Thriftstyle picnics: Ravinia satisfaction for four on the cheap!

Last night three friends and I hit up Ravinia in Highland Park, IL for a little Dvořák and Brahms played by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. It was a lovely evening, everyone had a good time, and we spent just about $100 total for transportation, food, and tickets for FOUR people (which is cheaper than most dinner outings with wine). Helpful information for a group of friends or a family who is looking for things to do during summer for not a lot of money.

Tickets: FREE

As mentioned in a previous post, lawn seats for CSO concerts at Ravinia are only $10 (or FREE with a student ID – I am never, ever throwing that thing away). But because I took the time to enter their free lawn ticket giveaway at the beginning of the season (and entered twice from two different email addresses) I was able to score four free lawn tickets. A few minutes out of my day a couple months ago resulted in a stress-free, relaxing evening with friends. Sometimes its worth it to take the time to do things.

Transportation: $28 on Metra (or $7/person)

Round trip tickets to the Ravinia from the Metra stop by my apartment (Lawrence and Damen) are only $7/person. A quick note: technically, its cheaper to drive (well, it might not be considering gas, but I am not getting that in depth in my calculations, sorry) as parking is only $10 at the Ravinia lot ($20 for pop and jazz concerts) or FREE from the Park ‘N’ Ride lots (where you park further away and take a shuttle to the actual park). But, driving is stressful, especially in traffic (and with weekday rush hour traffic on the highway, the ride to Ravinia can be 40-50 minutes versus the under 30 minute Metra ride). So, to me, its worth the $7 round trip for a quick and stress-free ride where you can converse with friends without having to pay attention to SUV-driving suburbanites who apparently never took a Driver’s Ed class. Also, you can drink on the Metra. So double-score. (And, occasionally, when its a popular concert and the trains are packed, they don’t even come around for tickets so you COULD be riding free – but don’t count on this.)

Food (and wine!): $75 (0r $18.75/person)

To save on food and wine for summer picnic-ing, its all about knowing where to go and taking the time to get there. I went to three different stores because I knew I was going to save on certain things at each store (or find exactly what I wanted, whether or not I was saving – hey, if I’m going to spend the time and money I might as well have what I want).

  • Jewel ($37): I bought a bag of cherries, two cartons of strawberries, two bags of carrots, a cantaloupe (to go with the prosciutto I bought elsewhere), a block of gouda cheese, a small bag of pita chips, a container of hummus, a brick of bottled water (because it was actually cheaper than buying individual bottles) and a bag of Cheetos puffs (mostly as an inside joke, but they wound up being a hit). I buy all my produce at Jewel. The one on Lincoln just north of Irving tends to have great produce at a great price. And I don’t tend to care about organic (mostly because it doesn’t really matter).
  • Trader Joe’s ($27): I bought a package of sliced hard salami, a package of sliced prosciutto, a package of Laughing Cow creamy swiss (the BEST cheese ever), a package of spiced goat cheese, two bottles of Green Fin (the best $4 wine in the world, seriously), a baguette, and three bars of chocolate (one dark chocolate and two dark chocolate with sea salt caramel). There are things that make sense to buy here and things that don’t. The produce isn’t actually as cheap as everyone thinks, especially compared to Jewel (and I know because I compared prices after going to Jewel). But their fancy meats and cheese are a better value than just about anywhere. And the wine. THE WINE! Amazing.
  • Whole Foods ($8): I bought a container of mixed olives from their olive bar. Because they are 100% the best olives I’ve ever had. I know I could probably find them cheaper, but I like these olives and sometimes you just have to pay for what you know will be awesome.
  • The Dollar Store ($3): I bought a roll of paper towels, a package of small paper plates, and a package of Sour Patch watermelon candy (totally (un)necessary).

Everyone was fully satiated. The meal was relatively healthy. And I have plenty of delicious leftovers that I can use for my gathering tonight and as snacks and lunchtime food for the rest of the week/weekend.

I’m sure there are ways I could even find everything I purchased cheaper. Or cut out some of my purchases (the Sour Patch candy, olives, or Cheetos, for instance). But all in all, $100 for an enjoyable evening outside with great people and beautiful music isn’t bad. You’d spend that amount just for a half-way decent meal with appetizers and wine. And this way we got a picnic, a concert, some new and hilarious bits of funny, and an easy ride there and back. Ravinia concerts are the best, guys. The absolute best.

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One thought on “Thriftstyle picnics: Ravinia satisfaction for four on the cheap!

  1. I also find that the musical selections of the Grant Park Symphony to be on par with the CSO through the speakers at Ravinia, and it’s always free and easier to get to. Really enjoyed their version of Beethoven’s 5th a couple weeks ago.

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