The Windy City is home to so many wonderful things to see and do with kids, it can be hard to imagine fitting them all into one family vacation. It can be difficult to see and do everything unless you’re planning to make turn your vacation into a lifelong adventure. Whether you’re planning a quick trip or an extended stay, this list of the best family-friendly things to do in Chicago should help you navigate your way to the top spots!
Scratch Off Unique Family Adventures
Plan a great day out (or in) with the whole family using “Adventures from Scratch: Family Edition.” Scratch to uncover a new challenge any time you crave some quality time together in Chicago, or anywhere. With over 50 activities, this book will keep you entertained for a while. Spark your sense of adventure with kid-friendly fun!
Fun Things to Do with the Kids in Chicago
For many parents, looking for fun things to do in Chi-Town is synonymous with looking for the best family-friendly things to do in Chicago. Luckily, you don’t have to look too hard for amenities and attractions that will pique the interest of even your fussiest mini-me.
Chicago Street Art
With its professional sports venues, breathtaking lakefront views, mesmerizing architecture, and much, much more, The Windy City is known for a lot of things. With over 40,000 square feet of street art dotting buildings across the city, Chicago is also widely celebrated for its public artwork.
For the most part, the city’s street art resides in three well-known, bustling neighborhoods, Pilsen, Milwaukee Avenue, and the South Loop. We encourage you to use our guide to Chicago street art to limit the chances that you’ll miss one of the city’s most well-known public pieces.
Lincoln Park Zoo
The Lincoln Park Zoo is one of the last free zoos in the United States. Occupying 35 acres along the shores of scenic Lake Michigan, nearly 200 animal species call the zoo their home. The zoo is also home to more than 1,200 plant species that make the facility’s landscape come alive with color. As you tour the arboretum, you’ll likely come across some turtles, fish, frogs, and native birds, so tread lightly.
The zoo offers several self-guided tours, including the following:
- Must-See Highlights Tour
- Big & Furry Tour
- Weird & Wonderful Tour
- Green & Leafy
- Little Explorers Tour
As you learn about the zoo’s programming, you’ll quickly realize the facility has some laudable camps for kids. The zoo’s in-person kid camps include:
- Summer Conservation Camp
- Winter Break Camp
- Spring Break Camp
- Summer Zoo Crew
Lincoln Park Zoo also has some virtual programs for kids, such as a Virtual Spring Break Camp. If you have several kids you want to enroll in the zoo’s camps, you may want to become a member of Lincoln Park Zoo. As a member, you’ll earn a 15 percent discount on all camp registrations you make for the members of your brood. You’ll also get discounts when you enroll your little ones in other youth-oriented programs hosted by the zoo.
If you’re planning a special event like a family reunion or a family-friendly function for work, such as a destination holiday bash, you should consider hosting the affair at Lincoln Park Zoo. The zoo has multiple event venues that can accommodate large, medium, and small groups with nature as the backdrop. If you don’t want to limit your function to one space, you can rent out the entire zoo for your group to enjoy.
Maggie Daley Park
A tribute to one of Chicago’s first ladies who shared the park’s name, Maggie Daley Park rests on 20 acres of prime real estate in the heart of the Loop. Take a walk across the park’s BP Pedestrian Bridge and let your kids try their hand at mounting the climbing wall under the watchful eyes of park employees.
When they’re done, turn them loose on one of the most epic playgrounds they’ll likely ever encounter. The park’s Play Garden is divided into three themed sections. First up is the Slide Crater, where your children can cross bridges and slides to move between two towers. Your kids can wander along a path that will enable them to explore all the trees and fauna in the Enchanted Forest. A visit to the playground’s Watering Hole is a good way for your kids to cool off on warm days.
A quarter-mile skating ribbon encircles the climbing wall. During wintry months, the ribbon gets covered in ice so people can go ice skating along the ribbon’s gentle curves. When it’s warm, visitors can walk, jog, or rollerblade along the skating ribbon. The skating ribbon has a surface that slopes slowly, so skaters can coast for a bit.
Whereas visiting Maggie Daley Park is one of the free things your family can do in Chi-Town, the Shedd Aquarium does require visitors to pay a modest fee. Given what you’ll experience inside one of the world’s largest aquariums, the cost of admission is well worth it.
When you enter the aquarium, you’ll encounter fresh and saltwater aquatic creatures from all over the world. Here are some examples of the marine life you’ll see:
- Beluga whales
- Sea otters
- Sea lions
- Sea stars
- And a whole lot more!
The Shedd Aquarium offers some personalized experiences to make your in-person or virtual visit to the facility even more memorable. If you want to sign your family up for one of the aquarium’s experiences, consider these suggestions:
- Penguin Encounter
- Touch Experiences
- Stingray Feeding
- 4-D Experience
- Virtual Penguin Encounter
- Virtual Shark Feeding Tour
- Virtual Sea Otter Encounter
If you won’t have time to visit Shedd Aquarium during an upcoming getaway to Chicago, signing up for a virtual encounter is the next best thing. You can also see what’s going on at the facility by using the live cam on the aquarium’s website.
With there being so much to see at Shedd Aquarium, it’s wise to devote an entire day of family fun and exploring at the facility. You don’t have to worry about bringing snacks to get your family through a day-long stay at Shedd Aquarium. Rather than burdening yourself with that hassle, plan to grab a bite to eat in the Bubble Net Food Court located on lower level 1 by the tide pool, sea otters, and the Sick Family Lakefront Terrace.
Nestled comfortably behind Lincoln Park High School is Oz Park. This 14.4-acre fun zone is named after the author of “The Wizard of Oz” L. Frank Baum. Why did Baum have the honor of having a city park named after him? Because he was once a resident of Lincoln Park, of course!
As you probably guessed from its name, Oz Park is an homage to “The Wizard of Oz.” The park features sculptures of some of the film’s notable characters located throughout. Older kids typically enjoy taking a turn on the park’s tire swing. Little kids who are new to walking have fun in a dedicated area that has an appropriately sized slide, a climbable wooden train, and some smile-inducing rocking animals.
While the park’s playground is on the smaller side, it still has a wooden castle and a maze. Kids have fun climbing, running across bridges, peeking through windows, and more when they visit the well-maintained play area.
Garfield Park Conservatory
Located at 300 N. Central Park Avenue, the Garfield Park Conservatory is one of the largest buildings of its kind in the world. The conservatory features approximately 120 plants that represent about 600 species.
Unlike some other city attractions, the Garfield Park Conservatory has free admission and it’s open 365 days per year. While admission is free, the conservatory does request that visitors make a donation when they enter the space.
When spring and summer roll around, it’s wise to take a stroll through the facility’s outdoor gardens, which sprawl over 12 acres. Doing so will be an immersive experience that will delight your family’s collective visceral senses.
The Garfield Park Conservatory is heralded for its family-friendly programming. From beekeeping tutorials to composting classes, goat yoga, and more, you can participate in them all by visiting the conservatory. If you’re looking for some adult-themed programming, you should plan a trip to the conservatory on the inaugural night of the city’s annual Chicago Craft Beer Week because the conservatory is the host site for the event that jumpstarts all the fun.
Original Rainbow Cone
With its original store located in Chicago’s South Side, a trip to Original Rainbow Cone is a must for anyone who travels to The Windy City with kids. Since 1926, Original Rainbow Cone has been delighting customers with dazzling ice cream cones, yummy banana splits, thick milkshakes, and other indulgences.
In recent years, the shop has added a second location in Lombard, Illinois and it has started operating four food trucks. You can track the location of the eatery’s trucks on the shop’s website. If you’re going to celebrate something special during your stay in Chi-Town, you can rent one of the trucks.
Once you get a taste of what the Original Rainbow Cone serves up, you’ll want to have its tasty treats over and over again. Now you can enjoy the shop’s delicious desserts from the comfort of your home, long after your Chicago area family vacation has drawn to an end. The shop has partnered with Goldbelly.com to ship its sweet treats to locations throughout the United States.
Museum of Science and Industry
The Museum of Science and Industry is housed by a structure that was originally built for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. The museum is located at 5700 S. Lake Shore Drive. As you’ll see from the museum’s many exhibits, the facility emphasizes interactivity throughout.
One of the institution’s more noteworthy exhibits is a U-505 German submarine. While you can walk around and observe the sub for free, you’ll need to pay to take a guided tour of the vessel. The 25-minute tour’s fee is an add-on to your paid admission to the museum.
If want to see what it was like to live in The Windy City way back in 1910, you’ll want to check out the Yesterday’s Main Street Exhibit. This exhibit has cobblestone streets and simulations of notable structures like Walgreen’s Drug Company and the Chicago Post Office.
Do you want to see what it’s like to be in a tornado? You simply have to visit the Science Storms Exhibit to do so. Would you like to work your way through a maze of mirrors with your kids? Head over to the Numbers in Nature Exhibit and have at it. If you just want to sit back and watch some educational films, you and your family can catch a flick or two in the museum’s five-story Giant Dome Theater.
The Field Museum
The Field Museum was originally founded to be the home of all the anthropological and biological artifacts collected for the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893. Since then, the institution’s collection has grown to include approximately 40 million artifacts and specimens. Despite having more than 350,000 square feet of permanent exhibition space, the museum can only publicly display about one percent of its total collection.
Over 150 scientists work for the museum. Some labor in the Fossil Prep Lab to free fossils from rocks that have held them captive for millions of years while others travel the globe for answers to questions involving earth, the life forms it supports, and the world’s cultures. In essence, the Field Museum exists to explore, examine, and explain the wonder of life on the planet earth.
When you enter the Field Museum, you’ll be greeted by a cast of the skeleton of Máximo, who was a 122-foot-long titanosaur that lived in Argentina over 100,000 million years ago. Since Máximo’s skeleton is a fabrication, you and your kids can touch it and literally feel the dinosaur’s bones.
If you’re even remotely familiar with the Field Museum, then you’ve probably heard of the institution’s ever-popular resident, Sue. Sue is a T. rex who’s continuously drawn attention from museum visitors for years. Discovered in Faith, South Dakota in 1990, the T. rex’s remains are named after the woman who discovered them, Sue Hendrickson. After Hendrickson’s discovery, it took a team of six 17 days to extract Sue’s remains from the earth.
Despite the femininity of the skeleton’s name, Sue’s sex is unknown. What is known about Sue, is that the T. rex reached the upper end of its life expectancy, approximately 28 years. During an adolescent growth spurt, Sue gained up to 4 ½ pounds per day, reaching full size at the age of 19. Sue’s origins date back to the Cretaceous period, which was around 67 million years ago.
Of the 30+ T. rex fossils found to date, Sue is the largest and most complete relic. The museum has 250 of the estimated 380 bones that would have made Sue’s skeleton complete. Sue is the most celebrated Tyrannosaurus rex ever discovered, and she’s the most expensive fossil ever bought at auction, boasting a final price tag of $8.4 million.
When you visit the Field Museum, consider upgrading your pass to a Discovery or All-Access Pass. By doing so, you’ll be able to watch 3D movies that have some fantastic visual effects. To offset the cost of the upgrade, consider visiting the museum on one of its admission-free days.
Chicago’s Navy Pier is the place to go for some genuine family fun. The pier is home to an array of eclectic retailers, fantastic eateries, and all sorts of entertainment options. Once you’re there, you may wonder why you’d ever want to leave.
The shops at Navy Pier are so diverse, it’s unlikely that you won’t find exactly what you’re looking for no matter what it might be. Clothes, accessories, handmade collectibles, and more are all readily available at Navy Pier.
Here are some of the retailers that have an established footprint at Navy Pier:
- Bowwowz & Meowz
- Cotacachi Handy Craft
- Fashion Bazaar
- It’s Sugar
- Magnetic Attraction
- Making History Chicago
- Navy Pier Store
- Oh Yes! Chicago
- The Neighborhood Urban Gift Shop
- This SOCKS!
Whether you want to grab a Chicago-style hot dog and eat on the go or you want to enjoy an upscale dining experience, you’ll find an eatery at the Navy Pier that will cater to your tastes. Given the blend of restaurants at the pier, the Navy Pier truly is the best place to get a taste of everything that the Chicago food scene has to offer, including the city’s widely celebrated deep dish pizza.
If you’re looking for dining suggestions, here are a few eateries that you may want to consider:
- America’s Dog & Burger
- Beat Kitchen
- Big Bowl Chinese Express
- Big City Chicken
- Billy Goat Tavern
- Frankie’s Pizza by the Slice
- I Dream of Falafel
- Navy Pier Beer Garden
- Offshore Rooftop & Bar
- Potbelly Sandwich Shop
- Original Rainbow Cone
- Tiny Tavern
Visitors who are 21 years old or older are allowed to walk around the Navy Pier with adult beverages. Multiple restaurants have take-out windows where you can purchase food and drinks, including alcoholic beverages, on the fly.
Navy Pier is where you can visit several of Chi-Town’s most beloved cultural attractions in one place. Those attractions include:
- Chicago Shakespeare Theater
- Chicago Children’s Museum
- East End Plaza
- Fifth Third Bank Family Pavilion
- Navy Pier Beer Garden
- Peoples Energy Welcome Pavilion
- Polk Bros Park
- The Crystal Gardens
Park Rides and Games
Navy Pier’s Pier Park is where your family can enjoy some exciting rides. You can start your visit to Pier Park with a ride on the historic carousel. Next up, you can jump on the Centennial Wheel and enjoy views of the surrounding area from almost 200 feet in the air while you’re on the Ferris wheel.
You can team up with your family members to make your way through the 4,000 square foot Amazing Chicago’s Funhouse Maze, where over two million guests have gotten lost to date. Take your family over to the Amazing Chicago’s Atomic Rush Game for some real fun. In this game, each family member will pick a color and chase it around the play area. The more times you catch your color, the more points you’ll accumulate.
Amazing Chicago’s Time Freak is a great game for kids of all ages. This game requires participants to compete against the clock while they push buttons as they become illuminated. The more buttons you push in the allotted time, the more points you’ll earn.
Do your kids love fireworks? If so, you’ll want to plan a trip to Chicago’s Navy Pier on or between Memorial Day and Labor Day weekend. Between those holidays, the Navy Pier puts on a fireworks show every Wednesday and Saturday night.
Public Art Center
Stretching nearly one mile into Lake Michigan and now in its second century of existence, Navy Pier has evolved into the home of a thriving public art center. The artwork on display at the pier includes permanent, seasonal, temporary, and special exhibitions involving sculptures, objects, design, and functional works.
Navy Pier’s permanent art installations include:
- ‘P” sculptures
- Bob Newhart statue
- Captain On The Helm
- Crack the Whip
- U.S.S. Chicago anchor
Performance art and artistic performances are common at Navy Pier, and some of them are rather unexpected in all the right ways. Annual events like SOFA CHICAGO feature beautiful works of art that are too big to be housed anywhere but the pier’s Festival Hall.
Both aspiring and established artists are welcome to show off their artwork at Navy Pier. There is no fee to view the displayed artwork as the displays are meant to make art accessible to everyone and reflect the pier’s physical space and purpose.
Located at 233 S. Wacker Drive, the Willis Tower was once known as the Sears Tower. Controversially renamed in 2009 after the building was purchased by Willis Group Holdings Ltd., the tower is still the second tallest building in the United States and the 12th tallest building in the world, stretching 1,454 feet into the air. Representatives from Willis Group Holdings Ltd. often refer to Willis Tower as their Midwest home even though Blackstone purchased the structure in 2015 for a whopping $1.3 billion.
Willis Tower occupies two blocks of urban real estate in downtown Chicago. The building’s Skydeck famously opened in 1974 and it attracts over 1.7 million visitors every year. After it underwent a renovation in 2009, the Skydeck reopened featuring The Ledge. The Ledge consists of four glass boxes that hang out off the 103rd floor of the tower.
If you’re brave enough to step into one of the boxes, you’ll be able to enjoy top-down views of The Windy City from 1,353 feet in the air. It’s a view you simply cannot get anywhere else in Chicago.
Even if you lack the courage to step out onto The Ledge, you can still enjoy unbelievable views of Chi-Town and surrounding areas from the Skydeck. On clear days, visitors can see as many as four states over as many as 50 miles. For even better views of the city’s skyline, try to visit the Skydeck when it opens in the morning or when the sun sets so you can see the skyline against a dark sky. It’s really a sight to behold, and it makes a great backdrop for selfies and family photos.
If you haven’t had your fill of views of the city’s skyline even after you visit Willis Tower, 360 Chicago should be your next destination. Located 1,000 feet up from the street on the 94th floor of an iconic building that was once known as the John Hancock Center, you’ll find 360 Chicago.
As its name implies, 360 Chicago boasts panoramic views of Chi-Town’s skyline. When conditions are right, visitors can see for 55 miles. 360 Chicago offers wonderous views of Lake Michigan and the city below.
If you want an interactive experience with the streets below, sign up for a TILT ride. This attraction tilts people outward to allow them to stretch out over Chicago. While TILT changes users’ viewpoints of the city, it’s not for the faint of heart.
360 Chicago has interactive displays available in seven languages that aim to educate visitors about Chicago’s colorful neighborhoods and their respective histories. If your stomach starts to growl, you can saddle over to the café to grab a bite while your family continues to enjoy breathtaking views that go on for miles in every direction.
LEGOLAND Discovery Center Chicago
While you’ll have to make a short trip outside of Chicago to Schaumburg, Illinois to visit LEGOLAND Discovery Center Chicago, it’s totally worth it if you have young kids or you’re simply a fan of LEGOs. LEGOLAND Discovery Center Chicago is in The Streets of Woodfield shopping center on N. Martingale Road, and it occupies 30,000 square feet of retail space.
When you enter the space, you can visit MINILAND, meet some LEGO characters, catch a show in the LEGO 4D Cinema, or embark on a Kingdom Quest. If you’re game, you can participate in one of the center’s daily building workshops.
You don’t have to worry about bringing snacks with you because the center is home to the LEGO Café, which serves adult- and kid-friendly fare. Don’t forget to stop by the LEGO store to pick up some literal building blocks your kids can use to create things long after your visit winds to an end.
With so much to do and see at LEGOLAND Discovery Center Chicago, it’s wise to devote at least half a day to your stay there. It’s also a good idea to buy your tickets and reserve a time for your visit well in advance online. Even though you may still have to wait in line for a few minutes, you won’t have to wait as long if you plan your visit beforehand. Once you’re inside, you can remain at the center for as long as you like until closing time.
Are you wondering how you can keep your kids entertained during your drive over to LEGOLAND Discovery Center Chicago? You can dazzle them with your keen sense of humor with our list of 30 funny riddles that will keep your kids in stitches during your trip to Schaumburg.
The 606 was made from an abandoned stretch of railway track. The 2.7-mile path takes people by some key attractions, such as:
- Logan Square
- Humboldt Park
- Wicker Park
Walking, jogging, or riding a bike along the path is a great way to explore Chicago’s North Side. As you make your way along the path, you’ll see various art installations and some fabulous parks like the two just mentioned, so you may want to pack a picnic lunch you can enjoy with your family in one of the path’s well-maintained outdoor areas.
For more outdoor family fun, head over to Millennium Park on E. Randolph Street. The 24.5-acre park is the host site for free concerts and some of Chicago’s biggest annual festivals like the Chicago Blues Festival and the Grant Park Music Festival.
If you like art, you’ll love the park’s public art installations, with the most popular figure being Anish Kapoor’s “Cloud Gate.” Affectionately nicknamed “The Bean,” Kapoor’s work is a reflective artwork that has been captured in a near-endless number of selfies and family photos.
While you’re at Millennium Park, be sure you make your way over to Jaume Plensa’s Crown Fountain. The fountain is a must-see because it has multiple screens showing rotating faces of Chicagoans spewing water throughout the day every five minutes. The park is also home to an alfresco restaurant appropriately named the Park Grill, the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, and footbridges that will take you to the Chicago Art Institute and nearby Maggie Daley Park.
While visiting Millennium Park is free, visitors must adhere to some new rules that were put into place due to the pandemic. For the time being, visitors can only enter the park through the following points of entrance:
- Michigan Avenue and Madison Street
- Michigan Avenue and Washington Street
- The BP Bridge that leads to Maggie Daley Park
Guests need to wear a mask throughout their visit and remain at least six feet away from strangers and other groups. Gatherings of 10 or more people are not currently permitted in the park. People who sit on the Great Lawn are required to use the pre-marked circles for social distancing purposes.
Available Transportation Options in Chicago
Just like Chi-Town has plenty of amenities and attractions, the city has a variety of ways you can get around town. To see as much as possible in a single day, you may want to book a bus or segue tour. If you want to explore the city and surrounding areas at a more leisurely pace, you can use the city’s public transportation to get around. Alternatively, you can make arrangements for a taxi or jump on the city’s water taxi to get from one location to another.
Some visitors choose to rent a car during their stay in Chicago. While that’s a fine idea, too, parking is sometimes expensive, and the streets get rather crowded during peak traffic hours. Whether you’re renting a vehicle or you’re traveling to The Windy City in your own automobile, you can use apps like ParkChicago, ParkWhiz, and SpotHero to reserve and pay for parking spots in advance of your arrival.
Built on a grid, Chicago is an easy city to explore by foot or bike. If you’re going to rely on your own physical power to venture through the city, we recommend you sign up for one of our Chicago app-led scavenger hunts. These hunts will take you to places you might overlook if you didn’t sign up for one of them. We have several family-friendly hunts that will acquaint you and your kids with Chicago, including:
- Chicago Loop Scavenger Hunt
- Chicago’s Magnificent Mile Scavenger Hunt
- Ghosts of the Chicago River
- A Day at the Zoo Scavenger Hunt
- Adventure at the Lincoln Park Zoo
- An Explosion of Color, Culture, History, and Talent
Frequently Asked Questions
Navy Pier’s Pier Park is fantastic for kids! Or make sightseeing more fun with a scavenger hunt. You could also make your own fun using an interactive book like Adventures from Scratch: Family Edition!
There are various ways to get around the Windy City. Book a bus or segue tour, rent a bike, or use public transportation. A wonderful walking tour option is using Let’s Roam’s scavenger hunt app!