Chicago’s family fun options are nonstop—just like your kids. Here are our top picks in and around Chicago for families, including world-class museums, historical sites and Lake Michigan beaches.

By Kit Bernardi
Updated January 09, 2021
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Due to possible coronavirus-related travel restrictions, please check destinations' websites for the current status of attractions, events, restaurants and lodgings.

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. sheddaquarium.org
  • 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.  Currently closed due to the pandemic; check website for latest information on reopening.  adlerplanetarium.org
  • 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.  fieldmuseum.org
Shedd Aquarium.
Shedd Aquarium.

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.  czs.org

Brookfield Zoo

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.  millenniumpark.org

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.  cpdbeaches.com

Ways to water in the MIdwest
North Avenue Beach, Chicago
| Credit: Courtesy of Choose Chicago

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. msichicago.org

6)  Morton Arboretum The Children's Garden 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.  mortonarb.org

7) Lincoln Park Zoo Opened in 1868, the free zoo is one of the nation's oldest. It's home to 1,100 animals from 200-plus species. lpzoo.org

Lincoln Park Zoo. Photo: Courtesy Lincoln Park Zoo
Lincoln Park Zoo.
| Credit: Courtesy of Lincoln Park Zoo

8)  Naper Settlement Take self-guided tours around 30 historical buildings, including a pioneer cabin, fort, blacksmith shop and one-room schoolhouse. Look for more programs and tours to open up as pandemic restrictions ease. napersettlement.org

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.) 360chicago.com/tilt

10)  Navy Pier Currently closed due to the pandemic; expected to reopen in spring 2021. Families come to the historical entertainment complex for the Chicago Children's Museum (chicagochildrensmuseum.org), 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. navypier.com

Many of Chicago's family-friendly attractions and museums offer free days or participate in discounted admission programs. Check CityPass and Go Chicago Card for details.