A display of Christmas trees at the Museum of Science and Industry

Home for the Holidays

If you’re traveling over the next few days, you probably cemented your plans weeks ago. And if you’re not, odds are you won’t be inclined to start packing this late in the holiday swirl. So in the spirit of playing tourist in your hometown, here’s a roster of nearby treats worth investigating:

  1. It may sound both obvious and touristy, but if you’ve got kids with energy to burn, Navy Pier’s Winter WonderFest really is a great place to spend a day during that long, school-free stretch toward New Year’s. New attractions to this year’s Fest include a hang glider-like contraption that whisks riders 40 feet up, a faux Alpine dome that simulates the rush of downhill skiing, and an “Extreme Ice Trail” obstacle course that’s two stories high.
    GO Navy Pier’s Winter WonderFest, 600 E. Grand Ave., Navy Pier; 312-595-7437, winterwonderfest.com. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. December 24th; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. December 26th to 31st; and 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. New Year’s Day. Admission is free, but you need to buy a wristband ($13 to $18) to go on the rides; wristbands are cheaper if you buy them online.
  2. The holidays continue December 26th at the Museum of Science and Industry, where traditional song, dance and storytelling performances celebrating the cultures of Poland, Croatia, Romania, and Serbia run from 12:15 to 4 p.m. on the Holiday Stage. The performances make a lovely addition to the dozens of Christmas trees decked out to represent cultures across the globe in the Museum’s 69th Annual Christmas Around the World display. It’s one of those exhibits that’s easy to take for granted since it does return, after all, every year. But year after year, it’s also absolutely splendid. Bonus: If you hit up the museum gift shop on Christmas Eve, you’re likely to find big markdowns on holiday-related items.
    GO Museum of Science and Industry, 57th and Lake Shore Drive; 773-684-1414, msichicago.org. Admission is $9 to $15.
  3. The Brookfield Zoo remains open 365 days a year. Visit on the 25th, and you’re apt to have a singular zoo experience wherein the animals outnumber the visitors. Plus, the tropical temperatures of the monkey house (among other non-wintery habitats) make for an utterly delightful respite during the dog days of December.
    GO Brookfield Zoo, 3300 Golf Rd., Brookfield; 708-688-8000, czs.org. Admission is $13.50 adults, $9.50 children.
  4. Stuck for a last minute gift? We’ve been prowling the Christkindlmarket for years, succumbing to the lure of Frank’s Ornament House (they have the largest selection of pig ornaments you’re liable to find in these parts) and the kitschy-cute cuckoos of Black Forest Clocks. Moreover, the Stollen at the Dinkel’s Bakery booth is mouthwateringly fine.
    GO Christkindlmarket at Daley Plaza between Dearborn, Washington, and Clark streets; 312-263-8110, christkindlemarket.com. The Market is open 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Christmas Eve.

Where to eat and stay: For a lavish, festive meal, Lockwood (17 E. Monroe St. in the Palmer House Hilton; 312-917-3404, lockwoodrestaurant.com) offers a five-course tasting menu ($75) on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. To see the full menu, click here. And should you wish to escape a house strewn with relatives, wrapping paper, and other stressors of the season, consider a night at the Trump (401 N. Wabash Ave.; 312-588-8000, trumpchicagohotel.com), where in addition to the usual deluxe amenities, a “Holiday Desk” in the front lobby will assist guests in all things holiday, including last-minute gift-buying. Rates start at $355 a night.