens (R5 at 2pm!).
USE PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION
Traffic is a nightmare both before and after the parade. Take public transportation and you'll breeze in and out without a hitch. Take the CTA Red Line Train and exit at Chicago or Grand and just walk east until you reach Michigan Avenue. If you're coming from the METRA station, take a Chicago Water Taxi! (visit wendellaboats.com or shorelinesightseeing.com for more info).
We're not the only Chicago (and visiting) family to head to the Mag Mile on this special day. Be sure to book a dinner reservation or plan on a casual, quick dinner if you're eating before the Tree Lighting Parade. Here's a great list of area dining spots. Our top three family friendly picks are Frankies Scaloppine (for their tasty Napolitain style pizzas), M Burger (for unbeatable burgers and shakes) and foodlife (where 14 different kitchens mean that there is something for everyone in the family).
MAKE A WEEKEND OF IT
Many area hotels offer special rates and packages this special weekend. Check out the holiday Mag Mile hotel offers for an awesome stay-cation.
Wear your long johns and bring extra blankets to wrap around yourselves and sit on curbside as you view the parade. Hats and gloves/mittens are a must!
SET UP SHOP
Arrive at least an hour early to the parade route to snag the best viewing spots. Rumor has it that the least crowded area is on the east side of Michigan Avenue at the north end of the parade route. To catch the fireworks, head towards the Chicago River and stand along Wacker Drive or in Pioneer Court well before Mickey Mouse arrives - they'll blast off at 6:57pm.
Bring a thermos of hot cocoa and get it refilled at one of the many Michigan Avenue tea or coffee shops. At Argo Tea (435 North Michigan Ave.), kids will receive a free 12 oz hot chocolate with the purchase of any size White Frostea Chocolate seasonal drink.
For more information on The Magnificent Mile Festival of Lights, click here.