Chicago is the perfect place for a family-friendly vacation. From a sprawling downtown playground to boat rides on Lake Michigan to a museum with a real submarine to explore, there’s no shortage of activities that kids will love (and parents will happen to enjoy, too).
1. Maggie Daley Park
The 20-acre Maggie Daley Park is the perfect place to burn off energy, and not just because of the huge tube slide and suspension bridges. Young explorers romp in the Play Garden (shout “ahoy” from the huge play ship) while older kids edge their way up a 40-foot-tall climbing wall. The year-round Skating Ribbon is perfect for rollerskating in the summer and ice skating in the colder months.
2. Millennium Park
Just next door to Maggie Daley, Millennium Park offers even more outdoor adventures for kids of all ages. Splash around in the interactive Crown Fountain, make funny faces in your reflection at Cloud Gate (aka “The Bean”), and watch for butterflies at the scenic Lurie Garden. Plus, the annual Family Fun Festival offers daily performances, story-telling, and activities.
3. Navy Pier and Chicago Children’s Museum
Families flock to the lakefront Navy Pier, and you’ll soon discover why. You can get there via the free trolley that will whisk you from various downtown pick-up points right to the Pier (operating seasonally). Reach for the sky on the Centennial Wheel, riding in temperature-controlled gondolas that soar up 200 feet. At the Chicago Children’s Museum kids can play with water, command a castle and climb the rope rigging of a schooner. Catch the latest mainstream flicks, as well as compelling kid-friendly documentaries, at the massive IMAX Theatre, a 3-D cinema.
This is also a great spot to hop on a Lake Michigan boat tour. From the double-decker splendor of the Odyssey to the architecture-focused Shoreline Sightseeing to the seemingly rocket-fueled Seadog Cruises thrill rides, you’ll go on an unforgettable journey. Stop for lunch at one of the many local favorites that have opened Pier outposts, from pizza to burgers to seafood, sure to please even the pickiest of eaters. Wrap up your day at Pier Park, where the kids will have a blast on the whimsical hand-painted carousel, Pepsi Wave Swinger, and nostalgic remote-controlled boats.
4. Museum of Science and Industry
The Museum of Science and Industry in Hyde Park is a must-visit for curious kids. The largest science center in the Western Hemisphere, the museum lets kids explore a whirlwind of different topics through hands-on exhibits. Walk through a U-505 submarine, descend into a coal mine, watch baby chicks hatch, step inside a twirling tornado, and so much more.
5. Chicago History Museum
Put those thinking caps on at Chicago History Museum, which welcomes young and old with displays on the Great Chicago Fire and other local legendary happenings, plus interactive exhibits that beg for photo ops (imagine a larger-than-life Chicago-style hot dog bun that kids can lie in).
6. Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum
Let your kids get in touch with nature at this super family-friendly museum. Meet live animals, climb an indoor treehouse, see nature-inspired art, and explore a hands-on habitat built for kids. Don’t miss the butterfly haven, home to dozens of rare and colorful butterfly species. When you’re done, take a scenic walk around North Pond, just outside the museum, or cross the street for the free Lincoln Park Zoo to keep the outdoor exploration going.