The Magnificent Mile Lights Festival is Chicago's premier kickoff to the holiday season. Grand marshals Mickey and Minnie Mouse lead a holiday parade of more than 40 floats, helium-filled balloons and marching bands down Michigan Avenue, to the delight of kids and adults alike. Along the route, they light up over one million lights on over 200 trees with their magic wands, leaving Chicago's Mag Mile merry and bright.
This year's event takes place on Saturday November 21, and offers a day chock full of entertainment, culminating in a grand fireworks display over the Chicago River. To make this holiday event 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
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 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 bag of world-famous Garret's caramel corn. From 11AM - 5PM, you'll find musical entertainment for all the kids in your family, from the toddlers to the tweens.
3. PUT IN 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 Napoli-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 Tip: Pop into Hot Tix at 163 E. Pearson (in the Water Works building, just off the Mag Mile) for half-price tickets to hundreds of holiday performances.
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 Tip: At the Drake Hotel's namesake restaurant, Drake Bros', you can enjoy a lavish buffet while enjoying a front row seat and panoramic view of the parade. Reserve your dining experience for November 21 from 5PM-7:30PM by calling 312.932.4619.
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!
Insider Tip: Step into The Loyola University Museum of Art (820 N. Michigan Avenue) to warm up with hot chocolate. Admission is free to LUMA's annual holiday exhibition Art and Faith of the Crèche: The Collection of James and Emilia Govan, which features over 100 nativities from around the world.
6. CHARGE UP
Visit the BMO Harris Lounge at John Hancock Center Plaza (875 N. Michigan Avenue) to recharge your batteries or phones. This heated location is complete with a charging station, BMO Harris ATM and light snacks.
7. SNAG THE BEST VIEWING SPOTS
Arrive at least an hour early to the parade route to snag the best viewing spots. It steps off at 5:30PM at Oak Street & Michigan Avenue, traveling south to Wacker Drive. 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 6:55PM.
8. 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: Mention the Lights Festival at Bloomingdale's (900 N. Michigan Ave.) and present your out-of-state identification or passport to receive a 10% savings certificate. Spend $150 between November 1-25 at Columbia Sportswear (830 N. Michigan Ave.) and receive a $30 gift card that can be redeemed December 2-31. The Mag Mile's official website is constantly adding more shopping deals.
Insider Tip: Head to the Water Tower Place Concierge Desk 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.
9. 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 Cocoa. Or stop into the newest Ghirardelli cafe location in the Wrigley Building (400 N. Michigan Ave.).
10. 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, performances and holiday offers, visit TheMagnificentMile.com.