Chicago has enough sights, sounds and photo opps for playing tourist, you never need to leave the city limits. But if you haven’t left it lately, now is the time to cross the border. Head north of Howard Street and discover a whole new world of family attractions to the north. Scroll to find your family’s new favorites.
Skokie Northshore Sculpture Park
Walk. Bike. Run. Skip. Gallop. However you make your way down this two-mile trail, you're sure to enjoy the sights. The paved path is lined with sculptures from artists across the world. If you want to know more about the eye candy, the park offers docent-led tours or you can download info online here.
Located along the east side of McCormick Blvd., between Dempster St. & Touhy Ave., Skokie; Admission is free; Online: sculpturepark.org
If your kids know how to use their indoor voices, you will get lost in the charms of this house of worship for followers of the Baha'i faith (it's open to the public for free, self-guided tours). The beautiful domed building was constructed in 1953 and designed by French Canadian Louis Bourgeois. It wows with architectural feats (check out the intricately carved stone pillars) and surrounding manicured gardens. Come for a performance of the a cappella Baha’i Choir or Young Voices of Unity Choir made up of singers ages 9-16.
100 Linden Ave., Wilmette; Admission is free; Online: bahai.us
Skokie Water Playground
If the ginormous bucket of 300 gallons of water that tilts down and drenches anyone in sight is any indication, this is one fun place. Splash on three water slides, a fully accessible sprayground, lap lanes and more. There's an onsite concession stand, if you need to refuel before heading back into the water or going down the street to the Adventure Mini Golf course.
4701 Oakton St., Skokie; Online: skokieparks.org
Robert Crown Community Center and Ice Complex
When the sun really beats down, grab your skates and hit the ice. The massive indoor rink keeps families busy with skating lessons and open skate, plus hockey and broomball (look for the drop-in game schedule posted online).
1701 Main St., Evanston; Online: cityofevanston.org
Treasures from floor to ceiling (original oil paintings, figurines and even a fake shark) keep little eyes flitting to and fro. Meanwhile, breakfast and favorites (Denver omelettes, granola bowls and Mexican specialties) keep bellies full. High chairs are on hand. Keep in mind: This spot is cash only.
1921 Central St., Evanston; Online: prairiejoes.com
The near North Shore has the pick of the crop when it comes to free-entry farmers markets. Every Saturday, the year-round Evanston Farmers Market bubbles over with seasonal fruits, veggies and flowers. You can also try a tamale or crepe, dance to live music, and learn how to make the most of your bounty at cooking or canning demos. Continue north on Saturday for the Wilmette French Market or visit the Skokie Farmers Market on Sunday.
Evanston Farmers Market is located at the intersection of University Place & Oak Ave. in warm months and at the Evanston Ecology Center, 2024 McCormick Blvd. during cold-weather months; Online: cityofevanston.org
Wilmette French Market is help April-November at 1200 Wilmette Ave.; Online: wilmette.com
Skokie Farmers Market is held June-October at 5127 Oakton Ave.; Online: skokie.org
This hidden-gem museum delights kids with hands-on exhibits about light, water, wind and more. Come wearing your thinking cap -- or just romp around. Attractions include a giant “light bright” peg board, musical instruments, and climbing tubes and tunnels that stretch two-and-a-half stories.
4701 Oakton St., Skokie; Online: skokieparks.org
Painting. Playdough. Puppets. That's just part of what you'll find at Evanston's art and play space when you drop-in for play Monday-Saturday. There is always an art project to tackle, or kids can draw on the giant magnetic chalkboard, fiddle at the train table, dress up in costumes, play grocery store and more. Parents are invited to relax and enjoy complimentary coffee or tea. In the back, there's a quiet room called the Nest for reading, nursing or napping with toys for younger kids, books and a LEGO table.
602 Davis St., Evanston; Online: gathereverywhere.com
Emily Oaks Nature Center
Slip away from the noise of the city. You'll see lush greenery, hear birds chirp and maybe even spot a deer at this leafy paradise. Before you explore, stop at the visitors center for an interactive preview of what's ahead and pick up a trail map. Kids ages six and older get a Trail Pack full of fun and educational activities to enjoy on their walk. There are plenty of picnic tables for snack breaks, so bring along a sack lunch.
4650 Brummel St., Skokie; Online: skokieparks.org
Maya Papaya & Tony Macarony
Maya and Tony are the monkey mascots of this bright, cheerful boutique. It's certainly fitting, because you'll go bananas when you see the nicely curated selection of clothes, accessories, shoes, toys and gifts for kids ages newborn to 10. With brands like Tea Collection, Appaman, Milk Barn, Blowfish and Hatley, you sure to find something for any occasion.
1901 Central St., Evanston; Online: maya-tony.com
Bent Fork Bakery
This family-owned bakery makes their goodies fresh daily, so hide your diet away for a day because their treats will make all your sweet dreams come true. While they don’t claim to be totally allergy-free, they do offer some gluten-free treats and even have a few vegan options on the menu for animal-friendly folks. Need a birthday cake? Ask for a custom-designed cake in the flavor of your choice, but make sure to place your order a few days in advance. Trust us, each bite will be worth the wait.
335 Waukegan Ave., Highwood; Online: thebentfork.com
North Shore Center For The Performing Arts
Youtheatre is a North Shore staple for kindergarten-12th graders, so if you haven’t brought the kids to one of their performances, run, don’t walk to a box office near you! They offer captivating one-hour productions which inspire creative learning opportunities that enhance Common Core standards and infuse empathy and imagination.
9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie; Online: northshorecenter.org
Hot Ground Gym
Instead of making kids drop and give them 20, Hot Ground Gym’s Junior Boots program, inspires kids grades K-8 through positive encouragement. Kids take part in fun and physically engaging missions that include activities like rope climbing, tire jumps, crawling, wall climbing or monkey bars. Looking for a new North Shore birthday party hotspot? Celebrate with an action-packed, 90-minute American Ninja Warrior-style birthday party.
Locations in Vernon Hills & Northbrook; Online: hotgroundgym.com
— Maria Chambers & Jen Peterson