Frank Lloyd Wright made Oak Park world famous when he made the western suburb his home for two decades and built many homes there (including his own). But the quaint area just immediately west of Chicago (which we’re taking to include Oak Park, River Forest and Forest Park because they’re all within a few miles of each other and contain fabulous kid-friendly finds) will charm more than architecture buffs. It also has its fair share of kiddie wonders, which makes it the perfect place to spend a day or a weekend exploring.
Wonder Works Children’s Museum
- 6445 North Ave., Oak Park
- (708) 383-4815
It’s smaller than the Chicago Children’s Museum-but it’s never very crowded, so your child can monopolize the stage and put on an awesome performance in the theater room. Or he can do a fun craft without waiting in the art room, run wild with all the toys and grocery carts, race up a tree or down a slide. They’ve got all the good stuff on a smaller scale, including the price. It’s just per child here, and there’s free parking.
Oak Park Conservatory
- 615 Garfield St., Oak Park
- (708) 725-2400
This wonderful little oasis along the Eisenhower Expressway is the perfect way to begin introducing younger children to the many different kinds of plants and flowers. The free conservatory has a fern room, tropical room and desert room, along with little ponds where kids can look for turtles and fish.
The Brown Cow Ice Cream Parlor
- 7347 Madison St., Forest Park
- (708) 366-7970
This adorable old-fashioned ice-cream parlor serves up handmade ice-cream in gigantic portions (I usually share a small with my daughters). I’m partial to the chocolate-peanut butter, while my 5-year-old loves the bubblegum flavor.
Horace Mann Elementary School Playground
- 921 N. Kenilworth Ave.
- Oak Park
We adore so many things about the new playground here, from the separate toddler area to the cool swings, climbing material and ample room to run and play. This is a must-visit park on our list.
Hal Tyrrell Trailside Museum
- 738 Thatcher Ave., River Forest
- (708) 366-6530
There are animals, including a coyote and a fox, in cages outside, logs to walk on, a pretend fort and nature walks designed for small children. They have kids’ and family programs such as guided nature walks and nature-based stories almost every week, which are open to the public-so you can plan your trip around their activities. Cost is free to enter, > – for activities such as storytime and crafts.
- 7636 W. Madison St., Forest Park
- (708) 366-4010
This is drool-worthy Italian food. No, it’s not a place you’d normally take children, as you can drop per person because the food is that good-but they do something there that is family-friendly genius: On the second Monday of the month, they have a kids night for ages 2-12. This means kids get whisked away to the back room, where the owner’s wife and daughters play with them (freeze-dance games, etc.), do a craft, feed them a homemade dinner and set up an ice-cream sundae bar for per child. Meanwhile, you and your significant other can have a romantic dinner sans kids. Oh-and this night coincides with their ½ price bottle of wine Monday nights.