Boasting more than 7,500 acres of park, two well-respected conservatories and twenty-six miles of lakefront, Chicago is a cosmopolitan city with plenty of bucolic hideaways. With scores of museums and cultural attractions alongside a famed culinary scene and great sense of kid-culture, here are ten of the reasons why you might want to consider the Windy City for your next family getaway.
- Chicago Children’s Museum (Chicago, IL 60611) – Because there’s so much to do at the Chicago Children’s Museum, it might be wise to take advantage of the First Free Monday program, which allows kids under the age of fifteen free admission and extends the operation hours of the museum for the day. Budding scientists will get a kick out of the Inventing Lab, while dinosaur aficionados are sure to flip for the Dinosaur Expedition exhibit. Of the twenty-seven benches stationed inside the museum, only one plays music when you sit on it. Letting kids know in advance and presenting them with the challenge of finding it can make for an afternoon of fun all by itself!
- American Girl Place (Chicago, IL 60611) – Built around the universe created by the beloved American Girls books and dolls, American Girl Place is packed to the brim with accessories, clothing and memorabilia. There’s also a cafe, whose menu is heavy on the kid-friendly fare and features great desserts. Because the attractions within American Girl Place are in such high demand, it’s advised to make reservations for the theater and cafe well in advance.
- Shedd Aquarium (Chicago, IL 60603) – The Shedd Aquarium is the world’s largest indoor aquarium, also boasting an oceanarium that houses a variety of marine mammals. Coral reefs, sharks and a variety of other underwater marvels call the Shedd home, making it easy for your little ones to observe the wonders of the sea without a wetsuit.
- Museum of Science and Industry (Chicago, IL 60637) – Pretending to ride the Pioneer Zephyr 1933 train, taking a simulated tour through a coal mine and exploring a German U-505 Submarine are all adventures your child can have at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry. Be sure not to miss the Idea Factory and the ToyMaker 300, which are always a hit with the smaller set.
- Ukrainian Village Children’s Center (Chicago, IL 60622) – Kids between the ages of two and seven are welcomed at the Children’s Center, which offers a variety of arts and crafts activities throughout the day. While the Center does allow parents to drop older kids off for the day, they also welcome you to stay so that you can watch your little one have a creative blast.
- FireZone (Schaumburg, IL 60173) – Teaching kids about fire safety and satisfying the curiosity of youngsters that have a fixation on firefighters is the goal of FireZone, a themed center just outside of Chicago. Actual firefighters teach kids about how to prevent fire and how to stay safe if one occurs, but also bring kids aboard fire engines for exploration and direct them through firefighter activity stations.
- Lincoln Park Zoo (Chicago, IL 60614) – Lincoln Park Zoo, established in 1868, is one of the oldest zoological attractions in the country and a leader in community education and conservation. Perhaps best of all, you can visit Lincoln Park with your entire brood in tow for free!
- DuPage Children’s Museum (Naperville, IL 60540) – Three floors of artistic, scientific and mathematical exploration are packed with exhibits and interactive installations throughout the DuPage Children’s Museum. The Third Thursday program also encourages parents of autistic children to bring their youngsters to DuPage on the third Thursday of the month between five and seven in the evening for access augmentative communication devices and other resources.
- Garfield Park Conservatory (Chicago, IL 60624) – Aspiring artists will be overjoyed to find themselves inside a replica of Monet’s famed garden, while kids of all ages will have a blast in the Elizabeth Morse Genius Children’s Garden. Open year-round, this unique and exciting installation offers a completely interactive experience, encouraging young visitors to climb flower vines, peek inside mammoth seeds and help to pollinate a massive flower.
- Indian Boundary Park (Chicago, IL 60645) – If you find yourself and your children in need of a mellow afternoon for a bit of downtime, Indian Boundary’s lagoons, fountains, petting zoo and playgrounds may be just what the vacation doctor ordered. Because Indian Boundary is also a residency site for the Civic Orchestra of Chicago’s MusiCorps program, there are also free and family-friendly concerts offered onsite throughout the year.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a child that doesn’t adore pizza; thankfully, Chicago is renowned for their deep-dish style pies. After a long day of trekking through museums, parks and shops, make sure you stop off for at least one slice.