Keeping a family entertained can deflate the wallet rather quickly. Teach the family the value of a dollar by exploring the free—or incredibly cheap—activities that Chicago has to offer. Our top picks add up to a whole wealth of fun. Plus, it’s easy on your pocketbook. You can thank us later.


photo: Todd Rosenberg Photography

Lincoln Park Zoo

It’s full of creatures big and small, it has the perfect lakeside address with gobs of family activities and restaurants all around it, it’s gorgeous . . . and, it’s FREE! What’s not to love about Lincoln Park Zoo? Plan a day spent at the zoo visiting hundreds of animals from around the world, including critically endangered species and species that are extinct in the wild. Reservations are required! (2400 N. Cannon Dr., Lincoln Park)



photo: National Museum of Mexican Art

National Museum of Mexican Art

See a colorful new world unfold at the free-admission National Museum of Mexican Art. The 10,000-piece permanent collection spans ancient Mexico to the present day, and is one of the largest in the country. (1852 W. 19th St., Pilsen)

COVID-19 INFO: During the Covid-19 crisis, the National Museum of Mexican Art is closed, but has compiled a list of their favorite activities to enjoy at home, including coloring pages, word searches, and even a tutorial on how to make papel picado


Cloud Gate

Pretend you're a tourist and visit Cloud Gate, aka The Bean. (201 E. Randolph, Loop)

Baha'i Temple

The beautiful domed building of the Baha'i Temple was constructed in 1953 and designed by French Canadian Louis Bourgeois. Just a stroll around the outside wows with architectural feats (check out the intricately carved stone pillars) and surrounding manicured gardens. (100 Linden Ave., Wilmette)

Ping Tom Memorial Park

Expose kids to another culture in their own city with a walk through Chinatown. Visit Chinatown Gate, Nine Dragon Wall and Ping Tom Memorial Park, and end the trip with a stop at Legend Tasty House for rolled ice cream.


Chicago Public Libraries

Typically we'd tell you to spend as much time as possible at Chicago's Public Libraries because of the educational toys, engaging activities and interactive atmospheres, but right now, it's a get-in and get-out situation. Most are open, except those too small to allow for social distancing. Pay your local library a visit and bring home a stack of books to hibernate with as the weather chills.

Chicago Public Libraries has a FAQ page that covers what to expect (and expectations) during a COVID-times visit and an online resource page with activities targeting kids.


Nickel City

Five cents doesn’t go far these days, which is why Northbrook’s Nickel City is so refreshing. Games like Skee-Ball and Bozo Buckets take nickels instead of tokens and old-school arcade staples like Pac-Man and Mortal Kombat operate for free. (555 Waukegan Rd., Northbrook)


A Chicago-Themed Scavenger Hunt

Show your kids the coolness of their hometown with a Chicago-themed scavenger hunt. You'll stroll down the Chicago River to see moveable bridges (or perhaps just do a drive-by if the weather is nippy), find the Picasso installation at Daley Plaza, and intro the kids to a Chicago-style hot dog

— Maria Chambers & Wendy Altschuler


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