What to do in and around Chicago this Christmas and New Year
Make sure to relax over Christmas because Chicago hits the New Year running. Two-day festival Reaction New Year's Eve in Rosemont promises to be an appropriately epic blowout, and for those who stay in Chicago itself, the city is inaugurating its own version of a ball drop—a star traveling up the Hyatt Regency Chicago. Kids can celebrate their own New Year once the adults' hangovers have dissipated on January 2nd, and have plenty of time to enjoy the Polar Peak sledding hill. And if all this sounds too much, soothe your cares away in one of the nine healing pools of the Korean King Spa and Sauna.
December 30–31 | NYE blowout in the ‘burbs
Reaction New Year’s Eve
Staging this blowout of a two-day concert in northwest suburban Rosemont is absolutely brilliant. For one thing, the venue is off the Blue Line, so everyone going to see deadmau5, Chvrches, Run the Jewels, and Bonobo’s DJ set on December 30, and Skrillex, Chance the Rapper, Purity Ring, and Get Real on December 31 have no reason at all to drive. Plus, there are four hotels within walking distance (and others that provide free shuttles to the concert), and you can spend some downtime at the nearby Rivers Casino and your rent money at the upscale Fashion Outlets of Chicago. But the best reason? The city will be just a bit less crowded on New Year’s Eve thanks to this show.
5:30 p.m.–1:30 a.m. | Donald E. Stephens Convention Center, 5555 N. River Rd., Rosemont, IL | One-day ticket from $89, two-day ticket from $130 | website
December 31 | Ball drop, Chicago style
New York’s Times Square has its New Year’s Eve ball drop, and now Chicago is attempting to have its own iconic outdoor NYE celebration, complete with a 75-foot star that rises at midnight. The first-ever Chi-Town Rising, taking place on Wacker Dr. between Michigan Ave. and Columbus Dr., will pack in the crowds in front of a giant stage featuring local acts starting at 7 p.m. At 11 p.m., host Mario Lopez takes the stage and the live broadcast on NBC 5 and Telemundo Chicago begins—highlights will include the bands Chicago and American Authors and a countdown to midnight as a star travels 360 feet up the Hyatt Regency Chicago. Once the star has reached its apex, so does the party, with fireworks exploding over the night sky.
7 p.m.–12:30 a.m. | Hyatt Regency Chicago, 151 E. Upper Wacker Dr., Chicago | From $150 | website
January 2 | Family fun
New Year Family Celebration
Music, dancing, noisemakers, a countdown, balloon drop—so much about New Year’s is right up kids’ alleys—except for the Champagne and staying up till midnight parts, of course. This party, taking place after New Year’s, allows kids to enjoy all the fun of that grown-up annual bash at the much more reasonable hour of 4 p.m. Kids can make New Year’s–themed crafts like rainbow streamers and party hats, play hockey and soccer games, jump like crazy in bounce houses, and eat pizza, pasta, sandwiches, and more like there’s no tomorrow. And when the balloons drop from the ceiling, they can dance with their parents until the wee hours of 6:30 p.m.
4–6:30 p.m. | Lil’ Kickers Bradley Place, 2640 B W. Bradley Pl., Chicago | From $15 adults, $10 kids | website
AFAR Local is published every Wednesday, so check back for insider updates on restaurant openings, festivals, exhibitions, shows, weekend escapes, and more. Planning a trip? The AFAR guide to Chicago has you covered.
Through February 28 | Winter wonderland
Chicago’s topography is as flat as it gets, which makes it one of the last places you’d think to find a sledding hill. But thanks to the wonders of man-made innovation, a very steep two-story hill called Polar Peak, created just for high-speed tubing, is just what you’ll find in suburban Rosemont’s Frozemont outdoor wonderland. Pay $3, jump on a tube (provided), and careen down the hill as many times as you can stand it (or afford to). When you need a break from the thrills, rent some skates and slide around the enormous skating rink or, better yet, walk over to the Hofbrauhaus for a giant stein of beer and a pretzel.
Polar Peak: 4–8 p.m. Mon–Fri, noon–8 p.m. weekends, weather permitting | MB Financial Park, 5501 Park Pl., Rosemont | (847) 349-5008 | $3 per run | website
King Spa and Sauna
There is no Christmas dinner argument, late-night toy assembly, or frantic last-minute shopping that this Korean spa cannot undo. Leave your clothes and inhibitions in the locker room and spend the day wandering naked in and out of the nine saunas, each with its own purported healing powers. Cool off in the pool, get a massage, hang out in the steam rooms, then start the sauna tour all over again. When hunger strikes, grab the provided “uniform” of a t-shirt and shorts and hit the food court, where you can order anything from Korean bibimbap to pizza. Don’t want to leave? There are sleeping rooms where you can catch some zees overnight.
Open 24/7 | 809 Civic Center Dr., Niles, IL | (847) 972-2540 | From $35 | website
Laura Baginski is a Chicago-based writer and editor who specializes in travel and parenting. Because of the latter, the former doesn't happen as much as she'd like.