Chicago is a traveler's mecca with some of the best food, bars, festivals, and sporting events. But what if you're hoping to visit with little ones? Fortunately it's also a great destination for family fun. Check out our list of the best kid-friendly activities in the Windy City, from swimming to ice skating to some of the best (not boring!) museums in the country.
Best Kid Friendly Attractions in Chicago:The City's 11 Most Popular Children's Activities
1. Lincoln Park Zoo
Lincoln Park Zoo is nearly 150 years old, open 365 days a year, and best of all, admission won’t cost you a dime. From lions to eagles to two new baby red pandas, kids will get to witness live animals from across the globe and a take advantage of its variety of fun and educational events.
Lincoln Park Zoo is located in Lincoln Park at 2001 N Clark St. The grounds open at 7am every day and buildings open at 10am. Closing times vary between 5pm and 7pm depending on the season and day of the week.
2. Navy Pier
Located in downtown Chicago on the shores of Lake Michigan, Navy Pier offers plenty of kid-friendly distractions. In addition to its iconic Ferris wheel, Pier Park also houses a variety of rides, an IMAX theater, sightseeing cruises, and the indoor Crystal Gardens. Stroll along the water or stop at the Build a Bear Workshop or the iCandy Sugar Shoppe.
Navy Pier is located downtown at 600 E Grand Ave. It is normally open year-round but schedule your visit for next year: rides are currently closed due to construction and are scheduled to reopen in summer of 2016, along with a new Ferris wheel and beautiful Polk Bros Park.
3. Chicago Children’s Museum
The perfect place to combine learning and fun, the Chicago Children’s Museum features engaging hands-on activities from digging for dinosaur bones to a Tinkering Lab with real tools to a tree house for climbing.
The Children’s Museum is located on Navy Pier at 700 E Grand Ave. and is open every day from 10am-5pm. Tickets are $14 but admission is free for kids under 15 on the first Sunday of every month and for everyone on Thursdays from 5-8pm.
4. Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum
This highly interactive museum offers a wide variety of scientific learning experiences for kids. Catch a butterfly in the butterfly haven, witness live animal feedings, learn where our food comes from, build a dam at the RiverWorks exhibit, spot real-life flora and fauna on the Nature Trails and more. Bonus: parents can take a yoga class in the butterfly sanctuary!
The museum is located in Lincoln Park at 2430 N Cannon Dr. and is open Monday thru Friday 9am-5pm and Saturday and Sunday 10am-5pm. Tickets are $9 for adults and $6 for children ages 3-12.
5. Shedd Aquarium
Shedd Aquarium has plenty to keep the little ones occupied. It is the largest indoor aquarium in the world and home to 32,000 creatures. Pet stingrays, watch a live aquatic show, and say hello to sea creatures like Luna, the new sea otter pup.
The aquarium is located at the Museum Campus at 1200 S Lake Shore Drive. Summer hours are 9am-6pm and winter hours are 9am-5pm on weekdays, 9am-6pm on weekends. General admission is $8 for adults and $6 for children or upgrade to the Shedd Pass for more access, $30.95 for adults and $21.95 for kids. Inside tip: buy tickets online to avoid the long lines.
6. The Field Museum
Right next to Shedd Aquarium is this fun and fascinating museum of natural history. Kids will be delighted by the dinosaurs (including the world’s largest T. Rex, named Sue), Egyptian mummies, giant bugs, fossils, and much more.
The Field Museum is located at the Museum Campus at 1400 S Lake Shore Drive and is open every day from 9am-5pm. General admission is $18 for adults and $13 for children.
7. Maggie Daley Park
Just next door to legendary Millennium Park (home of the Bean), this park is a kids’ dreamland, featuring out-of-this-world playgrounds (that meet ADA standards), a climbing wall, water features, and plenty of picnic tables. It’s an oasis all year round but check it out in the winter when you can hop on the Skating Ribbon, a river of ice that winds throughout the park and is perfect for skaters of all abilities.
Maggie Daley Park is located downtown at 541 N. Fairbanks.
8. 31st St Beach
If you visit Chicago in the warmer months, check out this beach south of downtown. It has seasonal lifeguards (from 11am-7pm), a concessions stand, a dock for fishing, beautiful views of the city skyline, and a whimsical playground that will have your kids raving.
The beach is located at 31st Street and S Lake Shore Drive. Although the beach is accessible year-round, Chicago has an official “beach season” that lasts roughly from May-September each year. Contact the Chicago Park District for next year’s dates.
9. Waterfall Glen
If you and the tykes want to get out of the city for a bit, stunning Waterfall Glen is located in a forest preserve less than 25 miles from Chicago and has plenty of easy hiking trails, bike paths, and picnic spots.
Waterfall Glen is located in Darien, IL and is open one hour before sunrise until one hour after sunset.
10. Adler Planetarium
If stars and rocket ships are more your kid’s style, then Adler Planetarium will blow them away. Kids and grown ups will love discovering how we put a man on the moon and what it’s like to work mission control, seeing our solar system’s planets up close, touching a piece of Mars, and witnessing a wide range of cosmic shows.
The planetarium is located at the Museum Campus at 1300 S Lake Shore Drive and is open Monday thru Friday 9:30am-4:00pm and 9:30am-4:30pm on Saturday and Sunday. General admission is $12 for adults and $8 for children ages 3-11.
11. Chicago Bears’ Family Fest
This annual event is a great chance to get some family-friendly football action without the drunk and foul-mouthed fans. You can watch the team practice, play kid-friendly games, and get autographs from Bears alumni. Local sports tips: Matinee games tend to be more kid-friendly and stay away from big rivalry games to avoid the rowdiest crowds.
Family Fest happens at Soldier Field (1410 Museum Campus Dr.) once a year, check the Bears website for updates on the 2016 event. Tickets range from $8-12.
This article was written by Katie Vaughan and edited by Tripping.com Content Specialist, Lexi Perman.
Hero Image Credit: Hide Obara