Is there anything more special than a grandparent? We’re giving that a hands-down, NO! National Grandparents Day is Sunday, September 8, which gives us the nudge we need to show these wonderful folks just how special they are to our hearts. Read on for ideas to make this year’s celebration grand in ways both big and small.

Comb the Orchards for Apples

It's hard to believe, but apple picking season has arrived. Get the grandparents in on the sweet fun by visiting one of Chicagoland's u-pick apple orchards. Be sure to leave time to have chats over an apple cider donut. 

Plan a Day Built on Fun at Morton Arboretum

LEGO enthusiasts of every age will be dazzled as they search for 15 larger-than-life, nature-inspired sculptures throughout the Aboretum's exhibit Nature Connects Art with LEGO Bricks. See if you can spy a 7-foot-tall regal peacock, an eight-foot-long dragonfly with a wingspan to match and a monarch butterfly sitting on top of a milkweed plant. Be sure to stop by the play-and-stay area where kids can get creative with LEGO bricks. 

photo: Chicago Architecture Center

Geek Out on Architecture

It might sound completely touristy, but the 90-minute Architectural Boat Tour is hands-down one of the best activities in Chicago. Learn the fascinating stories behind more than 50 buildings along the Chicago River and how Chicago grew from a small settlement into one of the world's largest cities, as told by an expertly trained volunteer docent. If you can hang, we recommend taking one of the tours that will be cruising when the sun sets — it makes the ride extra magical. 

Pinkies Up for Tea Party

Grandparents are beyond swell. . . the really are! So, Taste Buds Kitchen invites kids to treat their grand-pals to a special Grandparents Day Tea (Sep. 8, 9 a.m.-10 a.m.) made completely from scratch — from the Strawberry Shortcakes with Hand-Whipped Cream to the freshy brewed Sun Tea. 

Take Them to a Show They'll Never Forget

You just can't live your life in Chicago and not see the Blue Man Group at least once. You just can't. So, bring grandma and grandpa along for a show they'll never forget and the kids will find totally engaging and a whole lot silly. They even have a show on Grandparents Day at 4 p.m.

photo: White Sox

Spend a Family Sunday with the Sox

Got a south-side baseball lover in the mix? The White Sox makes Sunday home games (Sep. 8, 1:10 p.m.) all about families. The ballpark experience will feature special kid-focused activities throughout the concourse and an opportunity to run the bases after games. 

photo: Midnight Circus in the Parks

Have Big Top Fun in the Park 

Chicago’s offbeat and totally entertaining circus, Midnight Circus in the Parks, takes its act on the road, performing in parks in all corners of the city. For Grandparents Day weekend, the troupe is bringing their high-wire acts, juggling, clowning and acrobatics to Foster Park. It’s all for a good cause, too: The tour raises money to improve public parks and playgrounds.

photo: Culver's

Snag a Free Sundae at Culver's

Beginning on Grandparents Day, 25 participating Chicagoland Culver’s restaurants are encouraging families to treat the “grand” in their life to a cool occasion, aptly named, Sundae Funday. For each sundae purchased, guests will receive a second sundae FREE for their grandparent. Grandparents and grandchildren can celebrate their “grand” connection by snapping a photo or capturing a sweet (or silly!) selfie at the designated life-size pop-up picture frame in each restaurant. Guests are encouraged to post their photo on Instagram with the hashtag #GrandparentsDayCulversWay and Culver's will donate $1 for every photo posted to Generations United.

photo: Chicago Botanic Garden

See the Trains at Chicago Botanic Garden

Experience the delightful 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. 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.

Play a Friendly Game of BINGO

The Schaumburg Park District is making the celebrating easy-peasy with a breakfast, following by BINGO, activities and a special keepsake to make and take home. This event is scheduled at the Community Recreation Center, Sep. 8, 9:30 a.m.-11:30 a.m.

Cruise with Grandma's Pup

Dogs on boats? Yes! If Grandma has a pooch, bring it along on Mercury's Canine Cruise (Sep. 8, 10:15 a.m.) for quality time cruising on Chicago's waterways. Sit back, relax and soak in the city as you enjoy a lively narration of Chicago’s rich history and architectural marvels with dog-friendly highlights.

Show the Love from a Distance

If the treasured elders in your life aren't near enough for a face-to-face, you can still honor them from afar. Just a few creative ideas include:

  • Conduct an interview of your grandparent — you'll likely be amazed by what you learn!
  • Help your child write an acrostic poem or funny madlib about Grandma and Grandpa.
  • Create and mail a piece of handprint art (because nobody loves those tiny fingers as much as the grandparents).

And, don't forget, simply dropping a thoughtful card in the post with a handwritten message always goes the distance.

— Maria Chambers