Kids think the world revolves around them, right? Lucky for you, Chicago has so many activities for kids, they'll never get a chance to get bored. "Families can find fun in every corner of Chicago," says Sue Zeiler, founder of popular event site ChicagoKids.com. "From world class culture at museums in the heart of the city, to local gems like family-friendly parks, restaurants and shops in Chicago's many vibrant neighborhoods, Chicago is a great family destination vacation."
This petite package is filled with wildlife wonder, all for free. Like the Regenstein Macaque Forest, a beautiful habitat for eight snow monkeys. Always a hit are the playful seals, with their underwater viewing area. Let the kids chug around on the Lionel Train Adventure ride or pick an animal for a spin around the carousel.
Splish-splashing through the spouting Crown Fountain; free concerts and movies at Pritzker Pavilion; a winter ice-skating rink; shaded spots for picnicking; and the Lurie Garden, host to budding-gardener singalongs, storytimes, crafts and more. You could spend all day here, which is why we love that there are plenty of public restrooms.
Kids could probably divide their time easily between climbing the rope-tunnel “schooner” and sliding down the fire pole, but pull them over to the Water Ways play area—yes, make them wear the raincoats—or the made-for-toddlers Kids Town, and they’ll thank you for it with squeals of glee and—we warned you—potential arguments about leaving.
Small but mighty, this nature museum down the street from Lincoln Park Zoo is great low-key entertainment. Staff periodically bring out a critter or two for feeding time. Or time your visit for the daily butterfly release at 2 pm in the tropical Butterfly Haven— our kids have been known to plan flowery wardrobes to attract butterflies.
Along the stretch from Broadway to Southport (and little jaunts onto side streets from there), there’s a cluster of about 15 theaters, including Stage 773, where Storytown happens each Saturday. It involves the kids themselves—both creating scenery before the show and actually participating in the crazy, creative improv production.
A straight-up architecture tour doesn’t always entice younger visitors. Led by 5th to 10th graders, this one hits the right balance of knowledge and coolness. Wright’s Robie House serves as backdrop to Blue Balliet’s young adult novel “The Wright 3,” and this tour shows kids the real-life locations from the book. How cool is that.
Lines form early for this slam-dunk kids favorite, so we advise purchasing tickets online to make a little faster. Make a beeline for the Polar Play Zone if you want to hit it before it’s overrun. They can pet a starfish; dress up like a penguin; and play captain on a sub. As energy levels wane, break for the aquatic show or 4-D movie.
Our must-see picks for kids: 1) The baby chick hatchery (chicks literally crack out of shells in front of you); 2) The Idea Factory, where everything is touchable and turnable and doable for little hands; and 3) The Great Train Story, a world of model trains and model cities. Pack a lunch and eat near the mesmerizing Swiss Jolly Ball.
Engage even the littlest stargazers in the Planet Explorers exhibit, a contained space that has tunnels to crawl through, a simulated rocket launch, space vehicles to drive and staff who roam through with science experiments. We say skip the “Big Bird” sky show and opt for a live narrated cosmic star show.
Old and dead things come to life here—like camel caravans of Ethiopa, ceremonial masks from the Pacific region, a full-size replica of a Pawnee Earth Lodge and the famous dinosaur skeletons and 3D films. Be sure to hit the PlayLab, impressive for its basic touch-everything rule.
Navy Pier buzzes with activity all year long. With its 100th year in 2016, the pier is undergoing some upgrades. But a few things never change: Kids are inevitably drawn to Build-a-Bear Workshop, the carousel, the dancing waters of the Crystal Garden and the dizzying Wave Swinger. Summer fireworks are worth keeping kids up past bedtime.
CEO of Harry Caray's Restaurant Group Grant DePorter paid $6,500 for the used stitches from Chicago Blackhawk Andrew Shaw, who needed them after taking a puck to the face in teh Stanley Club final—yes, they are on display at this museum adjacent to Harry Caray's 7th Inning Stretch restaurant.
Your mini-mes won’t even notice the history lesson in the “Sensing Chicago” exhibit, a kid-focused space that covers Chicago highlights through the senses: Hear the crackle of the Great Chicago Fire; smell the onions that gave Chicago its name. Throughout exhibits, History a La Carts offer take-home, history-related craft projects.
Pick up a scavenger hunt checklist that takes kids through the gardens. Show up for get-hands-dirty activities. The giant stem-shaped slide keeps them busy inside and the new outdoor Play and Grow Garden gets them active outside with bridges, trees and hollowed-out logs to climb. It’s a breath of fresh activity for computer-obsessed kids.
A favorite for using old-fashioned imagination is the Brunk Children’s Museum of Immigration on the third floor here. Kids start in old world Sweden, then “board” the immigrant ship to America. The only rules: Walking only, and put things back where they belong—piglets, eggs, blankets to Sweden; fish, vegetables, baby dolls to America.