Summer fun on a budget in Chicago

We get less than 100 days of summer. Make it count. There are so many fun activities to take advantage of summer fun on the cheap including movies, exploring nature, splashing around and rocking out! This summer fun mini guide can help you achieve smiles and cure lurking boredom without breaking the bank.

Enjoy blockbusters without breaking the wallet

Movies in the park

Grab your blanket (and bug spray) and sit in one of the many Chicago District Parks or Millennium Park for the Movies in the Park series. Find out what’s playing in your neighborhood for free

Summer movie programs

Regal’s Summer Movie Express is a summer movie series full of kid and family-friendly flicks that cost only $1 per person to see at your local Regal Movie Theater. Here are some more budget-friendly movie programs to enjoy this summer

Drive-in movies

Take the trek out west to McHenry for the $12 carload Tuesdays at the last remaining local drive-in movie theater, McHenry Outdoor Theater, for all the summer’s blockbusters! Here are some family tips to make the most of your drive-in movie experience

Rock out

Dancin’ Sprouts

The Chicago Botanic Garden hosts Dancin’ Sprouts every Wednesday night for a rotating kid’s concert. Come enjoy the scenery and sounds from 5:30-7:30 p.m. and dance your wiggles out before bed. Members are free, non-members just pay for parking ($25).

Millennium Park Summer Music Series

Grab a picnic and head to the sprawling lawn at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion at Millennium Park for their summer series. Enjoy music from established and emerging artists while soaking in the vibe.

Rosemont’s Parkway Bank Park

Head to Rosemont’s Parkway Bank Park in the entertainment district for a-rockin’ good time. Music and entry are free all summer long every Thursday (7-10 p.m.) until August. Enjoy fireworks after every concert! 

Wiggleworms

Looking for a morning jam session? Old Town School of Folk Music welcomes kids of all ages and levels to come out and have a jam sesh for free at Wiggleworms. You can find them at the following locations and times this summer:

Get cultured

Play Late Thursdays

Enjoy a family night out at the Chicago Children’s Museum for Play Late Thursdays from 5-8 p.m. Families and groups of up to 4 people can access all CCM has to offer for $14.95. And if your crew is more than 4, each extra person only pays $5 each. Additionally, every first Sunday of the month offers free admission for all visitors 15 and under. Don’t miss these other free museum days happening this summer. 

Go on a scavenger hunt

Visit some new neighborhoods across the city and take a snap at one of these awesome murals with your kids. 

For the sports fans
Free bowling

Select bowling centers around the country are participating in the Kids Bowl Free program. This program is designed by bowling centers to give back to the community and provide a safe, secure and fun way for kids to spend time this summer. Check out the local bowling centers in your area for two free games this summer. 

Play ball

Is Guaranteed Rate Field or Wrigley too chaotic for you to catch a baseball game? Head to a Chicago Dogs game in Rosemont for a fun night out that won’t bust your bank. Single tickets are $9 or grab a Friends and Family 4-Pack, which includes four tickets, four commemorative hats, and a large pizza from Moretti’s, and fireworks after the game. Packages range from $36-64. What a steal! Read our family guide to a Chicago Dogs game

Get crafty

Kids Club at Michaels

Arts and crafts supply store, Michaels hosts a Kids Club craft project nearly every Saturday. Sessions start every half-hour from 10 a.m. to noon. A $2 fee reserves 30 minutes for your creative kid (appropriate for ages 3 and older) and includes supplies. Be sure to secure your spot and check for participating locations

Kids’ Workshops at Home Depot

Home Depot offers Kids’ Workshops once (or sometimes twice) a month from 9 a.m. to noon, kids ages 5 to 12 can enjoy free hands-on fun. In addition to keeping their projects, kids will also receive a certificate of achievement, a Workshop Apron and a commemorative pin (while supplies last). Be sure to register in advance for participating locals and for availability. (Tip: Select a location then search for workshops under DIY Projects & Ideas > Kids’ Workshops)

Splash around

Splash pads galore

Splish, splash around the city and suburbs with access to more than free splash pads. You can’t talk splash pads in Chicagoland without mentioning the “crown”ing one—Crown Fountain at Millennium Park. Not only is it a place to cool off, but it’s also art. And, it’s the one time you won’t chastise your kids for getting involved in a spitting contest.

Hit the beaches

Beach, please! Don’t want to hit up one of the more prominent beaches? There are plenty to choose from along the lakeshore. Here is a complete listing of all the Chicago Park District beaches. 

Spend time in nature

Head to Lincoln Park

Lincoln Park offers two great spaces for learning about nature and animals — Lincoln Park Zoo and the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum. At the zoo, stop by on Wednesdays and Fridays at 9:15 and 10 a.m. at the Main Barn to sing along with Mr. Singer, who delights young audiences with original songs that get the little ones ages 6 and under on her feet. Peggy Notebaert offers free admission (donations are suggested) on Thursdays. Get up close and personal with butterflies, search for stick bugs camouflaged on a twig, and check out their rotating pop-up exhibits. 

Local farm fun

Want to escape the city to learn more about where your food comes from? Check out one of the many local farms to pick your own vegetables and seasonal summer fruit. 


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