This post is the second in a series on Things To Do With Kids in *Insert City Name Here*. My friend Shelly of Life on the Wild Side generously offered to share her insider info as a longtime Chicago resident!
I’ve only been to Chicago once, and it was not with kids. Instead, I spent the bulk of my time on Michigan Avenue, doing what I do best — shopping, of course! But it’s an amazing city with so much to offer, and I definitely hope to take my children there one day. When I do, I’ll know exactly what to do and where to go, thanks to Shelly!
Feel free to share your favorite things to do in Chicago in the comments! I hope these posts become a comprehensive family travel resource.
And with that, I give you Shelly . . .
Top 10 Things to do in Chicago with Kids
As an avid traveler, I’ve been to many beautiful cities all over the world. Zurich, London, New York—they all have a lot to offer and are among my favorites. But as a life-long Chicagoan, I’ll readily admit that I’m biased because, even though I’ve been to some of the world’s most amazing cities, I often tell people that the most beautiful city in the world is right here in my back yard.
If you’ve never been to Chicago, I hope you’ll start planning your trip after reading this post, because, truly, Chicago is such a great city. And despite what you may have heard or read, most parts of our city are safe and fun for the family.
So to help with your planning, I offer you our family’s Top Ten Things to do with Kids in Chicago.
Have a snack. Chicago is a fantastic food town, so start your day with some of the best snacks you’ll find anywhere. Garrett’s Popcorn Shop is a Chicago staple—you must try the Chicago mix of caramel corn and cheese corn. Yum! If popcorn isn’t your thing, try donuts. The Donut Vault is so popular, people line up early in the morning just to get one of their treasures. Glazed and Infused is one of our family favorites as well.
Cheer a team. Baseball is America’s pastime, and the Cubs are Chicago’s team. Try to visit Wrigley Field while you’re here—the Cubs may not win, but you’ll have a great time at a historic baseball field. If you can’t score tickets to a Cubs game, there’s always the White Sox, and U.S. Cellular Field (we call it “the Cell”) is a great place to take in a game. For soccer fans, the Chicago Fire offers some great action. But for the best game in town, head to the United Center and take in a Blackhawks hockey game. You’ve never heard the National Anthem sung like this before!
See a show. Chicago boasts some of the best theater in the country. Our family has taken in “The Lion King,” “Wicked,” and, most recently, “The Phantom of the Opera” here. Check out Broadway in Chicago to see what’s playing. And if Shakespeare is your thing, the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre at Navy Pier is fantastic.
Visit a museum. Chicago boasts so many museums it’s hard to choose, so I’ll just tell you our family’s favorites. My kids would choose the Field Museum where you can see ancient mummy tombs and a room full of dinosaurs, the Museum of Science and Industry which boasts a real coal mine exhibit, and the Art Institute of Chicago which houses many famous works of art, including Monet’s haystacks.
Spend time outside. Chicago’s lakefront is an obvious choice for outdoor activity. At Navy Pier or Millennium Park you can rent bicycles—from mountain bikes to a quadcycle—to ride up and down the beautiful lakeshore. Millennium Park is fun for kids both in the summer, when you can splash in the water, and in the winter, when you can skate on the ice rink. One of our favorite spots in the city is the Lincoln Park Zoo, which is free to the public 365 days a year.
Learn something new. Take a boat tour with the Chicago Architecture Foundation to learn about many of the city’s historic buildings along the Chicago River. Visit the Peggy Notebart Nature Museum to learn more about the region’s plants and wildlife. Or get to know one of Chicago’s most famous architects, Frank Lloyd Wright, by visiting one of his homes in either Oak Park or Hyde Park.
See the water. I’ve already mentioned the beautiful lakefront in Chicago where you can bike, run, or rollerblade. But you can also see water at the Shedd Aquarium, situated right next to Lake Michigan. The Shedd is one of our favorites because those beluga whales are just so adorable! Or try paddleboating in the Lincoln Park Lagoon. Not into paddleboating? The more adventurous among you could try kayacking down the Chicago River.
Listen to some music. Chicago is a music town, and in the summer, outdoor venues offer some great options. The Grant Park Music Festival offers free classical concerts throughout the summer at the Jay Pritzker Pavillion near Millennium Park. The Ravinia Festival also offers both pop and classical concerts just a train ride north of the city. Take a picnic and enjoy!
Have dinner. Chicago offers some of the best food in the country, but with kids, dining can be tricky. Of course, you can head to some of the best pizza places around (Giordanos and Lou Malnotis are our favorites), but why not try some mom and pop places that you can’t get anywhere else? For a real pizza treat, head to Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder in Lincoln Park where you’ll get pizza made upside down in a bowl, then flipped over onto a plate at the table. There’s a long line and they only accept cash, but it is well worth the hassle. Another one of our favorites is Twin Anchors, a hole-in-the-wall bar (but still family friendly) where the movie “Return to Me” was filmed that has the best ribs in the city. Again, you might have to wait a while for a table, but the ribs (try the ghost sauce!) are totally worth it. Or head to the West Loop neighborhood (West Randolph Street) for some of the best restaurants in the city.
Be a tourist. Even the most touristy spots are fun to visit in Chicago. Navy Pier is great for the Chicago Children’s Museum, the huge ferris wheel, and for seeing the tall ships that occasionally stop there. The Willis Tower Skydeck (formerly the Sears Tower) is great for fantastic views on a clear day. And you can’t visit Chicago without a trip to the Magnificent Mile—Michigan Avenue—where you’ll find shops and restaurants to satisfy everyone in the family.
I’ll admit it, I’m biased. Chicago is one of the greatest cities, not just in our country, but in the world. It’s clean. It’s safe. It’s fun. Come visit and let me know what you think!
Shelly Wildman is a wife to one busy husband and mom to three amazing daughters. Shelly spends a lot of time laughing, eating, and shopping with her three daughters, but she also finds time to teach writing at Wheaton College and to speak to women’s groups. Shelly loves to travel and dreams of living in England someday, but for now, she’ll settle for the occasional visit. Visit Shelly at her blog, Life on the Wild Side.
For more family travel, see all of my Things To Do With Kids posts.