School’s out for a few days – how will you spend them?
Head to Michigan for the day
Northern Michigan is one of those places where it’s all aboutthe outdoors, from the majestic sand dunes along Lake Michigan to atraditional drive-in movie theater.
The biggest attraction isSleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, a wonder of Mother Naturethat has some of the steepest sand dunes anywhere in the countryand some of the clearest water anywhere in Lake Michigan. Heed thewarning signs at the steep dunes off of Stocking Scenic Drive. Thedownhill run takes less than a minute, but the climb back up cantake 90 minutes or more and is a challenge for even the fittestclimber.
You also can get to the waterthe easy way-by driving there. We chose the beach at Glen Haven,mostly because it was just up the road from our real destination:Cherry Republic in Glen Arbor. This restaurant, gift shop andcherry mecca celebrates the region’s No. 1 crop with originalcreations, ranging from the cherry chicken salad to the mostamazing hamburger I have ever eaten. Adding cherries to the meatresults in a yummy melt-in-your-mouth burger, although the cherryketchup was a bit much.
In Traverse City, rent bikesto explore the miles of bike trails or simply take a walk along theharbor, then jump on the mini train for a short ride around thelakefront park. Don’t leave town without taking in a Beach Bumsgame. This Frontier League team makes a family outing to a baseballgame fun again.
If your kids have never beento a drive-in movie, head to the Cherry Bowl Drive-In in Honor.It’s the real deal. The snack stand has the look of a 1950soriginal, as do the trailers, ads and shorts that run before themarquee movie. Is this a great way to see a movie? No. But it’s agreat experience. Go on your birthday and the booming voice ofowner Harry Clark will let everyone know-and everyone will honktheir horns to wish you a happy birthday.
Learn why Chicago really is a city of neighborhoods. Fromcultural enclaves to hidden histories, there’s a surprise on everyblock. Try our tours of Bronzevill,Avondale or Pilsen to get you started or visit the city’s neighborhood tourism website for more tips. Or better yet, get a map of Chiago (or pull one up on the computer), have your child close his eyes and point. Voila! Adventure.
Discover a new ‘hood
Eat around the world
Most families aren’t planning to jet off to Europe, Africa orSouth America for a vacation anytime soon. However, there areplenty of opportunities to expose your family to different culturesright here in Chicago by simply dining out at the many local ethnicrestaurants.
Chicagoans could literallyeat their way around the world without ever leaving the citylimits.
Introducing kids to differentworld cuisines is a powerful way to teach them to value differencesand also understand that all cultures share commonalities(especially when it comes to family meals).
Before you explore a newcuisine with your children, be sure to provide some basicbackground information so they know what to expect. Take a look atthe menu in advance or ask questions of your server to ensure thatyou order kid-friendly dishes that will keep your tiny dinerssatisfied.
Here are a few highlyrespected local ethnic restaurants to begin your culinaryadventures.
Cumin 1414 N. Milwaukee Ave. Chicago cumin-chicago.com
This relatively newrestaurant serves up modern Nepalese and Indian cuisine. ManagerDipesh Kakshapaty says there are some significant differencesbetween the two types of food.
“Nepalese culture eats mostlya vegetable-based diet with very little use of spices and dairyproducts. On the other hand, Indian food relies heavily on spicesand a lot of dairy ingredients,” says Kakshapaty.
Despite sharing a religionand many cultural practices, Indian food has been influenced bymany outside cultures and has evolved because of those influenceswhile Nepal largely has the same cuisine it had 300 years ago,Kakshapaty says. At Cumin, most of the dishes are moderatelyspiced.
Kid-friendly menusuggestions: Kakshapaty says the chef can always customize the spice level or accommodate food allergies.
Roditys Restaurant 222 S. Halsted Chicago roditys.com/index-5.html
Chicken malia tikka (white chicken breast marinated in mildItalian spices, cashew paste, sour cream and yogurt) is flavorfulwithout being spicy. Other good options include palungoko saag(sauteed spinach), vegetable samosas (stuffed dough), dal makhani(lentils), naan bread, mint-cucumber raita (yogurt dip) and lassi(a yogurt drink).
In Greek culture, the familydining table is the central gathering place. “It is the single mostimportant place for showing loved ones and friends how trulyimportant they are to us,” Manager Joe Collado says. He recommendsparents treat the dining experience as a teaching tool.
“It is important to developdiverse taste buds in children and let them know that there is avast world beyond just the basic foods,” says Collado.
He says Greek cuisine isconsidered one of the world’s healthiest because it focuses onolive oil, fresh veggies and lean meats.
Kid-friendly menusuggestions: Kids love the “sights and sounds” of the flaming saganaki cheese. The cheese is set on fire tableside as the waiter exclaims “Opa!” Other family-friendly options include tzatziki (a yogurt dip), chicken shish-kebab (skewers), and rice pudding fo
Discover new worlds
Through the discovery of exoplanets, we have learned oursolar system is not alone in the universe. IN this new space show,learn how, with new instruments like the Kepler Telescope andrapidly improving technologies, the discovery of exoplanets puts usone step closer to finding an Earth-like world.
Explore a different side of Chicago’s history every day of yourweek off.
Monday: Did you know Chicago is responsible for the Ferris Wheel? Learn about the 1893 World’s Fair then head downtown and take a ride on Navy Pier’s famous Ferris Wheel. If you time it correctly, you can head straight from there to free night at the Chicago Children’s Museum (Thursdays from 5 to 8 p.m.)
Tuesday:The ChicagoHistory Museum is as great place to start your quest with the History a la Carte exhibit, where kids can learn how to build bridges, trace the path of the Great Chicago Fire, play with skyscrapers, and a lot more.
Wednesday: Learn from the comfort of your own home at MyChicago, an interactive history site designed for kids ages 6 to 12. Download coloring sheets, be an “artifact detective” and create your own city skyline.
Thursday: Head to the bridge at Michigan Avenue and Wacker Drive that commemorates the city’s humble origins as a trading oupost. The McCormick Bridgehouse Museum doesn’t open until May, but take a few minutes to watch the Chicago river bridge system at work. This is a big hit with engine-crazy boys.
Friday: If you have slightly older kids, check out an UntouchableTour, which wends through Chicago’s sorded gangster history. There’s a bit too much talk of bloodshed to make this a whole-family affair, but tweens and teens will love it.
Dive into history
March certainly came in like a lion, and as it heads out, we’llsee if the lamb shows up. Before this month is up, find lions andlambs in some unexpected places around Chicagoland.
So far, March has felt a bit more lion-like than lambish, but we’re confident that warmer weather is ahead. In the spirit of that old adage, we’re finding both lions and lambs in a few surprising places.
A night (or day) at the theater
Put some spring in your step (or at least on your fridge) withthese do-it-yourself projects. Try a toilet-paper-roll”binoculars” to catch sight of the season’s first birds or atissue-paper suncatcher to make the most of those rays.
Bring spring inside
Looking for spring break options that don’t start with $1,000 inairfare? Try one of these regional hotspots intsead, each within athree-hour drive of Chicago.
Go on a day trip
Even with the high price of gas, it could be cheaper to throwthe kids in the car, drive two or three hours, and be home in bedthat night. Here are some ideas for quick day trips that you can dowith your family and friends.
Go to China(town)
A trip with the kids to China sounds like a bit much,right? But what if you could do it in an afternoon? Chicago FoodPlanet offers a three-hour walking tour of Chinatown that coversthe food, history and culture of the largest Asian nation. And it’sright off the el’s Red line.
The trip starts with the Chinese answer to brunch-dim sum-a mealthat traces its roots back to the traders who traveled the SilkRoad.
Kids will love the bamboo steamers of BBQ pork buns at TripleCrown, and with some urging, should also like the crispy deep-friedtaro puffs. While the food spins on the lazy Susan, they’ll learnhow to serve themselves from a communal plate with chopsticks, anda silent way to signal thank you.
As the tour winds through Chinatown-it covers just over amile-there are history lessons at every turn. You’ll see the goldstatues in the Buddhist Temple, visit a tea shop and stop by PingTom Memorial Park. Kids will be fascinated by the jars of driedanimals and herbs at the medicinal supplement shop.
And then it’s back to the food. The Dried Chili Chicken at LaoSze Chuan embodies the region’s abundant use of chili peppers -ourguide called it “fried chicken on steroids.” Pair it with agenerous portion of rice to cut the heat.
At Lao Beijing the specialty is Peking duck: shredded, roastedduck is wrapped in thin pancakes-like a Chinese version of theburrito-with spring onions, cucumbers and a sweet hoison sauce.
The tour ends on a sweet note, with an egg tart at aFrench-inspired bakery. You will not end this tour hungry.
Make sure to reward kids’ listening skills and food-tryingabilities with a trip to the candy store. Aji Ichiban (you’ll passit on the tour) is one of the biggest chain candy stores in theworld and will be sure to have something every kid will love. Ifyou’re still feeling adventuresome, try the strawberry mocchi: it’slike an Asian gummy bear.
Visit a children’s museum
Museums with kids? Sign us up. At least when it comes to these awesome children’s museums, which have fun attractions for every member of your family.
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The world’s a stage, the Bard tells us, but so is your livingroom. And with the built-in drama of having kids, there’s plenty ofmaterial to create your own play. Jill Olsen of iOTheater in Chicago shares her tips.
Put on a play
If you have kids, you might think there’s already enough dramain your house. But why not channel all that emotion into your ownfamily movie or play? It can be a great way to jumpstart kids’imaginations, and it doesn’t have to cost a penny.
You don’t even have to start with a script; the play can becompletely improvised. Start with an idea, then the next personbuilds on that idea until a story begins to form, says Jill Olson,assistant director of operations at iO Theater in Chicago, whichspecializes in children’s improv. To keep kids motivated, help themfind topics they’re interested in, such as travel or princesses. Ifthere’s more than one theme, consider working on shortvignettes.
Many kids will just let their creativity flow uninhibited, butif your kids need help getting started, ask them to demonstrate howsilly they can be. “You can never be too silly, and that gets themall on the same level, so it’s not one kid alone in the spotlight,”Olson says. “Or we read books and then do some creative drama, likethe cows typing from Click, Clack, Moo.” Or use classic stories,such as the Three Little Pigs, and tell it from someone else’sperspective, such as the Big Bad Wolf.
For scenery, construction paper can become just about anything.At iO, scenery is butcher paper that children draw on for the set.Search around your own house for items to use as props andcostumes.
And when you’re ready, consider getting your efforts onto apermanent record. “In a family setting, especially if you do anentire story it’s completely filmable and it’s something a familycan hold onto,” Olson says.
Do mindblowing experiments
Get out of the city and tap into your inner cowboy at one ofthese five stables. Rates generally run between $25 and $35 perhour, with some stables offering special group rates, multiple-ridepackages or cash discounts.
When your children are little, a trip to thenearest nature preserve is a day-long family enterprise of diggingin the mud, skipping stones and watching bugs together. But as kidsget older, it can get difficult to persuade them to put down theiriPhones and experience the outdoors with you.
Enter the horse: 1,200 pounds of raw muscle at yourcommand, plus a new vantage point from which to experience thesights and sounds of nature. What tween or teen could resist thechallenge?
Just a short drive past the city limits you’ll findstables that offer guided trail rides to riders 10 and up. You andyour children will need an Illinois trail license ($3, available atmost stables), and you’ll also need to sign a release form. Ratesgenerally run between $25 and $35 per hour, with some stablesoffering special group rates, multiple-ride packages or cashdiscounts.
Before you go, dress for a comfortable ride in full-lengthjeans and boots with a 1-inch heel. The stable should provide anSEI-certified helmet for each rider. To check the fit, fasten thechin strap and then try tipping the helmet up and down on yourhead. It shouldn’t come up above your hairline or down over youreyes. If it does, select a smaller helmet, tighten the chin strap,or both.
A guide or assistant will help you onto your horse,usually from a mounting block. Some will ask if you’ve riddenbefore, but on a busy day, it may be up to you to ask for pointersif you need them.
If you have younger children
Sarah’s Pony Rides in Willow Springs offers family trail rides, allowing parents to ride horses while their pint-sized cowpokes mount onto hand-led ponies.
If you’ve never ridden before
Don’t know a stirrup from a snaffle bit? The knowledgeablestaff members atFitzjoy Farm Riding Academy are patient with beginners (and so are the horses).
If you love to ride
DanadaEquestrian Center in Wheaton offers a package of six trail rides ($150 for in-county residents, $240 if you’re out-of-county), which you can use anytime within a year from purchase.
If you likelocal history
A ride at the venerable Forest View Farms in Tinley Park will take you within a horseshoe’s throw of the Illinois & Michigan Canal National Heritage Corridor.
If you want to get away from itall
Chain O’ Lakes State Park Riding Stable in SpringGrove is worth the drive for nature enthusiasts, who will enjoy spotting birds and wildflowers as they amble along the bridle paths.
The Field Museum is opening its vaults this monthto show off some very special mummies.
Many of the more than 20 mummies from Egypt andPeru that will be featured in a new exhibit, Opening the Vaults:Mummies, have not been on display since the World’s ColumbianExposition in Chicago in 1893.
The oldest mummy is 7,000 years old.
The excitement at Field over creating the newexhibit began after anthropologists used non-invasive CAT scans onthe mummies last year.
“New science technologies are giving us a way tolook at them in new ways,” says Gretchen Baker, exhibitionsplanning and operations director at the Field. She called theimages from the scans “really enlightening,” giving scientists newinsights into ancient Egypt and Peru.
While mummies are always fascinating, she says shehopes families walk away from the exhibit thinking how cool it isto see something that’s usually in a vault and excited about howtoday’s technology can help reveal so much about ancientlife.
She recommends the exhibit for families with olderelementary age children. Included in the 50 pieces of the exhibit,for example, are mummified heads that might trouble youngerchildren.
The mummies will return to the vault after theexhibit, making this a once-in-a-lifetime must-see.
Tamara L. O’Shaughnessy
The Field Museum is opening its vaults this month to show offsome very special mummies.
Many of the more than 20 mummies from Egypt and Peru that willbe featured in a new exhibit, Opening the Vaults: Mummies, have notbeen on display since the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicagoin 1893.
The oldest mummy is 7,000 years old.
The excitement at Field over creating the new exhibit beganafter anthropologists used non-invasive CAT scans on the mummieslast year.
“New science technologies are giving us a way to look at them innew ways,” says Gretchen Baker, exhibitions planning and operationsdirector at the Field. She called the images from the scans “reallyenlightening,” giving scientists new insights into ancient Egyptand Peru.
While mummies are always fascinating, she says she hopesfamilies walk away from the exhibit thinking how cool it is to seesomething that’s usually in a vault and excited about how today’stechnology can help reveal so much about ancient life.
She recommends the exhibit for families with older elementaryage children. Included in the 50 pieces of the exhibit, forexample, are mummified heads that might trouble youngerchildren.
The mummies will return to the vault after the exhibit, makingthis a once-in-a-lifetime must-see.
Go ahead jump!
Long Chicago winters mean that by March, my kids are bouncingoff the walls. To maintain my sanity, we went looking for a spotwhere they could bounce safely.
At Sky High Sports in Naperville, we discovered five separatetrampoline “courts,” including spots for kids under 7, foam pitsand even trampoline dodge ball.
Customers (of any age) buy hourly jump times, which can be donein advance via the website. If you simply walk in, you risk a longwait time, as Sky High limits the number of kids and adults in thegym. You are issued a timed wristband. Patrons must either jumpbarefoot or in tightly laced gym shoes.
My sons headed straight for the open gym court, where theybounced from trampoline to trampoline and even off the side walls,flipping around joyfully. Next they discovered the foam pits, wherekids take turns getting a flying (or even flipping) start for safedives. My 7-year-old spent almost the entire hour perfecting hisleaps. Meanwhile, my older two headed to trampoline dodge ball,declaring the ramped-up gym game well worth the wait in line.
The noise level and crowds were a bit overwhelming since we werethere on a school holiday, but my sons came out happilyexhausted.
Playing “Army” takes on a whole new dimension at Cantigny Parkin Wheaton, with its 10 tanks and “climbing-allowed” policy. TheFirst Division military museum is fantastic, especially for boyswho are into war.It’s a bit of a drive from the city, but the$5 per car admission price makes it time well spent.
Cantigny? Can’t wait!
With nearly a dozen tanks in its Tank Park and a first-ratemilitary history museum, playing Army takes on a whole newdimension at Cantigny Park in Wheaton. Although it is a bit of adrive from the city, the $5 per car admission price sold us onspending a day there.
Arranged in chronological order, the vehicles in the Tank Parkare massive machines that provide ample opportunity to climb andpretend. Groups of kids had no trouble finding their footing andshimmying onto the cannon-like guns. The most modern tank fromOperation Desert Storm even has some moving pieces on top. Historyand military buffs will enjoy reading about each tank, but for thekids it’s mostly about the climbing. Be aware that the metal tankscan get hot in the sun and climbing down can be treacherous, sowear good shoes.
I feared a visit to the First Division Museum (which is freeonce you’re in Cantigny) would be boring for kids, but I was wrong.This is a living, breathing experience of war history. Kidsliterally climb into fox holes, use a periscope to watchabove-ground battles and walk the streets of the bombed out villageof Cantigny, France. They can lie down in a World War II-era bunkand receive orders from their superiors. You will also visit thejungles of Vietnam and sands of Iraq. Lifelike mannequins andvoice-overs throughout the tour lend authenticity to the sets andhistoric artifacts.
In addition to military history, Cantigny offers tours of thehistoric McCormick Museum mansion and boasts gorgeous year-roundgardens, picnic areas and even a playground. A restaurant andcoffee shop in the Visitors Center offer plenty of food, drink andsnack options if you don’t want to bring your own.
Become a tourist in your hometown
We’re probably all guilty of rolling our eyes at a group oftourists fumbling with maps and blocking our way. But Chicago is aworld-class city, so why should the natives miss out on all thefun? We’ve got six ideas for experiencing our great city like itwas your first trip around the Loop.
Think like an out-of-towner
It turns out Chicago’s Visitors Centers actually aren’t just forvisitors. Dorothy Coyle, executive director of the Chicago Officeof Tourism and Culture, says employees at the Cultural Center orthe Water Works are happy to help you set up an itinerary andnavigate public transportation, not to mention provide scavengerhunts and Foursquare badges to make exploration more fun (we likethe Celery Salt badge for Chicago hot dogs, or the Brain FreezeTrek for ice cream lovers; visit explorechicago.org/games).
Or, see all those spots you disparage as “so touristy.” Think asif you’re hosting out-of-town guests and want to show off theplaces that make Chicago Chicago. If it’s been a while, you mightnot know that Navy Pier is far from a warm-weather-onlydestination; there are activities going on all year-inside and out(and a rockin’ children’s museum).
Have years passed since you’ve ascended the Sears-ahem,Willis-Tower? Then you probably haven’t had the opportunity to defyyour fear of heights on The Ledge. And Coyle says it’s worthlooking into membership options so you can explore the Museum ofScience and Industry over and over. Think basic, and you might besurprised by how extraordinary it is.
Is there any word more powerful than “free”? We don’t think so,which is why we’re glad Chicago abounds with cultural opportunitiesthat don’t lighten the wallet. The Lincoln Park Zoo, one of thecountry’s finest, is always free. Bring along a picnic lunch andyou’ve got a cheap day of entertainment.
Chicago museums, including big names like the Field Museum andthe Adler Planetarium, regularly offer free days.
We also love places where kids under 12 are always free, such asthe Chicago History Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art.
Coyle says spring is a great time for a parade, such as March’sSt. Patrick’s Day parade and May’s Cinco de Mayo celebration. Andwe’d also like to point out that window-shopping on the MagnificentMile doesn’t cost a penny.
Go to the extremes
Think of two opposites and then try them out. High and low? Rideto the top of one of Chicago’s famous skyscrapers, then wanderunder the city using the Chicago Pedway.
Got baseball fans? Take behind-the-scenes tours at Wrigley Fieldand U.S. Cellular Field and learn more about the city’srelationship with the American pastime-and deep-seated rivalry.
Sick of unpredictable weather? Pick a controlled climate toexplore, whether the tropical landscape of Garfield ParkConservatory’s Palm House (one of Chicago’s “under-discovered”attractions, Coyle says) or the chilly waters of Shedd Aquarium’sOceanarium.
On chilly spring days, you can even explore contrasts in theinteriors of buildings: Coyle recommends stopping into the ChicagoCultural Center or Palmer House Hotel to check out the lobbies,then popping by the Aqua Building or Trump Tower for some sleekerdécor.
Try different transport
If you’re used to exploring by car or on foot, switch it up.Chicago’s got a wide range of alternative transportation, whetherdistinctive-looking trolleys or eco-friendly bikes (ride to PeggyNotebaert Nature Museum to check out the new exhibit Bikes!: TheGreen Revolution).
Families can gape at the city’s amazing architecture from a newvantage point on the Chicago River, while adventurers and thenon-self-conscious can test out their balance on a Segway (ageminimum is 12). There are even tours on antique fire trucks! Or ifyou want to keep it simple, buy a CTA Day Pass ($5.75) and makeyour way around the city on ou
Chicago’s Riverwalk is famous, and for good reason, but for akid-friendlier streamside stroll, try the Naperville Riverwalk.There’s a large playground at one end, a covered bridge to walkthrough over the river, and plenty of ducks to wave at. At the end,you’ll find yourself in downtown Naperville – window shop and graba bite to eat. If your kids are marathoners, NaperSettlement is within walking distance of the riverwalk also.