Don’t let the cold weather blues break your stride. Show winter what’s up with activities that’ll keep your family’s calendar full and cheesy smiles spread ear to ear. We challenge you to zip through the whole list before the spring flowers show their blooms.
photo: Grizzly Jack’s Resort
1. Get a taste of the tropics.
No need to dust off the luggage, you can engage in water play right here in Chicago . . . and you don’t even need to wait for the summer temps. These 6 indoor water parks will have you forgetting your nose hairs will freeze if you step outside.
2. Pretend you’re a Viking.
All aboard! Man a ship, plant a garden or play house in a traditional stuga (Swedish farmhouse). The Brunk Children’s Museum of Immigration within the Swedish American Museum Center caters to all ages, and celebrates the city’s Swedish history and culture with jam sessions, story time the 3rd Friday of every month and pancakes with Pippi Longstocking on March 11. 5211 N. Clark St., Andersonville (773-728-8111 or swedishamericanmuseum.org)
photo: Pleasant House Pub
3. Eat like Oliver Twist.
Pleasant House Pub’s handmade Royal Hand Pies are the ultimate hearty winter treats. Tuck into their nostalgic offerings like Steak and Ale, mushroom and kale, and cold pork pie as if you’re a character in a Charles Dickens novel. Of course the handmade sodas, scotch eggs and mash are also big hits at the kiddie table. 2119 S. Halsted, Pilsen (773-523-7437 or pleasanthousepub.com).
4. Get creative in an art workshop.
Lillstreet Art Center’s Kidstreet workshops are creativity-sparking and bonding opportunities for families. They frequently host events where adults and children work side-by-side to make themed crafts together, like bird houses and seder plates. 4401 N. Ravenswood St. (773-769-4226 or lillstreet.com).
5. Dunk marshmallows in hot chocolate.
We searched this city high and low for our favorite sweet spots for everyone’s most favorite winter drink — hot chocolate. From the gourmet to the blissfully simple, we made you quite the indulgent to-do list to help keep you toasty.
6. Go to market.
Let the goodies at Logan Square’s indoor farmer’s market (roasts, rutabagas, celery root, short ribs, bread, cider and apples) inspire your family’s Sunday dinner. Open Sundays through March 26, from 10 a.m. -3 p.m. 2755 N. Milwaukee Ave., Logan Square (773-489-3222 or logansquarefarmersmarket.org).
7. Hit the hill at Soldier Field.
Winter’s not complete without an epic afternoon of sledding. Test out the field’s manmade hill (featuring a 33-foot vertical drop and 220-foot-long path), which is the perfect backdrop for a family race come snow or sunshine (their snow machines are always on standby). Zip on plastic sleds while the skyline, lake and stadium provide ample eye candy. 1410 S Museum Campus Dr. (312-235-7000 or soldierfield.net).
8. Make a play date with nature.
Get a group together and head to Morton Arboretum’s Children’s Garden for a play date, free with admission. Now through March 31, you can even hunt for gnomes playing a bit of hide-and-seek and come back on the weekend to build them homes. 4100 Illinois Route 53 in Lisle (630-968-0074 or mortonarb.org).
9. Watch movies at an old-fashioned venue.
Lincoln Square’s Davis Theatre has a nostalgic, mom-and-pop feel and a colorful history. Formerly the Pershing Theatre, it was built in 1918 and although it went through a major renovation in 2016, it still maintained its vintage charm. This winter’s must-see family flick? The Lego Batman Movie, which opened February 10. 4614 N. Lincoln Ave. (773-784-0893 or davistheater.com).
photo: Heritage Littles
10. Belly up to a kiddie bar.
After testing out balance bikes and scooters, plop down in front of the milk and cookie bar at Heritage Littles. The shop’s pint-sized counter is just as inviting as that of the coffee bar next door at Heritage Bicycles, and includes a selection of cookies from Stephanie Izard’s Little Goat Diner. 2868 N. Lincoln Ave., Lakeview (773-299-8635 or heritagelittles.com).
11. Nosh on the best grilled cheese …ever.
The grilled mac ‘n’ cheese sandwich on Texas toast at Cheesie’s Pub + Grub will tempt even the most temperamental taste buds with a mixture of two popular favorites. If you’re angling for something spicier, try the sophisticated concoction, The Tradicion: chihuahua cheese, chorizo and fresh cut jalapeños on Texas toast. 958 W. Belmont Ave., Lakeview (773-388-1574), 1365 N. Milwaukee Ave., Wicker Park (773-698-7227) and 622 Davis St. in Evanston (847-868-8686 or cheesies.com).
12. Discover something wild.
Garfield Park Conservatory’s Wild Wednesdays promote animal exploration with its resident live animal expert, Scott Heinrichs. From 4-7 p.m. on two Wednesdays a month, kids can touch, explore and investigate animals and their habitats. Check their calendar for updates on animals guests. 300 N. Central Park Ave., Garfield Park (312-746-5100 or garfieldconservatory.org).
13. Make Fridays matter.
Make a date with your littles for a night of crafting and creativity during DuPage Children’s Museum’s Family Fun Friday Nights. You’ll be joined by community craftsman, scientists and artists who encourage tinkering. Whether making a book come to life or spending the night getting to know Leonardo Da Vinci, it’s always an evening well spent. Themes vary and include performances and special activities, too. 301 N. Washington St. in Naperville. (630-637-8000 or dupagechildrens.org).
14. Climb through the trees in an abstract playground.
Thaw out at the Lincoln Park Zoo’s free indoor climbing gym. A maze of 36 curvy wooden platforms encased in vinyl-coated steel cable, it’s truly a climbing phenomenon. Fun fact: The treetop gym was designed by architect/artist Tom Luckey, whose famous Luckey Climbers can be found all over the U.S. 2001 N. Clark St., Lincoln Park (312-742-2000 or lpzoo.org).
15. Go ice skating with a pretty sweet view.
Take a spin on the ice with a magnificent view at the McCormick Tribune Ice Rink in Millennium Park. Once again this year, the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events will present Winter Workouts with FREE skating lessons, ., one hour before the rink opens. Michigan Ave., between Washington & Madison Streets, Millennium Park (cityofchicago.org).
16. Once Upon a Castle at Chicago Children’s Museum
Join in Chicago Children’s Museum’s excitement as they introduce their latest temporary exhibit, Once Upon a Castle. This original exhibit invites young dreamers to create their own kingdom in a one-of-a-kind castle themed play space. Watch on as they explore a castle complete with secret tunnels, a rope bridge, tower, dungeon, throne room, wizard’s room, kitchen, feasting table, market and more. 700 E. Grand Ave., Navy Pier (chicagochildrensmuseum.org).
17. Take in a bit theater with the littles.
Celebrating first experiences, young Peter’s childhood adventures are told through shadow puppetry and movement for a visual feast in Emerald City Theatre’s 100th production, The Snowy Day and Other Stories! Enjoy the enchantment of a small child growing up in the big city experiencing a first snowfall, a first pet and a first crush. 2540 N. Lincoln Ave., Lincoln Park (emeraldcitytheatre.com).
Do you have anything to add to our list? Let us know in the Comments section below.
— Maria Chambers & Taryn Bickley