Are you planning to visit Chicago with kids? We recently spent a long weekend in the Windy City with our family. I wanted to share some of the best things to do in Chicago with kids this summer!
Visiting Chicago with Kids
Chicago is a great place to visit with kids! It is a big time city but no so big that it is difficult to navigate. There are so many fun things to do in Chicago with kids. Honestly, the hardest part about going on a trip to Chicago is narrowing down what you will do with your time! We spent almost three full days in Chicago a few weeks ago. While we were so tired by the end of the trip from all of the walking and sightseeing, we still could have spent another several days there! Our kids were honestly sad to leave.
However, Chicago can be an expensive vacation for a family! So I’ll share some inexpensive things to do with kids in Chicago too!
10 Things to Do in Chicago with Big Kids and Teens (Summertime Ideas)
My husband and I lived in Chicago for over six years. Our oldest two kids were born in Chicago. We lived in a Chicago neighborhood on the north side. It was a fun place to live with little ones because there was always something to do including playgrounds, festivals, children’s activities, etc.
So, we were excited to visit Chicago again with our three kids who are all a bit older. The last time we visited Chicago was over a year and half ago in the winter time. Chicago is really awesome to visit in the summer! There is so much to do that you have to pick and choose what you can fit in!
We arrived to Chicago on a Thursday evening and stayed until Sunday afternoon. We packed a lot in and rarely stopped to relax. It is hard to slow down when you are in the hustle and bustle of the city!
The nice thing about Chicago is that you rarely need to use your car! In fact, we parked our car in the hotel on Thursday and did not use it again until we left for home! Public transportation is cheap and accessible, so there is no reason not to utilize!
1. Take a Bus to Lincoln Park Zoo
The Lincoln Park Zoo is technically not in the downtown area, but it is just a quick drive or bus ride up to Lincoln Park. We were able to catch a bus ($2.50 one way for adults and $1.25 for under 12) just a few blocks from our hotel. You could take the El but the train stop is a good walk from the zoo. The bus is a more direct route right to the zoo. The best part of the zoo is that it is FREE! There are a few areas of the zoo that are currently for members only. But there is more than enough to see at the zoo for no cost. You could pack a lunch and bring it in or grab a bite to eat at their cafe.
If you go to Lincoln Park Zoo on a Saturday, you can also shop at the Green City Farmer’s Market located right next to the zoo. We stopped at the market and got some smoothies and coffee.
2. Bring a Picnic to Millennium Park
Another fun and free thing to do in Chicago with kids is visit Millennium Park. The Cloud Gate “The Bean” is a really fun photo opportunity.
You can also cool off at the Crown Fountain (which was turned off when we visited).
There was a really cool outdoor art exhibit near the fountains. It was also a nice spot to cool off in the shade.
You will definitely want to take the kids to Maggie Daley Park. We ran out of time to get to this area but I know the kids would love it! It is a three acre play space that includes a rock wall and picnic area. Even teens will enjoy the Miniature Golf Course.
3. See Chicago by Boat
One really cool way to take in Chicago is to ride a boat along the Chicago River. We are fortunate to belong to a boating club that has reciprocal reservations in Chicago. There is a lot to see along the Chicago River and if you do rent a boat, you can dock along the river and get a bite to eat.
In the past, we have taken this Chicago Architecture boat tour which is very informative and something that even the kids will enjoy. This trip is 90 minutes which is just the right amount of time. It can get very hot on the boat in the summer and kids and teens can get restless.
4. Find the Best Deep Dish Pizza
It will not take a lot of convincing to have your kids decide on where to get some deep dish pizza. This trip we went to Lou Malnatis on our first night. You can get in line for a table ahead of time which is very advisable since it can get busy.
We have also eaten at Giordano’s, Pizzeria Uno’s and Art of Pizza. Something to know with deep dish is that it takes 30-45 minutes, so if you have hungry kids, make sure to plan for lunch well before hunger strikes! Chicago pizza is so good, you might have to try out a few pizza places during your visit!
5. Catch a Baseball Game
One of the best things to do in Chicago in the summer is to go to a baseball game. We prefer the Cubs and the historic stadium is not one to miss! But, you could also head south on the train to see that other team, the Chicago White Sox.
It is not a cheap trip to take a family to a baseball game. But it is certainly a memorable experience. We made sure to bring in our own bottled water (must be sealed) and some snacks. We also took the Red Line El train to the stadium which was a lot cheaper than an Uber or driving ourselves!
6. Get a Retro Milkshake at Jo Jo’s
One night we met some friends for dinner and they suggested Jo Jo’s Shake Bar. This summer, Jo Jo’s has a retro themed outdoor patio and some fun drinks to match. It is a really family friendly dining option especially if you are going with a crowd. You do need to make reservations to ensure you get outdoor seating.
The milkshakes are HUGE and certainly can be shared with two people. There are even some delicious 80’s throwback adult milkshakes and drinks too!
7. Stay Cool at the Field Museum
If you are visiting Chicago on a hot weekend, you will want to find some indoor places to cool off. The Field Museum was a favorite place with our kids. The museum covers a wide range of interests, so there is something that will be interesting to everyone.
My boys loved all of the dinosaur exhibits and my daughter liked seeing the extensive Mummy collection!
We spent three hours at the Field Museum which included a 20 minute 3-D movie. But honestly, we could have been at the museum all day. I think we covered about a 1/3 of the exhibits!
We also have been to the Shedd Aquarium but unfortunately for this visit, the tickets were all sold out for the weekend. Perhaps we could have tried going to the Shedd to see if there were any same day tickets, but we did not want to take that chance.
8. Ride the Ferris Wheel at Navy Pier
While we did not ride the ferris wheel at Navy Pier this trip, I can say that it is a fun experience! Kids of all ages (who are not afraid of heights) will love this ride. If you are downtown on a Saturday night, you can catch the Navy Pier fireworks. Unfortunately, we were back at our hotel during the fireworks and did not have a view of them.
9. Observe Chicago from Willis Tower
One of our very favorite memories from our Chicago trip was going up 103 stories to the top of the Willis Tower. You can (should) reserve a time slot ahead of time so that you have minimal wait time to take the elevator.
We were pleasantly surprised that there is a decent exhibit all about Chicago before you go on the elevator. So, the whole experience took a little more time than we expected. Since it is not really an inexpensive attraction, we did feel like we got our money’s worth!
Would you be brave enough to walk out onto the see through sky decks? You have two minutes to take pictures in a small observation deck with just your party. So, be sure to decide quickly!
10. Shop on Michigan Avenue
One way to a big kids and teens heart is to do a little shopping, especially if the shopping is for them! Michigan Avenue is not a cheap place to shop. You will find just about every store you can think of along the street. There are very high end stores and then the usual shopping mall stores including Gap, Nordstrom, etc. When my daughter was younger, we loved to visit the big American Girl Store.
My kids loved to go into the four story Nike store! There is also one of the largest Starbucks Cafe that is five stories tall! My twelve year old loved the Lego Store in Water Tower.
Along you walk you might catch a whiff of popcorn. Be sure to stop at Garrett’s popcorn and take home a few bags. The line to order can get very long, so I suggest ordering ahead of time and picking up at a designated time!
Why You Should Visit Chicago with Kids and Teens
If you are looking for relaxing family vacation, Chicago might not be the best place! But, if you are interested in a fun and energetic trip, you and your family will love Chicago! It is really a great place to visit with kids. Teens and big kids will love the excitement of the big city!
The first day, after walking a few hours around town in the heat, our eight year old was exhausted. We made sure to stop for a lot of water and snack breaks! But, by the end of the trip, our kids got used to all of the walking and no one wanted to leave.
Chicago has a special place in our heart and we hope to visit again soon!
Have you been to Chicago? What is your favorite place to do in the city?
Looking for more tips on traveling with kids? Check out this post: