Best places to cool off

You heard it all winter long: Just wait until summer gets here! The magnificent summers in Chicago more than make up for our cold and dreary winters. But now that the sun is shining and the temperatures are rising, we Midwesterners are clamoring for somewhere to cool off (the grass is always greener). Luckily, you can beat the heat at these cool spots all summer long.

While there’s a plethora of splash pads in the city, Margaret Donahue Park, on School Street in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood, is one of the newest of the bunch. It features an expansive water play area, playground, ample seating for a picnic and the perfect Cubs-themed field for kicking a ball around. The half-acre park is perfect for kids of all ages, with built-in water features and water table, as well as play structures that resemble Chicago landmarks like Willis Tower.

If you live in the Western ‘burbs or don’t mind making a trip that way, Ty Warner Park in Westmont is one of the best splash pads you’ll find. A zero-depth pool and soft grounds make the park ideal for little ones, while older kids love getting blasted with the jets and spray rings or getting soaked from an overhead dunk bucket.

What’s summer without an ice cream sugar rush, especially when the kiddies are involved? At Cone Gourmet Ice Cream in the Chicago’s West Loop, customers can choose from unique flavors like Cookie Monster, Blueberry Cream Cheese and the ever-popular “Shamrock,” a soft serve cone covered with Lucky Charms.

For a blast from the past, head to Margie’s Candies, a Chicago institution since 1921 that serves a banana split that’s unrivaled. Kids will get a kick out of the old-fashioned parlor, once frequented by Hollywood stars and sports greats.

You won’t mind getting sprinkled while visiting Buckingham Fountain, one of the largest fountains in the world. Located in Grant Park, the fountain features a water show every hour on the hour; after dusk, they include choreographed lights and music. The fountain is open daily from 8 a.m.-11 p.m.

Feel the breeze as you sail through Chicago’s gorgeous lakefront on the Chicago River. Kids love riding in a bright yellow Chicago Water Taxi while their parents take in the beautiful architecture surrounding them.

Make like the tourists and check out Crown Fountain in Millennium Park. Children love getting their toes wet while they gaze up at the towering 50-foot video sculptures featuring faces of Chicagoans. After visiting the fountain, walk a few blocks east to Maggie Daley Park, the impressive 20-acre lakefront public park featuring a play garden, climbing walls and picnic groves. Each play area has signage with the appropriate ages for play, making it easy for parents to navigate.

The great thing about Chicago’s annual Air and Water Show in August is that there are so many places in the city to watch the naval and aviation teams perform their tricks. Of course, you can always grab a spot at North Avenue Beach or along Navy Pier. But if you need a break from the heat, cool off and enjoy the sky-high view from the Willis Tower Skydeck. To avoid the crowds and still let your kids see the action, consider watching the full rehearsal that typically takes place the Friday before.

Head to the northern suburbs to visit Chicago Botanic Garden, a breathtaking oasis with gardens, waterfalls and various rotating or seasonal exhibits. Children, particularly those into trains, love visiting the Model Railroad Garden, a 7,500-square-foot railroad that twists and turns between gardens, miniature American landmarks and vignettes of small-scale people and animals. The Children’s Growing Garden allows kids to get their hands dirty while planting in the soil. At the shaded Butterflies& Blooms exhibit, you walk through the enclosed habitat filled with hundreds of live butterflies from all around the world. Then cool off at the Garden View Cafe with an iced coffee (or Dove bar for the kiddos).

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