When it comes to holiday decorations in Chicago, it's hard to beat the expertise of Mary Edsey. Author of The Best Christmas Decorations in Chicagoland and a holiday tour bus operator, Edsey has spent years researching what the Chicago area has to offer when it comes to elaborate holiday displays.
And, while Edsey says families shouldn't miss the well-known holiday displays at the major Chicago landmarks, she also has found some lesser-known treasures.
"In the Drake Hotel, there's a village made out of gingerbread that the chefs make with trains surrounding it," Edsey says. "And at the Hilton Chicago there is a life-size gingerbread house that schoolkids help them make in the lobby."
Tucked into the lobby of the 181 West Madison Building is a holiday display complete with a train kids can ride for a limited time on weekends.
This year, State Street will feature a new holiday display, with LED lights synchronized to music, Edsey says.
If you want to put the kids in the car and head just outside the city, the neighborhood of Lincolnwood Towers in Lincolnwood offers plenty of houses decorated for the holidays. Often referred to as Sauganash, the neighborhood off Devon Avenue just west of the Edens expressway has a three-story Christmas tree that pops through a roof and a tree house decorated with Disney characters.
For another amazing holiday display just outside the city, Edsey recommends heading to Rosemont, where practically the whole town is decorated. "Donald E. Stephen Park off of Higgins is just fabulous on both sides of the street," Edsey says. "Park and walk over there... It's a gated community, but tell them you want to see the Christmas lights. They have six little houses with scenes inside and live animals from a farm kids can pet.
"The whole town of Rosemont, they decorate practically every tree and you'll see surprises all over town, like a Santa peering over the roof of a shopping mall."
If you want to eat in a restaurant filled with holiday decorations before trekking out to see the big displays, Edsey recommends visiting Butch McGuires at 20 W. Division St. (but get there early before it becomes more bar-like) or Marie's Pizza at 4127 W. Lawrence. Both have a festive atmosphere filled with glittery decorations for the holidays.
Or consider trying one of Edsey's tours. She takes her riders to various decorated homes where they not only have a chance to see the decorations, but often the home's owner will board the bus and talk about their work.
Liz DeCarlo is the senior editor at Chicago Parent.
See more of Liz's stories here.