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Thinking about traveling to Chicago with kids? Chicago is a great place to bring them. So much to do & see & places to go! Here is a guide to help you plan your trip with lots of fun, kid-focused & family-friendly suggestions.
Use this link from hotels.com to find lodging. They offer many hotel options in great locations. If you need accommodations for a larger group check out a vrbo. The last family I toured around stayed at a condo in Lakeview. They had access to the cta Brown Line ‘L’ to get downtown and loved it.
how to get around
To get to any location, go to the cta trip planner and plug in your starting point, then destination to see multiple cta bus & train routes. I use this myself all the time and highly recommend it to get around Chicago via public transportation. Or if your kids are old enough get a Divvy bike. You’ll see racks of them all over the city. Please be safe and use the bike lanes! Click here for a bike lane map. Click here for more Divvy details.
Another option is Google maps which provides driving, public transportation, bike, or walking directions.
Take a water taxi. Service is resuming in June, right in time for the summer travel season. The coolest way (literally!) to get around. Check out their routes & admission here. I suggest you take it to Chinatown. Or if you are near North Michigan Ave take it to the Loop and you can walk to the Willis Tower & go check out the Skydeck. Click here to save on the Go Chicago Explorer Pass. This will save you up to 35% on admission to multiple museums.
what to see
Take a BIG BUS tour. You can get an overview of the city (day or night) & decide where you would like to explore further. Click this link to get a discount.
Go to Millennium Park to see the Bean (Cloud Gate) & the Crown Fountain. Check here to see if there are any free concerts or movies at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion while you are in town. Take the bridge (which looks like a snake from an aerial view) to Maggie Daley Park. It is 20-acres of kid-focused fun that has mini-golf, rock climbing walls, and playscapes. Lots of entertainment for the kiddos. For more to do in the Loop click here.
Check out the Riverwalk. You can stroll up & down the Chicago Riverwalk, a 1.25-mile path on the south bank of the Chicago River that starts at Franklin and goes all the way to the Lakefront. While you are here, Art on the Mart (Merchandise Mart) is a really cool projection show that takes place every evening.
what to do
Take an architectural river cruise. Click here for discounted tickets for the Shoreline Sightseeing Tour.
Go to Lincoln Park Zoo & check out a secret garden. Read about it here. While you are in this area, go check out the Chicago History Museum just south of the zoo. Along with learning the fascinating history of Chicago, they have some really fun exhibits just for kids. Click here to save on the Go Chicago Explorer Pass. Also just north of the Lincoln Park Zoo is the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum.
Go to a baseball game. Take the Red Line L train either north to see the Cubbies play at Wrigley Field or if you are a White Sox fan, take the Red Line south to Sox Park. Check the schedule, maybe you can see a cross-town classic where they play each other! To figure out how to get to either ballpark go to the cta trip planner.
where to go
Go check out a museum. So many museums, so little time! CityPASS will save you up to 48% for adults and kids which includes admission to Chicago’s top 5 attractions. But be warned, they can get really busy during the summer months, so make plans to go early.
Here’s a current list of Chicago’s favorite museums that your kiddos will love. Check the links to figure out which current kid-friendly exhibits to explore. The main museums are all conveniently located at the Museum Campus (337 E Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60601), which includes the Field Museum of Natural History, the Shedd Aquarium & the Adler Planetarium. While you are at the Museum Campus, you’ll see one of the city’s best views from the Adler Planetarium. Also, nearby is the Northerly Island Park. Click here for family/kid activities.
The Art Institute and the Museum of Science & Industry (MSI) are other great museums to check out. Tip from a local: If you go to the Art Institute download their app. It offers multiple tours with audio, you can use with your phone, to make 1 million sq ft of art much more manageable. If you are going to the MSI, check out exhibits before you go and allow at least 4 hrs, yes, there are that many really cool exhibits to see. A couple of my favorites are Colleen Moore’s Fairy Castle & Science Storms.
more kid-friendly activities
Go on the Chicago Architecture Center (CAC) Family Scavenger Hunt. Click here for more CAC Family Fun programs. Put on your detective hats, it’s time to explore Chicago and learn about its world-famous architecture!
Go to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and help spark a lifelong appreciation of music. Click here for CSO for kids.
Go check out the Museum of Illusions in the Loop for an intriguing visual, sensory and educational experience with illusions ranging from tried and true classics to the never-before-seen! Book your tickets here.
Explore Chicago’s neighborhoods with Walkie Talkies audio guides from the Chicago Children’s Theatre. Another way to explore a couple of Chicago’s 77 different neighborhoods, is to jump on the train for an elevated adventure.
Here are a couple of sweet ones to get you on the train. Take the cta Brown Line towards Kimball and get off at the Damen stop. Walk north a half block to Amy’s Candy Bar. They have an amazing selection of candy & delicious ice cream. Or take the cta Brown Line to Southport where you can go checkout Candyality or get some Jeni’s ice cream.
other family fun things to do
Go fly a kite. Here are the best spots in the Windy City. Did you know that Boston is the windiest city in the states, not Chicago? We earned the nickname when we were competing with New York to host the next World’s Fair (World’s Columbian Exposition) to take place in 1893. We sent our politicians to lobby for this event and New Yorkers called us those “windbags, full of hot air”. Yep, so thanks to politics, that’s how we got one of our nicknames. Funny, still very fitting today!
Go to the beach. Where else can you see a spectacular skyline while relaxing at the beach? Chicago has many beaches all along 26 beautiful miles of lakeshore, including an 18-mile Lakefront Trail used for walking, running, biking, and more!
Go to Navy Pier. Lots of shopping, places to eat & even a beer garden with music for Mom & Dad. You’ll want to go to the Children’s Museum geared towards babies to 9 years old. Go for a ride on the Centennial Wheel, the Carousel, the Drop Tower, or the Pier Park Rides. Make sure you get a Rainbow Cone. Best. Ice Cream. Ever. Also, don’t forget fireworks every Wednesday & Saturday night at Navy Pier.
Go to Buckingham Fountain. See Buckingham Fountain in all its glory from mid-April to mid-October (weather permitting, of course) from 8 am to 11 pm. Make sure you stick around to see the center jet shoot up every hour on the hour, which will last for 20 minutes. Read all about here.
what & where to eat
Pizza, Chicago-style hotdogs & Italian beef sandwiches, oh my!
Portillos is the place to go for both Italian beef sandwiches & Chicago-style hotdogs. They also have other options like salads & burgers. Something for everyone in your group.
As for pizza, though I prefer thin crust, I recommend Lou Malnati’s or Pizzaria Uno or Due for both thick & thin. Some advice, take it slow. Get a pizza & salad to share. The last thing you want is a food coma since you have so much more to explore!
There are a lot of kid-friendly restaurants offering breakfast, lunch & dinner in Chicago. Click here for a list. I also suggest consulting google maps wherever you are to find out what is nearest to you. Then you can decide based on what your kiddos will eat.
i scream, you scream …
Check out the crazy ice cream concoctions at JoJo’s Shake Bar located in Water Tower & River North.
The Ice Cream Museum is coming to Chicago! The Ice Cream Museum is coming in mid-July. Here’s the website to check out the details.
best times to visit & what to wear
Walking shoes are key since Chicago is a walking town. Bring a few light layers depending on the time of year (even in the summer). Chicago weather is fickle and can change pretty quickly especially if you are downtown near the Lake the wind can suddenly switch direction.
Summer is the best weather and there are almost too many things happening but, that also brings the crowds. So be patient and make a plan to check out museums early. CityPASS will save you up to 48% for adults and kids, including admission to Chicago’s top 5 attractions.
Fall is the second-best time with (usually) great weather though fewer events happening and fewer people. If you don’t mind the cold and bundling up, winter is more of a bargain and must less crowded. The city is magical during the holidays so don’t rule that out. There are plenty of things to do all year round. Check out my Celebrate the Holidays Chicago-style guides here.
I hope this traveling to Chicago with kids guide helped you plan your trip.
Have a great time in Chicago!