U.S. Cellular Field, Chicago (Picture by Chris McGuire)
Winter in the Midwest is not for wimps. Once the last leaf falls to the ground, Chicago becomes one of the coldest places in the country. For the better part of the year, the sky is sullen and grey, and it becomes a monumental struggle to venture outside. With the effects of Lake Michigan, wind chill and freezing temperatures are enough to make Chicagoans wish they lived somewhere else.
That all changes once spring rolls around, and everyone remembers why they love Chicago. Green buds begin to sprout and flowers start to bloom as the Windy City emerges from hibernation. Summer is truly glorious once festival season is in full swing. Locals head to Wrigley Field or U.S. Cellular Field to root for their favorite baseball team. And all across the city, people congregate on rooftop bars and outdoor patios to indulge in a favorite Midwest pastime.
For conferences and meetings, summer is when landmarks and city attractions come to life. Visitors can feel like kids again on Navy Pier or take a group photo in front of the Bean in Millennium Park. In villages such as Schaumburg and Elks Grove Village, groups can explore quaint town centers and access the great outdoors. The options are as endless as summer itself.
Chicago City Slicker
It’s an exciting time to visit Navy Pier, which celebrates its 100th year of operation this summer. The most visited landmark in the Midwest, welcoming more than 8 million visitors annually, it is in the midst of a multiphase makeover to unveil park enhancements, special events, more dining options and a bold, new focal point.
Navy Pier, Chicago (Photo by Choose Chicago)
The old Ferris wheel has been dismantled to make way for Centennial Wheel, a 200-foot-tall attraction that boasts sky-high views of Lake Michigan and Chicago’s skyline. The wheel can hold around 500 people at a time, and features temperature-controlled gondolas that are operable year-round. During the summer, Centennial Wheel lights up the sky alongside weekly fireworks shows.
“Seeing is believing, and we can’t wait for our guests to experience firsthand the changes at Navy Pier,” says Marilynn Gardner, president and CEO of Navy Pier, Inc. “Now more than ever, Navy Pier will be a go-to, special place for family outings, exhilarating nightlife, entertaining out-of-town guests or enjoying a beautiful walk by the lake.”
For visitors who want to stay overnight, Navy Pier will soon open its first hotel. The five-story building, which has yet to be named, will overlook the South Dock from more than 200 guest rooms. Construction of the privately funded $90 million hotel is expected to begin in 2017, with an opening slated for late 2018.
Dining in Chicago’s Loop (Photo by City of Chicago)
Swanky decor and skyline views are best enjoyed with a cocktail in hand on one of Chicago’s many rooftop retreats. Loews Chicago Hotel boasts the city’s largest outdoor terrace, with 9,000 sq. ft. of grassy lawn space, complete with outdoor cabanas and high-top dining. The urban oasis can be rented for events of 50 or more.
Loews Chicago Hotel
Last spring, Hyatt Centric the Loop Chicago opened Aire, a new outdoor rooftop bar with panoramic views from the hotel’s 24th floor. The bar serves handcrafted cocktails and light fare in a sophisticated ambience with revolving art exhibits and open fireplaces. Catering from popular city restaurants will soon be offered for private
The Terrace at Trump International Hotel & Tower Chicago, offering some of the best views of the Chicago River, is the place to see and be seen. The high-rise space features contemporary lounges and outdoor fire pits, and can seat up to 200.
Hors d’oeuvres at Trump International Hotel & Tower Chicago
A larger rooftop venue is available on the city’s first trilevel hotel at the newly opened LondonHouse Chicago. The exclusive Beaux Arts Cupola on the 23rd floor offers a private dining experience like no other.
Al Fresco Dining
Locals relish the change in seasons by sitting outside at one of Chicago’s premier restaurants, with views to boot. In the West Loop, also known as Restaurant Row, City Winery has 33,000 sq. ft. of sprawling outdoor patio space and an outdoor wine garden on the revamped Riverwalk. For shared plates, Bar Takito serves Latin American fare and boasts a patio that seats 80. Kaiser Tiger is located a few blocks down and offers a good time in its 200-seat beer garden that has bocce ball courts and ping pong tables.
Kaiser Tiger, Chicago
Chicago Northwest Nature Lover
On the outer edge of O’Hare International Airport (ORD), the communities of Northwest Chicago are a breath of fresh air outside city limits. Just 25 miles north of downtown, villages and townships lend a slower pace for meetings held during the summer. Getting here is also easy, whether attendees are driving or flying.
“The Chicago Northwest region is one of the Midwest’s most affordable and sophisticated destinations for summer meetings, with over 60 hotels with nearly 10,000 well-appointed rooms, and high-tech meeting venues including the 100,000-square-foot Schaumburg Convention Center,” says Dave Parulo, president of Meet Chicago Northwest. “We are especially attractive to the summer attendees who desire quick connections.”
Legoland Discovery Center Chicago, Schaumburg
Meeting groups with families in tow can cross Legoland Discovery Center off the warm-weather bucket list. The Schaumburg theme park boasts brand-new attractions, including Lego Nexo Nights 4D Adventure. But it’s not just for kids. Throughout the year, adult nights feature themed activities and out-of-the-box networking opportunities.
German settlers founded Schaumburg in the late 19th century. One of the few remaining ways to visit the village of yesteryear is a trip to Volkening Heritage Farm in Spring Valley Nature Sanctuary. Open seasonally, the farm allows groups to experience a rural German community by helping with farm chores, interacting with livestock and riding on a horse-drawn cart.
More outdoor excursions abound in neighboring Elk Grove Village. As its name suggests, a small heard of nonnative elk brought from Montana in the 1920s call the village home.
The wildlife stay near a grove at the eastern edge of Ned Brown Forest Preserve, also known as Busse Woods. Groups can hike and bike on an 11-mile paved loop trail. There’s also fishing, canoeing, kayaking and sailing along 20 miles of shoreline on Busse Lake.
Plenty of Golfing
Eaglewood Resort and Spa, Itasca
Golf enthusiasts can swing away at a range of premier golf clubs. Arlington Lakes Golf Club is an 18-hole, par-68 course designed to challenge even the most advanced player. The 90-acre fairway encompasses 14 beautiful lakes. Fox Run Golf Links offers 18 holes from sunrise to sunset, and has a club house pro shop, restaurant and bar.
Groups can stay at one of the top golf properties in the area, AAA Four Diamond Eaglewood Resort and Spa in Itasca. The Golf Club at Eaglewood is an 18-hole, par-72 championship United States Golf Association-certified course that offers group lessons and golf outings.
Al Fresco Dining
Eaglewood Resort and Spa serves up signature farm-to-table cuisine at Prairie River Fire Pit and Patio, which has amazing views of the golf course and an intimate fire pit for outdoor gatherings. For classic Italian fare, there’s no need to head into the city. Groups can dine al fresco at Chicago Prime Italian.
Pinstripes in South Barrington is a bunch of fun rolled under one roof and can be reserved for private parties. The venue offers outdoor dining and several sources of entertainment, including bocce ball, bowling and an outdoor fire pit.
While big cities receive all the attention, smaller college towns can be overlooked as places to host meetings and offsites. Colleges and universities can often benefit meeting groups by providing conference space, academic resources and distinguished speakers. Northwestern University in Evanston and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign are top-rated schools surrounded by idyllic settings and youthful vibes that make it easy to balance work and play.
Evanston has been named as one of the best American cities to live in, with walkable tree-lined streets and an active community. Although Illinois is not surrounded by a body of water, visitors can still spend a day at the beach—a variety of water sports can be enjoyed in clear, salt-free water along Lake Michigan’s sandy beaches.
Beyond the shore, Northwestern University (pictured) offers architectural walking tours of more than 150 historic campus buildings. The campus also holds art exhibitions and performances that are open to the public. The highlight of summer is the famous Ravinia festival, the oldest outdoor music festival in the country. Held June 2–Sept. 17, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra is joined this year by famous musicians, such as Duran Duran, Diana Ross and Tony Bennett.
Farther south, Urbana-Champaign is located in the middle of soy and corn fields—some of the most fertile farmland in the country. University of Illinois has a large presence in the metropolitan region, fueling a robust arts, culture and entertainment scene. Virginia Theatre is a historic performance arts center and is home to the annual Roger Ebert’s Overlooked Film Festival.
For a nature-inspired escape, Allerton Park & Retreat Center is a pristine location for meetings and conferences within 1,500 acres of gardens and woodlands. The university-affiliated property, housed in a late 19th-century Georgian-style mansion, has 39 guest rooms and meeting spaces for up to 120 people.
Major Meeting Venues
Fairmont Chicago Millennium Park
Overlooking Grand and Millennial Parks; AAA Four Diamond modern property; 687 guest rooms, including hypoallergenic suites; more than 16,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; Aria restaurant.
Hilton Chicago Hotel
Landmark hotel overlooking Grand Park and Lake Michigan; 1,544 guest rooms; 234,000 sq. ft. of flexible space; closest full-service hotel to McCormick Place.
Hyatt Centric the Loop Chicago
Opened last year in a 22-story office building built in 1927; Lifestyle brand hotel; 257 guest rooms; 2,500 sq. ft. of meeting space; brand new rooftop bar, Aire, boasts craft cocktails and panoramic views.
Newly opened 22-story luxury lifestyle hotel; glass tower addition faces Chicago River; 452 guest rooms; 13 meeting rooms; 25,000 sq. ft. of event space; only trilevel rooftop bar in the city.
Largest convention center in North America; four state-of-the-art buildings; 2.6 million sq. ft. of exhibit space; 173 meeting rooms, with 600,000 sq. ft. of space; four ballrooms range from 21,000 to 100,000 sq. ft. of space.
Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel
Lakefront location; 334 guest rooms with minimalist design; 28,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, including 7,000-square-foot outdoor area; Italian restaurant Filini seats 200.
Renaissance Chicago Downtown Hotel
Newly renovated luxury hotel; Theater District location; 520 guest rooms and 40 suites; rooftop bar, artist studio, coffee bar and library; indoor pool; contemporary art displayed; 33,959 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Located in theater, shopping and arts district; rooftop lounge; State and Lake Chicago Tavern; multimedia theater; spa and fitness center includes yoga studio; eco-friendly materials; 310 guest rooms; more than 7,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Trump International Hotel & Tower Chicago
Forbes Five Star AAA Five Diamond hotel; 92-story tower; Michelin Two Star restaurant Sixteen; 339 guest rooms and suites boast floor-to-ceiling windows; 23,000-square-foot spa has 12 treatment rooms; 26,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Chicago Marriott Schaumburg
Located minutes from O’Hare International Airport (ORD); 394 guest rooms; free Wi-Fi; fitness center; indoor and outdoor pools; BlueFire Grille and Bevande Lounge; 25,250 sq. ft. of event space.
Crowne Plaza Chicago O’Hare Hotel &
Rosemont property, steps from Donald E. Stephens Convention Center; 503 guest rooms; business center; fitness center; indoor heated pool; 55,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Donald E. Stephens Convention Center
Formerly known as Rosemont Convention Center; Great Expoteria restaurant; 840,000 sq. ft. of flexible exhibition space; 30,000-square-foot lobby.
DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel
Chicago–North Shore Conference Center
Skokie property; 369 guest rooms; Jameson’s Charhouse serves high-quality steaks; 22,000 sq. ft. of meeting space includes rooftop Monaco Ballroom, with breathtaking views of the Chicago skyline.
Set in wooded forest preserve; 248 guest rooms; award-winning Allgauer’s on the Riverfront restaurant; business center; more than 20,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Hyatt Regency O’Hare
In Rosemont; connected to Donald E. Stephens Convention Center via a covered skyway; 1,096 guest rooms; fitness center; 110,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Renaissance Schaumburg Convention Center Hotel
Lifestyle hotel with 500 guest rooms; business center; fitness center; pool; 148,624 sq. ft. of meeting space (including 42 rooms) is shared with connected Schaumburg Convention Center.
Hotels around the world are incorporating art into the visitor’s experience with private art collections, galleries and installations.