Want to travel the world this summer? If you live in or near Chicago, the world is right here—in cultural museums, restaurants and festivals that can ignite the spirit of exploration in even the youngest travelers.
A word of caution: Though these museums are stroller friendly, they are not aimed at kids under 2. My rule when visiting with my kids (ages 2, 5 and 8) is two hours inside. If they’re still having fun, we take a snack break outside or find a playground, then return for more museum time.
Lithuania. Off Interstate 55 at Pulaski Road is the Balzekas Museum of Lithuanian Culture, which is full of exhibits about Lithuania and its immigrants. The draw for kids, especially ages 4 to 10, is an enclosed children’s museum that explores Lithuanian life with dolls, costumes and activities. A learning experience? Yes, but this is no sit-and-listen history class.
6500 S. Pulaski Rd., Chicago. Admission: $4, $3 students and seniors, $1 ages 12 and under. (773) 582-6500.
Greece. Older kids interested in cartography (that’s maps to you and me) and immigration will get their fill at the Hellenic Museum and Cultural Center. Make this the last stop on your world tour; a children’s exhibit is slated to open this fall.
801 W. Adams Ave., fourth floor. Free for members, $5 suggested donation for nonmembers. (312) 655-1234; www.hellenicmuseum.org.
Sweden. The Swedish American Museum and Children’s Museum of Immigration is a great spot on a hot summer day. Save the children’s museum for last since it’s hard to tear kids away from the hands-on exhibits about life in Sweden and the voyage to America. My kids’ favorites are the exhibit about early farm life in Sweden and the gangplank leading to America. The more adult part of the museum, with its focus on history and culture, appeals to kids in third grade and up. The design of this museum makes it well suited for kids of varying ages.
5211 N. Clark St., Chicago. Admission: $4 adults, $3 kids, $10 family maximum. (773) 728-8111; www.samac.org.
China. Have you bypassed Chinatown’s charms since you had children? No need. Groups of at least 10 (form one with your family and friends) can call ahead for a one-hour, stroller-friendly guided walking tour of Chinatown that will engage kids in second grade and up.
Exploring on your own can also be a delight, and Chinatown offers plenty of choices for bakery treats and meals. My family enjoys Ping Tom Memorial Park (19th Street, just north of Cermak Road) with its enclosed playground, paths, riverside site and Eastern architecture. Check out the dragon boat races (9 a.m. to 5 p.m. July 23). Be warned: You must cross railroad tracks to get to the park, which borders the Chicago River, so supervise carefully.
If you like street fairs, visit the Chinatown Summer Fair (10 a.m. to 8 p.m. July 17 on Wentworth Avenue from Cermak Road to 24th Place).
Bordered by Canal Street, Lake Shore Drive, I-55 and the Santa Fe railroad yards. $1 per person suggested donation for the guided walking tour. (312) 326-5320; www.chicago-chinatown.com.
Mexico. My family has visited the Mexican Fine Arts Center and Museum several times and has been impressed by its special exhibits and the surrounding Pilsen neighborhood. The extensive permanent collection spans centuries of Mexican culture, ending with displays about the Mexican experience in the United States. This is a stroller-friendly place, though a lengthy visit is probably out of the question for children under 7. When my oldest daughter was in kindergarten, we found visiting one exhibit or area was enough. On the plus side, this museum regularly schedules special events for young kids.
1852 W. 19th St. Free. (312) 738-1503; www.mfacmchicago.org (under construction).
Native America. Take advantage of kids’ curiosity about Native American life and visit the Mitchell Museum of the American Indian at Kendall College. Educating kids seems a year-round goal here, but in the summer, kids craft mornings are held at 10:30 every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. The Web site lists the projects.
The permanent exhibits introduce kids to the history of Native Americans and include Kachina dolls, stone and bone carvings and—perfect for kids—a walrus intestine parka. There are books and activities for kids as young as 2—and plenty for older kids as well.
2600 Central Park Ave, Evanston. Suggested donation: $5 adults, $2.50 kids, $10 family maximum. (847) 475-1030; www.mitchellmuseum.org.
Martha Carlson is a writer living in Brookfield with her husband and three children, Lucia, 8, Eve, 5, and Harry, 2.