We might be missing out on some of our favorite holiday activities this year, but gifting isn’t one of them. And what better way to brighten someone’s holidays than by sending them a bit of Chicago? These Chicago experience gifts are not only super simple to give, but can be quickly and easily sent to your loved ones both near and far. Plus, it’s a great way to support your favorite local businesses.

Here’s a round-up of some of our favorite ways to gift the Chicago experience to everyone on your list, with a few examples to get you started

Museum memberships

The Art Institute of Chicago. The Woman’s Board Grand Staircase. Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Chicago has a museum for every interest area, from nature to history to art and beyond. And a membership is the perfect gift for museum lovers in your life. Not only will they be helping support their favorite cultural institutions, but they’ll get to enjoy everything the museums have to offer (plus a few perks) later.

  • Shedd Aquarium membership: This historic aquarium offers year-round free admission through their membership program, which also includes discounts on experiences, invitations to exclusive members-only events, guest passes, and more.
  • Art Institute of Chicago membership: Gift a membership to the Art Institute of Chicago and the art lover in your life will enjoy yearlong free admission, as well as access to a wide variety of virtual events that bring the masterpieces of Chicago’s world class museum direct to your home.
  • Chicago Architecture Center membership: A Chicago Architecture Center membership is the gift that gives all year round: access outstanding virtual programs now, and enjoy in-person special events and tours later. 
  • National Museum of Mexican Art membership: The tiered membership program to this Pilsen museum features private exhibition tours, gift shop discounts, plus benefits at other Chicago museums.
  • Dusable Museum of African American History: A membership to this inspiring museum includes free admission, plus complimentary invites to both public and private programs. The membership also includes access to more than 250 museums around the country, including many in Chicago.

Theatre subscriptions and events

Chicago’s many theatres are the soul of the city, from small neighborhood storefronts to massive downtown auditoriums. While our stages remain dark for now, there are still plenty of ways you can give the gift of Chicago theatre through virtual memberships and streaming events. Here are a few ideas.

  • Steppenwolf NOW membership: Give the gift of a Steppenwolf NOW virtual stage membership to the theatre fiend in your life. The membership gives them access to stream audio plays, immersive visual programming, and more exclusive content by Steppenwolf’s legendary ensemble.
  • The Second City Happy Hour: Know someone who needs a little laughter? (Pretty much everyone these days.) The Second City’s Happy Hour brings the iconic comedy theatre’s stellar talent right into your own living room with interactive games, special guests, and suggestion-driven improv.
  • The Den Theatre donation: Help support neighborhood theatres by making donations in your loved ones’ names. The Den, for example, is a multi-venue arts hub in Wicker Park that hosts drag shows, comedy, independent producers, and more. Bonus points for making it a recurring donation.
  • Chicago Shakespeare Theatre subscription: Invest in Chicago Shakespeare Theatre’s 2021 season and reap the benefits later. A subscription includes guaranteed tickets to As You Like It, Measure for Measure, Twelfth Night, and more classic and contemporary works (plus virtual programming for the holidays).
  • Harris Theater subscription: The Harris Theater presents dance, music, the performing arts, and beyond. You can customize a subscription to the 2021/22 main stage season, which includes opera, ballet, and contemporary dance.
  • Court Theatre subscriptions: The professional theatre of University of Chicago, the Court Theatre revives lost masterpieces, modern classics, and African American theatrical works. Choose from three, four, and five event packages with flexible and guaranteed seat options.

Meal kits and virtual classes

Our city is known for its iconic dining scene, where you can find fine dining and family-owned spots in every corner of the city. And you don’t have to live here to get a taste. Many Chicago restaurants and bars are offering gourmet meal kits, online cooking classes, cocktail kits, and more. Gift your loved ones with a bite of Chicago’s dining scene with these culinary experiences.

  • One Off at Home meal kits: You don’t have to live in Chicago to enjoy avec’s famous bacon wrapped dates. This collection of made-from-scratch, gourmet meal kits from multi-award-winning chef Paul Kahan can be shipped across the U.S. 
  • Deep dish pizza: Send this Chicago classic straight to your loved one’s door. Ship frozen deep dish pizzas (with customized toppings) from Lou Malnati’s anywhere in the country.
  • Virtual Hoppy Hour with the Chicago Beer Experience: Present your beer loving buddy with a certificate for an interactive beer tasting class they can do at home. They’ll learn about Chicago beer history and the story behind some of our city’s most iconic beer brands. Pair this gift with a six pack of your favorite Chicago beer so they can sip while they learn.
  • Eli’s Cheesecake: Know someone with a sweet tooth? Send them this classic Chicago dessert. Eli’s holiday flavors include peppermint bark and hot chocolate variations of their famous cheesecakes. Plus, they offer nationwide shipping so you can treat loved ones near and far.
  • Virtual Happy Hour with The Chopping Block: The Chopping Block is now offering virtual classes, so you can learn the art of cooking (or drinking) from the comfort of your own kitchen. Their virtual cocktail classes feature lively lessons in mixology, making for a fun and educational happy hour.
  • Lost Lake cocktail subscription: Give the gift of tropical vibes with a subscription to Lost Lake’s tropical cocktails. Each delivery includes a rotating selection of signature cocktails, plus tasting notes. Or gift them some colorful new barware from the Lost Lake shop.
  • Virtual beer tasting from Moody Tongue: This acclaimed local brewery is offering private virtual tasting of their culinary-inspired beers led by brewmaster Jared Rouben. You can even add on a guided virtual brewery tour and some cool Moody Tongue swag.

Gift cards

Foursided boutique
©Adam Alexander Photography 2019

Shopping for someone who has everything? A gift card is a no-fail option that gives your recipient the flexibility to get something they truly love. Plus, you can get a gift card from just about anywhere — museums, restaurants, shops, and so much more — so you can still make your present feel personal.

  • Lettuce Entertain You gift cards: Gift your loved ones to their choice of dinner at a mind-boggling selection of Chicago restaurants, from Aba to Summer House Santa Monica to RPM Italian. These digital gift cards can be delivered in second for easy gifting. Plus, get $25 for every $100 you buy.
  • Museum of Contemporary Art store: This gift shop is a perfect extension of the cutting-edge museum itself, with sculptural home items, gorgeous art books, and more.
  • Stan’s Donuts gift card: Know someone with a sweet tooth? Treat them to some donuts from Stan’s, with locations all around the city. Plus, purchase a Stan’s gift card for $50 or more and you’ll receive a free mug — the perfect addition to your gift.
  • Museum of Science and Industry Gift card: These digital gift cards, with options starting at $25, can be used to buy museum tickets or even a membership at this family favorite museum.
  • Off Color Brewing gift card: A brewery gift card is the perfect option for the beer lovers in your life. Off Color Brewing sells gift cards at their Lincoln Park taproom that can be used for merch, to go beer, and drinks at the bar.
  • Foursided gift card: This charming boutique offers gift cards in denominations of $5 to $500, with electronic and mail delivery options. They can be redeemed online or in store.