Monday, February 22, 2010

Why February is a great time to be in Chicago

As I shoveled out about 14 inches of snow from my back porch, I thought, “At least it’s not raining." February can be a truly awful month in Chicago, liable to snow, rain, and freeze, perhaps all in one day. It’s winter’s last hurrah, but the gray days can make spring feel like a long way off. To be fair, today and yesterday were gorgeous blue-sky days, with crisp clear views of the skyline and the sun sparkling on the snow. It was also cold enough to look for a place to spend the day inside.

My favorite winter respite in the city is the Lincoln Park Conservatory. Located in Lincoln Park, the conservatory is a breath of warm air. The beautiful antique-glass greenhouse is free year round, and its four houses showcase abundant ferns, palms, orchids, and other tropical plants. It’s a local treasure, just slightly off the beaten tourist track.

Another gem of a building, the Chicago Cultural Center, is in the heart of downtown, yet often overlooked. The Cultural Center is worth visiting any time of year for its stunning Tiffany glass dome and tile mosaics, but this month you can also catch the Peace on Earth Film Festival. The weekend of Feb 26-28, ten films covering peace towards humans and the earth will screen at the Center. All films are free and open to the public. Did I mention that this was in addition to their usual offerings of free music concerts and art exhibits?

The city’s greatest cultural landmark is also vying for your winter hours. The Art Institute of Chicago, one of the great art museums of the world, is free in February. Every day. The gallery of the Impressionists, the early Christian masterpieces, the new Renzo Piano-designed Modern Wing— all free, all month.

Finally, don’t let the late winter weather keep you indoors the whole time. The hostel offers its usual free Saturday walking tour of downtown, as well as the lakefront, Grant Park, and Millennium Park being free year round. Millennium Park offers free ice-skating (skate rental is $10), as do other public parks around the city. Up near the Lincoln Park Conservatory, you’ll also find the Lincoln Park Zoo. You guessed it— also free. The Zoo is large enough to occupy you for an afternoon of investigating the lives of giraffes, reptiles, birds, tigers, and polar bears. One other great way to visit a different ecosystem is through the world-class Shedd Aquarium. The Shedd offers stunning views of the lake, and thankfully from an indoor vantage point.

-Hostel Volunteer Rachel Miller

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