Smile. Play. Repeat. Good — you’ve got the basics of a perfect summer. Now add a few highlights to your warm-weather bucket list. It’s prime time to explore all that Chicago and the surrounding area has to offer, from soaking up beaches to cheering on dragon boats and hunting trolls. Here are our top to-dos this summer with kids.
1. Troll take-over at Morton Arboretum. Seek and find the 15- to 20-foot-tall guardians of the forest constructed from reclaimed wood hiding in the woods, meadows and vast open spaces. More details.
2. Join in on Nickelodeon’s giant party. Nickelodeon is making the world a more playful place, by bringing you SlimeFest—part music fest, part slime party, this celeb-packed festival is like no other. Be on the lookout for 2020 dates. More details.
3. Play a round of miniature golf. Mini golf. Putt-putt. Goofy golf. Adventure golf. Shorties. No matter what you call it, you have a blast playing it. Most of Chicago’s mini golf courses are pure, kitschy fun and are only open for a limited time each year. So grab a short pencil and head to one of our city and suburban favorites. More details.
4. Sing along with Mr. Singer. Sway along to a joyful jamboree featuring animal songs and dances for wee ones on Wed. & Fri all summer long. Every show features a kids’ choice and a grown-ups’ choice giving you the opportunity to request your favorite sing-along song. More details.
5. Hike a trail even toddlers will love. You could hang out in the urban jungle all summer and never run out of family fun. But how about adding fresh air, unforgettable scenery and a chance to spy on animals in their natural habitat? More details.
6. Beat the heat at your local splash pad. Lazy days at the pool are a summer must. Even better? Raging days at splash pads. Some we’ve uncovered are neighborhood gems while others are all-out amusement park-style destinations. Either way, you and your tot will be happy to cool off without taking a dunk or forking over much moola. More details.
7. Attend a fest dedicated to the great outdoors. Outside Experience, an unprecedented two-day event for outdoor enthusiasts of all skill levels and ages is taking place at the McCormick Place, May 16 & 17. This festival will showcase new products and interactive demos and attendees will test gear, enjoy films and live music and sip craft whiskey and beer—all in a festive, family-friendly, indoor/outdoor environment. More details.
8. Staycation in one of the best cities in the world. Summer is not the time to be heading out of town, as it’s the best time to be a Chicagoan. But sometimes a break from your own four walls is needed and we found hotels with great kid-centric amenities. More details.
9. Feel the summer air at Gallagher Way’s outdoor movie night. Gallagher Way has teamed up with Music Box Theatre to hand-select a schedule of nostalgic, free outdoor movies that runs the middle of May to the end of September as part of their summer programming series. More details.
10. Watch the Dragon Boat Race for Literacy. Watch a traditional Chinese Dragon Boat Race (for free) as 30 boats head down the Chicago River from Ping Tom Memorial Park. The roots of this ancient competition date back more than 2,000 years. This year’s date hasn’t been announced yet, but will includeslive music and dance performances, kid’s activities, booth vendors and special guests. More details.
11. Pick (and eat!) loads of berries. Make your summer a whole lot sweeter by making the rounds at local u-pick berry farms. More details.
12. Participate in a donut 5K. You read that right. Not only do you receive a donut at the finish line, but this race scheduled for sometime in August (keep checking website for updates) also has two donut stations handing out mini donuts along the 5k route, which you can choose to walk or run. More details.
13. Go retro at your local skating rink. Chicago has a rich roller skating history rooted in the James Brown “JB” style, known for elaborate footwork. It’s also the birthplace of roller derby. While rinks are few and far between, you can still get your glide on at select retro-fun spots that have stood the test of time. More details.
photo: Chicago Botanic’s Kite Festival
14. Fly a kite at Chicago Botanic Garden’s Kite Festival. Let your kite dance, have the kids participate in kite-making workshops and watch professional stunt-kite performances set to music at this annual high-flying event, Aug. 8 & 9. More details.
15. Party at the annual Pride in the Park. Held Jun. 27 & 28, Pride in the Park invites families to a massive party featuring national headliners that will be announced as summer approaches. More details.
16. Take a spin, ride the slides and climb the walls at Maggie Daley Park. Grab the scooters and rollerblades because it’s time to take a spin on the Ribbon—without the ice! The slides are abundant, the rock climbing walls soar to staggering heights and the wide open spaces are begging for a visit. More details.
17. See Humans+Nature. Five massive outdoor sculptures created exclusively for The Morton Arboretum by artist Daniel Popper will rise above its natural landscapes when the new Human+Nature exhibition opens on Jun. 12. Using thought-provoking human forms paired with elements of nature, each piece will bring attention to the deep connections between humans and nature. More details.
18. See an iconic Chicago Blue Man Group show. See the bald blue dudes drum, paint and surprise you at an always-exciting Blue Man Group show. More details.
19. Go wild at Brookfield Zoo’s Summer Nights. After a day visiting lions, tigers and bears, families can wind down with music, magic and juggling acts on the zoo’s east mall in this kid-friendly event, Friday and Saturdays, Jun.-Aug. More details.
20. Take advantage of summer festivals. Grab the sunnies and sunscreen—festival season has begun and we have the scoop on the outdoor parties both kids and parents will love. Have a blast with art, cars, animals and folk music. . . and that’s just the start! More details.
21. Shake your groove thing at Live on the Lake. Head to the Miller Lite Beer Garden at Navy Pier for free live music and dancing all summer long. More details.
22. Be amazed by Navy Pier’s fireworks. . . again and again. Keep the kids up a tad later on Wednesdays and Saturdays this summer to experience the fireworks display synchronized to music at Navy Pier. More details.
23. Delight in Model Railroad Garden: Landmarks of America. Experience the sights and sounds of miniature trains traversing high and low tunnels, across bridges and around buildings at the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Model Railroad Garden. More details.
24. Look down on our city. Walk over the city and onto The Ledge at Skydeck Chicago (and dare yourself not to freak out). More details.
25. Bike the 606. Chicago’s 606 biking trail stands on a former elevated train line. Connecting six neighborhood parks at ground level with numerous art installations along the route, the 606 gives kids a sweet (rooftop) view of the city. More details.
26. Dance the night away at Rockin’ in the Park. Parkway Bank Park celebrates summer with a free summer concert series. The weekly Thursday night concerts feature cover band music, food and beverage tents on the park’s great lawn and a musical fireworks display after every show. More details.
27. On your mark. Get set. Race! Walk-race-run season is here, and it’s not just grownups that can sprint to the finish line. From Chicago to the ‘burbs, you’ll find a whole host of fun runs that welcome the entire family. More details.
28. Party like its 1499 at the Bristol Renaissance Faire. This full-on homage to Elizabethan England—complete with costumed characters, period music, jousting tournaments, acrobatic and comedy acts, rides, games and food—is an outdoor village set back from the highway near the Illinois/Wisconsin border. More details.
29. Spend your summer evenings at Chicago Botanic Garden. Pack a dinner or dine at the Garden Grill or new Rose Terrace Beer Garden and be treated to live music every Monday-Thursday evening this summer. More details.
30. Hear local talent at Café Brauer. Experience the best in local music, beer and food in the landmark setting of the Patio at Café Brauer, located at the zoo’s picturesque Nature Boardwalk. More details.
31. Dabble in different activities with Pearachute. Encourage your little multi-taskers to try a range of activities and summer camps at some of the top kids’ classes in Chicago with Pearachute, the one-stop solution for fun. More details.
32. Jump for Music Free Mondays at Airtastic. Start your week off with jumps at Airtastic’s Music Free Mondays. They turn off the music to remove extra noise that can be bothersome for some children. More details.
33. Meander through the North Shore 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. More details.
34. Check out the Art on theMart. Merchandise Mart’s Art on theMart is the world’s largest digital art projection, appearing on the Mart’s nearly three-acre exterior facade. More details.
35. Shop the Wicker Park Farmers Market. Wicker Park Farmers Market is back for their 19th season with live acoustic music and plastic-free vendors, every Sunday, Jun.-Oct. More details.
36. Step inside an iconic Chicago bridge. This one of a kind museum takes you inside a Chicago drawbridge, where you’ll have the chance to see firsthand all the large and small gears that so elegantly lift our city’s bridges. More details.
37. Play the day away at Lucky Strike Social. Lucky Strike Entertainment debuted its latest creation, Lucky Strike Social at Wrigleyville, with sweet views of Wrigley Field. This 30,000-square-foot social space features 100 electronic gaming systems, ping pong and pool tables, air hockey, board games, a very addictive basketball Connect Four and more. More details.
38. Make it a superhero summer with Water Flicks. Water Flicks returns to the Lake Stage in Polk Bros Park every Monday from Jul. 6-Aug. 24. This year, bring your blankets and lawn chairs as the Pier presents kid-favorites like The Lion King, Frozen 2 and Coco. More details.
39. Welcome Altitude Trampoline Park. Altitude Trampoline Park, a cutting-edge trampoline playspace and activity center has moved into West Fulton Market, making it Chicago’s first-and-only trampoline park. Hit them up when you want a temp-controlled escape with your stir-crazy crew. More details.
40. Load up the calendar with summer camps. Preserve your summer sanity and leave the camp counselor’ing to someone else by taking advantage of one of the many camps we’ve found. More details.
41. Ride Maxx Force Roller Coaster at Six Flags. Oh boy! Six Flags got a whole lot more exciting last summer with the unveiling of the fastest launch roller coaster in North America, reaching speeds of 78 miles per hour in under two seconds. This incredible record-breaker features the fastest inversion and tallest double inversion of any other coaster in the world. More details.
42. Make like a tourist and TILT. Get ready for a thrill and head to 360 Chicago’s Observation Deck and TILT, 1,000 feet above the ground, at a 30-degree angle over the city. More details.
43. Complete in the Chicago Ducky Derby. Watch as more than 50,000 yellow rubber duckies splash their way into the Chicago River in August (check website for date to be announced) from the Columbus Drive bridge, raising money for Special Olympics Illinois. Put a duck in the game by adopting your own for only $5. More details.
44. Hail a water taxi. Shoreline Water Taxis are a cheap, convenient and fun mode of city transport. Travel via the Chicago River to Chinatown, Navy Pier the Museum Campus, Willis Tower, Michigan Avenue and Union Station while feeling the wind whipping through your hair. More details.
45. Set a playdate with Wiggleworms at Gallagher Way. As if you needed a reason to check out Gallagher Way, now Old Town School of Folk Music’s acclaimed Wiggleworms program is making it an absolute must-go. Start your Tuesday mornings with the catchy tunes and tons of fun that’s synonymous with Wiggleworms. More details.
46. Romp on a Chinatown playground. Ping Tom Memorial Park is a 12-acre park located in Chinatown, along the Chicago River, making for a stunning green space with outstanding river views. The Asian-inspired landscaping and structures make for a more interesting park experience and the playground contains elements to keep all kids amused. More details.
47. Rope fake cattle at Onesti’s Wild West Town. Your little buckaroo would love to meet a real cowboy (why else would he spend playtime chasing bad guys and roping imaginary cattle?). Skip the flight to Wyoming and do the next best thing: spend a day at Onesti’s Wild West Town. More details.
48. Get happily drenched at Wisconsin Dells. Pack the kids in the car, set out on a short three-hour road trip, and see for yourself why Wisconsin Dells has been touted as one of the Midwest’s best-rated vacation hot spots. More details.
49. Watch a movie under the stars. The mother of all outdoor film events is put on by Chicago Park District and spreads across your favorite green spaces, from Wicker Park to Adams Playground Park. Best of all, it’s free! More details.
50. Celebrate a love for music at Make Music Chicago. The International Music Foundation is proud to present Make Music Chicago on Jun. 21, a free, citywide, DIY celebration of the musician in us all. Make Music Chicago is open to every kind of musician and will feature performances and participatory events, across various locations in neighborhoods throughout Chicago. More details.
51. Make a splash at Raging Waves. Splish, Splash! Illinois’ largest waterpark dedicated to family fun for all ages, Raging Waves, has kicked off its 12th season. They invite locals and travelers alike to soak up the best moments of summer, with princess sing-a-longs, hands-on experiences with reptiles and tumbling troupes a-plenty, through September 2. More details.
52. Go on a lightening-fast cruise. It’s fast and furious aboard the 75-minute Seadog, which jets off from Navy Pier, speeds along the lakefront, then zips down the Chicago River. The fast-paced excitement makes it the most kid-friendly architectural cruise of all. More details.
53. Take a spin on Navy Pier’s Ferris Wheel. Get a birds-eye view of Chicago on Navy Pier Ferris Wheel! Among the top six tallest Ferris wheels in the United States, this ride features closed, air-conditioned gondolas that are perfect for taking a quick break from summer’s swelter. More details.
54. Tour the Baha’i Temple. 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). More details.
55. Build sandcastles at Ohio Street Beach. Located near Navy Pier, this right-sized kid-friendly beach provides the perfect atmosphere for a family outing. More details.
56. Discover the magic of the Original Rainbow Cone. The colors of the rainbow never tasted so good with five flavors in one scoop (chocolate, strawberry, Palmer House vanilla with cherries and walnuts, pistachio and orange sherbet). If you celebrate a summer birthday, check out the Rainbow ice cream cake. More details.
57. Revel in Butterflies and Blooms. Fill your summer days with butterflies and blooms at Chicago Botanic Garden’s temporary exhibit where visitors can immerse themselves in a habitat filled with hundreds of winged beauties and pretty petals. More details.
58. Try the New Slide at Raging Waves. Raging Waves is treating Chicagoans to a brand new experience at their already tricked out waterpark. Aussie Mat Dash is a six-lane mat racing waterslide on which six riders race side-by-side in tunnels to the bottom. More details.
59. Catch a Cubs, Sox or Chicago Dogs game. Root, root for one of your hometown baseball teams either at Guaranteed Rate Field, Wrigley Field or the all-new Impact Field. It’s that simple. For Cubs info, click here. For White Sox info, click here. For Chicago Dogs info, click here.
60. Grab an over-the-top treat from Jo Jo’s Milk Bar. JoJo’s Milk Bar brings River North a nostalgic take on creative desserts and a reimagined and elevated take on classic diner fare. Along with deliciously whimsical desserts, you’ll find tongue-in-cheek decor including a lifesize Lite Brite wall, Got Milk mural and more. More details.
61. Cool off at Centennial Beach in Naperville. Although it’s technically a quarry, it feels like one big pool with a zero-depth entry, water slide and diving boards. The sandy beach is a fun place to build sandcastles and the concession stand provides an easy refueling option—or you can bring your own grub. More details.
62. Enter the littles into a Kids Obstacle Challange. Kids Obstacle Challenge is an adventure and obstacle course race series featuring fun and challenging obstacles and mud, scheduled for Jul. 25 & 26. Their mission is to inspire and challenge kids, and forge family bonds, through obstacles and adventure. More details.
63. See Brookfield Zoo’s temporary Dinos Everywhere. Nearly 45 animatronic dinosaurs that are BIGGER and BADDER than any dinos you’ve ever met are visiting Brookfield Zoo. Dinos Everywhere features acres of earth-shakers, including the largest—argentinosaurus—that was estimated to measure more than 100 feet in length and weigh up to 110 tons. From May 2- Sept. 27, zoogoers will be able to search for these amazing life-like animatronics throughout the park. More details.
64. Have an adult-only night Jazzin’ at the Shedd. Live jazz lives at Shedd every Wednesday! As the sun goes down and the music heats up, relax with a drink on the breezy terrace and listen to a festival-worthy lineup. Dates to be announced! More details.
65. Visit Sky High on Special Needs Day. Every Tuesday, Sky High Sports turns off the music, dims the lights and dials down the distractions for the comfort of their guests. More details.
66. Attend the Water Lantern Festival. This magical night include food, games, activities, vendors, music and the beauty of thousands of lanterns adorned with your letters of love, hope and dreams reflected upon the water. More details.
67. Run away and join the circus . . . or just watch family-owned and performed Midnight Circus in the Parks (that benefits the parks!). More details.
68. See the real 1966, 1989 and 2005 Batmobiles. Does your kid go crazy for cars? An hour northwest of Chicago, Volo Auto Museum is a draw for car nuts of all ages. More details.
— Maria Chambers