This could be the funnest checklist you’ve ever had. Before your kids turn 10, here are a whopping 100 ways to entertain them in Chicago and nearby. It has essential city experiences. It has hidden gems. And it has tons of to-do’s that will find a special place in your heart. Dive into the list anywhere, and take your time — but not too much. The wonder years whiz by!
photo: The Field Museum
1. Visit Sue (world’s largest T. Rex) and meet the mummies (one of them still has teeth!) at The Field Museum.
2. See Mr. Singer perform a free musical story hour at Lincoln Park Zoo.
3. Get leaned at a 30-degree angle 1,000 feet above the city at TILT.
4. Fire up your imagination at a summer kids’ show at Chicago Shakespeare Theater.
5. See the real 1966, 1989 and 2005 Batmobiles at Volo Auto Museum in Volo, Illinois.
6. Devour a bowl of frozen custard from Scooter’s.
photo: Chicago Park District
7. Fly a kite on Cricket Hill at Montrose Harbor.
8. Jam out at a Concerts for Kids kindie rock show in the fall and winter at Beat Kitchen.
9. Book a party for your little movie lover and his or her closest friends at Facets Multimedia.
10. Gather berries at a U-Pick farm, like one from our story Berry Blast! U-Pick Farms Near Chicago.
11. Be a beach bum at a vacation town on the Michigan shoreline (aka: the other side of the pond).
12. Take the water taxi from downtown to Chinatown.
14. Shake, sing and be silly at a Wiggleworms music class.
15. Join up with a Kidical Mass bike ride and cruise Chicago’s residential streets.
16. Make like a tourist and blaze through downtown on a Chicago Trolley.
17. After going down the slide, wind down on the large fabric “grassy knoll” at Sod Room.
photo: Centennial Beach
18. Stroll the Naperville Riverwalk and stop to take a dip at Centennial Beach.
19. Ride the Demon at Six Flags Great America.
20. Scoot around a faux road on a ride-on car in Little Beans Cafe.
21. Snuggle up at interactive story time at Play toy store in Logan Square.
22. Tackle the mega slides at Adventure Playground at Blackberry Farm in Aurora.
23. Have a birthday party at Purple Monkey Cafe.
24. Hike Starved Rock State Park and snap a picture in front of a waterfall.
photo: Chicago White Sox
25. Run the bases at a Chicago White Sox Family Night.
26. Have a snack break at the milk and cookie bar at Heritage Littles.
27. Watch sharks dart overhead at the Wild Reef exhibit at Shedd Aquarium.
28. Run away and join the circus . . . or just watch family-owned and performed Circus in the Parks (that benefits the parks!).
29. Grab a swing seat at Molly’s Cupcakes and get a sugar high.
30. Build sandcastle at Oak Street Beach.
photo: Chicago Children’s Museum
31. Scoot around in the Kovler Family Climbing Schooner at Chicago Children’s Museum.
32. Walk the quiet woodland trails of North Park Village Nature Center.
33. Take a spin on Navy Pier’s new (in 2016) Centennial Wheel.
34. Go to a Broadway in Chicago show at a downtown theater.
35. Tiptoe through the hidden Shakespeare Garden at Northwestern University.
36. Order a rainbow cone (and take a selfie with it).
photo: Noah’s Ark in Wisconsin Dells
37. Get drenched at the water park capital of the world, Wisconsin Dells (and don’t miss Paul Bunyan’s for dinner).
38. Meet chefs and local farmers at Green City Market.
39. Take a youth improv class at The Second City.
40. Make your dream birthday gift list at Building Blocks Toy Shop.
41. Rope fake cattle at Donley’s Wild West Town in Union.
42. Have a blast after dark and shop Argyle Night Market in Uptown.
photo: Adler Planetarium
43. Gaze through a telescope on the terrace of Adler Planetarium.
44. Escape to Lake Geneva for the weekend and take the U.S. Mailboat Tour.
45. Play with the latest toys and kids’ gadgets at Chicago Toy & Game Fair.
46. Get sprayed with water at one of the many splash pads in the city and ‘burbs.
47. Use one of these awesome murals to increase your family selfie game.
48. Curl up with a book at Harold Washington Library.
photo: LEGOLAND Discovery Center
49. Go bonkers for bricks at LEGOLAND Discovery Center.
50. Unleash your inner thesbian at an acting class or camp at Emerald City Theatre.
51. Putt your way through 18 kitschy-fun mini golf holes at Haunted Trails in Burbank.
52. Take a soccer class at Lil’ Kickers.
53. Explore a natural paradise at Garfield Park Conservatory.
54. Wander through aisles of wacky science-experiment stuff at American Science & Surplus.
55. Learn a foreign language – coding! – at Codeverse, the world’s first fully interactive coding studio designed for kids ages 6-12
56. Bask in a Japanese-inspired paradise at Garden of the Phoenix in Jackson Park.
57. Get doused at Crown Fountain in Millennium Park.
58. Take the family out for a Chicago Fire soccer game or sign up for one of their camps.
59. Be a Miss Jamie From the Farm groupie and follow her around to Mariano’s stores and festivals (or book your own private show).
photo: Brookfield Zoo’s Hamill Family Wild Encounters via Maria Chambers
60. Feed the goats or play with the parakeets at Brookfield Zoo’s Hamill Family Wild Encounters.
61. Watch as hundreds of butterflies are released daily at Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum.
62. Have a family campout designed for the novice on Northerly Island.
63. Go indoor skydiving at iFly in Lincoln Park, Rosemont or Naperville.
64. Party like its 1499 at Bristol Renaissance Faire, just over the Wisconsin border.
65. Get tickets — better yet, a season pass — to shows at Chicago Children’s Theatre.
66. Sip bubble tea at Joy Yee in Chinatown, Evanston, Naperville or Tinley Park.
photo: Bellaboo’s by TK Photography
67. Drive to Indiana for the worth-the-trip Bellaboo’s play space.
68. Visit the smallest shop in the U.S. — The Popcorn Shop in Wheaton.
69. Be captivated at story hour with “The Storybook Mom,” Nili Yelin.
70. Explore one of the 17 permanent exhibits at Kohl Children’s Museum.
71. Go glamping in the Illinois wilderness.
72. Fight real fire on the firetruck ride at the old-school Santa’s Village Azoosement Park.
photo: Morton Arboretum
73. Run, climb and explore at the Children’s Garden at Morton Arboretum.
74. Inhale a stack of pancakes at Lulu Belle’s on Southport Avenue or in Franklin Park.
75. Get lost amongst the blooms at Chicago Botanic Garden.
76. Bike the Fox River Valley Trail, making sure to stop at Batavia, Geneva or St. Charles for postcard-perfect views.
77. Get artsy at Hyde Park Art Center.
78. Travel to Springfield for a lesson in President Lincoln history.
photo: Blue Man Group via ©Paul Kolnik
79. See the bald blue dudes drum, paint and surprise you at Blue Man Group.
80. Get fancy for family tea at The Peninsula Chicago.
81. Have a slimy, gooey good time doing experiments at Kids Science Labs.
82. Walk over the city and onto The Ledge at Skydeck Chicago (and dare yourself not to freak out).
83. Put on your suit and take a dip in a community pool.
84. Play frisbee golf at Oak Brook’s Central Park.
photo: Aurora Skate Center
85. Go roller skating under strobe lights at Aurora Skate Center.
86. Go green at one of these juice bars that’ll have the kids begging for their veggies.
87. Hit the indoor beach at Kid’s Island.
88. Eat a hot dog (hold the ketchup) from Superdawg Drive-In.
89. Race slot cars at Dads Slot Cars in Des Plaines.
90. Tour a farm and pet animals at Green Meadows Petting Farm.
photo: Waveland Bowl
91. Glow in the dark at cosmic bowling at Waveland Bowl.
92. Take a whirlwind tour of some of Chicago’s most iconic attractions by buying a CityPass.
93. Watch the old-fashioned flipping of the historic scoreboard at a Chicago Cubs game.
94. Spend time examining every detail in the Thorne Miniature Rooms at The Art Institute.
95. Chase down the Toasty Cheese grilled cheese truck for a mmm-worthy meal.
96. Learn dance from pros this fall at a family program at Hubbard Street Dance Chicago.
97. Eat chocolates — and watch them being made! — at Long Grove Confectionery.
98. Build your own robot at Robot City Workshop.
photo: Margie’s Candies
99. Partake in sugary goodness at the end-all-be-all of vintage ice cream shops, Margie’s Candies.
100. Take lots of pictures and seize the moment … again and again and again.
What do you want to add to the list? Let us know in the Comments!
— Maria Chambers & Kelly Aiglon