This could be the most big-on-fun 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!
1. Visit Sue, the world’s largest T. Rex, and Máximo, a cast of the largest dinosaur ever found at The Field Museum. Read our story Have a Bug Encounter, Plus 13 Other Reasons to Visit The Field Museum to hear about these famous dinos and more.
3. Get leaned at a 30-degree angle 1,000 feet above the city at TILT.
4. Fire up your imagination at a 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 that’s made right before your eyes at Scooter’s.
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. Jump yourself into exhaustion at Altitude Trampoline Park, Chicago’s first and only trampoline playspace and activity center.
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).
14. Shake, sing and be silly at a Wiggleworms music class.
15. Have hands-on fun at Kohl Children’s Museum’s newest exhibit Nature Cat: Backyard and Beyond modeled after episodes that encourage kids to learn about their natural environment.
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.
18. Stroll the Naperville Riverwalk and stop to take a dip at Centennial Beach.
19. Appease your need for speed 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.
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.
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 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).
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.
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).
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.
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. Get your scream on with these low key thrills and chills.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
— Maria Chambers & Kelly Aiglon