10 free things to do this summer in Chicago

Keep your wallet as full as your schedule this summer with these 10 free destinations – plus tips for what to do when you get there.

Give your city kid a look at farm life and let them try theirhand at farm chores. You never know – after an hour baling hay,picking up their toys might not seem like such a drag.

One of the kid favorites (this will surprise most moms and dads)is the farm chores programs, says Keith McClow, education sitemanager for Kline Creek.

“One of our biggest ones is the laundry process. They want to doit again and again with the scrub board and the soap,” McClow says.Mom’s farm chores are highlighted on Mondays; dad’s are featured onThursdays. During dad’s farm chores programs, kids erect ascaled-down version of a timber-framed farmhouse.

“It’s small enough for kidsto lift the pieces and assemble, and then they can climb up on itand see how sturdy it is,” McClow says. Kids also like collectingthe eggs from the chicken coop or listening to stories from thattime period.

Kline Creek Farm


It’s not exactly a hidden gem; everyone knows the Lincoln ParkZoo and most Chicagolanders have been there. But few of us reallytake the time to appreciate what a gift it is to the city: aworld-class zoo, open 365 days a year, completely free? Almost toogood to be true. The zoo is always good for a casual walk-through,especially the Farm at the Zoo, with its familiar barnyard animalsand farm landscape.

Lincoln Park Zoo


The Naperville Riverwalk is a perfect for a summer stroll. Wide,smooth and stroller-friendly, it’s welcoming for even the smallestof amblers. Plus there are carrillon concerts, children’s lunchhour entertainment, Centennial Beach for cooling off, and a largeplayground.

Naperville Riverwalk


Garfield Park Conservatory is one of Chicago’s hidden treasures- beautiful, historical and packed with free activities for thebudding horticulturalist (or bored kiddie). Kids love the ElizabethMorse Children’s Garden, with free drop-in activities all summerlong.

The Power of Plants


The Family Fun Festival returns to Millennium Park this summer. Every day, from June 22-Aug. 23 between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., family performances and hands-on activities will take place in the Family Fun Tent, located on the Park’s Chase Promenade North. The Wiggleworms, from Chicago’s Old Town School of Folk Music, perform at kids’ show at 10 a.m., reading circle is at 11 a.m. and family performances are at 1 p.m. Plus, take part in hands-on art projects and garden activities with some of the region’s most popular museums and cultural organizations daily in the Family Fun Activity Zone from 10 a.m.-3 p.m.

Family fun fest

Family Fun Festival


Not that we balk at the regular admission price (at $9 foradults, $6 for kids 3-12, and free admission for kids under 3, it’samong the best bang for the buck when it comes to Chicago’smuseums), but you can’t beat free. And Thursday is free/suggesteddonation day at Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, which is truly thegem of Chicago’s emerald necklace.

Related: Check out our complete list of Chicagomuseum free days

Thursdays at Notebaert

Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum


There’s something supremely quite like walking out of a stickyChicago summer day and into the air-conditioned air and 1980s decorof a bowling alley, knowing that you’ve bought at least two hoursof fun for just a few dollars, plus some quarters for thearcade.

And for the fourth summer in a row, kids will bowl free at morethan 30 Chicagoland alleys. Kids Bowl Free is a national initiativewith more than 850 participating centers that provide kids with twofree games of bowling every day, all day, from Memorial Day to lateAugust.

Bowl (for free!)

Kids bowl free at more than 30 Chicago-area bowling alleys this summer

There’s something supremely quite like walking out of a stickyChicago summer day and into the air-conditioned air and 1980s decorof a bowling alley, knowing that you’ve bought at least two hoursof fun for just a few dollars, plus some quarters for thearcade.

And for the fourth summer in a row, kids will bowl free at morethan 30 Chicagoland alleys. Kids Bowl Free is a national initiativewith more than 850 participating centers that provide kids with twofree games of bowling every day, all day, from Memorial Day to lateAugust.

Families must register online at kidsbowlfree.com and will receive emailed
vouchers. Find a complete list of particpating Illinois bowling
alleys here.


This is a great place to bike, jog or walk, even with a strolleror a few kids on training wheels in tow. Two miles of landscapedpark are studded with more than 60 sculptures. Kids will enjoy thelife-size, brightly colored horses or the many other giantsculptures. Visit the website before you visit and download afamily guide filled with clues, questions and information thatserves as an interactive introduction to the sculptures.

Take a docent-led tour (get the schedulehere) or download the Family Guide for clues, questions,
information, and suggestions for at-home activities.

Skokie Northshore Sculpture Park


Step back in time and learn what life was like during Civil War Days or take a peek at the great model railroad setup. It’s especially a great place for train-crazy kids: the HO model railroad, which includes over 2,000 feet of track, will elicit squeals when it zips into action with the push of a button.

DuPage County Historical Museum


Best for the 4-and-under set, Phillips Park Zoo has reptiles, wolves, cougars, otters, llamas and lots of other animals. Plus there’s a great big playground, a beautiful lake with a walking path around it, and a visitor center with real mastodon bones.

Phillips Park Zoo


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