In the 1880s, George Eastman invented photographic film, and by 1888 he began selling the Kodak camera. Little did he know the effect his invention would have on society, and what it would spiral into some 100-plus years later.
Today, instead of hanging photos on mantels or framing them for walls, people post them nonstop to Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat to be memorialized forever (or, in the latter case, just 10 seconds).
Social media has become a cultural obsession but also a boon for events, providing free exposure to venues and planners that don’t even need to visit a space to experience its offerings.
“With all the photos and videos being posted on social media, people are able to see what events can look like even before coming to visit the site,” says Sherry Brookes, events coordinator for the historic Mayslake Peabody Estate in Oak Brook. “Posting live during events is becoming more popular, and people have fun interacting that way, too.”
Today, venues can trend on Instagram; the most popular are those that have specific features that stand out on their own and can be a huge selling point. The more unique it is, the more people will be taking photos and posting about the backdrop and the event held there.
“If your venue has a talking point, and you produce a successful event, your event will stay top of mind even after the event concludes,” says Anthony Navarro, founder and senior event planner at Liven It Up Events, a full-service planning and production company based in Chicago. “Every time someone mentions that event, a positive experience is associated with it, which leads to positive association with your brand.”
Picking an Instagrammable venue is advantageous when it comes to costs, too. When a setting already has unique attributes, planners don’t need to spend as much money on event décor. Plus, there’s no better free advertising than people posting on social media.
Still, Navarro notes it’s important not to forget about décor altogether, no matter the interior or exterior of the space you choose.
“I always remind clients, even if we are in a cool space, that does not mean to skimp totally on décor,” he says. “It’s a necessity to design with a purpose to accentuate what you have.”
Seeking out unique venues is still absolutely something you should do if you want a strong social media presence for your event, advises Navarro.
“Interesting venues or venues with historical elements help create a unique and memorable event because it adds to the overall experience in a positive way.”
In that spirit, here are 10 of our most favorite Instagrammable venues to consider in 2018. Get your hashtags ready now.
In Chicago’s Ravenswood neighborhood is Architectural Artifacts, which sells one-of-akind furnishings and artwork from around the globe and also features an event space called Artifact Events.
Though the entire shop is filled with splendor and unique elements, such as exposed beams, interesting lighting and built-in bars, the pièce de résistance are the antique clocks that adorn an exposed-brick wall—and can be found all over Instagram.
“There are great spots for photos in front of antiques and on the walkways high above the atrium, and there is great lighting throughout,” says Christine Lund, sales and general manager. “People love taking photos in front of the huge antique clocks though.”
Artifact Events can host events for 50-800 guests. Some of the popular spaces include the 4,500-square-foot Ravenswood Room and the Loft (which can each seat 200 or accommodate 300 standing) and the 4,000-square-foot courtyard that can seat 250.
MAYSLAKE PEABODY ESTATE
Mayslake Peabody Estate went from being a coal producer’s sprawling mansion around the turn of the 20th century to a facility for the Franciscan Order of the Friars Minor to finally a part of the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County.
As a nearly 100-year-old National Historic landmark, the mansion—located in Oak Brook—has so much intricate décor, natural beauty and historic charm, which makes selecting just one spot for the perfect Instagram shot difficult. Sherry Brookes notes that the original carved-walnut staircase is the most popular photo area on the entire property, but you really can’t go wrong anywhere here.
“[The mansion] is the ideal location for anyone seeking a unique experience in a historic building located on beautiful grounds,” says Brookes. “It’s tough to find a spot here, indoors or out, that doesn’t photograph well.”
Rental options include four rooms on the first floor and a number of smaller rooms on the second for up to 120 guests. Events also can take place in the Portiuncula Chapel, with a capacity of 62 seated guests; the Event Hall, for up to 120 guests; or Mayslake Hall, which can accommodate up to 100 guests. Three outdoor locations also are available on the surrounding grounds for picnics or ceremonies. Rentals include tables and chairs, while the client’s caterer needs to provide linen, dishes and everything else.
THE FIELD MUSEUM
SUE, the Tyrannosaurus rex at the Field Museum, has a reputation that precedes them. With a Twitter account that’s got more bite than the actual teeth in their mouth, SUE attracts as much attention (and Instagram posts) as any A-list celebrity.
“Since the year 2000, SUE has stood proudly in Stanley Field Hall and represents the mystery and vastness of the natural world,” says Ellyn Nugent, manager of special events for the museum. “Their iconic presence has come to symbolize the Field Museum for millions of visitors over the past 17 years.”
This spring, there will be another Instagram opportunity. For its 125th anniversary, the museum is bringing in the cast of a 122-footlong titanosaur that will reside in Stanley Field Hall (with its head peeking over the secondfloor balcony), making it perfect for selfies. SUE will move to their own gallery in spring 2019.
But SUE isn’t the only piece in the museum destined for Instagram. Inside, there are also 35 permanent collections that range from Egyptian mummies to precious gems. With more than 480,000 square feet available, the museum can host events from 10 to 15,000 in more than 20 rental spaces.
“The special events department encourages our guests to use the museum collections and science to tell stories to their guests that excite, entertain and engage,” says Nugent. “It is a truly unique place.”
ANDERSON JAPANESE GARDENS
As a 12-acre outdoor property, the Anderson Japanese Gardens in Rockford are naturally beautiful. Nearly every step you take is filled with allure, but it’s the West Waterfall that really takes the cake for special photo ops.
Located in a discreet area in the west portion of the gardens, the attraction features three separate streams that pour into a koi-filled pond with lush greenery, stones and pink flowers accenting the perimeter.
Other photo delights include a Japanese bridge and different kinds of flora and fauna around the gardens, as well as a fountain and various Japanese-style structures.
Intimate events of up to 40 people can take place in front of the waterfall, while the pavilion on the property can host larger crowds up to 220 people.
Less than an hour’s drive from downtown Chicago, the Illinois Beach Resort & Conference Center in Zion has the kind of beauty you just can’t find in the city.
“The facility has a lot to offer but retains a cozy atmosphere,” says Liz Blackmon, administrative assistant who helps with events. “There’s always a stunning view no matter the weather or time of year.”
Sitting on a 4,000-acre state park, the facility is the only hotel in Illinois directly located on the Lake Michigan shoreline. It has 92 hotels rooms, 14,292 square feet of event space across five meeting venues and more Instagram spots than you can imagine.
The largest space is the 2,448-square-foot Grand Vista Ballroom that can hold up to 300 guests and boasts floor-to-ceiling windows with impeccable views of Lake Michigan.
The beachfront, of course, is where most people head for the most Instagrammable moments, but a lakefront gazebo on the property takes the No. 2 spot.
“We are surrounded by nature with many different backdrops for unique photos,” says Blackmon. “With the lakeshore just steps away and the lush greenery throughout the park, there are many ways to capture any style that someone is looking for at their event.”
Named for a trove of vintage law books found on the historic property, Vol. 39, located in the Kimpton Gray Hotel, is a nod to the “Mad Men” era, giving guests the spirit of retro glam for real throwback-inspired photos.
With books stacked to the ceiling and leath - er Chesterfield sofas, the venue makes guests feel like they’ve stepped into a law library— albeit one with really good cocktails (such as martini flights) and caviar carts.
“I believe what people are often attempt - ing to capture here is the classic, mellow, yet groovy atmosphere that, like the music, is rich in texture and hues,” says Janice Bond, direc - tor of music and social programming for the hotel. “Vol. 39 fits a spectrum of guests with discerning tastes.”
The bar is available for full buyouts and can hold 30-70 guests for an intimate gathering.
After you spend a few hours at Vol. 39, head up a couple floors to Boleo, the Kimpton Gray’s South American restaurant with heavy Peruvian and Argentinian influences. The res - taurant has a retractable roof with incredible views of downtown Chicago.
Aside from the rooftop, the brightly colored restaurant serves up the most Instagrammable drinks in town. If punch is your poison, you and your group can sip on a number of options straight from a disco bowl (that actually spins) or enjoy a flamingo cookie bar.
“Our guests love capturing the bright colors, like the neon sign behind the DJ booth, as well as the colorful and floral cocktails—and of course the retractable glass roof,” says Bond.
Groups can rent out the entire 4,000-squarefoot rooftop for up to 250 people or reserve the 420-square-foot private section called Esperanza for 12 people.
LINCOLN PARK ZOO
The Lincoln Park Zoo seems like a logical place for a social media guru. After all, who doesn’t want a selfie with a monkey, zebra or tiger?
The best Instagram locale, however, goes to the Kovler Lion House. Big furry cats with dangerous teeth? You can’t get more likes than that.
Besides this ferocious spot, the 49-acre zoo offers 14 different event spaces that can host up to 10,000 guests. Those include the Regenstein African Journey, where you’ll party alongside giraffes, birds and rhinos; and the Park Place Terrace, which has views of the gardens and the swan pond. And, if you can’t choose a single animal to spend the day with, rent out the entire zoo and spend quality time with more than 200 different species.
The beaux-arts painted ceiling in the lobby at the Palmer House Hilton is as close as Chicago can get to the Sistine Chapel.
But it’s not just the ceiling that makes the lobby so astounding and ideal for Instagram. It’s also the grand staircase leading to the Empire Room, the candelabras, the chandeliers, the hand-poured Italian terrazzo columns and the gilded statues that add to the lavish luxury.
“The lobby is jaw-droppingly beautiful,” says Detraiter Love, director of catering and events. “The inspiration of the grand staircase also comes directly from the Paris Opera, while the Tiffany statues, candelabras, sconces and other objects of art provide so much eye candy. It’s a visual paradise.”
Groups of 10-1,500 are welcome at the hotel, which has more than 130,000 square feet of meeting space. Included are three ballrooms, 78 breakout rooms, almost 17,000 square feet of exhibit hall space and 11 hospitality suites.
Aside from its stunning interior, the hotel’s history alone generates social media buzz for any event. At 146 years old, it’s the oldest hotel in Chicago and the longest continuously operating hotel in North America. It’s also the first entirely fireproof hotel in the world and the first that used electric lightbulbs. With the exception of George W. Bush, every president since Ulysses S. Grant through Barack Obama has rested his head on a Palmer House pillow or dined in a Palmer House Ballroom.
Always take the stairs at Chicago’s The Rookery. Here, a gorgeous, intricate iron staircase winds from the second floor up to the 12th floor. Such beauty almost makes you forget the sheer pain you might feel climbing up so many steps, and provides dizzyingly gorgeous photos.
But while the staircase is The Rookery’s showstopper, the rest of the building can’t be left unmentioned.
Marble floors and columns run throughout the 129-year-old property (which was remodeled by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1905), and a second grand staircase flows to the main floor, providing another perfect spot for photos. The window-paned roof also lets in an abundance of natural light.
The main floor of the building—which is on the National Register of Historic Places— spans 3,126 square feet and has a capacity of 350 when using the main floor and balcony (the balcony adds 1,102 square feet). A 614-square-foot lobby is also located on the second floor.