Smile. Play. Repeat. Good — you’ve got the basics down. Now add a few more highlights to your summer bucket list. It’s prime time to explore all that Chicago and the surrounding area has to offer, from soaking up beaches to cheering on dragon boats to tooling around with LEGOs. Here are our top 25 things to do this summer with kids.
1. Watch a movie at Cascade Drive-In.
Turn your radio dial to 88.5, and re-live the glory days of drive-ins with the kids. Open Friday, Saturday and Sunday, tickets are $10/adults; $5/ages 5-11; free for kids under 5. As for snacks, you can head over to the concession stand, or cook your own food on the barbecue grill (BYO charcoal) at the picnic area. (1100 E. North Ave., West Chicago, cascadedrivein.com)
2. Take a spin and climb the walls at Maggie Daley Park.
Grab the scooters and rollerblades because it’s time to take a spin on the Ribbon — without the ice! The rock climbing walls soars to a height of 40 feet over a total surface area of 19,000 square feet. The wall is divided into beginner and advanced walls with three different types of climbing: bouldering, lead-harnessed and top rope. (337 E. Randolph St. , chicagoparkdistrict.com)
4. Ride a pony at Patch 22 in Wadsworth.
Experience life on the farm and ride a pony ($10 for a 20-minute ride). Only open on Sundays (open from 10 a.m.-4 p.m.) in the summer, make sure to visiting the petting farm that includes goats, sheep, rabbits, ducks, pigs and donkeys. (15900 Kelly Rd., Wadsworth, patch22.biz)
5. Beat the heat at Adams Playground Park.
Cool off at Adams’ fun water jungle gym with slide, splash pad and playground. Bonus: There are bathrooms at the nearby field house. (1919 N. Seminary Ave., chicagoparkdistrict.com )
6. Join the fun in Chinatown at the Dragon Boat Race for Literacy.
Watch a traditional Chinese Dragon Boat Race (for free) as 30 boats head down the Chicago River from Ping Tom Memorial Park (300 W. 19th St.) on June 24. The roots of this ancient competition date back more than 2,000 years. This year’s event includes live music and dance performances, kids’ activities, booth vendors and special guests. For more information, check out chicagochinatown.org.
7. Build sandcastles at Ohio Street Beach.
Located near Navy Pier, this right-sized kid-friendly beach provides the perfect atmosphere for a family outing. (Ohio Street & Lake Shore Drive, cpdbeaches.com)
8. Discover the magic of the Original Rainbow Cone.
The colors of the rainbow never tasted so good with five flavors in one scoop (chocolate, strawberry, Palmer House vanilla with cherries and walnuts, pistachio and orange sherbet). If you celebrate a summer birthday, check out the Rainbow ice cream cake. (9233 S. Western Ave. , rainbowcone.com)
9. Cool off at Centennial Beach in Naperville.
Although it’s technically a quarry, it feels like one big pool with a zero-depth entry, water slide and diving boards. The sandy beach is a fun place to build sandcastles. There’s a concession stand or you can bring your own food. (320 W. Jackson Ave., Naperville, centennialbeach.org)
10. Play a round at Par-King Miniature Golf.
Take your kids to see the Statue of Liberty and Willis Tower at the same time at Par-King. (They’re replicas, of course … but who cares?!) The miniature golf course offers a whimsical journey with everything from elephants to Humpty Dumpty. Due to moving obstacle courses, children must be at least 4 feet to play. (21711 Milwaukee Ave., Lincolnshire, par-king.com)
11. Pick berries at Pick at Garden Patch Farms.
With more than 4,000 apple, peach, pear, and plum fruit trees — plus strawberry and raspberry vines — kids will have plenty of options to store in their red wagon or basket. The farm also sells eggs, honey and organic meat. (14158 W. 159th St., Homer Glen, pickthefarm.com)
12. Fly a kite at Chicago Botanic Garden’s Kite Festival.
Fly your own kite or watch professional stunt-kite performances set to music at this annual event Aug. 12 & 13. Plus, kite-making workshops for the kids. (1000 Lake Cook Rd., Glencoe , chicagobotanic.org)
13. Spend your Summer Nights at Brookfield Zoo.
After a day of visiting African lions, Amur tigers and polar bears at the zoo, families can wind down with music or magic or juggling acts on the zoo’s east mall in this kid-friendly event. (8400 W. 31st St., Brookfield, brookfieldzoo.org)
14. Skate at Orbit Skate Center.
When rain is in the forecast, take shelter at Orbit Skate. Tiny Tot Saturdays help skaters under 10 with a mini-lesson to learn the rules of the rink. (615 S. Consumers Ave., Palatine , orbitskate.net )
15. Bike the Drive.
Lake Shore Drive is one of the most fantastic expressways in the world. Once a year, the cars are brushed aside for bikes at the annual Bike the Drive (May 28), one of the best bike rides in the nation and an excellent way to kick off summer. If your family likes to bike, this is a can’t-miss summer event. You can start biking as early as 5:30 a.m., during which time LSD will be closed to cars. Bikers then have five hours, until 10:15 a.m., to tear up the fast lane. For more info or to register visit bikethedrive.org.
16. Take Summer Brick by Brick.
The Museum of Science and Industry’s temporary exhibit, Brick by Brick, is a must a visit if you have LEGO-lovers in your family. The exhibit features a collection of more than a dozen amazing LEGO-built structures, all constructed by LEGO Certified Professional and Chicago native, Adam Reed Tucker, including a 60-foot-long Golden Gate Bridge; the Hoover Dam, made with 42,000 bricks; and a 12-foot-tall Burj Khalifa. Visit msichicago.org for pre-purchase (avoid the line!) and additional museum information.
17. Travel Back in Time to the Jurassic Age.
Just in time for the upcoming release of the next installment of the Jurassic World series, Chicago’s very own Field Museum, will be hosting Jurassic World: The Exhibition. Set to open May 26, this groundbreaking, interactive exhibition promises to immerse visitors in the sights and sounds of Jurassic World, minus the pesky possibility of getting trapped in the jaws of a dinosaur. The exhibit’s dynamic, robotic dinos offer the closest simulation of dinosaurs this side of the Mesozoic.
18. Celebrate Sunday Funday 94 stories above the city.
94 stories above the city of Chicago, at the tippy top of the iconic John Hancock building, the 360 CHICAGO Observation Deck offers a soaring bird’s-eye view of the city. Plan your visit on a Sunday Funday this summer and you’ll enjoy half price admission for kids from 9 a.m.–4 p.m., plus kid-friendly entertainment from 1 p.m.– 3 p.m., featuring Myster AJ’s magic and storytelling led by Super Epic Story Time.
19. Bike the 606.
Chicago’s newest biking trail stands on a former elevated train line. Connecting six neighborhood parks at ground level with numerous art installations along the route, the 606 gives kids a new (rooftop) view of the city.
20. Do Division.
Division Street in Wicker Park is one of Chicago’s hippest sidewalk stretch, perfect for a summer afternoon of exploring. Start your trek at Building Blocks Toy Store, a fab independent toy store packed with kid-tested toys. Steps away, One Strange Bird features an awesome selection of cool coloring books and stickers, in addition to unique handmade gifts. Nando Milano is a must-visit for spectacular. authentic (and kid-friendly!) Italian fare, served sidewalk-side. End your visit to this awesome avenue with a stop at A Baker’s Tale, an Alice in Wonderland inspired bakery.
21. Catch a Magic Carpet Ride with Disney’s Aladdin!
Aladdin will be soaring on his magic carpet all summer long at the historic Cadillac Theatre, thanks to Broadway in Chicago’s latest production, Disney’s Aladdin. Expect plenty of thrills and magical effects set to an unbeatable score. Reserve your tix at broadwayinchicago.com.
22. Go Fish
River Park, located on the Chicago River, near Foster Avenue, is one of the best fishing spots in the city. You’ll need an Illinois fishing license, which you can obtain online before you go. (5100 N. Francisco Ave., chicagoparkdistrict.com)
23. Strike a Pose with the Animals.
Take a moment to exercise your body and imagination with your little one at a parent and toddler drop-in yoga class hosted every Thursday, all summer long, at the Lincoln Park Zoo. You’ll twist and stretch yourselves into fun animal yoga poses, set off on an oh-so-zen guided nature exploration, read a storybook and more.
24. Go on a Lightening-fast Cruise.
It’s fast and furious aboard the 75-minute Seadog, which jets off from Navy Pier, speeds along the lakefront, then zips down the Chicago River. The fast-paced excitement makes it the most kid-friendly architectural cruise of all. Little ones love this bright red and yellow speedboat, which usually has dogs on board (bring your pet along!) and funny guides. Parents appreciate learning more about Chicago’s most famous riverfront buildings, including the Tribune Building, Willis Tower, Lyric Opera and Merchandise Mart.
25. Take a Whirl on Chicago’s Newest Ferris Wheel.
Take a whirl on the Navy Pier Ferris Wheel! Among the top six tallest Ferris wheels in the United States, this new ride features closed, air conditioned gondolas that seat up to eight adults and two children and a maximum load of 414 passengers at once. An in-gondola entertainment system with interactive video screens will play interesting facts during the ride.
What’s on YOUR bucket list this summer? Let us know in the Comments!
— Amy Bizzari