To be blunt, Chicago isn’t the easiest for the budget-conscious. We can’t just go off hiking or swimming or spend really any time outside at all for about seven months of the year, so most of our activities are spent inside an establishment. Meaning we often spend money to be there. It’s the price we pay for warmth, ya know?
Last year I found myself repeating the same cycle weekly. I would go to work every day, go to the bars on the weekends, and hole myself up every hour in between. This year, I, one) refuse and two) will use this list as a reference sheet when I complain about not wanting to do anything because I’m broke.
Behold, my list of ways to stay on-budget and still do fun things in Chicago:
Tried and True
- Lincoln Park Zoo – If zoos are your thing, this one’s free. It offers views, walking trails, and since you saved money on admission, you can go waste it on all the food and restaurants nearby.
- Garfield Park Conservatory – Maybe you have an Instagram aesthetic to uphold, and maybe you just like plants. Either way, it’s donation only and offers a warm respite from Chicago’s cold and dry air!
- Lincoln Park Conservatory – See above.
- Millennium Park – Chicago’s #1 tourist destination (maybe)! Is it FUN? Not really, but we all go anyway.
Once In a While
- Free Museum Days (locals only, sorry) – Illinois residents can enjoy all of Chicago’s overpriced museums for free on select spectacularly crowded days! (Get there early is my advice).
- Street Festivals – Check Time Out or Choose Chicago for street festivals going on in the warmer months. Any festival where a street is blocked off has to be donation only, so you can go in and enjoy the music/vendors/people for free.
- Seasonal Activities – As the seasons change, so do Chicago’s free activities! A few examples for each season below…
– Winter –Thanksgiving Day Parade, Lincoln Park ZooLights, Chriskindlmarket, Millennium Park Tree Lighting, CTA Holiday Train
– Spring – This one is TBD. It’s still winter, so save money by just staying indoors. 🙂
– Summer – Movies in the Park, Millennium Park Summer Music Series, Chicago Air and Water Show, the list goes on…
– Fall – Oktoberfests, Halloween Parades
Bianca’s Budget Finds (Grand Finale)
– Lagunitas – Lagunitas’ Chicago taproom has a $10 tour M-F at 1pm & 3pm that gives you a couple beers and, more importantly, the opportunity to LEARN 👍
– Ballast Point – Get one of their flights for about 2 glasses worth of beer for $9.
– Hopewell – Hopewell is priced similarly to many breweries, but they allow you to bring your own food in for a cheap(er) night out. They also allow dogs (!!) and encourage game-playing.
– Great Central Brewing – All pints are $6 – just a plain GOOD deal.
– Monday Night Comedy at Gman Tavern – Free comedy shows at a bar, and if you sit in the first table in the front, you get a pitcher on the house! Free PBR for public humiliation? I will take it.
– Cole’s Comedy Open Mic on Wednesdays – Never been but I enjoy laughing on occasion.
- Pop-up/Facebook events – If you keep your eye out on social media, there are TONS of brands that host events throughout the city (rooftop yoga, pop-ups, giveaway-type events, etc.)
I’ll probably continue to update this list as I exhaust all budget options, but here it is for now. What did I miss?