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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UC Riverside chapter.

Over winter break, I was able to visit my favorite cousins in Chicago. It was my first time there, and it felt like there wasn’t nearly enough time to visit everything I had on my list. While my favorite part of the trip was just being able to spend time with my family, I’ll also cherish the memories of all the places we were able to explore in a few short days. Here are just a few of my favorites, for any of your future trip-planning inspo needs: 

chicago river architecture tours

The Chicago River offers a great view of the impressive buildings throughout the city, and there are year-round boat rides that give guided tours of the city’s history. Even with no background in architecture, I was enthralled learning about the different architectural styles found in the city and how they evolved. The river is freezing in the winter, though, so I’d recommend layering as much as you can!

lights at the lincoln park zoo

The Lincoln Park Zoo has some adorable animals, but when you visit at night in the winter, you can see their stunning holiday lights as well. It felt almost magical to walk through the grounds and see colorful lights wrapped around trees, across buildings, and even shaped into animals. It’s a great winter stop if you’re traveling with kids, or want to bring the inner child out in yourself.

the art institute of chicago

If you’re even slightly into art, this is the place for you. I knew the Art Institute of Chicago was one of the biggest art museums in the US, but upon arriving I was taken aback by just how massive it is. There are countless mediums of art from different time periods and all around the world, so there’s truly something for everyone here. Some of my favorite exhibits were the sculptures of French artist Camille Claudel, paintings from Claude Monet, and prints from the Unsewn Time collection by Kameelah Janan Rasheed. We spent hours there and still had areas we didn’t get to fully explore, so save time for this one!

bonus: snow!

This isn’t specific to Chicago by any means, but one of my favorite moments was being able to see the snow! I’ve lived in California for the past ten years, so I hadn’t seen snow since elementary school (unless you count that time last year when it hailed and everyone insisted on calling it snow, but I think that was Californian delusion). It was so exciting just to be able to take it all in. After all, appreciating the tiny things as much as the flashy places is what makes vacations worthwhile.

Omisha Sangani

UC Riverside '25

Omisha is an undergraduate student majoring in biology and planning to pursue medicine. She enjoys writing about wellness, life experiences, and academics. Outside of school and work, her interests include nature, fitness, art, and volunteering in her community.