The Best Things to Do In Chicago's River North and Gold Coast Neighborhoods with Kids
Whether you’re in town for a day or a week, there are plenty of things to do in River North and Gold Coast, two of Chicago's most-visited neighborhoods. Out of town visitors and Chicago locals looking for a fun family staycation, will find it all here. To help you plan the ultimate day or weekend in River North and the Gold Coast, we’ve rounded up our favorite things to do with kids in those neighborhoods. Plus, we have the most kid-friendly places to eat and stay in Chicago.
From amazing hotel pools and in-room ice cream service to shopping and sightseeing, this is your go-to guide to visiting River North and the Gold Coast with kids. Let’s get started planning your big Chicago trip.
If you want to venture into other Chicago neighhoods, check out our 100 Things To Do in Chicago with Kids post. For more neighborhood guides, day trip ideas, and things to do with kids, check out the Mommy Poppins Travel Section.
Things to Do with Kids in River North and Gold Coast, Chicago
1. Take an open-air bus along Michigan Avenue (aka Magnificent Mile)
Michigan Avenue in Chicago is also known as the Magnificent Mile. This mile-long stretch runs north to south from the Gold Coast down to River North. Along Michigan Avenue, you’ll find amazing window shopping and luxury brands, plus locals and tourists taking in the sites and skyscrapers. No matter what time of the year it is, there’s always fun and excitement happening on the Mag Mile.
Take an open-air bus ride along Michigan Avenue in the summer and see riverboats and beautiful Chicago landmarks. In the winter you’ll find the Mag Mile brightly lit and decorated for the holidays. You’ll find Water Tower Place, the 900 North Michigan Shops, The Shops at North Bridge, and the Apple Store along Michigan Avenue, just to name a few.
2. Have afternoon tea at the Drake Hotel
The Palm Court is located in the historic Drake Hotel on Michigan Avenue. Inside one of the most beautiful and iconic hotels in the city, you'll find a magical afternoon tea service. The Palm Court tea menu is recommended for children ages four through 12. Kids can sip on lemonade or tea while snacking on pastries, cookies, sandwiches, and other kid-friendly treats. The beautiful dining room alone is worth the trip. Your kids can sip tea where the Queen of England and Princess Diana once enjoyed tea themselves.
3. Take a tour boat through the Chicago River Walk
The Chicago Riverwalk is located in the heart of River North. You and the kids can stroll the walk, hop on a water taxi, or sit by the water for lunch or dinner. You’ll see amazing architecture, skyscrapers, and plenty of kayaks and tour boats in the summer months.
For older kids, there are also kayak rentals to paddle around the river with a guided tour. There are also tour boats available for kids of all ages to enjoy a little open-air cruise. Many have indoor sections for rainy and cold days as well.
Photo courtesy of The Magnificent Mile, Chicago.
4.Enjoy Navy Pier—inside or outside
Navy Pier is one of the most iconic spots in Chicago. The world-famous Ferris wheel runs daily, providing breathtaking views of the skyline and Lake Michigan. Navy Pier is also home to the Chicago Children’s Museum. This indoor museum is open year-round and provides hours of hands-on playtime for little ones. You’ll find additional seasonal rides, firework shows, holiday-themed events, restaurants, ice cream, and more at Navy Pier.
5. Shop and play at the American Girl Store
The American Girl store offers a one-of-a-kind shopping experience for doll lovers. These iconic dolls have a flagship location right on Michigan Avenue in Water Tower Place. No matter your child’s interest, there’s a doll, playset, or book for them at American Girl. Dolls are even welcome to eat at the restaurant along with the kids in miniature doll highchairs. There’s also a doll hospital and doll salon for dolls in need.
Photo courtesy of American Girl.
6. Go brick-crazy at the LEGO Store
The LEGO store is the ultimate experience for LEGO enthusiasts. Kids (and adults) can spend hours in the LEGO store building and exploring the LEGO sets on hand. You can grab your own LEGO pieces from the walls to build your own creations or buy an age-appropriate set for kids from 0-99. The LEGO store is also located in Water Tower Place adjacent to American Girl making them a great pair to visit together.
7. Bowling and bocce at Pinstripes
Pinstripes is located just east of Michigan Avenue. For some indoor fun that’s an easy walk from nearby hotels or Navy Pier, Pinstripes has it all. With their kid’s club, kids under 12 can enjoy lunch and bowling and bocce for $5 an hour. This is a great place to spend some time and have fun indoors on a rainy or cold day.
8. Have a beach vacation AND a city vacation
Lake Michigan provides endless free fun for children of all ages. Oak Street Beach is located in the Gold Coast adjacent to Water Tower Place. This public beach is free and open year-round. Lifeguards are on duty and waterside cafes are open from Memorial Day to Labor Day. This is an awesome place to swim, build a sandcastle, and see the beautiful skyline on the shores of Lake Michigan.
Photo of Oak Street Beach courtesy of the Four Seasons Hotel, Chicago.
Kid-Friendly Restaurants in River North, Chicago
River North is known for its restaurant scene. To help you with a few kid-friendly options, here are a few River North staples for dessert, breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Parlor Pizza features a crispy, thin, Napoleon-style pizza. Each pizza is 12-inches and serves 1-3 people. This is great for sharing and trying their different options. For picky eaters, they offer plain cheese and pepperoni pizza that everyone will crave.
In River North and the Gold Coast, you have some of the best cupcake options in the city. Cupcake specialty shops include Sweet Mandy B’s, Sprinkles, and Molly’s Cupcakes. Try them all on a sweet cupcake crawl.
Photo courtesy of Sweet Mandy B's, Chicago.
Breakfast is arguably the easiest meal to eat out with kids. At Yolk, you’ll find classic staples such as scrambled eggs, pancakes, waffles, and omelets.
Portillo’s is a part of Chicago's history. The famous landmark offers hot dogs, burgers, French fries, delicious shakes, and chocolate cake. If you’re looking for a quick and easy meal (with a drive-thru) head to the River North Portillo’s.
Kid-Friendly Hotels in River North, Chicago
Whether you’re visiting from out of town or looking to do a local Chicago staycation, River North and the Gold Coast provide amazing access to some of the best spots in the city. The hotels below are within walking distance of everything on this list. Best of all, they offer larger rooms and kid-friendly suites or amenities to make your vacation special for the kids (and easier on parents!).
The Four Seasons Hotel has some amazing kids’ packages and specials. In addition to the indoor pool, they also offer a welcome stuffed animal, and a Sammy the Skyscraper activity book for your little tourists to enjoy sightseeing. Add-ons also include a toy from their toy chest, and VIP access to the Shedd Aquarium, Field Museum, Navy Pier, and more. One of the most magical touches is the on-call ice cream cart that brings make-your-own sundaes directly to your room.
The on-call ice cream cart that brings make-your-own sundaes right to your room. Photo courtesy of the Four Seasons Hotel, Chicago.
Spring Hill Suites is a great option for families. Each room offers double beds, pull-out beds, crib delivery, mini-fridges, microwaves, and a wet bar. This is great for storing snacks, washing bottles, and keeping milk cold.
The Chicago Marriott downtown offers suites with separate bedrooms and full kitchens. These are great for larger families or extended stays. Rollaway beds and cribs are also available. They are conveniently located on Michigan Avenue within an easy walk to everything on this list.
Places featured in this article:
The Drake Hotel
Chicago River Walk
Oak Street Beach
SpringHill Suites Chicago
Four Seasons Hotel