In recent years, the South Loop has transformed from a mob-loving danger zone to a stroller haven. With that transformation, the abandoned warehouses and empty lots were turned into parks, play areas and funky family-friendly restaurants.
There are weeks when I never feel the need to leave the South Loop, and my 3-year-old and infant are completely content with all the kid-friendly activities here.
It's also the perfect place for a day trip. I had a mini-meeting with my preschooler and baby, and we've come up with our absolute favorite South Loop spots.
Women's Park and Gardens
1801 S. Indiana Ave.
In the spot that formerly housed the Vietnam Veterans Museum, a free indoor play space is our go-to spot for colder, rainy days. It's a large room boasting a play kitchen, play house and plenty of climbing areas. Did I mention that it's completely gratis? If it's sunny, go outside, where the massive gardens and gravel roads are perfect for toddlers and tricycles. Our favorite hideout is the kid-size house near the two other historic homes in the gardens. Let your children literally play house inside. Before you leave Women's Park, grab a slice of thin crust pizza at Café Society (same address), adjoining the park.
1454 S. Michigan Ave.
This newbie is an eco-friendly playspace destined to become a toddler and preschooler obsession. What's especially cool about Sprout is that kids will find things here that they've never seen before because many of the toys and the décor were custom created for the playroom by local artists. And parents will love that kids are playing in a room filled with reclaimed wood, recycled cork flooring, low VOC paint and super-bright natural light. Bonus: The owners tell us that kids classes and birthday parties will be offered ASAP.
1400 S. Michigan Ave.
This newish addition to the South Loop has people traveling from the `burbs just to get a taste of the waffles, which satisfy every tooth-sweet and savory. Choose between the Mexican Chocolate waffles (our fave), the red velvet waffle and the savory fried chicken and bacon waffle, among others. Yes, they've got other stuff on the menu, but we stick to what they do best. We also love their hot chocolate flight, which offers four different shot-sized hot chocolates. Plan to spend a while there, especially if you come on a Sunday, when the wait time can be upwards of 45 minutes.
44 W. 15th St.
Want to play in the sand? They've got a great sandbox with toys. Want to swing? Or slide? Or play soccer? They've got it all. BYO lunch, and eat it on the picnic tables-or throw a blanket down on the grassy field. We love stopping at Panozzo's Italian Market (1305 S. Michigan Ave., 312-356-9966) and grabbing a few meatball subs and a tub of gelato to bring to the park. Once you're done eating, grab a ball and head to the massive green space for a start-up baseball or soccer game. The South Loop has at least five playgrounds-but this one is our favorite. Fuel yourself for a long afternoon here by hitting up Overflow Coffee Bar (1550 S. State St., 312-949-0877), where they serve eco-conscious, farmer-friendly, fair trade coffee, cookies and sandwiches in a large, open space.
Put It On
1319 S. Michigan Ave.
When all the families flooded the South Loop, we all knew what would follow. And finally, this spring, a boutique clothing store owned by a South Loop mom of three that sells women's and children's clothing made its appearance. Pop in for gift items (we love the cute kids' aprons and the hair accessories), baby and kids' clothing (a typical outfit costs about $25) or women's fun outfits and accessories.
Danielle Braff lives with her two daughters and husband in downtown Chicago.
See more of Danielle's stories here.