We’ve all been there: The kids are bored. They’re cranky. They’ve seen every episode of Paw Patrol there is to see and then some, and it’s no longer holding their attention. It’s time to head out and explore the city—and we don’t meant that tired old park at the end of the block. You live in one of the greatest cities in the world, so we don't need to tell you that there’s an endless roster of world-class attractions to explore, from the famous 200-foot Centennial Ferris wheel at Navy Pier to the bevy of fledgling butterflies that take flight daily at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum—and we know just where to start. After all, no matter how well you think you know the Windy City, there’s nothing like seeing it through a child’s eyes. Here, find 31 of the best things to do in Chicago with kids.
30 of the Best Things to Do in Chicago with Kids
1. The Peggy Notebaert Museum
Give your children an appreciation for the great outdoors with a visit to the Peggy Notebaert Museum. A part of the Chicago Academy of Sciences—Chicago’s first museum dedicated to nature and science—you’ll find everything from an indoor haven packed with 1,000 different types of butterflies to the newer Secret Forest exhibit, aka the coolest play gym your little monster has probably seen. There's even a dedicated Story Time hub where a museum facilitator (read: someone who is not you) reads to the kids. And, as of April 14, you’ll have even more reason to visit, since the museum is pairing up with the Flying Fox Conservation Fund to introduce unique animals like—wait for it—sloths and armadillos, which you can get up close and personal with for an additional fee.
$6 for kids, $9 for adults, 2430 N. Cannon Dr., Chicago, IL 60614; naturemuseum.org
2. Rock and Roll Playhouse
For the young music lover, there’s no better time to be had than a day spent at the Rock and Roll Playhouse. This children’s concert series, now running in 17 different cities, is aimed at tykes 10 and under and came about from one dad’s desire to bring his love of live music together with his family—something local Chicago parent Samantha Zackowitz says the group has accomplished in spades. Games, movement and stories are all incorporated into the performances, which range from the music of David Bowie and Aretha Franklin to the Fab Four. Next up on the books? The music of Phish for kids on March 27 and a special Mother’s Day celebration with the Music of the Beatles for kids on May 8 at the Cubby Bear.
Varying locations and dates, shorefire.com/roster/rock-and-roll-playhouse
3. American Girl Place
There’s one thing you have to understand about American Girl Place—this is no ordinary toy store. Sure, it’s stacked to the gills with all of your 6-year-old's favorite dolls (Kira, Corinne, Samantha, the gang’s all here), but the company has so much more to offer. For starters? The famous American Girl Café, where you two can enjoy a set prix fixe menu for $25 a head. (There's also plenty of room for her plastic BFF to join in on the fun.) And there are plenty of fun one-off events to attend, too (‘80s-themed dance party? Sign us up!).
835 Michigan Avenue, Chicago, IL, 60611; americangirl.com
4. Chicago Children’s Museum
Nestled along the 1.5 mile stretch that is Chicago’s Navy Pier lies the Chicago Children’s Museum—a space that was specifically created for kids to explore, play and experiment in. Allow us to be the first to tell you that the amount of things to do inside is truly astounding. There’s a “tinkering lab” where they’ll come face-to-face with “building and engineering challenges” for a healthy dose of STEM. A makeshift dinosaur excavation pit that allows them to get their hands dirty as they help to dig up a new species of the prehistoric creature—the Suchomimus. A story hub, where budding filmmakers can create a mini movie encapsulating their experiences from the day. A gargantuan treehouse. An art studio. A climbing schooner. Pencil a full day in for this one—there’s a lot of ground to cover.
$19 for kids and adults, 700 E. Grand Ave., Chicago, IL, 60611; chicagochildrensmuseum.org
5. The Cheesecake Factory
Sure, your kids will want to devour the more than 30 mouthwatering flavors of cheesecake the restaurant has on hand at any given time, but we’d be willing to bet they’ll be just as enamored with the design of the building itself. The whopping 16,000 square-foot space in the lower level of the John Hancock Center, created by Jordan Mozer, is like a whimsical ant hole that’s been blown up to scale: There are tunnels and boroughs to be explored around each and every corner. There are zig-zag bar stools to take in, alongside giant flower-shaped columns and vaulted recessed ceilings—all in between bites from the kids’ menu. A word of advice? Make those reservations early: There's usually a bit of a line.
835 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL 60611, thecheesecakefactory.com
6. Lincoln Park Zoo
Normally, a family trip to the zoo would cost you an arm and a leg between the admission fees, parking and the like, but this respite in the heart of bustling Lincoln Park is completely free. That’s right, friends: For the low, low cost of $0, you plus crew can hang out with the seals, watch the giraffes grab a snack or visit with Jabari the lion. There’s even an interactive area, known as the Pritzker Family Children’s Zoo, where your babies can enjoy a 20-foot treetop canopy. Once you've tired yourselves out with all that walking, you can cop a squat at the picturesque Swan Pond waterfall overlook to munch on some treats from the nearby café. (Psst: Rumor has it there’s an Easter egg hunt coming up on April 16).
Free, 2001 N. Clark St., Chicago, IL 60614; lpzoo.org
7. Wrigley Field
You don’t have to be a sports fanatic to appreciate the charm of Wrigley Field. Built in 1914, the park itself is a lesson in Chicago history, serving as the home of the city’s beloved Cubs for more than a century. In the summer months, there’s nothing like the rush of catching a game in its bleachers, complete with all the Chicago dogs and popcorn you can wolf down. You can also take your kids behind the scenes with the park’s public tour, where they’ll get to checkout the dugout, live it up in the press box and experience the famous outfield Boston ivy wall. Thanks to a massive $575 million renovation of the surrounding area, there’s also plenty to do once you leave in the way of food and entertainment—Chicago parent Kelli Rojek highly recommends making a pit stop at Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams.
$30 for adults, free for children, 1060 W. Addison St., Chicago, IL, 60613, mlb.com/cubs/ballpark
If the last two years of the pandemic have left you and your rascals longing for a little more physical activity, ClimbZone is a great place to start. Here, your brood can take full advantage of the facility’s whopping 68 climbable art walls spanning 25 feet, which feature brightly colored, standout features (think a wall of letter blocks or an ascendable line of emojis) that are artfully assembled to boost engagement and motivate climbers of all ages to build strength and flexibility. And that’s not all: You can also sign up for laser tag, bumper cars, a zip line (!) and arcade games, ensuring fun for the whole family.
2500 W. Bradley Pl., Chicago, IL, 60618; climbzone.us/chicago
9. JoJo's Shake Bar
We’re going to let you in a little secret: Candy Land is real. Or at least it will be until April 17. Jojo’s Shake Bar, the genius establishment behind such sugary confections as “The Girl Scout” shake (an Andes mint delight that’s loaded up with a seemingly mile-high stack of toasted marshmallows, chocolate pretzels, chocolate S’mores and double chocolate cookies) has created a real-life version of the popular children’s game featuring jumbo lollipops, king-size gumdrops and enormous gummy bears that your kids will love meandering through. The ever-changing menu has plenty to sample, with nods to Easter in the mix, and, if you’re lucky, you just might be able to snag one of JoJo’s first-come, first-serve igloo domes to try it all in.
23 W. Hubbard St., Chicago, IL, 60654; jojosshakebar.com
10. Crown Fountain
While you’ll have plenty of options to cool the family off in the city’s warmer months (Lake Michigan is our backyard, after all), a visit to The Crown Fountain in Millennium Park is an experience. The product of Spanish artist Jaume Plensa, this towering structure, which is 50-feet high, projects LED images of Chicagoans taken from a cross-section of 10,000 residents onto its glass tower blocks. It’s spouting mouth is meant to mimic a gargoyle, and it leads into a shallow wading pool that kids love to splash around in.
Free, 201 E. Randolph St., Chicago, IL 60602; chicago.gov
11. Krypton VR Lounge
If you’ve got a surly preteen on your hands who’s impossible to drag away from the PlayStation, we’ve got just the destination for you. Say hello to Krypton VR—the Windy City’s premiere virtual reality lounge. For one full hour, you and your family can take over one of the company’s private rooms, where you’ll be privy to a state-of-the-art VR headset. The über-realistic technology can take you on a trip around the world without ever leaving the city and earn you some “cool mom” points. What could be better?
From $60 per hour, 2828 N. Clark St., Chicago, IL 60657; kryptonlounge.com
12. Oz Park
Named for Lyman Frank Baum, the author behind the The Wonderful World of Oz who took up residence near the park in the late 1800s, this park features whimsical statues paying homage to his beloved story, which are peppered throughout the park. You and your munchkin can track down the Tin Man (designed by John Kearney), the Cowardly Lion, an 800-pound, seven-foot tall bronzed Scarecrow, and of course, Dorothy and Toto. In another nod to the classic film, your family can also take a stroll through the flower-filled Emerald Gardens or take advantage of the tennis and basketball courts and playground equipment found in Dorothy’s playlot.
2021 N. Burling St., Chicago, IL, 60614; chicagoparkdistrict.com
13. Altitude Trampoline Park
Forget doing backflips on the neighbor’s trampoline. At Altitude Trampoline Park, your kids can run across a sprawling wall-to-wall court of them. And when they’ve perfected their acrobatic skills, there’s still plenty left to accomplish, from the foam pit that’s filled with a whopping 15,000-plus foam cubes to the log roll that encourages balance above it. There’s a trapeze swing, trampoline basketball, extreme trampoline dodgeball and even a kid’s court, allowing the youngest members of your family to get out and jump in a more controlled, safe environment.
$45, 404 N. Armour St., Chicago, IL, 60642; altitudechicago.com
14. Big Bus Tours
Let’s face it: There’s a lot to see in Chicago and never enough time to do it in. The solution? A Big Bus Tour, of course! Hop on board one of the company’s day-long Big Loop Red Route tours to hit up 13—yes, 13—of the city’s most alluring attractions. The Adler Planetarium? Yep. The world-famous Bean? Definitely. Hancock Tower? You betcha. You can hop on and off the bus to check out each landmark up close and personally (or allow for an escape if your baby gets a a little bit fussy mid-tour), and your tykes will love seeing their town from new heights while sitting atop the open duble-decker buses. With prerecorded virtual audio guides to boot, this tour just might mean they'll learn something, too.
From $30 for Kids, From $45 for Adults, 98 E. Wacker Dr., Chicago, IL 60601, bigbustours.com
15. The 606
After nearly a century of serving as a rail line, Bloomingdale Avenue on the Northwest Side found its freight service cease when its trains were all re-routed. Nature took its course, and by the early 2000s, it had morphed into something of an unofficial nature trail, with spectacular views of the city below. Now known as the 606, this shared Logan Square space has become one of the best spots for a family rollerblading session, a bike ride or just a good old-fashioned walk. If the urban landscaping sprouting up along the trail doesn't entice you, the temporary artworks along the way most definitely will.
1600 W. Ashland, Chicago, IL, 60622; the606.org
16. Prince and Princess Afternoon Tea
You’ve not doubt heard of the famed afternoon tea at the Drake, but did you know there’s also a prince and princess version for the littlest members of your family? Open to children between the ages of 4 and 12, this pint-sized service is designed to help teach them etiquette. What's more, it includes more palatable fare for lesser-developed taste buds (think roasted turkey and cheese rollups, hot chocolate and kiddie cocktails).
$29 for Kids, $59 for Adults, 140 E. Walton Pl., Chicago, IL 60610; thedrakehotel.com
17. Urban Kayaks
To the parents looking for a way to expend their kids’ unending energy: We see you, and we’d like to introduce you to their new favorite warm-weather activity: kayaking. Kids between the ages of 10 and 16 can sign up for the Urban Kayaks’ youth class, where they'll learn kayaking and paddle boarding skills that will get them more comfortable in the water. For five days straight, they’ll get lessons on the activities above while also engaging in general swimming, sports and games, arts and crafts and more, as facilitated from the company’s instructors. They’ll be placed in intimate groups of five, giving them a chance to socialize and make new friends, and the sessions are long enough for them to bond, but not so long they’ll be wanting to quit mid-way through. Note that all students must know how to swim before signing up.
$650, 111 N. Lake Shore Dr., Chicago, IL, 60601; urbankayaks.com
18. Waveland Bowl
Waveland Bowl is not only the largest Chicagoland bowling alley, it’s one of the most kid-friendly, since each of its 40 lanes have programmable bumpers that can help your child achieve their first strike. If they’re big enough to stay up after dark, they’ll also be privy to cosmic bowling, which sets the alley aglow in neon black lighting. Youth leagues are available for kids as young as 5, and should your kids tire of tossing around the ball, there are plenty of arcade games to keep them occupied, as well.
3700 N. Western Ave., Chicago, IL, 60618; wavelandbowl.com/
19. Whealan Pool Aquatic Center
No matter how little your child is (or how comfortable they are in the water), the Whealan Pool Aquatic Center will be your go-to destination on a punishingly hot day. It offers zero-depth entry, so you can acclimate hesitant swimmers to the aquatic life bit by bit. Its several water slides also up the ante on fun over your average outdoor pool. Last but not least, there are plenty of concessions to enjoy once they’ve worked up their appetite splashing around.
$5 to 7 for Kids Over 3, 6200 W. Devon Ave., Chicago, IL, 60646; fpdcc.com
20. The Shedd Aquarium
A day spent at the Shedd is a good day, indeed. And with all that it has to offer, how could it not be? Your tykes will come face to face (or at least tank to tank) with sea otters, turtles, octopuses and more, with options for encounters of the even closer kind—we’re talking hands-on contact, folks!—with Belugas, penguins and yes, even stingrays. You’ll also learn all about their habitats, making this an educational play as well. What mom wouldn’t love that?
$30 for Kids; $40 for Adults, 1200 S. DuSable Lake Shore Dr., Chicago, IL, 60605; sheddaquarium.org
21. Wheel Fun Rentals
When the punishing sun proves to be too much for your tiny tots, provide them with some shade while you get your workout in courtesy of Foster Beach’s Wheel Fun Rentals—a selection of surrey carts and bicycles, the former of which will comfortably fit up to three full-size members of your crew plus two smaller children in its front basket. Older kids (6+), meanwhile, might prefer a little more independence in one of the company’s choppers—a three-wheel cruiser with a padded seat and a recumbent pedal positioning. While the operation is currently closed for the season, you can expect it back at the Foster beachfront come May 21, 2022.
5200 N. Lake Shore Dr., Chicago, IL, 60640; wheelfunrentals.com
Whether you’re looking for the perfect place to host your child's next birthday or simply want a day of good, clean family fun, you’re likely to find it at WhirlyBall. Here, teams of five face off against each other to get a bar into the other team’s goal—except they’ll have to acquire it with a “scoop” from a bumper car and shoot their shot while taking hits from the opposing team. Keep in mind that while there’s no age limit, kids should be at least 54 inches to play.
1825 Webster Ave., Chicago, IL 60614; whirlyball.com
23. The Chicago Children's Theatre
Want to encourage a love of the arts early on? Get them into the theatre—the Chicago Children’s Theatre, to be precise. The company puts on family-approved works that are performed with pint-sized audience members in mind, encouraging them to value “adventure, courage and curiosity.” There are plenty of learnings to be taken away, too: December’s “This Ability,” for instance, recommended for ages 6 and up, featured an autistic child on the lookout for a missing cat that's receiving help from Moore, a young Deaf person, and Faith, a young Blind person. Ultimately, the play showcases each of their stories from their unique viewpoints. A word of wisdom? Check out the company’s virtual productions until in-person shows are back on.
100 S. Racine Ave., Chicago, IL, 60607, chicagochildrenstheatre.org
24. Centennial Ferris Wheel
Does your child like to go high? Take a deep breath and jump inside one of the closed cars on the Centennial Ferris Wheel with them. Fashioned after the 264-foot tall Ferris wheel that was built for the Chicago-hosted World’s Colombian Exposition in 1893, this ginormous replica made its grand debut in 1995 at a modest 150 feet. It got a massive makeover in 2016, however, growing by a whopping 50 feet and getting adjustments to its 40-cart seating, which is now climate-controlled. (Because who wants to hear, “I’m hot/cold/sweathy?” while 200 feet above the city?)
$15, 600 E. Grand Ave., Chicago, IL, 60611; navypier.org
25. Bubbles Academy
Bubbles Academy is designed with the younger set in mind, serving as the city’s “premiere childhood arts enrichment center.” In addition to its preschool offerings, the Academy offers a summer camp (first and second graders only), short-term development classes and programs to enhance creative skillsets, such as art and music. Who knows? You might just be nurturing the next Maestro—and Bubbles wants to help.
Prices vary, 2184 N. Elston Ave., Chicago, IL, 60614; bubblesacademy.com
26. Swan Paddle Boats
Know what’s even more fun than taking the kids out on the water in a paddle boat? Make it a swan. Yep, Wheel Fun Rentals (that's the same company behind those awesome surrey carts at Foster Beach) introduced the city to swan boat rentals in 2018 and has been going strong ever since. These water crafts hold up to two adults and two children at a time, and you’ll be sent out with a life vest with each voyage for added safety.
$6 for Kids, $11 for Adults, 1301 N. Humboldt Dr., Chicago, IL, 60622; wheelfunrentals.com
27. E.M.G. Children's Garden
The Garfield Park Conservatory has been delighting patrons for more than 100 years (it opened in 1908) and has since grown into one of the largest conservatories in the entire country. Beyond the 10 full acres of gardens you can traipse with your clan, there's 6,000 square feet to explore indoors by way of the E.M.G. Children's Garden. Currently, it's undergoing a massive renovation, but it promises to deliver a "year-round, accessible adventure" for Chicago families" this year, with the website proclaiming it's set to "break ground by 2022."
300 N. Central Park Ave., Chicago, IL 60624; garfieldparkobservatory.org
28. Maggie Daley Mini Golf
There are plenty of places for mini golf in the city, but Maggie Daley Park’s City Mini Golf puts a fun emphasis on the city, with several replicas of known structures about town throughout the course (we’re looking at you, mini Willis Tower). It’s also super centrally located, so you can easily mosey over on over to the park’s climbing wall, play garden area or seasonal ice skating rink once your tots have sunk their last putt. Keep checking the site’s website for 2022 spring opening dates.
Free for Kids Under 4, $12 for Adults, 337 E. Randolph St., Chicago, IL, 60601; maggiedaleypark.com
29. Gompers Park
Spread over 42 acres with the Chicago River as its backdrop, Gompers Park is one of the better Chicago Park District spots to head with the fam. That’s because in addition to its picturesque wetlands and lagoon, it’s got an outdoor pool, a spray pool, a playground, not one, not two, but three mini baseball fields, a football field, a basketball court, five tennis courts and a roller hockey skating area. Feeling tired just reading about it? Yeah, that’s how your kids will feel after spending a day here. Sheer. Bliss.
4222 W. Samuel Park, Chicago, IL, 60630; chicagoparkdistrict.com
30. Kohl Children's Museum
Planning a field trip? This kid-friendly destination is just 24 minutes outside the city. With 15 permanent exhibits plus special exhibits featuring hands-on activities and traveling exhibits to boot, there’s plenty to not only keep your nugget entertained, but help them to grow and learn, too. In Ravinia Festival Music Makers, they can touch and play instruments to see how they sound and learn how they work. Pet Vet, meanwhile, will see them nursing sick stuffed animals back to health, examining their X-rays for boo-boos and helping lost pets find their homes. Know a budding artiste? Allow them to express themselves through the museum’s Adventures in Art exhibit, where they’ll be provided with all the materials needed to create. No matter what your child’s interests, it's bound to be piqued. Kids and adults, $15, 2100 Patriot Bvld., Glenview, IL, 60026; kohlchildrensmuseum.org
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