Out with the kidsExpose your kids to culture, visit some great museums, inhale the fresh scent of flowers in an arboretum and splash around at a water park without having to muddle through downtown Chicago traffic.
Families who spend the day in Elmhurst, a suburb 16 miles west of Chicago, discover that it’s a fun, easy, cultural destination. With several museums, multiple parks, an arboretum and a conservatory all within walking distance of the bustling downtown and Metra stop, Elmhurst is a great summer day or overnight trip.
Wilder Park (220 Prospect Ave.) makes the perfect starting point. Its green space and playground sit in the center of two moderately priced museums. It’s less than a half mile from the train and offers free parking for the duration of your visit. Begin at the Lizzadro Museum of Lapidary Art (220 Cottage Hill Ave.) examining the dioramas of animals and dinosaurs carved from exquisite stones. Kids are amazed at the variety and color that come from the cutting and polishing of rocks. Don’t miss the museum’s lower level, which houses Castle Lizzadro.
Choosing what to do next
After an hour or so in a museum, kids are ready to run. Head out the door and set them loose into Wilder Park’s playground. The large play area lets kids climb, swing and slide while you decide your next destination. Do you head west to the Elmhurst College Arboretum? Or do you stay in the park to stroll through the small, but interesting Wilder Park Conservatory? You can also head across the park to the Elmhurst Art Museum (150 Cottage Hill Ave.). The gorgeous glass and steel building displays a wide range of changing art in three galleries and is adjacent to the 1951 McCormick House by renowned architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.
When tummies begin to rumble for lunch and if you haven’t packed a picnic, head northeast a few blocks to Elmhurst City Center. Anchored on York Road, and stretching from the Metra tracks all the way to North Avenue, you can choose from more than 20 eateries, both chains and independent. Fuego Loco (116 N. York) makes a tasty, filling and inexpensive lunch. It’s located on the same block as another Elmhurst gem, My Favorite Toy Store (123 N. York), where the staff can help kids find great toys to fit any interests and budget. Walk around the corner to a great selection of comic books, trading cards and novelty T-shirts at GEM Comics (125 W. First). Bob James Magic Shop (131 W. First) is another great place to browse and buy, but is only open on Saturdays unless you have an appointment.
Time for culture
For some culture in the afternoon, visit the Elmhurst History Museum (120 E. Park Ave.), a free attraction. The Drawn-Out History of Comic Books, an original exhibit, runs through Sept. 6. Brightly colored panels, statues, toys and comic books tell the history on the museum’s first floor. Upstairs, kids can trace and color their own heroes and villains while they learn about the creative process.
Even without the temporary exhibit, the museum makes the history of Elmhurst surprisingly fun and engaging for kids. Ask about its I Spy Bingo or Artifact Zone worksheets. If you happen to visit on a Tuesday (1-3 p.m.), young kids will love the drop-in activity. For a small fee, kids can create a handmade craft.
Older kids might prefer a trip to the American Movie Palace Museum, above the York Theatre (152 N. York). With information and artifacts from more than 15,000 theater buildings across the country, interactive exhibits teach families about the history of movie houses and the industry.
If you’re staying overnight, the best bet for families in Elmhurst is the Mayan Adventure Indoor Waterpark at the Elmhurst Holiday Inn. With indoor pools, water slides, a lazy river and a dump bucket, kids of all ages will love the hotel stay. Check with the Elmhurst Visitor’s Bureau (www.elmhurst.org, click "Visit Elmhurst") for a schedule of free evening activities
An overnight stay will give your family a chance to visit another great Elmhurst park. The Hub at Berens Park (385 E. Van Buren St.), with 18 holes of mini-golf, batting cages and a 6,000-square-foot "spray ground" water park, it’s an entire day’s worth of fun, all for a reasonable price.
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