Are you hesitant to take your kids to Chicago because you wonder if there is anything for them to do? Do you envision the city as too fast-paced for your little ones?
I have learned that kids adapt to pretty much anything quickly. Whether it’s a city or a beach, their little bodies roll with the flow. Just remember to make things fun for them by watching a street performer, buying them ice cream on a hot day or laughing and swinging in a nearby park.
We have taken Little TFT to Chicago probably more times that her age. We consider it our second home and know the footprint well. Below is a list of things we have done with her time and time again. The list transcends age, so no matter how old your children are, they should enjoy all of them.
Lincoln Park Zoo
We love going to zoos around the world. There is something about seeing the animals that attract us wherever we go and it was no different on our recent trip to Chicago. The Lincoln Park Zoo is within walking distance of downtown. In fact, even our 6 year old walked it from our hotel near Water Tower. There is a beautiful trail from the zoo that ends right on the outskirts of downtown.
Did I mention this zoo is free? It is only one of a handful of zoos across the country that is free to everyone on every day. Lincoln Park zoo encompasses 35 acres of wildlife, exhibits and retail shops and is open 365 days a year.
Take your kids to get their animal fix and enjoy some time outside as a family. It’s a great way to spend a couple of hours away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Museum of Science and Industry
Do your kids enjoy hands-on learning and activities? If yes, then the Museum of Science and Industry shouldn’t be missed. I have been here several times and believe it is one of the best museums ever.
Our favorite exhibit is the U-505 German submarine. It was an active submarine captured during World War II. The stars aligned and the city of Chicago made the plea for the sub to be housed at its museum. For the first 40+ years, the submarine remained outside in front of the museum. It was in 1997, the decision was made to bring it indoors. Don’t miss this great exhibit if you go – your kids will love it.
In November and December, the museum shines with its ‘Christmas Around the World’ exhibit. There are over 50 trees and displays representing holiday traditions from around the globe. This is a great way to get into the holiday spirit while staying warm inside.
Something for everyone. Not sure how else to describe it. Navy Pier is 50 acres of enjoyment for all ages. From the iconic Centennial Wheel to the in-season beer gardens, your family has an eclectic mix from which to choose.
The Pier is 2200-feet long. There are rides, a botanical garden, boat excursions, the Chicago Children’s Museum, an IMAX theater, the Chicago Shakespeare Theater along with retail shops and plenty of restaurants. Stroll through the promenade and enjoy a gorgeous backdrop of the city.
While we haven’t done everything there is to offer here, we usually go to Navy Pier to enjoy the walk and the atmosphere, especially toward evening when the lights are on. Be warned, your kids will want to play in the water gardens if it’s hot out or ride the Centennial Wheel that can be seen from all over downtown.
Chicago Architecture cruise
While you may not think an architecture cruise would satisfy the little ones, stop at Garrett’s popcorn before boarding and take some of their delicious popcorn as a treat.
Architecture cruises are plentiful in Chicago and are run by several different companies. Most are between 60-120 minutes in length. There are a few specialty cruises such as twilight and fireworks cruises, too. On a beautiful day, sit back and enjoy the stunning façade of the Chicago landscape against a brilliant blue sky. Your cruise host will walk you through the history of the city’s architecture. I can honestly say we do an architecture cruise almost every time we visit this city.
Eat Chicago deep dish pizza
You can’t come all the way to Chicago without getting some type of deep dish pizza. This is the only city we go out of our way and look for a pizza place. We have done the notable ‘Pizzeria UNO’ and ‘Pizzeria Due’, as well as a few smaller places concierges have recommended to us. However, we are always on the lookout for recommendations for the downtown area. If you have any, please let me know! We often travel to Chicago once or twice a year and would enjoy trying somewhere new.
Take a picture by the ‘Bean’
I guess it’s the bean shape that attracts kids and photographers alike.
‘Cloud Gate’ is the official name of this 110-ton elliptical sculpture in Millennium Park. The Chicago skyline, as well as the overhead clouds, are reflected on this display. Venture in the 12-foot center to walk through and see your own reflection from a variety of perspectives.
My daughter couldn’t get enough of this sculpture. There must be something about it that garners the interests of the little ones. Maybe it was the shininess. Maybe it was the hoards of other people looking at it. I don’t know, but it rated quite kid-friendly in her book as we were walking around downtown.
American Girl store
Luckily for us, we do not live by an American Girl store. However, because of that, every time my daughter hears we are going to Chicago, she immediately wants to go here. This Chicago store is amazing. It is two levels of dolls and accessories. Oh and there’s a restaurant, a salon, and a doll hospital too.
Somehow, I have managed to escape buying a doll. When my daughter was four and her friends were playing with them, I told her she needed to be 8 in order to get one (after all, that’s what the box says). That stuck in her mind and she now tells everyone she has to be 8 in order to get an American Girl doll.
While we have never eaten at this store’s restaurant, we did get cookies and tea from MaryEllen’s bakery right in front of the restaurant. This was enough to satisfy my daughter and I imagine this is what we will do when we come to Chicago in the future. At least, I can get out relatively cheaply with this.
Chicago Overall Impressions
There is definitely not a shortage of things to do in Chicago for kids and adults alike. From museums, waterfront activities and great food, this is a vibrant city with a beautiful downtown area conducive to wandering and enjoying the lakefront amenities.
If you intend on visiting several museums or attractions, I encourage you to look at the Chicago Explorer card. We have bought this pass a couple of times (for this city and others) because you can save up to 40% on top attractions as well as skip the lines. I’m always looking for ways to cut costs and this is definitely one of them as we travel to large cities.
Do you have any favorite Chicago activities or places to go when you are there? What other areas would you suggest to others travelling to Chicago for the first (or tenth) time?