Set a New Year’s resolution to save money this year? While Chicago abounds with expensive meals out, days of pricey sightseeing and nights on the town, there are plenty of ways to enjoy yourself through the cold months on the cheap.
Top 10 Ways to Enjoy Low Cost Fun in Chicago
1. Trek across Northerly Island by snowshoe
Bring your camera to capture great views of the city while getting a winter workout in. At only $5 for snowshoe or cross-country ski rentals, you can explore this expansive park near the Planetarium. Check here for a calendar of days the program is running. Note that there must be three inches of snow to participate – so check their Facebook page or call 312-745-2910 for up-to-date information on access.
2. See what the Soho House hype is about for the cost of a latte
Curious about West Loop’s new glamorous social club, the Soho House (113 – 125 N. Green St.)? While much of the club is designated for members or hotel guests only, the coffee shop and bar in the stunningly decorated lobby (The Allis) and the two restaurants (Chicken Shop and Pizza East) are open to the public. One of our favorite stops in the neighborhood, we recommend finding a lovely sun-lit table in the lobby and ordering a latte or freshly-concocted Bloody Mary to soak up the Soho House atmosphere.
3. Enjoy a homemade meal in a cozy flower shop
The Flower Flat in Lakeview (620 W. Addison) is a former flower shop offering a unique café. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served; dinner only on Friday nights. Take advantage of Friday night’s rotating $19 prix fixe menu featuring dishes such as red wine marinara spaghetti with mozzarella meatballs and peppered shrimp on creamy polenta.
4. Visit the tropics for free at the conservatories
Surround yourself with gorgeous flowers, plants and streams when you step inside the heated haven of Lincoln Park Conservatory. Located just south of Fullerton, the Conservatory features four rooms: the Palm House, Fern Room, Orchid House and Show House (which hosts annual flower shows). Access is free.
Head further west to visit the Garfield Park Conservatory (300 North Central Park Ave.), which is an expansive tropical setting featuring six multi-faceted greenhouses and two grand exhibition halls. Admission is also free, however donations are recommended.
5. Turn your favorite walk into a bike ride with Divvy
Missing your outdoor workouts? Cover more ground and work up some body heat while biking around town. The Divvy rental bike system is available year-round and you can check out a bike for a $7 24-hour pass or kick start unlimited rides with a year-long membership for $75. Because the intent of the bike program is to offer transportation from one point to another, rides must be 30 minutes or less. If you decide to ride for longer, slight overtime charges will be applied. The program offers 3000 bikes across the city found at 300 docking stations, so you are guaranteed to find one near where you want to go.
6. Dine at last year’s hot restaurants
Missed a few restaurant openings last year? Head in now that lines have subsided to comfort hits such as Leghorn Chicken’s new location on 600 W. Ohio St. ($7 for a Nashville Hot chicken sandwich on a buttermilk biscuit), or Shake Shack (66 E. Ohio St.) where you can devour a classic ShackBurger for only $5.19. Dine on endless tacos, burger and po’ boys at Big & Little’s, located at 860 N. Orleans and 1034 W. Belmont. This favorite Chicago diner was featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives and continues to draw regulars back for more delicious eats.
Or, make it fancy and head to Enolo Wine Café in River North (450 N. Clark St.) for a $13 “Tall, Dark and Handsome” flight of 3 glasses of red wine or a $4.50 tasty bruschetta (top picks include Prosciutto, Fig Jam and Mascarpone, or Bacon Jam, Torched Burrata, Arugula and Tomato).
7. Take advantage of free museum days
Chicago has so many options to get your cultural fix. From Degas at the Art Institute to dinosaurs at the Field Museum, Illinois residents can enjoy some of Chicago’s best museums for free on select days (bring your driver’s license to show proof of residency). Choose Chicago put together a list of specific dates museums open up to residents for free.
8. Conquer a new workout for free
Many fitness studios offer a trial workout for free for new customers. Tackle your New Year’s resolutions by finding your new favorite workout. TITLE Boxing Club offers a free first boxing experience, and Power Sculpt Fitness offers a free trial class (check out Cycle & Sculpt or Tabata Express).
9. Eat and drink on the cheap with local happy hour specials
Warm, cozy bars draw you in from the cold for fun and camaraderie. Keep bar tabs low by heading in for the happy hour specials. Get your coworkers or friends to tag along to split a few appetizers. The Lobby Lounge in the JW Marriott (151 W. Adams St.) offers $5 wine specials and $5 appetizers such as pizza flatbreads and chicken bites from 5 – 7 p.m. Monday through Friday.
McCormick & Schmick’s on Rush and Chestnut has a great priced happy hour menu in the early evening hours each day of the week tempting you with items ranging from $2.99 (Garlic Rosemary Fries) to $5.99 (American Kobe Style Carpaccio and Baja Fish Tacos).
If you’re craving a Hawaiian island menu, head to Roy’s (720 N. State St.) for Aloha Hour every night from 4:30 – 7 p.m. to enjoy $6 cocktails such as Cucumber Martinis and $6 bar bites such as Red Curry Chicken Samosas and Tempura-Crusted Ahi Rolls.
10. Collect extra cash by selling clothes at consignment shops
Make a few extra bucks to fund your social life as you clear up space in your closet. Donate clean items in great condition that you no longer want to consignment shops such as Second Time Around (823 W. Armitage). Earn on average 30 – 40% of the original value of an item, or 50% for new items with tags still on. Second Time Around is looking for designer clothing and accessories that you no longer need and can sell to someone else who would enjoy them.
Le Thrift Consignment (1821 W. Chicago Ave.) is currently accepting winter hand bags, clothing, jewelry and accessories for similar prices, no appointment necessary.