3, 2, 1 . . . summer break will be blasting off before you know it! But don’t fret, you still have quite a few opportunities to make the most of what’s left with good friends. From rugged watering holes to miniature trains, pack your calendar full with these destinations in the city and ‘burbs that are perfect for last-minute playdates.
photo: Morton Arboretum Origami in the Garden
1. Please kids of all ages — even the kid in you! — with a day spent in the wide open spaces and shady spots galore at everyone’s favorite Arboretum. Run through the mazes, conquer the gigantic tree house, hop from rock to rock in the creek, educate yourself in the Children’s Garden and snap pics of the Origami in the Garden temporary exhibit inspired by the Japanese art of paper folding. The Morton Arboretum, 4100 IL Rte 53, Lisle.
2. Stick to cheap and easy (but totally fun!) by taking a group stroll around everyone’s favorite free zoo with a view, Lincoln Park Zoo. The kiddos will be distracted with all the daily activities that involve everything from the birds to seals, while you catch up on adult talk. Lincoln Park Zoo, 2001 N. Clark St., Lincoln Park.
3. We’re taking you right back to Lincoln Park Zoo for a sing-a-long with Mr. Singer. Sway along with your pals to a joyful jamboree featuring animal songs and dances for wee ones on Wednesdays and Fridays, 9:15 a.m. and 10 a.m. (check schedule before you go for blackout dates). Every show features a kids’ choice and a grown-ups choice giving you the opportunity to request your favorite sing-along song. Lincoln Park Zoo, 2001 N. Clark St., Lincoln Park.
photo: Adler Planetarium’s Chasing Eclipses
4. There’s a pretty stellar event lurking right around the corner, and it’d make for an out-of-this-world playdate that will leave the kids talking for, well . . . forever. We promise you they won’t forget hanging with their friends at Adler Planetarium’s Chicago Eclipse Fest, August 21, to catch the first solar eclipse since 1979 (and the first to be visible from Chicago since 1925). Adler Planetarium, 1300 S. Lake Shore Dr., Museum Campus.
5. Chicago Botanic Garden is always hopping in the summer with non-stop activity. Cater to the train lovers by stopping by the Model Railroad Garden traversing the landscape until October 29. The exhibit features 18 garden-scale trains on 1,600 feet of track with vignettes of tiny people and animals that give it a storybook feel. While you’re there, stop by the Butterflies and Blooms exhibit on display until September 4. Immerse yourselves in a habitat filled with hundreds of winged beauties and pretty petals. You’ll find species native to South America, Asia, North America and Africa, as well as those native to Illinois. Chicago Botanic Garden, 1000 Lake Cook Rd., Glencoe.
photo: LEGOLAND® Discovery Center
6. Sneak into LEGOLAND® Discovery Center Chicago with your tiniest LEGO fans for Toddler Tuesdays, featuring educational activities. The Center opens the second floor early exclusively for toddlers and their parents. LEGOLAND Discovery Center Chicago, 601 N. Martingale Rd., Schaumburg.
7. Although we tried with our story Don’t Miss LUZIA: A Waking Dream of Mexico, we cannot even tell you how much fun the kids will have a Cirque du Soleil’s newest show, LUZIA. From the second you walk into the big top, you’ll be treated to grand visual surprises and breathtaking acrobatic performances. It’s only here thru September 4, so start gathering up your friends and go! Under the Grand Chapiteau at United Center, 1901 W. Madison St., Near West Side.
photo: Centennial Beach, Naperville
8. We (hopefully) still have quite a few toasty days ahead, so one of the easiest and quickest ideas for a social meet-up is to cruise over to your nearest splash pad. Bring a sack lunch and plenty of chit-chat topics and you have a recipe for an afternoon well spent. If you want to commit to a little more time, there’s some pretty sweet watering holes where you stretch out and soak up the sun for hours.
9. If a visit to the zoo leaves your kiddos wanting to snuggle with the big cats, it’s time to hit an urban farm where getting up close and personal with nature’s creatures isn’t just safe; it’s encouraged. Grab all your favorite wild (human) animals and hit up on of these petting zoos.
photo: Kings Bowl
10. Sometimes you just need a break from the rays, and those days are made for bowling! Kings Bowl offers all-you-can-play bowling, billiards and table games for $11.99 per person from open to 9 p.m. until September 4. For the littles, they offer bumpers and a cute plastic dino tail that helps aim their ball right down the center of the lane. Kings Bowl, 5505 Park Pl., Rosemont & 1500 N. Clybourn Ave., Lincoln Park.
11. It can be hard to find play spots dedicated to kids with special needs, but every Tuesday, 3 p.m.-6 p.m., Sky High Sports turns off the music, dims the lights and dials down the distractions for the comfort of their guests who need things a bit more quiet. Sky High Sports, 6424 Howard St., Niles & 2244 Corporate Lane, Naperville.
12. How about a playdate without the parents? Believe it or not, there are still quite a few summer camps with spaces available. Gather up all your kid’s favorite camping partners and sign-up for day camps or week-long camps to keep them cruising through summer with smiles.
13. Drop in at Firezone, where kids can be junior firefighters. All kids will have a chance to explore a fire truck, ambulance, rescue boat, slide down the fire pole and play in their new fire truck play land. Firezone, 1100 National Pkwy., Schaumburg.
14. Kick it old school by going on a late night playdate at Cascade, which has one of the nation’s largest outdoor movie screens. 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. Cascade Drive-In, 1100 E. North Ave., West Chicago.
photo: Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum
15. If you’re still struggling to fill your agenda, check out our story on reoccurring weekday activities that’ll help get those creative juices flowing.
Where’s your favorite spot to meet up with your squad for playdates? We’d love to hear your suggestions in the Comments below!
— Maria Chambers