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The 13 Best Indoor Activities In Chicago

By Staff in Best Of on Jan 14, 2015 5:00PM

We know Chicago's winters can often be brutal and rather than face it head on, it's easier to bury ourselves under a mountain of blankets, eat pasta and wait for May, only we feel regret for our sedentary lifestyles while waiting for the warm weather. But there are scores of indoor activities to do in the city that entail only having to travel through the permafrost and hawk wind for a brief moment or three. These are the oases in our frozen desert.

We've selected a baker's dozen of picks that will get your pulse rates, minds and bodies moving a little faster and keep the blahs at bay until we stow the winter clothes away.

(Garfield Park Conservatory/Photo: Jessica Mlinaric)

Garfield Park Conservatory
Nothing refreshes me mid-winter like a stroll through the verdant houses of the Garfield Park Conservatory. You don’t need to know a bit of botany to appreciate the playful patterns of GPC’s residents or revel in its calming canopies as a refuge against Chicago’s cold on the other side of the glass. Just an hour of breathing in the lush aromas and listening to the waterfall chime around Dale Chihuly’s glass installations will do anybody good and with free admission (donation suggested) Garfield Park Conservatory is easily accessible to winter weary visitors. It’s a pleasure to see GPC blooming again after suffering devastating hail damage in 2011, and Chicagoans can look forward to the anticipated reopening of the remainder of the conservatory this year. — Jessica Mlinaric

Garfield Park Conservatory is located at 300 N. Central Park Ave.

The Art Institute of Chicago
With the sheer size of The Art Institute of Chicago, it can easily be a place to spend an entire day out of the cold enjoying their world-class collection. The free tours of the collection give visitors an enriched view of some of the artworks by the knowledgeable and engaging Museum Education staff and docents. On Thursdays the museum is open until 8 p.m. and free for Illinois residents from 5 p.m. until close, so residents can have a nice evening out, too! The exhibition, Temptation: The Demons of James Ensor is a riveting show that continues through Jan. 25 and not to be missed. — Carrie McGath

Art Institute of Chicago is located at 111 S. Michigan Ave.

Sky High Sports
When you’re starting to feel a little stir crazy during these long winter months, what could be better than a room full of trampolines? Trampoline parks are becoming more popular, and it’s not hard to see why. Enter Sky High Sports in Niles, southwest of Evanston. Sky High is inexpensive and along with your run of the mill trampoline time, they also offer trampoline-based AIRobics exercise classes and the occasional dodgeball tournament! — Sophie Day

Sky High Sports is located at 6424 Howard Street in Niles.

(A washboard workshop at Old Town School of Folk Music/Photo: Facebook)

Old Town School of Folk Music
I actually don’t know where I’d be without the Old Town School of Folk Music. Even in the dead of winter—OK, especially in the dead of winter—Chicago would feel so much colder to me. But the bitterest evening in January can’t keep me home when it’s time for go-go dancing, harmonica or gamelan class. I’ve tried many more, but these are my standbys, and a winter without them would be truly sad. Some retain the impression that guitar lessons are all that’s on offer here, but I couldn’t pick through the opening bars of “Wish You Were Here" to save my soul and still can’t find my way through the end of the curriculum. Yes, you may think you’d like to stay home and thaw out in your flannel pajamas after walking home from work with icicles hanging off your earlobes, but the moment you start toe tapping or tangoing with 15 of your newest friends, you’ll know you’ve made the right choice. Trust me, inside these doors, spring quickly becomes irrelevant. — Melissa Wiley

Old Town School of Folk Music is located at 4544 N. Lincoln Ave.

Guts & Glory at Schubas Tavern
There are several live lit shows you can catch in Chicago this winter. (2nd Story and Write Club are some good examples.) Guts & Glory, hosted by Keith Ecker and Samantha Irby, is never a disappointment. Held on the third Wednesday of each month, seven readers take to the mic and read original nonfiction that relates to either Guts or Glory. Guts stories range from sharing embarrassing to deeply personal moments, while Glory can range from doing something bold or standing up for yourself. The authors chosen are always able to elicit laughter or empathy from their audience, so each piece counts. Grab a drink from the bar before getting sucked into the weird and wonderful stories that’ll make you forget about the sub-zero temps outside. — Ben Kramer

Guts & Glory is hosted at Schubas, located at 3159 N. Southport Ave.

Whenever I’m bored I like to check out Dabble for interesting classes, especially food and drink-related. So far I’ve learned how to taste whiskey while eating delicious homemade food, learned how to make ice cream from Blackbird Pastry Chef Dana Cree and learned how to make easy home-churned butter .There are tons of new and interesting classes available every week, but some upcoming ones from instructors I know include DIY Bitters! with Devin Kidner who taught the butter class, Chinese New Year Dumpling Making Party! from Yum Dum who served their delicious food at our anniversary party and a Pierogi Making Class from local food blogger Kat Levitt of A Girl & Her Food. — Melissa McEwen

Check out Dabble classes at

(Chicago Architecture Foundation/Photo: Jessica Mlinaric)

Chicago Architecture Foundation
With over 70 walking tours, the Chicago Architecture Foundation has the hookup for plenty of indoor exploring across the city. From the heights of Chicago’s historic skyscrapers to the underground labyrinth of the Pedway, discover the details and design behind the city’s iconic structures. Stop by CAF’s headquarters in the Santa Fe Building to interact with their display on Big Data in Chicago or bring the kids to build your own dream spaces in the Lego Architecture Studio. — Jessica Mlinaric

Chicago Architecture Foundation is located at 224 S. Michigan Ave.

Logan Arcade
Between a great bar staff, a cozy environment and pinball and arcade games galore, this is a perfect place to go on a cold and wet winter day. With events and drink specials most days of the week including a magician on Tuesdays, Doctor Who viewings and Killer Queen tournaments, it also beats the cabin fever boredom that no doubt plagues every Chicagoan at one point or another during these cold months. On Sundays, enjoy $2 off their impressive craft can beer selection. Season 2 pinball leagues begin on Tuesday Feb. 3 and start at 8 p.m. with a league sign up fee of $25. Everyone who is interested is encouraged to stop by. — Carrie McGath

Logan Arcade is located at 2410 W. Fullerton Ave.

The Signature Lounge
When tourists come to the city, the list of sights to see is often the same. This story will probably feel all too familiar for those who call Chicago home. A friend comes to town, you ask what they want to do, they mention the Bean, Navy Pier and Willis Tower. The biggest problem with each of these attractions is that since they are what people want to do when they visit the city, they are often crowded. May we suggest an alternative? Whether you are entertaining out-of-town guests or simply want to spend some time at the top of the city, skip The Ledge at Willis and check out The Signature Lounge at the 96th in the John Hancock building. The bar features an exciting selection of beverages, and while the prices are slightly on the steep side, the lack of cover means you’re still paying less than a trip to the top of Willis. The panoramic views of the city are phenomenal, and will be particularly striking this winter while we have snow on the ground and ice on the lake. Ladies, be sure to check out the view from the women’s restroom, it’s the best one in the place! — Sophie Day

The Signature Lounge is located on the 96th of the John Hancock Center, 875 N. Michigan Ave.

(Whirlyball/Photo: Facebook)

What do you get when you combine lacrosse, basketball and bumper cars? The high-stakes, low-skill world of Whirlyball. If you haven’t attempted this “sport," now is the time to grab some friends and reserve court time at Whirlyball’s brand new 50,000-square-foot complex on Webster Ave. Just around the corner from its former space, Whirlyball now boasts two stories, twelve bowling lanes and a laser tag arena. The Whirlyball upgrade also includes a new restaurant and an expanded craft beer and cocktail list which you’ll be needing to up your game and nurse those bumper car bruises. — Jessica Mlinaric

Whirlyball is located at 1825 W. Webster Ave.

Soup and Bread at The Hideout
Other than a good sweater and a roaring fire, one of the best ways to stay warm and cope with Chicago’s seemingly never-ending winter is enjoying a hot bowl of homemade soup. That’s why The Hideout ladles out delicious homemade soup and hearty, crusty bread each Wednesday night at Soup & Bread. From 5:30 to 8 p.m. for a donation amount of your choosing, you get a bowl of soup made by local chefs, a slice of bread from Publican Quality Meats and the good company of fellow soup lovers. To give back each week The Hideout chooses a different Chicago area charity to receive proceeds and since 2009 have raised over $50,000 for local hunger-relief organizations. So take a break in the middle of your week, get out of the cold and warm up for a good cause. — Gina Provenzano

The Hideout is located at 1354 W. Wabansia Ave.

The world’s most popular sport has its fans in Chicago. But where can you practice your footwork when your regular pitch is buried in a foot of snow and mined with frozen dog shit? Head south to Pilsen where Chi-Town Futbol has called an old factory home for over 15 years. The facility has three playing fields and hosts men’s, women’s and co-ed leagues year-round. If you don’t want to play soccer, Chi-Town Futbol also has a full gym so you can switch up your workout routine.

Further south in McKinley Park, Chicago Indoor Sports has four soccer fields, a futsal field, a basketball court and even a bar for when you’ve showered and stowed your sweaty workout gear. Chicago Indoor Sports also hosts men’s, youth and co-ed soccer leagues. —Chuck Sudo

Chi-Town Futbol is located at 2255 S. Throop St. Chicago Indoor Sports is located at 3900 S. Ashland Ave.

Mealsharing has a strong Chicago community of people who want to share their home-cooked meals with others. There are a huge variety of meals from Chinese to Brazilian all over Chicago. Depending on what you pitch in your meal might be cooked by a professional chef or just a friendly low-key home cook. Once you go to a few, odds are you’ll be sharing a table with another Mealsharing regular or two, as well as plenty of new and interesting people. — Melissa McEwen

Check out Mealshares at