One of the best Chicago neighborhoods to visit for cultural exploration with the kids is Pilsen, home of the National Museum of Mexican Art. See Nuestras Historias, Stories of Mexican Identity from the Permanent Collection. (Photo: Michael Tropea)
Brimming with distinct neighborhoods and ethnic enclaves, Chicago is a true melting pot of languages, food, music and art just waiting to be discovered. So many of these ‘hoods offer family-friendly activities that allow cultural exploration while soaking up the eclectic spirit of Chi-Town. Stroll around these neighborhoods for kid-friendly cultural excursions and highlights.
An artist’s mecca that boasts vivid murals at every turn, this bustling neighborhood just two miles southwest of The Loop is the heart of the city’s Latino community. Wander into panaderias to sample Mexican baked goods like sugar-topped conchas (a Mexican pastry), or browse Dulceria Lupitas candy store to check out the menagerie of pinatas and Mexican candies. A visit to the National Museum of Mexican Art is essential, with its array of exhibits, workshops and a colorful gift shop that serves as a work of art all by itself. For kids over 10, the Pilsen Neighborhood Walking Tour examines the murals, architecture and immigrant history that helped the neighborhood become a National Historic Landmark District.
Hop a Chicago Watertaxi downtown and you can float over to the culinary and shopping delights of Chinatown. Head to Chinatown Square, a mall bursting with shops and eateries. Don’t miss taking pics with your Chinese zodiac animal; the sculptures are scattered all over the square. The little ones will love Giftland, with its cute selection of Hello Kitty and anime toys. Take in the Chinese American Museum of Chicago to discover traditions like dragon boat racing and dumpling demonstrations. Wind down with authentic Hong Kong bubble tea at Saint’s Alp Tea House; this chain originated the popular tea filled with tapioca balls. Try the almond or coconut milk teas with condensed milk toast and a few of the savory snacks, like jumbo tea eggs and glazed chicken wings.
The bright blue of the Swedish flag waves from the top of many shops in this North Side neighborhood that once claimed the second biggest Swedish population outside of Sweden. Stop by the Swedish Bakery to taste a bit of this heritage with sweet treats like almond-flavored marzariners, which will please big and little kids alike. For larger appetites, check out Svea Restaurant for traditional Swedish meatballs or the popular Viking breakfast. The Swedish American Museum hosts a selection of interactive exhibits detailing Swedish immigration as well as Swedish events like Midsommarfest, an Abba Salute and Breakfast with Tomten (Santa). If you’re lucky, you’ll catch the local fave, Puppet Bike perched on a corner, delighting residents with a mobile puppet show.