Take Kids on a Scenic Adventure Along the Chicago Riverwalk

Skyline views, public art, yummy bites and more, all packed into a 1.25-mile strip. Here’s how to enjoy it with your family.

The Chicago Riverwalk has gone through many changes over the past few years.

Loved for its skyline views and chill atmosphere, this attraction in the city’s downtown area stretches for 1.25 miles along the Chicago River. It’s stroller friendly, filled with public art, restaurants and activities for the entire family and (perhaps best of all) it’s free! 

Where will the Riverwalk take your family? To begin planning your next downtown outing, read these tips and recommendations to exploring the Chicago Riverwalk with kids.

This article was recently updated on May 20, 2024 by Chicago Parent’s Assistant Editor, Nikki Roberts. The update involved adding new 2024 events for families to enjoy on the Chicago Riverwalk. Questions? Please reach out to nikki@chicagoparent.com.

Quick details about the Chicago Riverwalk

Chicago riverwalk with kids
Photo credit: Katina Beniaris

  • Address: 306-500 E Wacker Dr, Chicago
  • Hours: 6 a.m.-11 p.m.
  • Getting there: The Riverwalk is best accessed by CTA buses and trains that service the Loop
  • Parking: If you have to drive, there is limited street parking around downtown. Use SpotHero or a nearby parking garage. Wacker Drive has free street parking on Sundays. 

Tips for families when visiting the Chicago Riverwalk

Chicago Riverwalk
Photo credit: Ranvestel Photographic via Choose Chicago

  • Find ADA-compliant ramps on the east side of State Street, west side of Clark Street and on the west side of Franklin Street.
  • There are a few public bathrooms along the Riverwalk , or you can utilize the facilities at one of the waterfront cafes or restaurants if you plan on dining in. 
  • Prepare for the sun. The sun’s reflection off the river and the tall buildings can be brutal — make sure you have sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat or visor or hand to combat the sun’s rays. 
  • Seating is limited. While there’s plenty of places to eat along the Riverwalk, seating can be limited on nice days. If you’d prefer a quiet family picnic without the fuss or the cost of dining, pack a picnic lunch or some snacks. There’s plenty of seating throughout the Riverwalk, including benches, oversized lawn chairs and amphitheater-style seating. 

What to do and see on the Riverwalk:

Chicago riverwalk with kids
Photo credit: Art ontheMart/Joshua Brott, Obscura Digital

  • Cool off at The Water Plaza, a fenced, fountain-style splash pad where kids can play and adults can sit back and relax while they watch their children. Located between the LaSalle and Wells Avenues bridges.
  • Play at Extraordinary Playscapes, a free outdoor space where kids can engage in free play along the river.  
  • Learn about the Riverwalk’s history at the McCormick Bridgehouse and Chicago River Museum. Watch the gears of the city’s moveable bridges and discover how Chicago became the city it is today because of its waterways. General admission is $8 for adults, $6 for kids ages 6-12 and free for children under 6. 
  • Kayak the Chicago River. Urban Kayaks offers guided tours and kayak rentals so your family can take in water views you just can’t get by staying on the beaten path. Choose from historic tours, sunset or twilight paddles, or hit the water as the river is lit up with amazing fireworks displays. 
  • View an outdoor art installation with Art on theMART. Snag a seat between Wells and Franklin, then watch as digital projections light up The Merchandise Mart. Check the website for the 2024 event schedule.
  • Grab a bite to eat. Eat like a local and grab a bite to eat at Beat Kitchen on the Riverwalk. While they don’t have a dedicated kids menu, they do have Chicago-inspired hot dogs, jumbo pretzels, ice cream and other kid-favorite menu items. 
  • Enjoy a sweet treat from The Ice Cream Social, offering handmade cones, artisan gelato and sorbet flavors and decadent sundaes. 

What to do near the Riverwalk

Chicago Architecture Center
Photo credit: Chicago Architecture Center

  • Visit the Chicago Architecture Center. Once you’ve seen the Riverwalk on foot, explore it on the water by boat! The Chicago Architecture Center offers a fun and informative cruise where passengers can learn the stories behind more than 50 riverfront buildings. Not interested in a tour but still wish you could take in more river views? Take the more affordable Chicago Water Taxi.
  • Be a tourist! While you’re downtown, take your little tourist on a sightseeing tour of the city’s must-see landmarks and attractions
  • Explore Navy Pier and take a spin on the Centennial Wheel.
  • Play at Maggie Daley Park. The massive city park has a climbing wall, mini golf and the popular Play Garden, an imaginative 3-acre playground with slides, swings, water and spray features, bridges, climbing structures and more.

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Nikki Roberts
Nikki Roberts
Nikki Roberts is the assistant editor on the Chicago Parent team. She is always on the lookout for the coolest and trendiest new attractions, restaurants and events for Chicagoland families. Her newsletters, online family guides and exciting digital content keep families informed on all the latest happenings around town.
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