The Museum Campus. The White Sox. Streets with numbers instead of names. This springs to mind when thinking about the South Loop. Well, we’ve got another highlight to add to the list: a goldmine of family attractions. Historically a dicey and undeveloped area, this fast-growing nabe is full of hidden gems and original activities. Venture with your little ones south of Congress to these spots and see how fun the South Side can be.
photo: courtesy of Chicago Park District
Chicago Women’s Park and Garden
Pack extra snacks and diapers; you’ll easily spend the whole day at this local favorite. Tucked away in the historic Prairie Avenue District, it flooks like an English garden with its manicured green space, fountain, sculptures and winding paths. Speaking of history, the Clarke House Museum, Chicago’s oldest building built in 1836, sits in a corner of the park. Buy tickets to tour the preserved home, or let your kids romp in the pint-sized playhouse outside. Its three levels house the Vietnam Veteran’s Art Museum; eats and treats at Café Society; fitness studios and park district classes; and a free drop-in play area complete with a climbing wall, jungle gym and toys.
1801 S. Indiana Ave.
photo: Kids Science Labs by Tiia Norsym Photography
Kids Science Labs
Looking for intellectual STEM-ulation? Register your science and tech-lover for a free 60-75 minute trial class at Kids Science Labs. The popular Lincoln Park establishment opened a second location in the Women’s Park fieldhouse, where classes fill up fast. As they should, since kids get to do awesome things like take apart an iPhone or build a solar-powered light saber. After your trial class, purchase packs of 10, 20 or 30 classes; parents and tots explore hands-on fun, and older kids dive into scientific fundamentals along with food science, green technology and design. Check out the sample class descriptions and summer camp topics — there’s everything from chemical explosions or biomedical engineering to fruit smashing. In the name of science, of course.
1801 S. Indiana Ave.
photo: courtesy of Sod Room
Sure, a neighborhood can claim to be family friendly, but we all know it’s only legit if a play café is close by. Sod Room delivers above and beyond, transforming an industrial loft space into a sun-drenched play area full of ecofriendly toys and responsibly crafted materials. Designed by local artist Jennifer Talbot, Sod Room has magazine-worthy whimsy. Sip complimentary coffee or tea and browse the boutique of adorable gifts; or register for breastfeeding clinics, Spanish or Chinese classes, and baby sign language sessions. Check the calendar for special events, too, since a free Mom’s Night Out will pop up here and there.
1454 S. Michigan Ave.
Admission: $6/0-6 months, $12/child, siblings $8
photo: Bongo Room via Lu H on Yelp
Chocolate tower French toast for them; banana tiramisu pancakes for you. What’s not to love? Indulge everyone’s inner foodie here, where original brunch dishes have a cult following. The menu doesn’t show any kid-specific dishes, but your sidekick will want whatever’s on your plate, anyway. Make it a special destination before or after a trip to the Museum Campus, but go on a weekday, since the no-reservation policy makes weekend waits a challenge with kids in tow.
1152 S. Wabash St.
photo: courtesy of Sherwood Community Music School
Sherwood Community Music School
Now when you brag that Junior is a genius, you can back up your claims by telling friends he goes to college. Okay, technically it’s a music class at Columbia College’s Sherwood community music school, but why fuss over details? The littlest music lovers and their parents attend “music together” classes, and budding prodigies as young as three can receive Suzuki training in cello, violin or piano. Tons of classes for older kids include guitar, voice and more to grow a lifelong love for music.
1312 S. Michigan Ave.
photo: Glessner House Museum’s Facebook page
Glessner House Museum
How often can you say that you’ve camped out in the backyard of a National Historic Landmark? The Glessner House is one of few remaining 19th century mansions on the street where Marshall Field and other Chicago magnates lived, and it hosts family campouts on three Fridays in the summer (June 27, July 18, August 8). The price ($25/family of three or more) includes snacks, kids’ drinks and breakfast. Come back for Terrific Tuesdays throughout the summer for craft sessions with a historic tie-in, like hand-blocked wallpaper or painted floor cloths ($5/child). Check the events calendar for year-round ticketed events like candlelight Christmas tours, not-so-scary Halloween parties, and Mother’s Day tea in the same dining room where Dvorak and Rachmaninoff dined as guests.
1800 S. Prairie Ave.
Tours are $10/adults; $6/children 5-12; under 5 free & every Wednesday is free
photo: courtesy of City of Chicago
Museum Campus: Shedd Aquarium, The Field Museum, Adler Planetarium
Naturally, the museum trifecta is a must-visit. Remember to check out a museum passport from a Chicago public library for free admission for four. But there are plenty of reasons to visit the area without stepping foot into a museum: the rolling hills behind the Shedd are perfect for picnicking and viewing Navy Pier fireworks. 12th Street Beach, right next to Adler, is a full day of lollygagging just waiting to happen. And when winter returns, families flock to the 220-foot-long sledding hill outside Soldier Field.
photo: Harold Washington Library via B.L. on Yelp
Harold Washington Library
Duck into this literary oasis to escape the hustle and bustle of the Loop. The children’s area is separate from the rest of the library, so rest easy while letting your little one explore. The newly revamped Chicago Public Library website makes it easy to check for events, classes and story times. Don’t miss the Winter Garden on the ninth floor; its gorgeous glass ceilings and windows are a sight to behold.
400 S. State St.
Admission is free
TIPS FOR YOUR VISIT
Getting There by Public Transportation
The El train takes you to various points in the South Loop. Exit at Harold Washington Library (on the Pink, Orange & Brown lines) for easy access to the Library and Sherwood Music School. If you’re visiting Glessner House Museum or other points of interest in the Prairie Avenue Historic District, catch the #2 King Drive or #4 Cottage Grove bus from Michigan Avenue. Ride the bus southbound to the southwest corner of Michigan Avenue and 18th Street, and walk a few minutes east.
You can usually find metered parking along Michigan Avenue. If you’re headed to Kids Science Labs, the Womens Park & Gardens, or anything on that campus, try the parking lot (fees apply) on Indiana Avenue, directly west from Clark House Museum. Parking is not allowed on Prairie Avenue.
Accessing the Museum Campus
There is no El train that will take you directly here. However you can grab the eastbound 130 CTA bus from Roosevelt & Michigan or Roosevelt & State. It will take you to the entrance of The Field Museum. The Museum Campus also offers abundant parking in the Soldier Field parking lot.
What is your favorite thing to do in the South Loop? Let us know in the Comments!
— Selena Kohng