10 free things to do this summer in Chicago

Keep your wallet as full as your schedule this summer with these 10 free destinations - plus tips for what to do when you get there.

Naperville Riverwalk

The Naperville Riverwalk is a perfect for a summer stroll. Wide, smooth and stroller-friendly, it's welcoming for even the smallest of amblers. Plus there are carrillon concerts, children's lunch hour entertainment, Centennial Beach for cooling off, and a large playground.


Lincoln Park Zoo

It's not exactly a hidden gem; everyone knows the Lincoln Park Zoo and most Chicagolanders have been there. But few of us really take the time to appreciate what a gift it is to the city: a world-class zoo, open 365 days a year, completely free? Almost too good to be true. The zoo is always good for a casual walk-through, especially the Farm at the Zoo, with its familiar barnyard animals and farm landscape.


Kline Creek Farm

Give your city kid a look at farm life and let them try their hand at farm chores. You never know - after an hour baling hay, picking up their toys might not seem like such a drag.

One of the kid favorites (this will surprise most moms and dads) is the farm chores programs, says Keith McClow, education site manager for Kline Creek.

"One of our biggest ones is the laundry process. They want to do it again and again with the scrub board and the soap," McClow says. Mom's farm chores are highlighted on Mondays; dad's are featured on Thursdays. During dad's farm chores programs, kids erect a scaled-down version of a timber-framed farmhouse.

"It's small enough for kids to lift the pieces and assemble, and then they can climb up on it and see how sturdy it is," McClow says. Kids also like collecting the eggs from the chicken coop or listening to stories from that time period.


The Power of Plants

Garfield Park Conservatory is one of Chicago's hidden treasures - beautiful, historical and packed with free activities for the budding horticulturalist (or bored kiddie). Kids love the Elizabeth Morse Children's Garden, with free drop-in activities all summer long.



Family fun fest

The Family Fun Festival returns to Millennium Park this summer. Every day, from June 22-Aug. 23 between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., family performances and hands-on activities will take place in the Family Fun Tent, located on the Park's Chase Promenade North. The Wiggleworms, from Chicago's Old Town School of Folk Music, perform at kids' show at 10 a.m., reading circle is at 11 a.m. and family performances are at 1 p.m. Plus, take part in hands-on art projects and garden activities with some of the region's most popular museums and cultural organizations daily in the Family Fun Activity Zone from 10 a.m.-3 p.m.


Thursdays at Notebaert

Not that we balk at the regular admission price (at $9 for adults, $6 for kids 3-12, and free admission for kids under 3, it's among the best bang for the buck when it comes to Chicago's museums), but you can't beat free. And Thursday is free/suggested donation day at Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, which is truly the gem of Chicago's emerald necklace.

Related: Check out our complete list of Chicago museum free days


Bowl (for free!)

There's something supremely quite like walking out of a sticky Chicago summer day and into the air-conditioned air and 1980s decor of a bowling alley, knowing that you've bought at least two hours of fun for just a few dollars, plus some quarters for the arcade.

And for the fourth summer in a row, kids will bowl free at more than 30 Chicagoland alleys. Kids Bowl Free is a national initiative with more than 850 participating centers that provide kids with two free games of bowling every day, all day, from Memorial Day to late August.


Skokie Northshore Sculpture Park

This is a great place to bike, jog or walk, even with a stroller or a few kids on training wheels in tow. Two miles of landscaped park are studded with more than 60 sculptures. Kids will enjoy the life-size, brightly colored horses or the many other giant sculptures. Visit the website before you visit and download a family guide filled with clues, questions and information that serves as an interactive introduction to the sculptures.

Take a docent-led tour (get the schedule here) or download the Family Guide for clues, questions, information, and suggestions for at-home activities.


DuPage County Historical Museum

Step back in time and learn what life was like during Civil War Days or take a peek at the great model railroad setup. It's especially a great place for train-crazy kids: the HO model railroad, which includes over 2,000 feet of track, will elicit squeals when it zips into action with the push of a button.


Phillips Park Zoo

Best for the 4-and-under set, Phillips Park Zoo has reptiles, wolves, cougars, otters, llamas and lots of other animals. Plus there's a great big playground, a beautiful lake with a walking path around it, and a visitor center with real mastodon bones.


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