We love Chicago. We enlisted the help of lots of rookie moms and dads to put together this fantastic list of things to do in Chicago with a baby or a little kid. Whether you’re spending your whole maternity leave in Chicago or just visiting, we’ve got you covered with fun places to push your stroller in the urban jungle and the natural one.
11+ Best places to go with a little one in Chicago
1 Millennium Park
One of our best online buddies, Lisa Hazen, told us that Millennium Park (pictured above) is pretty much her favorite city attraction, and best of all, it’s free. With nearly 25 acres smack dab in the middle of the city, you can spend an entire afternoon wandering the park’s wonders. The interactive Crown Fountain will delight, two fifty-foot glass block upon which hundreds of city residents’ faces are projected. When you least expected, one of these giant city residents will spit water at you, gargoyle-style. The Gehry-designed Pritzker Pavilion is a great place to picnic, and the “bean” (otherwise known as the Cloud Gate) is an ideal location for a playful family portrait. Bonus for train lovers: you can take the Red Line directly here. This outdoor park is FREE to wander.
2 Nature Retreat
Chicago isn’t all concrete and skyscrapers. Just outside the city, the Chicago Botanic Gardens boasts 26 gardens on 365 lush acres. Open daily until 9pm, this destination is a great retreat all year long—the different exhibits are designed to show off the abundance of each season. Before your visit, be sure to check the Web site to see what drop-in family-friendly activities are available. And definitely make a point to see the exquisite waterfall gardens during your visit. Admission is FREE.
3 Butterfly Museum
The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum boasts a number of wonderful permanent exhibits, including River Works (a water play exhibit that demonstrates how Chicago’s waterways work) and the Wilderness Walk that allows your family to stroll through recreated environments. But the exhibit that will thrill your kids the most is the Butterfly Haven, which allows you to walk among more than 75 species of nearly 1,000 butterflies flutter about in a 2,700 sq. ft. greenhouse. FREE for children under three.
4 Navy Pier
Yes, Navy Pier is totally touristy, but your kids will love it (secretly, you will, too). Lisa suggests you start with a boat ride—there are a variety of options based on the age of your kids and their relative attention spans. Older kids will thrill at a ride on the 150-foot ferris wheel, and younger kids will love the musical carousel. There’s a you-can-please-everyone food court, and a variety kid-friendly sit-down restaurants to choose from. Navy Pier is also the location of the Chicago Children’s Museum, which is worthy of a day-long visit all its own. If you do end up staying the entire day, don’t miss the fireworks display, Wednesday and Saturday nights through Labor Day.
5 The FREE Zoo, Lincoln Park
Push your stroller up to the North Side (be sure to deck the little guys out in Cubs gear) for some wild fun at the Lincoln Park Zoo. In addition to highlighting native plants and wildlife, Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park Zoo offers visitors one of the best skyline views in the city. The best part? FREE with lots of gorgeous city views and paths for walking. Second best part? You get to see tons of animals. Free and open every day of the year, Lincoln Park Zoo welcomes 3 million visitors through its gates annually.
6 Keep strolling along the Lake
Midwestern dad, Jeff Pfaller, tells us the best part about this town is Lake Michigan in the summer. You can walk along the beach and through parks from Bryn Mawr and Sheridan all the way to Navy Pier. Grab a stroller, some sunblock and your best people watching specs.
7 Museum of Science and Industry
Sarah Parisi from Toddling Around Chicagoland wants to get you excited about Chicago at the Museum of Science and Industry to explore a real plane, train, and submarine. Learn about the science of storms, examine the giant miniature fairy castle, and lots more. The little ones will love the Idea Factory, an activity area for children up to age 10. Plan to spend the day at the museum because there is plenty to explore. Tickets are discounted online and children under three are FREE.
8 LEGO lovers build!
If you have a LEGO-lover in the family (and who doesn’t?), Sarah says you must visit LEGOLAND Discovery Center in Schaumburg, just 40 minutes from downtown Chicago. At LEGOLAND Discovery Center you can see all the local Chicago landmarks in Miniland, take a walk through a LEGO jungle, ride a dragon through a castle, ride on a Technocycle, see 4D LEGO movies, and lots more! There’s a cafe inside and plenty of restaurants within walking distance. Purchase tickets online to save money, children under three are FREE.
While you’re in the area, stop by FireZone, an interactive environment with real fire engines and equipment staffed by real firefighters, or go shopping at IKEA for furniture, home accessories, and toys. (We love IKEA for parents)
9 Morton Arboretum
If you’re still up for a little road trip, Sarah wants you to head to to Lisle, about 25 minutes from Chicago, to the Morton Arboretum. There are 1,700 acres of trees and gardens to enjoy and you can hike, bike, or get lost in the maze garden. The Children’s Garden has a secret stream, playground, treehouses, and plenty more! Wednesdays are discounted admission days. Babies under age one are FREE every day.
10 Brookfield Zoo (the big one)
aCheck out the lions, tigers, and bears (oh my!) at the Brookfield Zoo. You can walk through the desert, the rainforest, tropic world, the living coast, and the recently upgraded Great Bear Wilderness all in one day. Save some time at the Hamill Family Play Zoo and the Children’s Zoo, and to go for a spin on the carousel. There are lots of options for food in the zoo (including buffalo burgers!), or you can bring your own picnic lunch. Buy discounted tickets online. Children under three are FREE.
11 Hands-on Science fun
Sarah’s kids love Kids Science Labs for fun, hands-on science classes for kids ages 2-12 in any of four Chicagoland locations. Kids get to experiment and problem-solve in the messiest ways possible – spilling water and soaking it up with a sponge to learn about absorption, throwing fruit against the wall to learn about gravity and impact, exploding pop bottles to learn about gas and pressure – and you don’t have to clean up any of it! Classes for young toddlers are parent participation classes, while older kids (3 and up) attend alone.
Parents can stay and take advantage of free Wi-Fi, or leave and run errands in the Lincoln Park neighborhood. She guarantees us, the kids will LOVE it!
12 Ready, Set, Grow!
Another family favorite for Sarah is the tropics, the desert, and an indoor lagoon as a means to relax after a busy week. You can find it all at the Garfield Park Conservatory. Be sure to dress in layers for the temperature changes! Look for a beautiful children’s garden with a twirling slide. The weekend family fun program with lots of activities and make & take projects. Bring your own lunch to eat by the fountain in the Horticulture Hall and be sure to check out the outdoor gardens if the weather is nice. Admission is always FREE though a donation is suggested.
Big thanks to Sarah and Lisa for guiding us through Chicagoland. Headed to Chicago for a vacation? Be sure to check out Sarah’s website ToddlingAroundChicagoland.com.