Spending The Best Day in Downtown Chicago with Kids

You can find plenty of things to do with kids at these restaurants, attractions and more.

Whether you live in South Shore or Rogers Park, far out in the suburbs or somewhere in between, you probably have visited downtown at least once while living in Chicagoland. What’s not to love? You can get up close to the amazing skyline along Lake Michigan, visit your favorite local attractions and grab a bucket of CaramelCrisp at Garrett Popcorn Shops.

Downtown Chicago can feel like it’s packed with tourists at times, but for locals, seeing the sights can still make for a great family day trip. Once you make it downtown, you’ll find plenty of things to do with your kids.

Check out our family guide to Downtown Chicago to plan out your next day trip. Below, you’ll find family-friendly shops, restaurants, museums and more.

Tip: Hop on a train to avoid the fees and hassle of parking. Metra riders ages 11 and under can ride free on weekends and select holidays. Kids under 7 always ride free, and kids 7-11 ride for half price on weekdays. CTA also offers free fare for kids ages 7 and under.

This article was recently updated on March 7, 2024 by Chicago Parent’s Assistant Editor, Nikki Roberts. The update included her fact-checking expertise to provide the latest and most recent information on family-friendly attractions in downtown Chicago, aligning with Chicago Parent’s mission to provide the top parenting resources for local families. Questions? Please reach out to nikki@chicagoparent.com.

Eat

Photo credit: Wildberry Pancakes and Cafe

JoJo’s Shake Bar

These outrageous milkshakes will blow your kids’ minds! The Biggie Shakes at JoJo’s Shake Bar come with amazing toppings like a gold-sprinkled marshmallow, a sugar cookie or a chocolate-covered banana. 

Eataly

Walk around this Italian marketplace to find fresh bread, pasta sauce and other delicious food. You can also stop by the restaurant, Osteria di Eataly, to enjoy Napoli-style pizza and pasta. Save room for dessert-to-go from the pastry bar with all the Italian desserts.

Wildberry Pancakes and Cafe

Downtown Chicago is packed with so many breakfast places! Wildberry Pancakes and Cafe makes the top of our list. You can’t go wrong with any of the pancakes on the menu, especially the Cinnamon Roll or “Signature Berry Bliss” (if you have a sweet tooth).

Harry Caray’s 7th Inning Stretch

While you can find plenty of Harry Caray restaurants in Downtown Chicago, diners at the Water Tower Place locations can receive complimentary admission to the Chicago Sports Museum next door. Note: The museum sometimes closes early for private events, so check hours or call ahead before planning your visit!

Shop

Photo credit: IT’SUGAR

American Girl

American Girl fans will love nothing more than to visit the flagship store in Downtown Chicago. It’s more than just a stop for shopping — there’s a salon to fix a doll’s hair or you can eat lunch at the adorable café. Before you go, check the upcoming special events listed on the store’s website.

The Lego Store

Also located in Water Tower Place, your kids can get their Lego fix in this store. Before you walk into the store, take a look at the iconic Chicago buildings built with Lego bricks on display. They’re huge!

IT’SUGAR

You can’t say no to a candy store visit! IT’SUGAR makes the shopping experience fun by offering a variety of candy and plenty of photo opportunities, like a 11-foot Ferris wheel candy display and the Chicago skyline made of jellybeans.

Wish Kids

Swing by the 900 North Michigan Shops to find adorable clothes for kids ranging from babies to tweens. You can also find quite the selection of toys and books.

Play

Photo credit: Skydeck Chicago

Maggie Daley Park

Chicagoland has amazing playgrounds, and Maggie Daley Park’s Play Garden has something for kids of all ages. Throughout the year, you can also enjoy mini golf, rock climbing and ice skating. While you are there, take a stroll through Millennium Park to spot the Bean and attend festivals during the summer.

Museum of Illusions

Get ready to challenge your minds and trick your senses at this weird, wacky and wonderful museum. Experience more than 80 one-of-kind exhibits that will teach your kids about math and science. Plus, you’ll be able to take so many fun photos!

Skydeck Chicago

If you want to see one of the best bird’s-eye views of the city skyline, take the Willis Tower elevator to the 103rd Floor. You can sit on The Ledge, a glass box that will let you look down below. Check out the new, interactive Chicago-themed museum. Read more in our Skydeck Chicago family guide.

Chicago Children’s Museum

Photo credit: Chicago Children’s Museum

With 15 exhibits and play areas just for kids, your child will love spending the day at this children’s museum. Highlights include the newly revamped “Water City and “Circusville” exhibits; “Cloud Buster,” 37-feet of steel, wood, turf and other scalable materials for kids to climb on; and reaching high speeds as they send toy cars down 40 tracks of varying heights and angles in the “Zoom Room.” There’s also dinosaur expeditions, educational safety exhibits for kids, and opportunities to build and create at the Tinkering Lab

Color Factory

Experience the rainbow as you make your way through the most colorful selfie museum in the city. Pose in front of carefully curated scenes and marvel at the bright details of interactive art installations. The engaging displays are influenced by Chicago’s culture, from St. Patrick’s Day celebrations to installations inspired by the city’s architecture.

Museum of Ice Cream

Sample frozen treats while you play in an immersive world filled with 14 interactive exhibits, including a mini golf course, a pool filled with “sprinkles” and some Chicago-themed art installations.

Explore

Photo credit: Navy Pier

Navy Pier

The downtown attraction is always a popular summer bucket list item for families. You can enjoy views of the city while eating outdoors, a quick boat ride or a fireworks show. We love exploring Polk Bros. Park, where there are free events during the warmer months. Plus, Navy Pier is home to Chicago Children’s Museum!  

Get all the tips, inside info and suggestions for exploring this popular attraction with kids in our Navy Pier family guide

Chicago Riverwalk

Stroll 1.25 miles along the Chicago River to find great restaurants, public art displays and some water fun. If you’re here at night, you’ll have the best view of Art on theMart, a nightly projection on the Merchandise Mart. Use our family guide to Chicago’s Riverwalk to discover more kid-friendly fun for your next riverfront adventure. 

Art Institute of Chicago

In the center of Downtown Chicago, spend some time at one of the best art museums in the world. Kids ages 14 and under always get in for free, as well as Chicago teens under 18. After seeing some amazing art, drop in at the Ryan Learning Center for family-friendly activities. Learn how to customize your family’s tour with our family guide to the Art Institute

Chicago Architecture Center

Walk through the Chicago Architecture Center to discover the magnificent buildings in our city. The while family will enjoy the kid-friendly walking tours like the Great Chicago Fire Family Walking Tour and Chicago: Chicago Architecture Basics. They also run family events and programs through the year.


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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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