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 hunting trolls to cheering on dragon boats. Here are our top to-dos this summer with kids.
Human + Nature at Morton Arboretum
Five stunning sculptures created exclusively for Morton Arboretum by artist Daniel Popper rise above the natural landscapes in the Human + Nature exhibition. The 15- to 26-foot-tall sculptures are installed across the 1,700-acre site and lead guests to areas they may not otherwise explore. Using thought-provoking human forms paired with elements of nature, each piece will bring attention to the deep connections between humans and nature. More info.
Beat the Heat at a Local Splash Pad
Lazy days at the pool are a summer must. Even better? Raging days at splash pads. From neighborhood gems to all-out amusement park-style destinations, you and your tot will be happy to cool off without taking a dunk or forking over much moola. More details.
Play a Round of Mini 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.
Attend Navy Pier's Pride Fest
Honor Pride Month in person Jun. 26 at the People’s Pier at Navy Pier's annual Pride Fest. Celebrate equality, love and the LGBTQ+ community with a free daylong celebration that includes live musical performances. More details.
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.
Watch the Dragon Boat Race for Literacy
Experience 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. Held Aug. 28, the day typically includes live music and dance performances, kid's activities, vendors and special guests. More details.
See the Frida Kahlo Exhibit
Through Sep. 6, the Cleve Carney Art Gallery is hosting Frida Kahlo: Timeless, an exhibition center on the works of Frida Kahlo. Considered one of the greatest artists of her time, the 26-piece collection features work spanning Kahlo's career with a series of photographs detailing her life, interactive video presentations, a poetry garden and a children's activity area. It's a stunning exhibition full of heart and should not be missed! More details.
Pick (& Eat) Loads of Berries
Make your summer a whole lot sweeter by making the rounds at local u-pick berry farms. More details.
Compete in the Chicago Ducky Derby
Watch as more than 50,000 yellow rubber duckies splash their way into the Chicago River on Aug. 5 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.
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.
Take a Boat Tour
Take a break from watering holes and splash pads and add adventure to your water play this summer with help from Chicago boat tour companies. You’ll learn a bit of city and architectural history and take in a whole lotta gorgeous views cruising Lake Michigan and Chicago River. More details.
Hit Up a Hot Dog Stand
Love ’em or leave ’em, hot dogs are big in Chicago. And, if your kids haven’t begged for one yet, they will soon—and they get a pass on the sacrilege of using ketchup. Grab one at a legendary local spot and turn eating into an adventure. More details.
Get creative with hot dogs at home by reading our story 25 Totally Unique Hot Dog Recipes.
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.
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.
Have a Sleepover with Mother Nature
Take your family on a glamping trip where making memories is the only agenda. Lock arms with Mother Nature while you camp in style with special touches like cozy beds, stocked kitchens and even air conditioning. More details.
Gather ideas that'll impress the kids in our story 15 Ways to Up Your Backyard Camping Game.
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.
For other fun ideas for places to swim, read our story Take a Dip! Our Favorite Watering Holes Near Chicago
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.
Find out our most favorite places to get ice cream by reading our story Old-School Ice Cream Parlors to Grab Summer’s Go-To Treat
Participate in a Donut-Inspired Race
You read that right. Grab your donut-lovin’ friends and register for the 2021 Stan’s Donut Race held on Aug. 14! Join in for a 5K and Kids Dash at Montrose Harbor or participate virtually. More details.
Check Out Marvel: Universe of Super Heroes
The Museum of Science & Industry's Marvel: Universe of Super Heroes celebrates Marvel history with more than 300 artifacts, including original comic book pages, sculptures, interactive displays and costumes and props from Marvel's blockbuster films. Visitors to the Museum can learn about the origin of iconic characters such as Spider-Man, Black Panther, Hulk and Captain Marvel and see how they have evolved alongside society over the past 80 years. More details.
Play with Penguins at Shedd
Waddle on over to Shedd Aquarium for their 30-minute penguin encounter where you’ll get close enough to touch their sleek, slick feathers. You’ll also learn more about Shedd’s penguin population and even take part in a mini training session. More details.
Find the Chicago Park District's Fairy Houses
Starting June 25, the Chicago Park District is infusing a bit of magic into their Natural Areas through a series of enchanting Fairy Houses. Adventurous park-goers will be rewarded with the charm of these mythical wooden structures that are made with natural items like branches, plants, feathers and rocks. More details.
Thrill Seek at The Forge
The Forge: Lemont Quarries' 300-acre adventure park includes the largest aerial adventure course in North America and gives you access to four over-water ziplines, 5 miles of hiking trails, mountain biking, paddlesports, and a dedicated kids’ zone. This year, they've added family programming like movie nights, camps and biking classes. More details.
Pick Your Favorite Dino at Brookfield Zoo
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. Through Sep. 6, zoogoers will be able to search for these amazing life-like animatronics throughout the park. More details.
Spend a Day at the Ballpark with The Chicago Dogs
As of last season, there's a new baseball team in town and they're paying homage to Chicago's favorite street food, HOT DOGS! Catch a game with the family at the beautiful Impact Field in Rosemont. More details.
— Maria Chambers