Hopefully, the weather gods will show some love and drop some sun on us this Labor Day weekend. Take advantage of this beautiful Chicago summer by living it up outdoors. Read on to find where to cool down, find toe-tapping fun under the sun, take the kids clubbing and more.

Beat the Heat at Ty Warner Park Spray Park

When a park is named after the king of the Beanie Babies empire, expect fun to be top priority. Watch the kiddies make a beeline for the soft-surface play area featuring water cannons, mushroom cap waterfalls, spraying anchors and dumping buckets. When they finally peel themselves away for a break, spread out snacks on the shaded picnic tables or, better yet, indulge in ice cream, pizza or corn dogs at the concession stand.

801 Blackhawk Dr., Westmont
Online: wpd4fun.org

To find more low-key splash pads to use as a cool-down read, Water, Water Everywhere! Spraygrounds to Drive You Wild.


photo: Troll Hunt via Maria Chambers

Hunt for GIANT Trolls

Something special has emerged from the woods, meadows and vast open spaces at The Morton Arboretum’s grounds. . . unusual creatures, each made of reclaimed wood and measuring 15- to 20-feet-tall. Danish artist Thomas Dambo and crews of woodworkers and volunteers constructed the mammoth mythical creatures of Troll Hunt, an exhibition on display through June 2020. Enjoy these guardians of the forest, who are trying to make sense of the human world and make us think about our impacts on the planet.

Morton Arboretum, 4100 IL-Rte 53, Lisle
Online: mortonarb.org

To learn more about the fun to be had at Morton Arboretum, read out story Go Troll Hunting (& More) at the Morton Arboretum.

photo: Chicago Dogs via Daniel Moczarski

Root for 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! They're in town to keep you entertained all weekend long. Kids can run the bases on Friday, Saturday brings a fireworks extravaganza in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, bring your favorite pooch along on Sunday and Monday is Fan Appreciation Day, so expect some pretty sweet programming.

Impact Field, 9850 Balmoral Ave., Rosemont
Online: thechicagodogs.com

photo: Chicago Botanic Garden

See Butterflies & Blooms (and Trains, too!)

This is your absolute last chance to see the Butterflies & Blooms temporary exhibit before it takes flight September 2. Visitors immerse themselves in a habitat filled with hundreds of winged beauties and pretty petals. You’ll find species native to South America, Asian, North America and Africa, as well as those native to Illinois.

If your littles prefer trains to winged creatures, take them to experience the delightful sights and sounds of miniature trains traversing high and low tunnels, across bridges and around buildings at the 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.

Chicago Botanic Garden, 1000 Lake Cook Rd., Glencoe
Online: chicagobotanic.org

Visit with Santa and Have a Blast at Santa's Village

Part nostalgic theme park and part petting zoo, this is a charming end-of-summer destination for little ones up to about age 8 — and especially adventuresome preschoolers. It's also Santa's summering destination, so be sure to meet up with him in his cozy cottage before he heads back to the North Pole to prep for the holidays.

601 Dundee Ave. East Dundee
Online: santasvillagedundee.com

To learn more about this holiday-inspired theme part, read our story Day Trip: Santa’s Village Azoosment Park.

Dig your Toes in the Sand at Three Oaks Recreation Area

With its pristine lakes, this paradise offers many amenities, including a beach, boat rentals, catch-and-release fishing, hiking/biking trails, a splash park with spray jets and buckets of water being poured from overhead, a playground with memory foam decking and scuba facility. Guests are welcome to bring their own food or enjoy a meal from the on-site Culver’s.

5517 Northwest Hwy., Crystal Lake
Online: crystallake.org

To find other local watering holes that make cooling off a little more rugged, read Take a Dip! Awesome Watering Holes Near Chicago.

photo: Starved Rock

Go Hiking at Starved Rock

No matter the age or abilities of your hiking buddies, Starved Rock is a uniquely beautiful destination that offers oodles of family fun. With just over 13 miles of well-marked trails to explore, fishing in the Illinois River and waterfalls in 14 of the 18 canyons, there’s enough to keep the family entertained for hours — or an entire weekend if you choose to bunk at the Starved Rock Lodge.

1010-1048 E. State Rte. 71, Ottawa
Online: starvedrockstatepark.org

For more spots to get your hike on, read Hiking Trails That Even Toddlers Will Love.

photo: Par-King

Go Clubbing at Par-King

Salute Lady Liberty and Mount Rushmore, take the elevator to the top of the Willis Tower, visit Humpty Dumpty and make it back home by bedtime. For putters over the 48-inch height requirement, Park-King is a mini golf lover’s dream, thanks to challenging and imaginative holes. Each hole is custom-made, hand painted and meticulously maintained. Once you’ve played through the 36 holes, stop by the arcade for video games, pinball and air hockey.

21711 Milwaukee Ave., Lincolnshire
Online: par-king.com

For more opportunities to chase that elusive hole-in-one, read Go Clubbing! Great Mini Golf Courses.

photo: African Festival of the Arts

Travel to Africa Via Chicago

The annual African Festival of the Arts kicks off on Labor Day weekend, Aug. 30-Sep. 2, giving Chicago kids the chance to taste, hear and dance to the African beat. A lively bazaar pops up in Washington Park, bringing the best of Africa to Chicago. You’ll find colorful, handcrafted artwork, vibrant musical performances and authentic, mouthwatering bites from countries across the continent. 

Washington Park, 5531 S. Martin Luther King Dr.
Online: aihafa.squarespace.com

photo: Midnight Circus in the Parks

Run Away and Join the Circus

Chicago's offbeat and totally entertaining circus takes its act on the road, this weekend performing in McKinley Park, Aug. 20-Sep. 1. The troupe does high-wire acts, juggling, clowning and acrobatics. It's all for a good cause: The tour raises money to improve public parks and playgrounds.

McKinley Park, 2210 W. Pershing Rd.
Online: midnightcircus.net

Get more info on Midnight Circus in the Parks by reading our story Run Away and Join Midnight Circus in the Parks.

photo: Maria Chambers

Have a Summer Camp-In at Great Wolf Lodge

Great Wolf Lodge is hosting their First Annual Summer Camp-In through Labor Day. Enjoy pool parties, barbecue buffets, stories around the fire, character breakfasts, and a s’mores dessert bar featuring three handcrafted s'mores creations, in addition to a build-your-own assortment made with artisanal marshmallows from acclaimed Brooklyn bakery, Whimsy & Spice.

1700 Nations Dr, Gurnee
Online: greatwolf.com

photo: Mercury Cruises

Take an Urban Adventure Cruise

Experience it all — Chicago's glorious skyscrapers, historic buildings and modern marvels — on Mercury, the Skyline Cruiseline's most popular tour, the Urban Adventure Cruise®! Relax and unwind on a scenic Chicago River boat tour and Lake Michigan cruise. You’ll enjoy lively narration and stories of Chicago's rich history as you take in the Willis Tower, Aon Center, John Hancock Building, Museum Campus, Marina City and more. It's fun for the whole family!

Mercury Cruises, 112 E. Wacker Dr., Loop
For other fun ways to enjoy the Chicago River, read our story Exciting Ways to Explore the Chicago River.

—Amy Bizzari & Maria Chambers


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