From helicopter tours to flying trapeze lessons, here at Plan B we have pretty much experienced every activity that Chicago [read: Groupon] has to offer. Unfortunately, while these action-packed adventures have kept us entertained, they’ve completely exhausted our savings.
And to protect ourselves (and you!) from further financial ruin, here are the best Chicago activities for under $11:
- St. Patrick’s Day Parade. If a green Chicago River and a green pint of beer don’t make you green with envy, maybe the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade in Grant Park isn’t for you. However, if that sounds like the best thing ever, then get ready to save some green at the celebration this weekend.
- Summer Concerts. While Lollapalooza and Pitchfork may be fan favorites, the Grant Park Music Festival is the only outdoor music festival in Chicago the U.S. that’s 100% free. A staple of the city since the 1930s, this summer concert series takes place in Millennium Park and features the Grant Park Orchestra performing everything from Tchaikovsky to Timberlake.
- Water Taxi. Although the lake and river boat tours are the best for fun facts, the Chicago Water Taxi does the job for less. Cruise your way to Chinatown for some authentic chop suey, or simply hop aboard for a calorie-free afternoon indulgence.
- The Signature Room. Want to see the city from 1,000 feet up? Then head to the aptly named Signature room on the 95th floor of the John Hancock building. Just make sure you stick to the soft drinks; while admission is free, alcohol prices are sky-high!
- Lincoln Park. Lions and tigers and bears, oh my! Lincoln Park is most famous for its free zoo, but you can also find a museum, a statue of president Grant (for a bit of irony, Lincoln’s statue is in Grant Park), and even a tomb inside this massive 1,208-acre park. If tin men, scarecrows and cowardly lions are more your cup of tea, then travel down the street to Oz Park, named after L. Frank Baum’s famous story.
- Chicago Shakespeare Theater. This Tony-Award-winning theater has a flair for the dramatic and a soft spot for the young and broke. If you’re under 35, sign up for their email list and you can score two tickets to each season’s show for just 10 bucks a pop. Currently playing: the hip-hop-inspired Othello Remix. Chicago may have 99 problems, but cheap theater ain’t one.
- Navy Pier. We know it’s a total tourist trap, but this 3,300 foot-long pier does have a few redeeming qualities. Take the free, bi-weekly fireworks, for example. Or, hop on the famous Ferris Wheel for the spectacular views of the skyline and the best seats in the city for the Air and Water Show every August.
- Art Institute. Recreate your favorite scenes from Ferris Bueller for free every Thursday night from 5–8 p.m. at the Art Institute of Chicago. Filled with famous works such as “Sunday Afternoon in the Park,” “American Gothic” and “Nighthawks,” this impressive museum boasts 1 MILLION square feet of peace and quiet.
- Taste of Chicago. It’s no secret that Chicagoans are obsessed with food, and the annual Taste of Chicago is a testament to just that. From deep-dish pizza, to hot dogs, Italian beef, ribs, gyros and more, this is your one-stop Windy City food shop.
- Blackhawks Parade. From Da Bears to Da Bulls, we truly are super sports fans. This spring, when we’re not cheering on the Cubbies from the historic Wrigley Field or rooting for the White Sox from U.S. Cellular, you can find us at the Blackhawks victory parade celebrating their 2013 Stanley Cup win. Shoot, did we just jinx that?
- Going to the Beach. You’ve heard the phrase “work hard, play hard” but have you ever heard “winter hard, summer hard”? Here in the Second City, our long winters are totally worth the wait once our 24 beaches open for the summer. In the meantime, you can catch us running, biking, or walking along our impressive 26-mile lakefront trail, still working off the calories from last year’s Taste of Chicago.
What are your favorite Chicago activities for under $11?