Chicago's Art Institute at Christmas

This year for the holidays, I decided to drive into Chicago to visit family. Chicago is a great city to be in around the holidays due to the wintry weather and holiday traditions combining to form the perfect festive ambiance. There are always plenty of events going on in what is one of the best downtown areas in the country. Surprisingly, the weather was incredibly mild for this time of the year. We did not get any snow our entire trip! Below I have listed some highlights of our Chicago Christmas trip.

Brookfield Zoo: Zoo Lights

For this “Holiday Magic” event, the zoo is decorated with 2 million multi colored lights. There is also a laser show, carolers, ice carving demonstrations, and more. The nice thing about this event is that you can still check out all the indoor animal exhibits, of which Brookfield is home to some of the best in the country. We saw the dolphin show, which was done holiday style to the background of Christmas music. Brookfield’s dolphin show is one of the top zoo exhibits in the country.

Tropic World, a primate exhibit and one of the largest indoor exhibits in the country, is one not to be missed. Another great new-ish attraction is the Great Bear Wilderness, which includes a fantastic underwater polar bear viewing area. There is a nice tram ride that takes you around the zoo. During Zoo Lights, the tram is a nice way to cover the entire zoo in a short period of time, making it a great choice for those not tolerant of extreme cold.

Dolphin show at Brookfield Zoo in the Chicago suburbs
Tropic World at Brookfield Zoo
brown bear in underwater viewing area at Brookfield Zoo

Hollywood Blvd

Hollywood Blvd. is a unique dinner and movie theater concept located in the Chicago suburbs of Woodridge and Naperville.  The theater is stylish and features décor and memorabilia from all different films. The creative menu features entrees and appetizers with movie themed names. Surprisingly, the food is really good – much, much better than typical movie theater selections. Here you can order all sorts of fun appetizers, full size entrees, desserts, and even a bucket of beer! The waiters are very fast and efficient taking your order right before the movie starts and usually getting it out before the movie starts or shortly after. The seats are very comfortable. The theater is clean. They also frequently host celebrity events.

We went to a special holiday screening of It’s a Wonderful Life hosted by Karolyn Grimes who plays ZuZu in the film. We got to meet Karyolyn after the film and before the screening she also shared some personal stories from way back in the filming days. In addition to It’ a Wonderful Life, Hollywood also screens a few other holiday classics including White Christmas. Check the Hollywood Blvd. website for upcoming celebrity events and make sure to get advance tickets as they get very crowded.

Hollywood Palms - Naperville, IL

Downtown Chicago

Chicago’s downtown looks gorgeous around the holidays, and thus, we had to walk around at least one day during our trip! We conveniently took “The L” train into the downtown area. First, we walked around Millennium Park. There is some neat architecture here including Cloud Gate aka “the bean,” which is a unique sculpture which allows you to see your own reflection and that of the city behind you. There is also a very busy ice rink which features great views of the city skyline in the background. We arrived an hour before opening and there was already a huge line of people waiting.

Millennium Park ice skating in Chicago, Illinois

Next, we walked “The Magnificent Mile” -I really enjoy walking this shopping district located on Michigan Avenue during the holidays as the atmosphere is so festive. Every tree is lighted and the stores are decorated for Christmas. I also like to walk a few blocks over to State Street to see the Macy’s Christmas themed windows. From the windows, you can walk over and see the Grand Christmas Tree and visit Christkindlmarket, a German Christmas market with all sorts of amazing handcrafted ornaments and decor. Visit this website for more information on this annual event.

Macy’s holiday windows

Macy's holiday window in downtown Chicago

The Christmas tree at Daley Plaza (now located in Millennium Park)

Chicago Christmas Tree Daley Plaza

Millenium Park

Cloud Gate at Milennium Park - Chicago, IL

Orland Square:

Orlando Square, a large mall in the Southeastern Chicago suburbs, has always been my favorite amongst the variety of options available throughout the state. Orland Square is a very large mall with 2 floors featuring both upscale and casual stores. There is always a lot of security around and it is always up kept and clean. My only problem with this mall is that the food court is horrible. However, there are dozens of restaurants and other shopping centers located nearby. In addition, a new Dave and Buster’s entertainment center is opening next year. Visit the mall website for hours and additional information.

Other great malls in the suburbs include Oakbrook Center and Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg.

Best Holiday Dining

We also visited several restaurants on our trip. Check out my reviews of the following restaurants in the Chicago and surrounding suburbs:


Fox’s is a local family run pizza place which has been in business for decades. I love Fox’s – it is one of my favorite restaurants on the South side of Chicago. We have been ordering take out pizza from them for decades. This was my first time dining inside the Orland Park location, and I have to say I was pleased! Great entertainment (live music and dancing), tasty food, and a lively unique atmosphere made for a really fun weekend family dinner! If you are looking for some excellent deep dish or super thin crust Chicago style pizza, Fox’s is one of your best bets!

Hard Rock Cafe

I always try to visit different Hard Rock locations on every trip as I like the touristy vibe, plus I collect all the glasses. Chicago’s Hard Rock location is a bit dull compared to others, nevertheless, the food was good as always (love the twisted mac and cheese) and it was decorated nicely for the holidays.

Hard Rock Cafe Chicago holiday sign

Oak Lawn Family Restaurant

Oak Lawn Family Restaurant is one of the hidden gems on the Southside. All the locals know that the Oak Lawn Family restaurant is the best casual diner style restaurant this side of Chicago. I like it because it is always consistent – every-time I come back I always receive the same great service, great food, and a comfortable atmosphere. It never changes! We had so much food leftover the next day – the portions are huge so bring your appetite! Lots of options on the menu including all day breakfast. One of the best family restaurants around! Update: This restaurant has recently closed.