100 Things To Do in Chicago with Kids Before They Grow Up
Chicago is home to so many incredible parks, playgrounds, museums, and things to do with kids that one childhood doesn't seem like enough time to fit them all in—though who could blame you for trying? That's why we rounded up this list of great things to do with kids in Chi-town. Whether it's racing with your toddler through the sprinklers at Mary Bartelme Park, wowing your preschooler at the Field Museum, gliding with your grade-schooler on the skating ribbon at Maggie Daley Park, or taking in engineering marvels with your tween at the Chicago Architecture Center, take advantage of everything this beautiful city has to offer kids of all ages. We're also big fans of FREE fun, so we included as much of that as possible.
Whether you're a local or a visitor to the Windy City, we hope you can use this list to make some great new memories with your kids. Now I'm off to scarf some Chicago-style hot dogs at Portillo's.
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1. Ride the water taxi from the Wrigley Building on Michigan Avenue to Chinatown.
2. Take a twirl on the Endangered Species Carousel at the Lincoln Park Zoo.
3. Bike down the Lake Michigan shoreline on the lakefront trail.
4. Let the whimsical faces in the Crown Fountain at Millennium Park squirt over your head on a hot summer day.
5. Spend a fall afternoon exploring the picturesque Graceland Cemetery and Arboretum.
6. See the statues of the zodiac animals in Chinatown Square, and make a pit stop at Aji Ichiban candy store to fill up a bag of sweets you've never tried before.
7. Take a tiny but welcome break from busy city streets at the North Pond Nature Sanctuary.
8. Shake a tail feather at a Chica-Go-Go dance party, hosted by Miss Mia and her sidekick Ratso.
9. Visit rarely-open-to-the-public buildings, many of them masterworks of architecture and design, as part of the annual Open House Chicago.
10. Get close to the glass at the Shedd Aquarium to see the rare, glowing jellyfish known as Hairy Jellies.
11. Glide along the ice skating ribbon at Maggie Daley Park with a stop for hot cocoa.
12. Slide every slide, climb every structure, and swing on every swing at the action-packed Maggie Daley Park playground.
13. See a family concert at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park.
Yes, Chicago has beaches! Photo courtesy of Illinois Office of Tourism
15. Explore the lush plantings at the Garfield Park Conservatory greenhouse.
16. Teeter over the streets below from the glass observation platform The Ledge at the top of Willis Tower.
17. Linger in the leafy quiet sculpture garden at the Art Institute of Chicago, or marvel at the Thorne Miniature Rooms inside. The museum is always FREE for children under 14.
18. Marvel at Sue, the world’s most complete model of a T. Rex, at the Field Museum.
19. Step inside a giant model of a human heart at the Museum of Science and Industry.
20. Catch a reading by a favorite children’s book author at indie Lincoln Square bookstore Book Cellar, and enjoy a gelato in the square nearby.
21. Take an architectural tour of the city by boat on the Chicago River.
23. Ride the Centennial Wheel at Navy Pier.
24. Walk with the animals at the Brookfield Zoo.
25. Clamber into the Play Cubes on Chicago’s Riverwalk.
26. See the Centennial Fountain, a 90-foot jet of water, arc across the Chicago River—either from the dry safety of the Riverwalk, or from the decidedly-less-dry deck of a boat on the river.
27. Splash in the water tables of the RiverWorks exhibit at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum in Lincoln Park.
28. Ride the 606 Trail through Bucktown, Wicker Park and Logan Square and peep the modern art installations along the path.
29. Pretend to be space explorers at the Mission Moon exhibit at the Adler Planetarium.
30. Take a photo inside a kid-sized Chicago hot dog—and explore the rest of the interactive historical and cultural displays at the Chicago History Museum.
31. Dig into the expansive children's section at Andersonville's indie bookstore Women and Children First.
32. Visit the beautiful, family-friendly, always free Museum of Mexican Art in Pilsen.
33. Time a visit to the McCormick Bridgehouse and Chicago River Museum for a morning when the movable bridges are scheduled to lift over the Chicago River.
34. Lick your way through all five layers of an Original Rainbow Cone, either at Navy Pier or at the original Southside location that's home to this only-in-Chicago frozen treat.
37. Choose a secret identity (and a disguise to match) at the Wicker Park Secret Agent Supply Company.
38. Spend a rainy afternoon tucked into a pint-sized chair and the perfect book in the Thomas Hughes Children's Library at the main branch of the Chicago Public Library.
40. Watch model trains zoom by at the Chicago Botanic Center's Wonderland Express.
41. Gaze at models of architectural marvels at the Chicago Architecture Center.
42. Root for the home team at a Cubs or Sox game.
43. Catch a show tailor-made for the pint-sized at the Chicago Children's Theater.
45. Splurge on high tea and a doll styling at American Girl Place.
47. Sample donuts, pastries, and other mouthwatering morsels as you meander through the French Market.
48. Soar on the American Eagle, the thrilling wooden racing coaster at Six Flags Great America.
49. Prowl the merchandise and watch the street performers at Maxwell Street Market.
Uncover "dinosaur" bones at the Chicago Children's Museum. Photo courtesy of the museum
50. Dig for dinosaur bones and climb the rigging of a tall ship at the Chicago Children's Museum on Navy Pier.
51. Squirm through a storytime or a singalong at much-loved early childhood play space and education center Bubbles Academy.
52. Erect a masterpiece with the other master builders at the Legoland Discovery Center.
53. Work the register and stock the shelves in the kid-sized market at the Kohl Children's Museum.
54. Gawk at the aerial acrobatics of the annual Chicago Air and Water Show.
55. See basketball greatness (or, at least, revisit the site of past greatness) at a Chicago Bulls game at United Center.
56. Bundle up to cheer yourself hoarse at a Chicago Blackhawks game.
57. Eat your fill of classic and up-and-coming Chicago dishes at the annual Taste of Chicago festival in Grant Park.
58. Shop, snack, and admire the performances and glowing decorations at the annual holiday Christkindlmarket at Daley Plaza.
59. Romp in the spray at the beautiful gateway sculpture at Mary Bartelme Park in the West Loop.
60. Spread out a blanket under the stars for an outdoor movie night at one of the summer family flick festivals screening at Navy Pier, Millennium Park, the Field Museum, or Gallagher Way.
61. Shake hands with Santa on the CTA's dazzling annual holiday trains.
62. Dig into a bucket of the "Chicago mix" at Garrett's popcorn: caramel and cheddar popcorn mixed together. Smells so wrong, tastes so right.
63. Gaze up at the famed Tiffany dome, then boogie down at one of the free Juicebox kids' concerts at the Chicago Cultural Center.
64. Go sledding in the forest preserve at Caldwell Woods, then roast your own marshmallows at the warming fire pit.
Enjoy baby (and parent) playtime at indoor play spaces, such as Hello Baby. Photo courtesy the play space
65. Work off the winter stir-crazies at one of these indoor play spaces.
66. Double up on spanakopita and tzatziki and dance to lively music performances at the annual Taste of Greektown festival.
67. Participate in the innovative monthly family programs at the always-free Smart Museum of Art.
68. Sway in the breeze on the suspension bridge in the children’s play garden at the Morton Arboretum.
69. At The Plant, see how a former meatpacking plant has been transformed into an ingenious indoor aquaponic farm.
70. Get hands-on with architecture at monthly family workshops at the Design Lab at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House.
71. Learn about how the original inhabitants of the Chicago area lived, ate, and worked in the teaching lodge at the Mitchell Museum of the American Indian.
72. Let little makers run wild in the creativity-packed aisles of American Science and Surplus.
73. Bring your binoculars for a walk through the Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary.
74. Spend a Saturday prowling for delicious treats, and colorful veggies and fruits at the Green City Market.
75. Support innovative arts education and local student theater by catching a show at Emerald City Theater.
76. Dance in the streets at the annual Barrio Arts Fest hosted by the National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts & Culture.
77. Dig into that good Midwestern soil at a volunteer day at Chicago’s City Farm, the city’s oldest sustainable farm.
78. Take a fall hike to admire the colors at the North Park Village Nature Center.
79. Hop on the best not-just-for-tourists ride in town, the Chicago Trolley.
81. Scoop up your new favorite book and hear kid-lit authors read at the annual Children’s Book Fair.
82. Splash down the waterslide at the Whealan Pool or jump into one of the city’s other sparkling community pools.
83. Kayak or paddleboard on Lake Michigan.
84. If the Lucent sculpture in the lobby of the John Hancock Center doesn't take your breath away, the view from 360 Chicago at the top of the building almost certainly will.
85. Where else would a national museum dedicated to pizza be located if not in Chicago?
Families contribute to a giant friendship bracelet with Claire Arctander at an MCA Family Day. Photo by Grace Needlman
86. There's always something new and exciting to see with kids at the Museum of Contemporary Art, which offers free family days the second Saturday of every month.
87. Do a little scarecrow-inspired song and dance with the Wizard of Oz inspired sculptures at Oz Park.
88. Have a family game night at Cat and Mouse Games.
89. Stand in the shadow of a million bucks at the Money Museum at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.
90. Jam with musicians from every folk tradition—from blues to Cajun to Veracruzano to traditional Irish—at the annual UC Folk Festival.
91. See a performance or participate in a workshop at the justly-beloved Muntu Dance Theater.
92. Snowshoe or cross-country ski at Northerly Island.
93. Ice skate under the glittering skyscrapers that surround the McCormick Tribune Ice Rink.
94. The cinnamon rolls at Ann Sather have been praised by everyone from local preschoolers to the Food Network, and for good reason.
95. Wander through the Garden of the Phoenix in Jackson Park, behind the Museum of Science and Industry.
96. Learn about African American inventors, founders, and creators—and do some creating of your own—at the always-inspiring Bronzeville Children's Museum.
97. Pick out a birthday present at the city's best independent toy store, Building Blocks Toys.
98. Stand shoulder-to-shoulder with practically everybody else in the City of Broad Shoulders for a glimpse of the Magnificent Mile Lights.
99. Try to catch the rainbows around the Buckingham Fountain.
100. Smile into your own upside-down reflection (and everybody else's) at the Bean, a.k.a. the Cloud Gate sculpture in Millennium Park.