Take a Toddler-Friendly Trip to the Shedd Aquarium

With older kiddos settled back into the school routine, fall and winter could be perfect to treat tots to a fun day at the Shedd.

I have great memories of my then-boyfriend Walter and I taking my niece and nephew on trips to the Shedd Aquarium. It has been quite a while since my last visit and much has changed: Walter is my husband now and we have a toddler of our own!

Recently, we carried on the family tradition of visiting the Shedd with our son Isaiah. If you are looking for a fun activity for your wee ones, the Shedd can be a great fit for toddlers.

We love staying active and seeking out new experiences as a family in budget-friendly ways, so our trip to the Shedd started with a stop at our local library to pick up a Kids Museum Passport. As Chicago residents, the pass covered all of our admission! We opted to drive to the Shedd and our timing around 10 a.m. on a Monday made the trip from Rogers Park to the Shedd via Lake Shore Drive fast and smooth. Taking in lake views sans heavy traffic always seems like an ideal way to get to a fun destination!

There are several parking options near the Shedd, so I would suggest considering the length and time of day of your visit to determine the best deal. Just a word to the wise, I might not plan to go when the Bears have a home game at Soldier Field nearby. It just seems like it would make the stress factor go way up.

If you are bringing a stroller, head to the accessible entrance on the southwest side of building. You’ll know you are in the right place if you see a statue of a man holding a massive fish in front of the door. Bathrooms, a family bathroom and a mother’s room right near the main entrance are convenient for families.

Whew! All right, now that the nut and bolts are out of the way, let’s get to the good stuff.

Located near the entrance, the massive Caribbean Reef aquarium equals instant wow factor for little ones who can marvel at everything from sharks to a giant green sea turtle named Nickel. The viewing is a good level for toddlers, and you can even watch as a diver feeds the animals at set times each day.

We spent time taking in Waters of the World on the main level. It includes 76 habitats! Our little guy is always on the move, so I am not sure how much of what was happening behind the glass really registered, but I am pretty sure the Giant Japanese Spider Crab in the Ocean’s gallery made it on his radar. It is pretty impressive! Some of the displays on the main level were a good eye-level for toddlers, but many of them would require a lift from mom or dad to see them.

Next we stopped by Soundings Restaurant, and I was shocked at just how amazing the lake views are from this dining spot. There is a stunning vantage point of Navy Pier. Salads, wraps and burgers will keep the whole family humming along, and high chairs are helpful for pint-sized diners.

Our final stop was the biggest win for Isaiah. The Polar Play Zone had so much to offer our little guy. He loved climbing and shooting down the slide at Penguin Playscape, which is designed with younger kiddos in mind, and then I showed him the real waddlers just across the way. He seemed to get a big kick out of steering the submarine and there was a spot for Walter and I to easily watch while we took a breather. Seeing gigantic beluga whales just casually swim by was pretty incredible for the whole family!

We planned a two-hour chunk of time for exploring the Shedd and that turned out to be spot on before (narrowly) avoiding a toddler meltdown; Nap time was calling! We left the Shedd tired but satisfied with our time well spent exploring new things together. Plan a day to show your toddlers the Shedd, too!


Shedd Aquarium

  • Address: 1200 S Lake Shore Drive, Chicago
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