Top 10 Things to Do with Kids in Chicago
1. Museum Campus
Plan a day or more to explore top-notch museums.
Shedd Aquarium houses 32,000 fresh and saltwater aquatic animals. Kids can touch sea stars and watch dolphins swim in Polar Play Zone. Divers hand-feed sharks and exotic fish in the Caribbean Reef exhibit's 90,000-gallon tank.
Adler Planetarium invites budding astronauts to "drive" rovers and conduct astronomical experiments in Planet Explorers. Celestial sky shows playing in the 360-degree, über-high-res Grainger Sky Theater launch viewers on exciting cosmic explorations.
Field Museum of Natural History
Kids love toothy Sue, the largest complete T. rex ever unearthed, and Evolving Planet, a walk through Earth's eons of life from single-celled organisms and dinosaurs to saber-tooth cats and homo sapiens at the Field Museum.
2. Brookfield Zoo
Chances are you can spot your favorite animal at this 216-acre home to more than 2,000 creatures. Watch polar bears swim underwater in Great Bear Wilderness, where grizzlies, bald eagles and 2,000-pound bison also live. Check out the Hamill Family Play Zoo and animal-keeper talks. After a lively dolphin show, take a quiet stroll (1/4 mile) and unpack your picnic basket by the lake in Salt Creek Wilderness.
3. Millennium Park
Free entertainment and outdoor beauty draw families to this park in the heart of Chicago. In summer, kids can't resist splashing in Crown Fountain. The Jay Pritzker Pavilion typically hosts free outdoor concerts throughout the year. The Lurie Garden is a scenic spot to wander, but the top family photo stop is Cloud Gate, a giant kidney bean-shape sculpture reflecting Chicago's skyline.
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4. Chicago Lakefront Beaches
Access to the city's 26 miles of lakefront beaches is free. One of the best is Lincoln Park's North Avenue Beach, which has lifeguards on duty, free Wi-Fi and beach chair rental. Outfitters also rent bikes, stand-up paddleboards and kayaks.
5. Museum of Science and Industry
At the largest science museum in the Western Hemisphere, visitors love programs about technology, transportation and more. Create simulated tornadoes, lightening strikes, avalanches and tsunamis in Science Storms; explore the German U-505 Submarine; see yourself age 30 years in You! The Experience.
6. Morton Arboretum
The Children's Garden at Morton Arboretum nurtures curiosity about nature with themed gardens and activities in Backyard Discovery Gardens and Adventure Woods. Rent biking, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing equipment on-site seasonally.
7. Lincoln Park Zoo
Opened in 1868, this free zoo is one of the nation's oldest. It's home to 1,100 animals from 200-plus species.
8. Naper Settlement
At the Naper Settlement, take self-guided tours around 30 historical buildings, including a pioneer cabin, fort, blacksmith shop and one-room schoolhouse.
9. 360 Chicago
Older kids will love hanging out over the city—literally—on the 94th floor at the Tilt experience. (Must be 42" or taller to experience.)
10. Navy Pier
Families come to the historical entertainment complex for the Chicago Children's Museum, Ferris wheel, Sea Dog speed boat rides, bike rentals, Imax films and free, twice-weekly fireworks (Memorial Day through Labor Day). More to do: Wander under Crystal Gardens' leaping fountains and ride an old-fashioned carousel.