Chicago is a great family destination. There are several things to do with your children, and below are some of the highlights.
Visit Navy Pier:
Chicago’s top tourist attraction is home to shopping, restaurants, entertainment, attractions, and an IMAX theater. There’s also an outdoor park featuring a 150 foot Ferris wheel and an 18-hole miniature golf course. Chicago’s Children’s Museum anchors the pier and offers free admission on Thursdays from 5 to 8pm and the first Monday of every month is free for kids 15 and under.
Give ’em Some Culture
Chicago boasts some of the world’s finest museums. The Shedd Aquarium is a big favorite with children and features one of the largest indoor marine mammal pavilions in the world. The Field Museum has Sue, the most complete T-Rex skeleton. The Art Institute has many family activities and its Armor Collection and Thorne Miniature Rooms are fascinating to youngsters. Chicago residents can check out a free museum passport from the Chicago Public Library (with a library card).
See A Show
Chicago Children’s Theatre
Check out that View
Chicago is chock-full of architectural wonders and you can treat your kids to a birds eye view from either the Sears Tower or the Hancock Building. Both feature tours, interactive displays, and telescopes so you can get a closer look. Have lunch or dinner at the Signature Room on the 95th in the Hancock Building and kill two birds with one stone (figuratively, please).
Save some Money
If you’re planning on seeing several of the city’s great attractions, purchase a CityPass. This booklet includes tickets to six of the most popular things to see: Hancock Observatory, Art Institute, Adler Planetarium, Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium, and the Museum of Science and Industry. The booklet is $49.50 and you have nine days. Tickets can be purchased online or at any of the above locations. You can also get a GoChicagoCard. This gets you unlimited admission to over 25 attractions and tours. You choose if you want it for 1, 2, 3, 5 or 7 days.
Talk to the Animals
Lincoln Park Zoo is open 365 days a year and is free. Check out the primates at the Regenstein African Journey. After that, head up to the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum and the Butterfly Haven. Free-flying butterflies surround you in the 28-foot greenhouse. Free on Thursdays.
Go To The Game
Wrigley Field and US Cellular Field are both easily accessible from downtown via the L’s Red Line. Soldier Field is downtown just south of the Museum Campus and you can catch the Chicago Bears. United Center, home to the Bulls and many concerts, is just west of downtown.
Seems like you can’t walk around downtown without seeing one of those red American Girl bags. American Girl Place provides a day of fun for daughters with their cafe, their theater, and of course, their dolls. Dolls range from historical characters to “just like me” creations to babies, with appropriate accessories and books. A weekday visit would be better, as lines wrap around the store on weekends.
Have a Spot O’ Tea
High tea isn’t just for matriarchs with elaborate hats and gloved hands. At the Hotel Sofitel Chicago kids get the run of all-you-can-eat dessert table. The Peninsula gives mini-burgers to your mini-me, and for you $7 get to take home a Peninsula teddy bear – much cheaper than those American Girl dolls. At the Ritz-Carlton you and your princess can sip to your heart’s content while she dines on crustless PB&J and drinks cider or hot chocolate. The lounge at the Seasons in the Four Seasons Hotel serves Rice Krispies treats and Gummi bears with special tea blends for kids. Check our Tea page for details.
Take a Trolley
Get a guided tour of the city aboard a trolley. You can hop on/hop off so you’re on your own schedule. The city also offers free trolley transportation from May through September. The trolleys travel from Chinatown/Pilsen all the way up to Lincoln Park.
Ride the ‘L’
What seems like a mundane have-to activity for adults is an exciting experience for kids. At $1.75 it’s also the cheapest way to get around the city and children have a reduced rate of $0.85. To get the reduced fare ask the station attendant. Visitors can use the public transportation system starting at $5 for one day with the Visitor Pass. The CTA also offers a free Loop tour on Saturdays. A guide from the Chicago Architecture Foundation will point out the historic buildings around the century-old Loop.
Skate by the Lake
Ice skating and winter go together like snow and hot chocolate. Millennium Park (11 N Michigan) features an outdoor skating rink right on Michigan Avenue. If you prefer to skate indoors, Navy Pier’s Winter Wonderland has a rink inside. The skating is free at both and you can rent skates.
A Day at the Park
Grant Park, Chicago’s “front yard”, offers tennis courts, a baseball field and trails for joggers, cyclists and walkers. It’s also home to many of Chicago’s free festivals. From July through August you can take the kids to see a free movie and the family can learn how to dance at the Chicago Summer Dance Festival.
Ride on a Speedboat
Seadog Ventures provides thirty minute speedboat lake tours from Navy Pier. There are also several architectural tours from the lakefront as well as the Chicago River. Hint: do this the last day of your vacation as your child won’t want to do anything else!
Tour the Lakefront
Rent bikes and Rollerblades at Navy Pier or North Avenue Beach and work off those hot dogs and funnel cakes along Chicago’s magnificent lakefront. Free daily tours depart from both locations.
Satisfy Their Sweet Tooth
Buy super-sweet fruit or fresh baked goods at the downtown farmers markets.
And of course, be sure to check the events calendar to keep up on all the other things you can do with (or without) your children!