There’s nothing this city doesn’t have. World-renowned museums, check. Championship sports, check. Food to satisfy even the pickiest eater in your family, all the checks.
“The city has our heart because we can make any day special by just walking out the front door,” says Chicago mom, Stephanie Peterson.
Here are some more reasons why families love the Windy City so much.
Arts & Culture
You can’t beat the museums, sports or fun oddities that make Chicago great. We’ve given you the perfect way to spend a summer day enjoying all the wonderful arts and culture that the city has to offer. Whether it’s a day spent soaking up the city’s sports scene or catching the best summer exhibits at the museums, there are so many ways to love our city.
Reason 1: Sports
- Morning: Start your day at Maggie Daley Park where you can partake in your own sports adventure. Play the park’s mini golf course or play a set on the tennis or pickleball courts. Families with their own gear can skate or scooter on the ribbon all morning, and for those without the rental counter opens at noon to rent rollerblades and non-motorized scooters. The climbing wall also opens at noon for adventure seekers who want to see the shores of Lake Michigan at 40 feet in the air.
- Afternoon: Head north to Wrigley Field or south to Guaranteed Rate Field to catch your favorite team playing baseball when they are in town. Both the Cubs and White Sox have provided the city with thrills for more than 100 years, totaling six World Series rings between them (three each). Afternoon games are synonymous on the North Side, where Wrigley Field was the last Major League Baseball field to install lights for night games in 1988.
- Nightlife: Take a short drive to the suburbs to SeatGeek Stadium for an intimate soccer game to see the Chicago Red Stars play. The National Women’s Soccer League team owns the league record for longest active playoff streak and serves up affordable family fun, plus great spots to eat stadium concessions. Tailgating is a tradition outside the stadium, with social distancing protocols in place for family members that aren’t yet vaccinated.
Reason 2: Museums
- Morning: When the architects of the 1893 Columbian Exposition decided to put the fair in Jackson Park, they did so for a reason: a beautiful location makes for happy guests. Which is why your family can start the day in Jackson Park before heading to the Museum of Science and Industry. Revisit revamped fan-favorite exhibits like the Pioneer Zephyr train and the 727 airplane.
- Afternoon: Make the afternoon all about Museum Campus. Located right on the shores of Lake Michigan, families can feed the minds of their dino-loving kids or those that can’t get enough sharks. Take in the Field Museum to see both Sue the T.rex and Maximo the Titanosaur. At Shedd Aquarium, kids can touch a stingray or see a shark up close! Learn more about the deep blue sea with one of the reopened 4D adventures that includes a movie with sensory exploration (like mist or a chair poke).
- Nightlife: Wrap up your day at the Museum of Illusions, open until 9 p.m. weekdays and 10 p.m. weekends. Kids of all ages will be amazed at the antigravity room and the vortex tunnel. The Smart Playroom is designed with family in mind to compete for supremacy in brain-teaser games, impossible knots and more. Magician Dylan Snow roams the museum on Wednesdays until 8 p.m., showing off illusions at close range.
Reason 3: Culture
- Morning: Chicago’s theater scene is a playground for families that love live shows. Some of Broadway’s and Hollywood’s best actors and actresses got their starts in Chicago and the bar is raised pretty high for the quality that families can expect. When the Chicago Children’s Theatre returns with their regular in-person season, you can catch great kid-friendly shows early in the day.
- Afternoon: The best way to understand what makes Chicago so amazing is to learn about its architecture and history. Relax on a boat in the sun while a docent amazes you with tales of how the city was born, burned and reborn again. Take your architecture cruise midday so that you can start and finish on the Riverwalk, where the multitude of outdoor locations will tempt your family for lunch (or we recommend Sweet Home Gelato for a mid-afternoon snack!).
- Nightlife: The city is known — and loved — for its influence in lots of music genres: punk, house, blues, rock and jazz. With the Great Migration in the early 1900s, New Orleans jazz musicians brought the sound north, and Chicago added strings to a previously brassy sound. Now there are great jazz clubs all across the city to hear music. To enjoy some jazz while seeing the city, hop aboard The Tall Ship Windy, which sails from Navy Pier and has jazz cruises in late July. Or soak up all kinds of music at the Grant Park Music Festival, which plays night concerts Wednesdays-Fridays in July and August at Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park. In lieu of the Chicago Jazz Festival this year, the city is presenting “Chicago In Tune,” ticketed concerts across the city celebrating the music we’re known for.
Sure, Chicago is known for its pizza. But the city is so much more than easy food by the slice. From bubble tea in Chinatown to jibaritos in Logan Square to the battle for what is Chicago-style barbecue, the city is a culinary masterpiece. Get started on your food adventures with some of these ideas.
Reason 4: Hot Dogs
- North Side: For more than 70 years, Superdawg has been serving up its proprietary beef blend of dogs from the family-owned hot dog stand with a carhop service. Kids love the two giant hot dogs standing on the roof of the nostalgic looking building.
- Downtown: Families can’t walk too far downtown without encountering a Vienna Beef Hot Dog Stand. Vienna Beef, synonymous with Chicago for its promotion of Chicago-style dogs (poppy seed buns, sport peppers, mustard, onions, sweet pickle relish, tomatoes, pickles and a dash of celery salt on a hot dog). Some spots are near popular tourists like Navy Pier, Grant Park and Museum Campus.
- South Side: The 35th Street Red Hots stand is right across from Guaranteed Rate Field. Vienna Beef also has a “Factory Store” that moved last year to Bridgeport (3847 S. Morgan St., Chicago)
Reason 5: Pizza
- North Side: Family owned and operated since 1950, Pat’s (2679 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago) uses only the freshest ingredients in every pizza. How do you know? The sausage is mixed and made on site, it’s that good. You can pick your own toppings, or try one of the restaurant’s specialty pizzas like Taco, Pesto or Cheeseburger.
- Downtown: We’ll admit it, we can’t pick just one either. But we — and you — don’t have to. Take your family on a Chicago Pizza Tour (multiple options to choose from) to enjoy a few slices and learn a little history of the pizza in the city. You’ll stop at some of the best spots downtown, and choose either a walking tour or a bus tour. Your family can compare, and then vote for their own favorite spot.
- South Side: Highlighted on Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, Vito & Nick’s Pizzeria (8433 S. Pulaski Road, Chicago) serves pizza piping hot and has a career-long stance of not delivering. Worth the drive, your family can top the perfect thin crust with expected pizza topping, plus hot or mild giardiniera and an egg, but ham and pineapple are not on the menu.
Reason 6: Dessert
- North Side – The world’s first marshmallow cafe, XO Marshmallow (6977 N. Sheridan Road, Chicago). sprang up in Chicago and fans can’t get enough. Indulge in a marshmallow cookie, a S’maco (s’mores taco) or cool off on a hot day with frozen hot chocolate. Watch XO Marshmallow’s website for the return of marshmallow classes.
- Downtown – Your family doesn’t have to stay at the Palmer House Hilton (17 E. Monroe St., Chicago) to enjoy the signature brownie. Slide into the lobby bar for your taste of the original. Families can also sign up for classes to learn to make the brownie.
- South Side – Family-owned shop, The Original Rainbow Cone, opened in 1926 in the Beverly neighborhood and has only grown. Families can still enjoy the signature tastes of Chocolate, Strawberry, Palmer House, Pistachio and Orange Sherbet that combine to make the perfect single ice cream lick at the original shop on the South Side. Or, follow the Truck Tracker online to visit one of the four trucks that traverse the city and suburbs.
Nature + Outdoors
Escaping to the outdoors is a rite of passage. The Chicago Park District has more than 600 parks and 28 miles of lakeshore that it keeps sparkling to attract visitors from the neighborhoods or the suburbs. We know where to find the hidden gems worthy of a day trip or perfect to escape the house.
Reason 7: Outdoor Adventures
- West Woodlawn Fairy Garden: Families in the West Woodlawn neighborhood flock to the garden in the summer to try to catch the fairies in action. The fairies’ homes, created and sponsored by neighborhood companies like We Events, AF Builds, Blacks in Green and HelloBaby, change themes each summer. A Little Free Library was added to the garden this year to help with the 2021 theme: Fairy Tale Homes. Houses include the Three Little Pigs’ homes, Jack’s Beanstalk and more. The garden is located at 61st Street and St. Lawrence Avenue.
- Osaka Gardens/Garden of the Phoenix in Jackson Park: The Japanese government created the Phoenix Temple in Jackson Park as part of its contribution to the 1893 Colombian Exposition. The gardens have remained for the last 120 years and have been expanded on several occasions in concert with Chicago’s Japanese Sister City: Osaka. The area also includes a portion of the 160 Cherry Trees that bloom in the spring, a pavilion, moon bridge and Shinto gate. Find the park at 6401 S. Stony Island Ave., Chicago.
- Chicago Cemetery Tours: Sure, your family can learn history at one of the museums downtown. Or, the next best way to dig into some of the stories of Chicago while enjoying the outdoors is to take a cemetery tour. Famous local and national bigwigs, sports stars, historical figures and more are buried all across the area — and it’s a great way to keep teens and tweens entertained during the summer, with tours led by the Chicago Architecture Center and Chicago History Museum. Most cemeteries also have their own maps so that you can take a trip to find Chicago Cubs star Ernie Banks (Graceland Cemetery), Mayor Harold Washington and journalist Ida B. Wells (Oak Woods), Mayor Jane Byrne and Chicago White Sox Owner Charles Comiskey (Calvary Catholic Cemetery, Evanston) and Chicago Bears star Brian Piccolo (St. Mary Catholic Cemetery, Evergreen Park).
- Riverwalk and Lakefront: Summer downtown begs for a stroll down the Riverwalk or a walk along the beach. Enjoy excellent food and shopping options on the Riverwalk, then stick around for the nightly showings of the Art on theMART, projections of art along the side of the Merchandise Mart. For really great views of the city skyline, hit the Margaret T. Burroughs Beach in Burnham Park. In addition to an expansive beach and fun-filled playground, families can watch boats come in and out of the docks at the harbor, rent a boat or spend some time at the Burnham Skate Park. Lane Beach Park is at the northernmost end of the Lakefront Trail, perfect for families looking for a great destination after a bike ride. Younger kids can enjoy the enclosed playground with lakeside flair.
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