One thing teens and tweens will never call Chicago is boring.
Whether they're thrill-seekers, explorers, artists, shopaholics or knowledge hounds, these 10 must-dos will have them Instagramming and Tweeting all about their great family vacation.
1. Escape rooms
Save the White House, escape a zombie, take a mission to Mars.
@The Escape Game Chicago
Chicago's escape rooms are the ultimate thrill. Whether you're finding your way out of a goldmine, breaking out of prison, or thwarting an art heist, nothing gets your adrenaline pumping quite as much as that ticking clock! Check out Escape Story, The Escape Game Chicago, Escape Artistry, and Fox in a Box - Chicago.
Explore Chicago's Attractions & Tours.
2. Maggie Daley Park
Climb, skate and mini golf on the lakefront.
Scale the rock-climbing walls at Maggie Daley Park, reaching a max height of 40 feet over a total surface area of 19,000 square feet. The wall is divided into beginner and advanced sections, with three different types of climbing: bouldering, lead-harnessed, and top rope. Next, strap on your rollerblades or grab a scooter (both available for rent) and head to the Skating Ribbon, a meandering track through the whimsical park landscape. (FYI: During the winter, the ribbon becomes one of the city's most unique ice-skating spots). Looking for something a little less heart-pumping? Try a round of mini golf, featuring replicas of iconic Chicago structures, including the Willis Tower, Wells Street bridge, and the Picasso sculpture.
Check out more Chicago parks & outdoor spaces.
3. Museum Campus
Pet a stingray, meet a Titanosaur, and rocket to the Moon.
The Museum Campus is a trifecta of thrills. The Shedd Aquarium offers the chance for amazing marine animal encounters, including feeding sharks, meeting penguins, and petting stingrays — all under the guidance of Shedd trainers. Just next door, Máximo the Titanosaur welcomes you to the Field Museum of Natural History. The long-necked herbivore stretches 122 feet from snout to tail, making it the biggest dinosaur ever discovered. You'll also find mummies, insects, gemstones, the world's most complete T.rex skeleton, and so much more. And the nearby Adler Planetarium will take you on an intergalactic journey, from the Moon to Mars and back. Don't miss the latest sky show in their immersive, state-of-the-art theatre.
Explore more Chicago's museums.
4. Hip shopping
Browse super cool Chicago boutiques
Threadless by Randy Aquilizan via flickr
For hip, artsy teens, Threadless is a must-know. The trendy t-shirt features designs created by independent artists from both Chicago and beyond. The company runs a pop-up shop our of their West Loop headquarters (400 N. Morgan St.), where you can often happen upon some exclusive deals. Despite the name, you'll find more than surplus military gear at Belmont Army (855 W. Belmont). This Chicago classic stocks trendy fashion, vintage garb, and skater gear — and that's just for starters. And at Crush in Roscoe Village (2138 W Roscoe St), you'll find a super-sleek store stocked with designer options for kids, tweens and teens (as well as adults), plus a custom T-shirt bar.
5. Chicago Riverwalk
Kayak, bike and dine along the Chicago River
The award-winning Chicago Riverwalk is more than just a place to walk. It's also a buzzing waterfront park, with tons of options for urban outdoor recreation. Rent a Divvy bike (Chicago's bike-share program) to leisurely cycle along the little-over-a-mile, pedestrian-only path, taking along the sites, sounds, and public art along the way. Or check out the area from the water, with tour and rentals from Urban Kayaks. If you have time, stop in at the McCormick Bridgehouse & Chicago River Museum for a new perspective and a quick history lesson.
Explore Chicago's top attractions & tours.
6. Blue Man Group
Go ahead, get messy!
© Lindsey Best
The hyperactive theatrical experience that is the Blue Man Group at Briar Street Theater (3133 N. Halsted St.) appeals to audiences of all ages. It's live music, comedy, performance arts, and lots of blue paint all wrapped into one. And if you sit up front, expect to get wet (don't worry, you'll get a poncho). Before you head to the theatre, do a little shop-hopping among the vintage shops and alternative boutiques along Belmont Avenue and Halsted Street.
Check out these 10 Hot Shows to See in Chicago!
7. Navy Pier
Ride a Ferris wheel, Wave Swinger, speedboat, and more.
@ Navy Pier
Let's start at the top — literally. Navy Pier’s Centennial Wheel is an iconic part of the Chicago skyline. Soaring to heights of nearly 200 feet, the wheel's enclosed gondolas mean you can take a ride rain or shine. Plan your visit around Navy Pier's Aon Summer Fireworks shows that light up the sky Wednesdays and Saturdays from Memorial Day through Labor Day. The seasonal Pier Park also includes the Pepsi Wave Swinger, carousel, climbing walls, and Light Tower Ride.
Once you've come down to earth, head to the waters of Lake Michigan for the most adrenaline-pumping ride yet. With exhilarating high speeds and full 360-degree spins, the jet-propelled Extreme Thrill Ride by Seadog "blasts off to start and splashes down to stop." This is your chance to experience high speeds over the open water of Lake Michigan. For less heart-pounding attractions, Navy Pier also features an IMAX Theatre, the Chicago Children's Museum, the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, and much more.
Explore more at Navy Pier.
8. Summer festivals
Movies under the stars, a Taste of Chicago, and dancing in the park.
@Abel Arciniega, Millennium Park Summer Film Series
Chicago is big on festivals. There isn't a month that goes by without a crowd-drawing event. Mark your calendars for these teen-friendly events:
- The outdoor Summer Film Series at Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park runs from June through September. Take a seat at the pavilion or lounge on the Great Lawn with a blanket while you view cult favs and latest blockbusters on a state-of-the-art, 40-foot LED screen.
- Taste of Chicago, the nation's largest outdoor food fest, gets underway at Grant Park every July. The fest features tastes from 70+ restaurants, from food trucks to fine dining, showcasing the diversity of the city's vibrant dining scene. Plus, enjoy live music by big-name and local acts.
- Chicago SummerDance brings people of all ages and skill levels together in Grant Park’s Spirit of Music Garden each summer for free dance lessons on an open-air dance floor. You and your teens can learn to samba, tango, waltz, salsa, and more. SummerDance takes place Friday to Sunday evenings from June through August in Grant Park, as well as on select dates in neighborhood parks citywide for SummerDance In The Parks.
Check out more festivals on our festival & event guide.
9. Skyscraper experiences
Step onto The Ledge, then take a TILT
@Adam Alexander Photography
Skydeck Chicago, on the 103rd floor of the iconic Willis Tower, is an absolute can't-miss Chicago experience. Open daily, it offers spectacular views across four states on a clear day, interactive exhibits and — drumroll, please — The Ledge, a glass box that allows you to step four feet outside the walls of the building, as though you're walking on air. Keep the thrills going by taking a trip to 875 N. Michigan (formerly the John Hancock Building) on The Magnificent Mile, where TILT at the 94th-floor 360 Chicago, will literally tip you over the city from 1,000 feet in the air.
Explore top Chicago's attractions & tours.
10. Museum of Science & Industry
Travel down a coal mine, touch a tornado, step into a U-boat.
@Museum of Science & Industry
The Museum of Science and Industry is all about extraordinary experiences that bring science to life. And it's the museum of its kind in the Western Hemisphere, which means you can spend the whole day here, and then some. A couple of highlights: The museum's Coal Mine has been taking visitors deep into a (mock) mine shaft since 1933. Enter the Science Storms exhibit and you become a part of seven natural phenomena: lightning, fire, tornadoes, avalanches, tsunamis, sunlight, and atoms in motion. And don't miss stepping inside a real U-505, the only German submarine in the United States.
Learn all about Chicago's museums.
Want to see all these and more? Save 50% on premium admission to Chicago’s top attractions with CityPASS tickets.
Includes prepaid admission to 5 must-see attractions:
- Shedd Aquarium
- Skydeck Chicago
- Field Museum
- Adler Planetarium or Art Institute of Chicago
- Museum of Science and Industry or 360 CHICAGO Observation Deck
Valid for 9 consecutive days, Chicago CityPASS tickets cost $108 for adults ($214 value) and $89 for children ages 3 – 11. Buy online at CityPASS.com or at any CityPASS attraction. Spend less, experience more.