Chicago Fall Fun: Top Things to Do in the Windy City in Autumn

Camryn Cutinello Avatar
Pumpkin carved with the word "Chicago"
Chicago has no shortage of fun fall activities that people of all ages will enjoy. Photo credit: Lincoln Park Zoo.

Fall colors, pumpkin patches, haunted houses, great architecture and a Day of the Dead celebration are just a few of the fun things to do in Chicago in the fall. It’s one of the best times of the year to be in the Windy City. The summer humidity is gone and the fresh breeze off of Lake Michigan makes it a good time to bundle up in a sweater and walk along the lakefront or try one of these fun fall activities.

As summer ends we say goodbye to 80 degree days and hello to cool temperatures, pumpkin spice lattes and haunted houses. While this may mean the end of beach days, Chicago has no shortage of exciting fall activities.

From fall festivals to ghost tours, the city has something for everyone as the leaves turn to red, orange and yellow. Read on for the list of our favorite things to do during fall, with and without kids.

A line of jack-o-lanterns created by professional artists on display at Chicago Botanic Garden.
A line of jack-o-lanterns created by professional artists is available for viewing during the Night of 1000 Jack-O-Lanterns at the Chicago Botanic Garden. Photo credit: Chicago Botanic Garden.

Chicago Botanic Garden

For visitors looking to spend some time outside and see the fall foliage, the Chicago Botanic Garden in north suburban Glencoe hosts a variety of fall-themed nature walks. Held throughout the season, these walks give guests time to experience nature and view the changing colors the Chicago area has to offer.

The gardens also host a Fall Festival and Bulb Sale on Oct. 7-9, which is full of live music, a hay-bale maze and a harvest market. For those planning ahead for their garden, bulbs from more than 200 varieties of flowers will be available for purchase.

Later in October, the gardens will be taken over by pumpkins for the Night of 1000 Jack-O-Lanterns. These aren’t your neighborhood kids’ pumpkin carvings. These jack-o-lanterns are carved by professional artists.

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Happy Jack, Goebbert’s mascot
Happy Jack, Goebbert’s mascot, watches over the farm and festival. Photo credit: Goebbert’s Pumpkin Patch and Apple Orchard

Goebbert’s Pumpkin Patch and Apple Orchard

With apple picking, a corn maze and a pumpkin-eating dinosaur, Goebbert’s Pumpkin Patch is a great way to spend a fall day.

With locations in Pingree Grove and South Barrington, there’s also a kid-friendly haunted house, hayrides and that fall must-have: apple cider donuts. Kids can also enjoy chicken and pig races, and even get the chance to ride a pony or a camel.

The Fall Fest is open daily through Halloween. Also be sure to check out the Harvest Market for produce from local farms.

Dia de los Muertos exhibit at the National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago
School children learn about the Day of the Dead celebration in Mexican culture. Photo credit: National Museum of Mexican Art

National Museum of Mexican Art

Located in Pilsen, the National Museum of Mexican Art offers the opportunity to see art that spans more than 3,600 years.

On Nov. 5, the museum will host its yearly Día de los Muertos: Love Never Dies Ball. The celebration of life and the spirits of the dead is an adults-only affair, and guests can celebrate the night with food from local Chicago restaurants and adult beverages.

The event will feature one of the city’s best DJs and include live music. The attire for the ball is creative cocktail and valet parking will be available.

Pro Tip: Parking can be a challenge in Pilsen. Leave the car and take the Pink Line L train from the Loop. It’s the best deal in town for just $2.25 a ride!

Oktoberfest in Chicago
The beer garden and one of the two stages at Chicago’s Oktoberfest. Photo credit: Special Events Management.

Chicago Oktoberfest

Celebrating its 20th year, Oktoberfest has become one of the biggest fall events hosted in Chicago. The three-day festival boasts live music, traditional German dancers and, of course, cold brews.

The festival is not just for beer lovers! The Kinderfest section of the festival features family friendly games and kids’ activities. Guests can also enjoy a hand made brat and other German foods.

Taking place on the grounds of one of Chicago’s oldest churches, St Alphonsus, 1429 W. Wellington Ave., the event features German bands, dancers and even some sing alongs. Event dates for 2022 are Sept. 23-25.

Woman and man with a wagon walks past Fall Fest sign at Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago.
Lincoln Park Zoo hosts a Fall Fest for people of all ages to see the animals and enjoy the fall spirit. Photo credit: Lincoln Park Zoo.

Lincoln Park Zoo

Lincoln Park Zoo, one of the last free zoos in the country, celebrates the fall season with a Fall Fest. The free event takes place on Fridays and Saturdays from Sept. 30 to Oct. 30.

Walk through the harvest maze and the pumpkin walk, go on the kid-friendly rides and see the zoo from atop the Ferris wheel. The event also boasts live music, professional pumpkin carvers and, of course, the zoo animals.

Ghost story lovers can also take part in a Haunted History Tour every Tuesday and Wednesday of October and learn about some of the history behind Lincoln Park.

The zoo also will offer trick-or-treating from 10am-1pm on Oct. 22. An adults-only Howl-O-Ween event is set for 6:30-10pm on Oct. 27. The paid ticketed event is a fundraiser for the zoo.

Chicago Ghost Tours

For spooky fall fun, try Chicago Ghost Tours from Free Tours by Foot. The walking tours explore the haunted history of the city and the greater Chicagoland area.

The tours begin at the haunted Congress Hotel, and then visit some of Chicago’s other haunted spots. Learn about serial killers H.H. Holmes and John Wayne Gacy, and take a journey through the history of the Red Light District and Death Alley.

Tours take place 3-4 times a week and begin at 6 p.m. It’s a name-your-own-price tour, so guests can decide afterwords what it was worth. The tour is spooky — don’t bring the kids!

People buying apples at Apple Fest in Chicago's Lincoln neighborhood
So, Many. Apples! All on sale at Apple Fest in Chicago in the fall. Photo credit: Lincoln Square Ravenswood Chamber of Commerce.

Lincoln Square Ravenswood Apple Fest

The annual Lincoln Square Ravenswood Apple Fest features food from local restaurants, tables with goods from local businesses and plenty of activities and entertainment.

Mouth-watering food highlights include: dessert apple tacos, apple cinnamon rolls, apple empanadas and the American classic, apple pie. The fest also features booths from local farms, specialty food vendors and local small businesses.

The 2022 event takes place Oct. 1-2 and also features live music and the Leland Avenue kids zone.

Gorgeous fall colors on a tree at Morton Arboretum near Chicago.
The Morton Arboretum, located in west suburban Lisle, has walking paths, hiking trails and gorgeous fall colors. Photo credit: The Morton Arboretum

Morton Arboretum

The Morton Arboretum has a list of fun activities to enjoy during the fall months. Throughout the month of October guests can go for a walk on the Scarecrow Trail to see scarecrows made by local scout troops.

On Oct. 1, the arboretum will host its Fall Color 5K Run and Walk. Runners get free admission to the arboretum that day, and can celebrate with a party after completing the race. Oct. 12-16 features the Glass Pumpkin Patch. Watch glass blowing demonstrations and see the glass pumpkins on display.

The arboretum also hosts a Cider and Ale Festival Oct. 22. More than 30 local breweries and cideries will have seasonal beer and hard cider available for tasting.

Wil Color exhibit at the Field Museum in Chicago in the fall
The Wild Color exhibit at the Field Museum explores the science of nature’s colors. Photo credit: Field Museum.

Chicago’s Museums

The city has no shortage of museums to keep adults and kids entertained, while also learning something. Here are the 2022 fall highlights.

  • Fall exhibits at the Field Museum include “Biomechanics: The Machine Inside” and “Wild Color.” Both shows are immersive and interactive.
  • The Children’s Museum at Navy Pier and the Museum of Science and Industry offer programming for kids to be creative while learning.
  • The Shedd Aquarium offers experiences to meet and pet penguins, otters and even beluga whales.
  • For art lovers, the Art Institute of Chicago has multiple exhibitions opening in the fall, including “David Hockney: The Arrival of Spring, Normandy, 2020.” and “Fabricating Fashion.”
Docent leading a Chicago architectural tour
Learn about historic buildings surrounding the Chicago River during the Chicago Architecture Center’s walking tour. Photo credit: The Chicago Architecture Center.

Chicago Architecture Center

Beyond the usual walking and boat tours offered by the Chicago Architecture Center, the center will host Open House Chicago for the month of October, with in-person visits Oct 15-16.

This free festival allows visitors to take self-guided tours to learn about Chicago’s history and see some of its beautiful architecture. The center also hosts talks and programming for a more interactive experience.

The event offers the opportunity to get a behind-the scenes-look at some of Chicago’s most historic and intricately designed buildings.

Camryn Cutinello graduated from Columbia College Chicago in May with her bachelor’s in journalism, and is currently working on her master’s degree at the University of Illinois Springfield in Public Affairs Reporting. She loves to write about anything and everything, especially Chicago city life, politics and sports. When Camryn isn’t writing, you can find her out running, hiking or spending time with friends and family.
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