Chicago events and attractions are never short on fun. And when we say fun for the whole family, we mean it. Whether you’re here to explore one of our world-class museums, discover your favorite deep-dish pizza joint or enjoy a night at the theater, there are endless options to keep your family entertained with these kid-friendly itinerary suggestions.
Free and open year-round, Millennium Park is another favorite for families. In the summer, kids can splash around in the shallow pool of Crown Fountain — and get soaked as water pours from the spouts of the modern “gargoyles.” Springtime is perfect for doing a self-guided tour of Lurie Garden, especially when scoping out birds, worms, dragonflies and bees using their nature hunt scavenger worksheet. In the winter, skate under the twinkling lights of downtown on the McCormick Tribune Ice Rink. And no matter the season, crawl under “The Bean” and make faces in the reflective surface of the stainless steel sculpture formally known as Cloud Gate.
Iconic Navy Pier will undoubtedly make your must-see list. With rides including a 150-foot Ferris wheel, an old fashioned Wave Swinger, and a whimsical 1920s inspired Musical Carousel at Pier Park — as well as restaurants, summer fireworks, sightseeing cruises, Segway tours and an IMAX theatre — it’s no surprise the Pier remains a top Midwest tourist destination for all ages.
With more than 40 museums that engage and enlighten, you’re sure to find a museum that sparks your interest. On Chicago’s Museum Campus you can walk from the bottom of the sea at the Shedd Aquarium up to the moon at the Adler Planetarium. Then meet Sue — the world's largest, most complete, and best-preserved T. rex — on display at the Field Museum. For science buffs, the Museum of Science and Industry is hard to top. It’s the largest science museum in the Western Hemisphere.
For art aficionados, check out the largest collection of Impressionist works outside of the Louvre at the renowned Art Institute of Chicago. From the Thorne Miniature Rooms to specially-made audio tours, the museum brings the world of art to their level. In addition to free admission to their Ryan Education Center, which boasts special events, interactive workshops and family programs, the Art Institute offers free admission for children under age 14.
For moms and dads looking to explore exhibits at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, consider the Stroller Tours on the first Wednesday of each month. The guided walk packs an hour of education for the adult while being mindful of the babies in tow.
And for the youngest tykes, play and learn with interactive exhibits built just for them at the Chicago Children's Museum. Whether baby, toddler or preschooler – curious young learners can stretch out, crawl and use 360°their senses throughout interactive exhibits such as WaterWays, BIG Backyard and Treehouse Trails.
Don’t let a fear of heights stop you from enjoying some of the most incredible views of Chicago. Feel like you’re walking on air at the Ledge at Skydeck Chicago in the Willis Tower. Glass boxes extend into the sky more than 1,000 feet above ground.
For a 360° view of four states, check out the incredible panoramas from 360 CHICAGO, formerly known as the John Hancock Observatory. Located right on the Magnificent Mile, the building's unique location will have you surrounded by both city skyline and lakefront views.
Let the little ones play captain as you take to the water for a boat cruise. Chicago's First Lady Cruises is the official vessel for the Chicago Architecture Foundation's famous River Cruise that boasts views of over 50 famous Chicago buildings.
Mercury Cruises, Shoreline Sightseeing Cruises, Chicago Line Cruises, and Wendella Sightseeing Boats also offer fun boat tour options such as Navy Pier fireworks cruises on Wednesdays/Saturdays and dog/kid-friendly canine cruises. Shorter excursions by water taxi are also a great way to get around — consider a foray by water to Chinatown or Museum Campus.
Do dinner, lunch or brunch in style with Entertainment Cruises, where the kids can head to the deck for great skyline views, hit the dance floor with live DJ entertainment, or make the rounds between the food buffet and endless dessert options. The Mystic, Spirit of Chicago and Odyssey ships all offer a 40% discount off children's pricing for select cruises.
For the daredevils in your group, hang on to your seats for a wet-and-wild blast along the open lakefront with Seadog speedboats. The 30-minute Extreme Thrill Ride tops out at 45mph, and like a rollercoaster on water, it hits you with sharp twists and turns — even a full 360! It’s loud, it’s fast and it will leave you soaking.
Play Time… Lights, Camera, Action!
When it comes to the performing arts, Chicago’s theater scene will have you at the edge of your seat. For mind-blowing theatrics go no further than the Lookingglass Theatre or introduce the family to the works of William Shakespeare with the Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s Short Shakespeare! productions.
Creating fun productions just for young audiences, Emerald City Theatre performs in The Apollo Theater in Lincoln Park and The Broadway Playhouse on the Magnificent Mile. Known for their critically-acclaimed shows and smiling crowds, Chicago Children’s Theatre takes to the stage of the Ruth Page Center for the Arts in the Gold Coast neighborhood
In the mood for a musical? Check out the dazzling performances on Broadway In Chicago stages. Or how about a laugh? The famed sketch comedy theatre The Second City will have your kids in fits with their special show Go, Improv, GO! And for something that's a combination of everything, Blue Man Group.
Aspiring dancers will be in awe of the breathtaking beauty of the Joffrey Ballet or the energetic contemporary productions from the Hubbard Street Dance company.
Animal lovers will enjoy a visit to Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo and Brookfield Zoo, both open year-round with cool lights shows over the holidays. Two options for an all-seasons outing that would interest any budding green thumbs are the Lincoln Park Conservatory and Garfield Park Conservatory. And the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum will wow your little naturalist with its open-air butterfly haven and colorful wilderness walks.
Explore the scenic outdoors with a Chicago tour by bike, or Trikke and even Segway for the teens! For the active set, these excursions cover a lot of ground and expert guides show off the city — from the lakefront parks to the downtown riverwalk to the vibrant neighborhoods.
Try out popular local tour company Bobby’s Bike Hike, whose kiddie edition Bobby’s Tike Hike is geared for ages 10 and under. In addition to child-sized bikes, regular bicycle tours and rentals from Bobby’s Bike Hike and Bike and Roll Chicago give you the option of buying infant/toddler tickets that include special equipment such as child seats, comfy trailer carriers, and tag-a-long attachments.
Or paddle together on a kayak tour with Wateriders. Kids are welcome to take to the bow (front) of the boat with an adult in the back of the double kayak while a guide takes the group safely through Lake Michigan and the city’s river passages to see fireworks, learn about local history and architecture, or hear tales of ghosts and gangsters.
Sandy, Sun-Soaked Fun
Jump in, the water's fine! Chicago's lakefront beaches and parks are the jewel of the city and each summer, families line Lake Michigan with their beach towels and sand toys. Build castles, toss the frisbee around or just chase the waves from such popular spots as North Avenue Beach in Lincoln Park, Ohio Street Beach steps from Navy Pier, and Oak Street Beach just off the Magnificent Mile. All 26 of the Chicago Park District swimming beaches are free and open to the public Memorial Day to Labor Day.
Toy Stores Galore
For little girls with big imaginations, a visit to Chicago would not be complete without a trip to American Girl Place, the first store of its kind in the U.S. Consider making a reservation for the café at the downtown doll mecca, which serves brunch, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner.
Also in Water Tower Place is the colorful building block wonderland The LEGO Store. Add to your collection and check out the creative displays, or make a day out of a trip to LEGOLAND Discovery Center, a giant indoor playground located in nearby suburban Schaumburg.
At Navy Pier, make a stop at the Build-A-Bear Workshop. Or bring your princess to the ultimate dress up store — downtown Chicago has a Disney Store in Block 37 on State Street and on the Magnificent Mile.
Indulge in some cheesy goodness. Pizza joints abound in Chicago, so you decide who reigns as king. Popular spots include Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria, Giordano’s Pizza and The Original Gino’s East of Chicago.
Year-Round Chicago Events
From the Air & Water Show to the Thanksgiving Day Parade, from Taste of Chicago to Christkindlmarket, and from Chicagoween to the Mag Mile Lights Festival — no one celebrates like Chicago. We even dye the river green on St. Paddy’s Day! It's no secret that we take fun seriously.