With all the activities going on, summer has a way of sucking your wallet dry. But it doesn’t have to! We compiled a list of fun things everyone in your clan can enjoy in and around Chicago for $25 or less. Some are free (museum days!) and others are very budget friendly ($9 water taxi rides!). Read on for the scoop on your big summer discount.
photo: Morton Arboretum via Maria Chambers
1. FREE: Take a Hike
There’s certainly no shortage of fun to be had in the urban jungle, but when you’re ready to stretch you legs and go in search of woodsy views and fresh air, check out our list of Hiking Trails Even Toddlers Will Love.
2. $10/adults, $5/kids: Kick It Old School at the Drive-In
Blow your kid’s minds. Park the car, sit in front of one of the nation’s largest outdoor movie screens and offer them a dose of yesteryear. One by one, drive-in theaters have disappeared in favor of their theater-style competitors. Cascade is still around, offering blockbuster double features under the stars. Bring your own food and charcoal to cook on one of the grills in the picnic area.
1100 E. North Ave., West Chicago
3. FREE: Musical Story Time with Mr. Singer at Lincoln Park Zoo
Kids love listening to this folky-fun music wiz sing whimsical songs and spin stories. Along the way, they’ll learn about everything from animals to the alphabet. Held at 9:15 a.m. and 10 a.m. every Wednesday and Friday at the Main Barn in Farm-in-the-Zoo. Visit the animals because the zoo is free, too! Pro tip: Parents can often find free parking on Stockton Drive, west of the zoo.
Wed. & Fri., 9:15 a.m. & 10 a.m.
Lincoln Park Zoo
2001 N. Clark St., Lincoln Park
photo: The Field Museum via Maria Chambers
4. FREE: Museum Days
Summer is the perfect time to explore Chicago’s amazing museums. See the stars at Adler Planetarium, meet new pre-historic residents at The Field Museum, explore three floors of play, discovery and imagination at Chicago Children’s Museum at Navy Pier, watch penguins waddle at Shedd Aquarium, dance with butterflies at Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum and peek in at the Thorne Miniature Rooms at the Art Institute of Chicago. Read our story Free & Discount Museum Days to Jot Down to hear about these free days and more.
5. FREE: Chicago’s public pools
Make a splash at one of the city’s many public pools from Holstein Park (2200 N. Oakley Ave.), with its zero-depth entry; to Washington Park (5531 S. Martin Luther King Dr.), with a water slide; to Portage Park (4100 N. Long Ave.), with awesome water playground. The complimentary admission makes cooling off twice as nice.
photo: Chicago Water Taxi
6. $9: Ride the Water Taxi to Chinatown
With the All-Day Access Pass, you can ride between Ogilive and Chinatown as many times as your nautical tot desires. Children 3 and under are free. When you dock at Ping Tom Park you can grab even more moments of bliss as your little ones explore the playground. Be sure to grab dim sum at Ming Hin Cuisine (2168 S. Archer Ave.).
Chicago Water Taxi
7. $5-10 per car: Relax at Independence Grove
Take a drive to one of Lake County’s forest preserves for a day of swimming, paddle boating (for an extra fee) and bike riding (rent or bring your own). A family friendly oasis includes an awesome playground filled with slides, swings, tunnel and climbing area.
16400 W. Buckley Rd., Libertyville
photo: Millennium Park Family Fun Festival
8. FREE: Family Fun Festival at Millennium Park
The daily activities (10 a.m. to 2 p.m.) provide endless entertainment for interaction-hungry kids. There’s something for everyone, from music to arts and crafts. On extra-hot days, head over to the Crown Fountain to splash around.
Held through Aug. 10
201 E. Randolph St., Millennium Park
9. FREE: Movies in the Park
Grab a blanket — and bring some popcorn — for a night of relaxing under the stars in front of a film. Spread over many city parks, these screenings give families an abundance of viewing options, from old school to recently released. Movies start at dusk. The fun lasts for hours.
Held at parks citywide through Sept. 14
10. $5: Thursday Family Nights at Morton Arboretum
Head to the Children’s Garden for after-hours fun with live music, kid-friendly fare and entertainment. Be sure to explore the Children’s Garden and Maze Garden.
Through Aug. 16
4100 IL Rte. 53, Lisle
photo: Pirates’ Cove
11. $12: Pirates’ Cove Children’s Theme Park
Ahoy, mateys! Pint-sized pirates love this manageable children’s theme park. Take a ride around on the restored 1950s carousel that only kids can ride. Grab a carpet and race your little one to the bottom of the slide known as the Pirate Plunge. Put on a brave face as you ride through a “safari” with stuffed elephants, tigers and snakes. Check the park’s calendar for themed days such as “Santa’s Summer Vacation” and “Happily Ever After Day.”
901 Leicester Rd., Elk Grove Village
12. $2 and up: Cold treats at Scoops
Nosh on a frozen banana or indulge in a Brownie Delight (vanilla ice cream, homemade brownie, hot fudge, whipped cream and nuts) at this yummy ice cream store. The menu item that will have young and old drooling? Ice cream served in chocolate dipped cones, adorned with the traditional summer decoration known as gummy bears.
608 W. 31st. St., Bridgeport
1159 W. Taylor St., Little Italy
13. $24.99: Santa’s Village Azoosment Park
Celebrate Christmas in July (or any summer month) as reindeer pull your family on Santa’s sleigh at this adorable amusement park. A kid-sized roller coaster, train ride, and Ferris wheel are just a few of the many pitch perfect rides. And a mini-zoo with goats, sheep and ducks put the “zoo” in Azoosment.
601 Dundee Ave., East Dundee
photo: Chicago Botanic Garden
14. $25 per car: Free activities at Chicago Botanic Garden
Head over to the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden where kids can learn about everything from where food comes from to how to compost with worms. Daily activities (10 a.m.-4 p.m.) change from week to week. Before or after, make sure to check out the roses and other flowers in bloom. If you’re more of a night owl, spend your Monday-Thursday summer nights in the Garden enjoying free concerts.
Held through Aug. 26 (daytime activities) and Sept. 3 (summer nights)
1000 Lake Cook Rd., Glencoe
15. $2: Play games at Nickel City
For $2 admission, plus a bag of nickels, kids test their skills on games like Fruit Ninja and Skee-ball. Nearly every game earns tickets that players can use to buy prizes like erasers and bouncy balls. After junior spends the bag of nickels, head to the back of the house to play 30 classic free games such as PAC-Man, Tetris, Mortal Combat and Track & Field.
555 Waukegan Rd., Northbrook
16. FREE: Fireworks at Navy Pier
Keep the kids up just a tad later on Wednesday and Saturdays to catch the fireworks show at Navy Pier.
600 E. Grand Ave., Streeterville
— Maria Chambers & Kelly Haramis