Little known Chicago facts: spray paint and Twinkies were invented in Chicago, and our city features the only river in the world that flows backwards. Fun facts about this great city — with nearly three million residents — are plentiful, which makes exploring all the great Chicago kids activities so much fun. We’ve identified the top 100 best things to see, eat and do with kids in Chicago. Read on for our top picks.
photo: Sharon Mollerus via flickr
1. First up, internationally known points of interest that should be in every Chicagoan’s camera roll: get doused at Crown Fountain in Millennium Park and give a little wink and a wave at Cloud Gate (aka The Bean) while you’re at it.
2. If you’re brave enough, walk 4.3 feet into a glass box — The Ledge — at Skydeck Chicago, Sears Tower’s (or Willis Tower’s) heart-pumping attraction. Don’t forget to open your eyes!
3. See a Chicago Cubs game at Wrigley Field, one of the most iconic ballparks in America. Shoot for a Sunday afternoon game where kids have a chance to run the bases and giveaways are handed out at the gates. If you can’t score tickets, it’s worth a trip to see the renovations that have taken this area to the next level in terms of outside-of-the-ballpark entertainment.
4. Catch Thomas the Train when he makes his annual summertime visit to Chicago at the Illinois Railway Museum. Even when the famous train and his pal Percy aren’t in town, you can ride on a one-of-a-kind main line train, hop aboard an old-fashioned trolley coach or take a loop in a vintage street car.
5. Play old-school games like Skee-Ball and Bozo Buckets at Northbrook’s Nickel City where, you guessed it, games are a nickel.
6. Visit Brookfield Zoo for animal encounters, a large indoor playground, rare and exotic animal sightings and seasonal programming (think breakfasts with Santa and the Easter Bunny, holiday lights and fun after dark programming in the summer).
7. A morning spent at Skokie Exploritorium is a great way to get kids moving and learning through interactive play. Meet here for a play date with pals or bring along the grandparents.
8. Spin, twirl, hang upside down and give yourself permission to eat funnel cake at Six Flags Great America, perfect for all ages. Be sure to not only visit during summer, but for Fright Fest that happens mid-September though Halloween for a spooky good time.
9. It’s never too early to begin getting your baby comfy in the water and if you have an older toddler or school-aged kid, swim lessons are a fun way to learn water safety.
10. Did your kid just score an A on their report card? Watch your kid’s face light up when she receives ice cream for free after showing old-school-cool Margie’s Candies her grade.
11. If your kid has a need for speed, take them indoor skydiving in a vertical wind tunnel at iFLY. You’ll love the insta-worthy photos of your kids making super silly faces in wind suits and helmets and it’s an adventure that’s thrilling for the whole family.
12. Chicagoans love their sports (and their hot dogs), so it’s no surprise that Chicago added an American Association of Independent Professional Baseball team in 2018 paying homage to hot dogs: Chicago Dogs. The ballpark experience is a fun, low-key and approachable intro into the sport for kids.
13. Pop Quiz: Do Chicagoans like ketchup on their hot dogs? Find out at one of the city’s famous hot dog joints.
14. Walk around the grounds of an architectural marvel, the B’hai Temple in Wilmette and learn about the other six temples around the world by touring the basement museum (free and open to public).
15. Try out broomball, similar to hockey but you run instead of skate, or go ice skating indoors at Robert Crown Community Center and Ice Complex.
16. Costumed characters, period music, jousting tournaments, acrobatic and comedy acts, rides, games and food make Bristol Renaissance Faire a must-experience! And the dress-up fun isn’t just for the staff, join in by wearing your favorite Elizabethan-era England garb, or buy gear while you’re there.
17. Get out of the house and let your kids burn off energy at one of these amazing play spaces in Chicago, many of which offer coffee for bushed parents that need a perk-up.
18. The allegiances are split in town, but for a south side lover, a running of the bases at a Chicago White Sox Family Night is a pretty cool to-do.
19. Spend the night camping at the Lincoln Park Zoo and see behind-the-scenes after all of the day-time crowds have gone home.
20. Sun, rain, snow . . . whatever the weather brings you can still practice your swing at Topgolf, a perfect intro to the game for kids that are newbies to the sport.
21. Listen to music and laugh during the silences at a Blue Man Group show, hosted at Briar Street Theatre. Special birthday packages are available for groups of 10 or more.
22. Double up your Blue Man Group experience with a ride on the Centennial Wheel at Navy Pier, as they’ve teamed up for a special combo package available for purchase online. While you’re at Navy Pier, pop into the Chicago Children’s Museum, see the Crystal Gardens, watch a show at the IMAX theater and see boats galore of all sizes in the harbor.
23. Cruise 94-floors high at the Hancock Building and lean (squeal and maybe cry a little) 30-degrees over the city with 360 CHICAGO and TILT.
24. If your child loves to play “Doctor”, take her to the International Museum of Surgical Science where she can learn about medicine and medical equipment. Be sure to stop in the gift shop for unique gifts.
25. Out with old and in with the new, we say! Shop at Fashion Outlets of Chicago for a great selection and decent discounts on clothes for the kids in an area of Chicago that’s loaded with family focused fun. Take note, they always have one of the coolest setups for Santa photos.
26. Stay the night at Great Wolf Lodge for water park family bliss. If you want to keep your fins dry, you’ll find loads of options like highly addictive mini-bowling, 9 holes of mini-golf, a slightly terrifying ropes obstacle course, arcade games and the interactive MagiQuest game.
27. What parent hasn’t stepped on beloved little LEGO plastic bricks? Take the playtime out of your home and off your floors with a visit to LEGOLAND Discovery Center Chicago.
28. Learn outdoor skills like kayaking, wilderness First Aid, hiking, biking for beginners and camping basics for families with REI Co-op’s expert advice section on their website
29. Visit Door County, a short drive away, and have a little vacation with your family any time of the year that’s pre-technology-era kind of fun. Or, stay in Madison at the Edgewater for ice-skating and family-friendly programming.
30. Ignite that hockey passion so prevalent around these parts by taking the kids to see the Chicago Blackhawks or Chicago Wolves absolutely dominate the ice. Be sure to make it before the National Anthem is sung at a Hawks game . . . there’s nothing quite like it in sports.
31. Coding is a foreign language kids will have a leg-up knowing and Codeverse is making it approachable and fun for ages 6-13 with their proprietary KidScript language, state-of-the-art technology and flexible learning spaces that are oh-so cozy.
32. Being a kid is hard and having a kid is equally so, so destress alongside them with a day of beauty — a fresh haircut and style, manicure and pedicure, and even a mini facial can do wonders to unbundle those nerves.
33. Get messy and test your ideas at Kids Science Labs, a hands-on instructional program geared toward inspiring little scientists.
35. Fresh food is heavenly anytime of year and Green City Market never disappoints no matter the season with a great selection of produce, artisanal eats, cooking tips, yummy tastings and interesting demos. They even get the kids involved with Club Sprouts!
36. Kickstart a lifelong love of dinos with a visit with Sue and her new neighbor Maximo, a cast of the largest dinosaur ever found, at The Field Museum. Be sure to crawl down into the Underground Adventure where you’ll shrink to 1/100th of your size to get a bugs-eye view of the world.
37. Do you have a little shredder in your family that enjoys flying around on a skateboard? Slip on your safety gear and check out these local skate parks for your little ripper.
38. Walk through Amazon Rising, Caribbean Reef, Polar Play Zone, Waters of the World and other exhibits at the Shedd Aquarium. See a 4-D show, attend a diving session to learn about sharks and penguins that live at the aquarium, and see an aquatic presentation.
39. Horse and knight fans will no doubt love the fest and jest of Medieval Times.
40. Don your hiking shoes or boots and go outside, any time of year, to experience one of the many trails that are low key enough for toddlers at a State Park.
41. It’s big, it’s gorgeous, it’s ever-changing with the seasons and with rotating exhibits and activities, it’s never a bad day when you’re hugging trees at The Morton Arboretum. Take a walk along a well-groomed trail, visit the museum shop, and climb on the woodsy playground and treehouse in the children’s play area.
42. An colorful oasis in the heart of Lincoln Park, learn about a variety of plants — from near to far — at Lincoln Park Conservatory.
43. If you’re wrapped up in toy nostalgia and you want to share some of your childhood with your kids, visit Dad’s Slot Cars for old-school family fun.
44. Learn how to be fire safe and ready by visiting a local firehouse, sit in a fire truck,and discover how our Chicago heroes help to keep us protected.
45. Smell flowers, walk around greenhouses, breathe fresh air, and run around outside at the Chicago Botanic Gardens. There are a plethora of year-round events and exhibits to enjoy.
photo: Pixabay via pexels.com
46. Sometimes you just need to interact with and pet (maybe even hug) animals — it’s the cure-all for most woes. Take your kids to a petting zoo or farm and learn about how to care for gentle animals.
47. The Adventure Playground at Blackberry Farm in Aurora is designed to inspire natural play for kids in a charming farm-like environment, complete with rope swings and ride-on trains.
48. Nurture a love of books by visiting a local library. Many branches also offer games, passes for museums and toys to check out to keep the fun going at home.
49. Expose your kids to outside-of-the-box art at the Museum of Contemporary Art. The best part: kids under 12 can visit for free and they have loads of family events.
50. Bring binoculars, hiking sticks and a sense of adventure to Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary. Kids will love trying to spot songbirds throughout the 15-acre park.
51. Calling all American Ninja Warrior fans. Go through a mini obstacle course designed to challenge your kids at Windy City Ninjas and keep the good exercise vibes going at one of these other spots great for kid-sized workouts.
52. Work side-by-side on an art project with your mini artist at Lil Street Art Center.
53. Pack a lunch and spend the day at Independence Grove for time well spent in nature.
54. Leave the cooking for another night and opt instead for SafeHouse, Chicago’s super secret, spy-themed restaurant packed with Bond-like fun, food, missions and even a “spycial” menu for junior spies.
55. Visit the colorful Ed Paschke Art Center for free in Jefferson Park for an uncrowded and memorable museum experience.
56. Visit one of Chicago’s amazing hotels with a special focus on kids for a little staycation — Hotel Zachary, across from Wrigley Field is also a new and exciting location.
57. Venture out to Lake County and see a large collection of classic cars at Volo Auto Musuem. You’ll even notice a few cars from famous Hollywood movies.
58. See a show like never before in the innovative CMX Cinema. Relax in super comfy, oversized reclining chairs, while noshing on grab-and-go and made-to-order gourmet delights like pretzels, milkshakes, sandwiches, and pizza. For parents that want an adult only VIP dinner-and-a-movie experience, pop over to the CMX CinéBistro, offering a full menu.
59. Practice your bouldering and climbing skills at Brooklyn Boulders. Your kids will feel so proud of themselves when they master climbing techniques and make it to the top of a pitch.
60. Take your kids to see performance art at one of Chicago’s best playhouses. You’ll inspire your kids to learn more about the art and craft of large live productions at one of these family-friendly theaters across Chicago.
61. Flowers, trees and butterflies are the stars of the show at Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, open year-round. Be sure to go during the daily butterfly release for an extra magical experience.
62. Toss a ball down the lane at Waveland Bowl during their glow-in-the dark Cosmic Bowl and nosh on snacks in a casual family-friendly environment.
63. Learn new bedtime songs and relaxing movement routines at Old Town School of Music and explore our bucket list for Chicago babies.
64. Pretend you’re on a beach vacation without ever leaving Chicago by visiting one of these local hotspots where winter doesn’t exist.
65. Volunteer with Chicago’s Honeycomb Project, a non-profit volunteering aggregator for family-friendly volunteering opportunities around the city.
66. Tiny sandwiches delivered on tiered trays, mint chocolate tea, and fancy dining outfits are all the rage when it comes to having a special day out with mom. Indulge in afternoon tea at: The Four Seasons Hotel Chicago, Palmer House Hilton, The Peninsula Hotel, The Drake, or The Langham Hotel. Any one will do!
67. Fly around old school on quads and impress the kiddos when take your family roller skating. If you go on “Jam Night” at Aurora Skate Center, you’ll get to see skilled dancers show off their moves.
68. See beautiful and skilled dancers, as they lead you through stories via dance at Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. Kids as young as 18 months through 18 years of age can take classes with their Youth Dance Programs.
69. Stop at the historic Patio at Café Brauer, before visiting the Lincoln Park Zoo, for delicious bites. They are constantly hosting date night events, so check their website often for those updates.
70. Treat your kids to a sugar-heavy adventure at one of Chicago’s best candy shops. Don’t worry, we won’t tell if you buy some sweets for yourself, too.
71. Maggie Daley Park is arguably the best park in downtown Chicago. Kids can climb, swing and crawl on a massive playground, with panoramic views of the city in the background.
72. From big and bold to private and perfect for little ones, city to ‘burbs, Chicago has the best playgrounds for every age.
73. Try a mommy-and-me yoga class at Bloom Yoga Studio or Sweet Pea’s Studio and bond with your baby or toddler.
74. Head to Jake Melnick’s Corner Tap for finger food and sports entertainment or hit up one of these spots that deliver a side of kid entertainment.
75. For something truly special, treat your family to a view of Chicago’s skyline with Chicago Helicopter Experience. Your pilot will tell you interesting tidbits about what you’ll see along the coast of Lake Michigan and you’ll walk away with a deeper love of our city.
photo: sasint via Pixabay
76. When the heat of summer is blasting, take a cool down at a sprayground, free beach, cool watering hole or neighborhood pool (there’s even a few with pretty cool slides). And when winter starts to feel endless, pretend it away at an indoor water park.
78. Freak your kids out by showing them how people used to see movies by taking them to Cascade Drive-In, a nod to yesteryear in West Chicago.
79. Walk the streets of China Town for an experience like no other, which can even include a kid-squeal-inducing ride on the water taxi. Eat at any one of the authentic restaurants and take photos under the red gates.
80. Spend a fun day keeping score and triumphing over your kids at one of these mini golf courses around Chicagoland. Or, you can just let them win. (Nah!)
81. Walk or ride your bikes along The 606, an awesome elevated trail with sculptures and great views, connected to six neighborhood parks that mirrors the Highline in New York City. If you don’t have your own bike you can Divvy or let Four Star Family Cyclery loan you a ride.
82. For wiggly kids that just can’t sit still, introduce them to theater through improv shows that are designed to keep the interested and engaged.
83. Purchase a CityPass and enjoy entrance and discounts into Chicago’s top attractions: Shedd Aquarium, Skydeck Chicago, The Field Museum, Museum of Science and Industry, 360 Chicago and Adler Planetarium . . . all of which are must-dos for Chicagoans at least once.
84. Dance and sing at a concert for kids at Beat Kitchen. These musical matinee shows encourage kids to join in the fun, front row.
85. To instill a love of the culinary arts and new-food-trying, take your kids to a Little Diner’s Crew event, an avenue for teaching kids about where their food comes from, how it was prepared, what we can learn about its uses and encourage good restaurant habits.
86. Visit Garden of the Phoenix at Jackson Park, a south side Chicago gem. This Japanese-inspired garden will set the tone for a relaxing stroll through nature.
87. The Midwest might not be known for its light meals and juices, but Chicago actually has a number of healthy juice bars that will make you rethink those juice boxes in favor of the fresh stuff.
88. Pretend to be real-life heros at FireZone, which teaches kids about fire safety through play. Kids can see (and play) inside an ambulance and firetruck, practice running around with a real fire hose, and even dress up in little fire costumes.
89. Bring your camera, maybe even a real non-camera-phone one, and discover one of these colorful murals created by talented street artists throughout the city.
90. Watch your food be delivered by a train at The Choo-Choo, a favorite for birthday celebrations and free cupcakes with train whistles.
photo: ponce_photography via Pixabay
91. No midwest autumn is complete without a trip to an apple farm and we have you covered with our favorite spots for picking. Just don’t forget to leave room for those delicious apple cider donuts!
94. Listen to Chicago Blues music at River Roast and enjoy one of the best views of the Chicago River or check out one of these kid-approved restaurants.
95. When summer’s in town, keep tabs on our guide for the best street fests and make it a goal to hit up as many as possible.
96. The holidays are prime for tradition making, so how about adding cutting down your own Christmas tree at a local tree farm to the agenda?
97. Stroll through one of the many exhibits at the Museum of Science and Industry, where your kids will learn from in-house scientists through hands-on stations and immersive experiences.
98. Run away and join the circus . . . or just watch family-owned and performed Circus in the Parks (that benefits the parks!).
99. The award for the nation’s biggest collection of impressionist artwork goes to Chicago. Introduce your kids to the greats, like Claude Monet and Van Gogh, at The Art Institute of Chicago.
100. Chicago is great, for sure, but sometimes you gotta get out of the city. Lucky for us we have the Michigan shoreline, Wisconsin Dells, Indy and St. Louis all within driving distance to give us that scenery change-up we need.
— Wendy Altschuler