Pack up the kids, diaper bags and sippy cups and head to Chicago’s most famous family-friendly hotspots.
Dig for dino bones and learn about natural history through play and activities. Walk through the Evolving Planet exhibit to learn about the history of life from tiny fossils to an exhibition hall filled with life-size dinos. Grab lunch at The Field Bistro Explorer Cafe. The museum is easy to navigate with strollers, even on crowded days, and offers ample parking, which costs $19 for the first four hours and $22 after.
Adler has something to interest everyone in your family, from the new Planet Nine sky show to the Mission Moon exhibition. And we haven’t found a kid yet that doesn’t like looking through telescopes. Before you visit, keep in mind that you’ll pay for parking and admission–including extra for sky shows–and, as with any of the big Chicago museums, grabbing lunch there doesn’t come cheap. If you are trying to stick to a budget, pack your lunches and pay a nominal fee to put everything in a locker until you’re ready to eat.
We’ve always loved the Shedd Aquarium. Nothing beats the Wild Reef exhibit that gives you a divers-eye view of sharks, stingrays and every imaginable kind of sea life. The Abbott Oceanarium brings a bit of showtime with its aquatic shows and young kids can get their hands wet in the touch tank and other interactive exhibits in the Polar Play Zone area. The Shedd is easy to navigate with a stroller and there are three fun options on-site for lunch.
For all those parents who barely made it through high school science classes, The Museum of Science and Industry proves that learning about science can actually be fun. Young kids will enjoy watching baby chicks hatch, climbing on farm equipment and playing in The Idea Factory. And older kids (and parents) can learn about the human body at the You! The Experience, have fun with Legos at Brick by Brick and more. The museum has attached parking and is easily navigated with strollers.
Is it weird to let your kids play in some giant-headed guy’s spit? Not in Chicago, where Crown Fountain at Millennium Park is a top destination on hot summer days. While you’re in the area, be sure to visit The Bean, Jay Pritzker Pavilion, Lurie Garden and Maggie Daley Park. Millennium Park is easy to get to via public transportation, or park in one of the nearby parking garages (convenient but pricey).
The best thing to love about Lincoln Park Zoo–other than all the amazing animals, of course–is the fact that it’s one of the few remaining free zoos in the country. Don’t miss the old standbys: The Farm-in-the-Zoo and the Pritzker Family Childrens Zoo. Bring cash so kids can ride the carousel or the zoo’s train, which both cost a nominal fee. Parking is nearby, but expensive ($30 for a 5-hour visit) and its a good idea to bring a stroller or wagon–the zoo is large for little feet.
Get great views of Lake Michigan and Chicago! On clear days you can even see our neighboring states. If you’re brave, venture to the 360 Chicago Observation Deck–94 floors up–and try out TILT, a one-of-a-kind experience where you are tilted out at a 30 degree angle over Michigan Avenue. Elevators get crowded during peak times so try visiting before 11 a.m. or after 4 p.m. for the smallest crowds. Parking is located in the same building.
OK, we’ll never get used to calling it Willis Tower, but still, you can’t miss the Skydeck and it’s newest attraction The Ledge. The Skydeck gives you incredible panoramic views of the city, but take it one notch further by stepping out onto the glass-encased ledges that jut four feet out into the air. Visit early or late to avoid crowds, or purchase a fast pass to bypass the crowds. Parking is located nearby.
This is truly an incredible way to immerse your children in the culture of the Far East. Poke around in crowded stores filled with items from China (not stroller-friendly), check out the nearby parks with Chinese zodiac sculptures or visit one of the many restaurants that run along Chinatown’s main strip. Chinatown has many fests throughout the year celebrating its culture–the parades are well worth the crowds and traffic jams. There’s parking in Chinatown but be prepared to pay and, during crowded times, to walk several blocks from the lots to the main attractions.
Kids can experience art through touching and interacting in the Faces, Places and Inner Spaces” exhibit or the Touch Gallery. Go online to learn more about the different artists in the gallery before you visit. Family and kids’ art activities are frequently planned–check the website before you go to take advantage of these free or low-cost activities. Combine the trip with a visit to Millennium Park and Crown Fountain just across the street.
Burn off energy climbing, dig for dino bones or splash in water tables at this 2-story children’s museum on Navy Pier. Exhibits have padded, enclosed infant areas so it’s easy to watch several children at once. The Pier offers lots of places for lunch and snacks, plus on sunny days it’s fun to walk outside and watch the boats and all the people. Park in Navy Pier parking to visit the museum.
This is a great museum for toddlers and young kids, who will love shopping in the kid-size groceries, playing in the doll day care or splashing around in the water table room. Stop for a bite to eat at Cosi Cafe and run around outside in the park that has sculptures and playground equipment. An advantage to a suburban museum–this one has free, nearby parking.
This three-story museum lets kids build with real hammers and saws, splash in water tables, get blasted in the AirWorks exhibit and play make-believe in the Interact with Art Gallery. There’s lots of designated areas just for the under-2 set and plenty of nearby, free parking.
Play dentist, shop in the grocery store or build with real tools and wood. This museum is all about moving and imagining and has plenty of interactive exhibits for the 10-and-under set. Free parking is available and places to eat lunch or grab a snack are nearby.
The best part of this kids’ nature museum is the butterfly haven where more than 75 exotic butterflies enchant both kids and grownups. Other exhibits let kids splash, climb and explore. Lunch is available in the museum’s restaurant and paid parking is available nearby.
Save your pennies for this trip–a visit to Navy Pier can cost a bundle but it’s sure worth it every once in a while. In the spring and summer, numerous boats dock at the pier and offer everything from speedboat rides to canine cruises. Visit the Chicago Children’s Museum or take a ride on the giant ferris wheel. Restaurants and shopping abound on the Pier and there’s ample paid parking available.
You love Chicago history but are afraid your kids won’t be that into it? Make their first stop at this museum the Sensing Chicago exhibit, where they can make themselves into a giant hotdog or smell the good, and bad, smells that make up the city. Hands-off objects are behind glass, so kids can explore without worrying they’ll break something. Paid parking is about a half-block away. Mondays are free and crowding isn’t bad on free days.
Head straight to the Children’s Garden and your kids may never want to leave. Traipse through the maze or wade in the creek, or plan to visit when there are family activities or kids concerts. Take a hike on the trails or pack your bikes for a ride around the arboretum. There’s free parking and a restaurant on-site.
With inside and outside gardens, you can visit even on rainy days. Plus there are plenty of kids and family drop-in activities offered to let kids get their hands dirty and learn about plant life. The garden is free, but you’ll pay $20-$25 for the on-site parking.
This zoo just keeps getting better and better as the years go on. Get up close and personal with creatures big and small, from primates in Tropic World (no strollers allowed, so be prepared to park and carry) and polar bears at Great Bear Wilderness, to parakeets at Hamill Family Wild Encounters and butterflies. Paid parking is available on-site and the zoo has numerous spots to purchase lunch or snacks. Bring a stroller, or rent one–the zoo is quite large, so be prepared for lots of walking.