5 new Chicago family attractions to enjoy this summer


Photo Credit: Thomas Dambo


Summer is all about getting out of the house, and with a host of new exhibits and activities from Chicago’s museums and cultural institutions, there won’t be any shortage of ways for families to get up close and personal with creatures large or small, real or imagined.


Trolls in the trees


Six giant, fantastical trolls take up residence at The Morton Arboretum starting June 22. The 20-foot-tall trolls are the first large-scale U.S. exhibition from Danish artist Thomas Dambo and will take visitors on a journey to find the larger-than-life guardians of the forest.


Some may be in plain sight, while others will be hidden off paths among the trees.


“His trolls and the story behind them–that they are protectors of our forests–will amaze and intrigue visitors of all ages, while drawing attention to how humans can better care for trees and the environment in which we live,” says Sue Wagner, vice president of education and information at The Morton Arboretum.


New dinos to love


Meet the largest dino ever discovered this summer at The Field Museum. The 122-foot-long titanosaur, Máximo will take up one-third of the museum’s Stanley Field Hall, with its head peeking over the 28-foot balcony to the second floor. Joining it will be life-size replicas of giant flying reptiles called pterosaurs.


“Our goal as an institution is to offer visitors the best possible dinosaur experiences, and we want that to start right when visitors first enter Stanley Field Hall,” says Field Museum President Richard Lariviere.


Bill Simpson, head of geological collections, says the museum worked closely with the company that built the pterosaurs, some with wing spans that reach 35 feet, to make sure they were scientifically accurate.


“They look wonderful. They’re really colorful and will capture people’s imaginations,” Simpson says.


The hall will be filled with more than 1,000 hydroponic plants growing in inert volcanic rock as well as plants inspired by those that were alive at the time of the dinosaurs.


The new additions are part of the Field Museum’s 125th anniversary celebration.


A maze of arachnids


Get cozy with 100 live arachnids. The fun crawls across three themed areas this summer at Art and Science of Arachnids at the Brookfield Zoo, highlighting the unique characteristics and significance of the eight-legged critters such as their influence in music, literature, film, mythology, science and medicine.


If parents–or kids–are a little squeamish, organizers say there’s no reason to be afraid.


“Fear of spiders is probably one of the most misguided issues and leads to a lot of misconceptions. …We hope our guests will … gain a better understanding of arachnids that could then lead to a greater appreciation for them,” says Andre Copeland, interpretive programs manager for the Chicago Zoological Society, which operates Brookfield Zoo.


Learn more during zoo chats or get hands-on with interactives like weaving a web, learning an Italian folk dance called the Tarantella and controlling the movements of a tarantula at the Arachnid Mobility station.


Also new this summer is Mission Safari Maze, an educational and physical experience that connects guests to different species of animals at the zoo. With 48 different missions and play-and-learn interactives, families can learn more with each trip through the maze.


Through Sept. 3; General zoo admission: $21.95 adults, $15.95 kids 3-11. Amazing Arachnids: $5 adults, $3 kids.


The Science Behind Pixar


Instead of watching the same movie for the millionth time, head to the Museum of Science and Industry for the new exhibit, The Science Behind Pixar, that teaches kids about the STEM influences behind their favorite films.


“As an institution dedicated to inspiring the inventive genius in everyone, we are excited to show guests the unexpected ways that the fundamental skills taught in science learning–problem solving, trial and error and iteration–are utilized to bring these beloved characters to life,” says David Mosena, president and CEO of MSI.


Expect more than 40 interactive elements that explain the creativity and artistry that goes into a Pixar film. Guests can even get their photo taken with human-size recreations of their favorite characters, including Mike and Sulley.


Through Jan. 6, $14 adults, $11 for children, plus museum entry


New water park to love


A piece of the Water Park Capital of the World is moving a lot closer for Chicago families. The much-anticipated Great Wolf Lodge Water Park and Resort opens July 1.


With 80,000-square-feet of indoor water park space and more than 400 hotel rooms, Great Wolf can be a weekend getaway without the long road trip hassles.


The water park is for hotel guests only, but Great Wolf Adventure Park, which includes an arcade, ropes course, bowling, mini-golf and a rock climbing wall, is open for visitors.


17 Nations Drive, Gurnee


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