Tyrannosaurus Rex Fossil “Sue” at the Chicago Field Museum (Photo: 6737602580/Shutterstock.com)
Lazy mornings spent strolling a new city, latte in hand, no longer exist when you’re traveling with little ones. Thankfully, Chicago offers amazing adventures the whole family will adore. Here are nine of our favorites.
Visit Sue at the Field Museum. Dinosaurs may be ancient history but seeing the remains of one up-close is mind-blowing. Sue is the largest and most complete Tyrannosaurus rex fossil ever found and is sure to scare away any monster lurking in your kid’s closet. Pro tip: The Field Museum gets very crowded, especially in the summer, so if your kids are early risers — head here prior to 11 a.m. to beat the masses. Basic admission is $18 for adults; $13 for kids.
Ride a CTA bus or “L” train. There is something about public transportation that can entertain tiny travelers for hours on end. Consider it an intermezzo and ride the 151 bus from Lincoln Park all the way to Michigan Avenue. You’ll get a quick panorama of the lakefront and Michigan Avenue. Pro tip: Buy a Ventra Card at a local drug store or mini mart prior to boarding to avoid fumbling for correct change when you get to the bus or El station
Catch some kids’ theater. Chicago has a ton of great theater productions tailored to the small set. Shows vary but check out the schedule for the Emerald City Theatre which hosts performances across the city that are designed to delight even the tiniest thespians with adaptations of their favorite storybooks, original plays and classic musicals. Pro tip: Arrive early so your kids can participate in the pre-show activity in the lobby…and use the potty.
Watch the butterflies. Even when it’s the dead of winter in Chicago, the Judy Istok Butterfly Haven inside the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum is a worthy oasis. Butterflies that originate from all over the world flutter and roam free amongst tropical trees, flowers and small ponds. Everyday at 2:00 p.m. new butterflies are released— a not-to-be missed moment. Pro tip: Check the calendar of events before heading to the museum. They often offer special events included in the price of admission. Admission to the museum is $9 for adults; $7 for students and seniors; $6 for ages 3-12; 3 and under are free.
Visit the Shedd Aquarium. Dive head first into this amazing aquarium with enough activities to keep even the antsiest kid (or adult) occupied for hours. Schedule your visit around one of the aquatic shows and stare in awe of the whales and dolphins. Finish the afternoon off slipping and sliding through the Polar Play Zone, an indoor playground where you can also get a spectacular view from the under the tank. Pro tip: If you buy your tickets in advance you won’t have to wait in the lengthy weekend lines. Buy advanced tickets online for a better rate through the museum or a Chicago CityPass.
Walk through the Lincoln Park Zoo. A favorite amongst locals and tourists alike, this zoo is clean, walkable, and totally free. The monkeys are a highlight as is the old time carousel (which will cost you a few well-worth-it bucks.) Spend the rest of the afternoon exploring nearby Lincoln Park. Pro tip: Bring your own water bottles and snacks. It’s easy to get tempted by the many food carts and food court throughout the zoo.
Spend the afternoon at the Chicago Children’s Museum. Everything here is for little kids with big imaginations. Be a firefighter complete with truck driving and pole sliding, build your own skyscraper and drive your own CTA bus. Pro tip: The museum is free every Thursday night and the first Sunday of each month. You can also print a discount coupon from their website. Admission $14. Thursday nights from 5-8 p.m. are free as is the first Sunday of every month.
Visit a hip play space. The town is full of fun spots where kids can release their energy and parents can catch their breath. A highlight is Little Beans Cafe featuring a ninja obstacle course, karaoke room (Evanston only) and interactive gaming system. And for the parents, really good coffee and treats. Pro tip: The play space requires that you wear socks (and remove your shoes) so make sure you have a pair handy! Daily pass $12; reduced rate for siblings. Lincoln Park location appeals to age 0-6; Evanston 0-12.
Stroll through Millennium Park. After your kids run to see their reflection in the giant bean, they’ll love splashing in the spitting fountains that reflect faces of local Chicagoans. If the weather is too cold for splashing, ice skating is the perfect option. Pro tip: The park has free wi-fi so it’s the perfect place to take a breather and plan your next adventure in the city.