The Magnificent Mile Lights Festival is where our family truly 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 that makes this day our own; each year more than one million people travel to The Mag Mile for the city's premier kickoff to the holiday season.
This year's event takes place this Saturday, November 22, and offers a day chock full of entertainment. Grand marshals Mickey and Minnie Mouse will lead a holiday parade of more than 40 floats, helium-filled balloons and marching bands and light up over one million lights on 200 trees along the Magnificent Mile with their magic wands. The festival culminates in a grand fireworks display over the Chicago River.
To make this day a special day, here are 10 tried and tested tips for a day of family fun at the Magnificent Mile Lights Festival.
1. 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 the Chicago or Grand Red Line Station and walk east until you reach Michigan Avenue. If you're coming from the METRA station, take a Chicago Water Taxi! (Look into Wendella Boat Tours or Shoreline Sightseeing for more info).
2. Arrive Early
Many people think of only the big parade when it comes to this holiday festival, but there are so many other fun events happening throughout the day! Be sure to visit the Lights Festival Lane for fun and musical acts appearing in Pioneer Court (next to the Tribune Tower). Here, kids can take a photo with Santa, decorate a slice of Eli's Cheesecake, and try a free slice of deep dish pizza. From 11 a.m. - 5 p.m., 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 a.m.!) to the tweens (Meet and Greet with Disney star Megan Nicole at 2 p.m. in the Chevy Tent).
3. Make Reservations
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 Frankie's Scaloppine for their tasty Neopolitan style pizzas, M Burger for unbeatable burgers and shakes, and foodlife in Water Tower Place where 14 different kitchens mean that there is something for everyone in the family.
Insider Hint: Sophie's at Saks, located on the seventh floor of Michigan Avenue's Saks Fifth Avenue store, will be hosting a festive dinner with fabulous views of the parade. Children will be greeted with free hot chocolate and adults have their choice of cocktails and seasonal mulled wine. The menu items were hand-selected just for the occasion; diners can enjoy items like Fennel Dusted Diver Scallops, Pumpkin Risotto or Hudson Valley Duck Breast. Sophie's beautiful interior directly faces the Lights Festival's parade on Michigan Avenue, providing diners with first-row views. Call Sophie's in advance at 312-525-3400 to book a reservation.
4. 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.
Insider Hint: The luxe Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel offers a holiday Kids Kamping Package: kids will love in-room camping in their very own tent that they can take home, all while cuddling with their Radisson Blu Bear and snacking on milk and cookies. They can color in their own coloring books or even go for a swim in the indoor pool located on the third floor. Don't forget to head to the third floor terrace for nightly s'mores over the fire pit! Rates start at $279.
5. Bundle Up
Wear your long johns and bring extra blankets to wrap around yourselves. Remember to sit on curbside as you view the parade, where hats and gloves/mittens are a must for all members of the family!
6. Snag the Best Viewing Spots
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, but keep that between us. 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 set off at 6:57 p.m.
7. Be on the Lookout for Deals and Coupons
Many area restaurants, stores and attractions offer special discounts and gifts with purchase the day of the Lights Festival. Spend $20 or more at Candyality (520 N. Michigan Ave.) and receive a FREE Disney Countdown to Christmas chocolate filled calendar (valued at $5 each). Spend $150 through November 25 at Columbia Sportswear (830 N. Michigan Ave.) and receive a $30 gift card that can be redeemed December 2 through December 31. The Mag Mile's official website is constantly adding more shopping deals.
Insider Hint: Head over to the Water Tower Place Concierge Desk located in the Michigan Avenue Lobby and receive your complimentary Water Tower Place Premier Passport, featuring exclusive offers and incentives, plus a signature gift with minimum purchase.
8. Bring Refreshments
Bring a thermos of hot cocoa and get it refilled at one of the many Michigan Avenue tea or coffee shops. Argo Tea (435 N. Michigan Ave.) offers a number of seasonal, warm drinks, including the Chocolate Mint Steamed Cocoa and Red Velvet tea.
9. If You Can't Make the Parade In-Person, Watch It Live on TV
ABC7 will be broadcasting the parade live on tv, so if you can't make this awesome holiday parade, tune in at home!
For a complete schedule of events and holiday offers, visit TheMagnificentMile.com