Top Things to Do with Kids in Chicago
From the shoreline to the tips of skyscrapers and the busy streets in between, all-ages entertainment rules in Chicago.
Visit a Museum (or Two, or Three)
Plan a day or more to explore top-notch and innovative 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.
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.
Color Factory Chicago
Jump into a green ball pit and finish with a bright ice cream cone at this interactive Willis Tower museum. A Museum of Illusions and Museum of Ice Cream are among other hands-on museums to explore with the family.
Related: A Whirlwind Weekend in Chicago
Go Wild at a Zoo
Lincoln Park Zoo
Opened in 1868, the free Lincoln Park Zooo is one of the nation's oldest. It's home to 1,100 animals from 200-plus species.
Chances are you can spot your favorite animal at the Brookfield Zoo, a 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.
Splash, Play and Explore at 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.
Related: Top Things to Do in Chicago
Head to the Beach
Cool off in the big lake at one of Chicago's beaches. Access to the city's 26 miles of lakefront beaches is free. Outfitters at some rent bikes, stand-up paddleboards and kayaks.
Try Kid-Fave Foods at Local Restaurants
You really can't go wrong with any family-friendly restaurant in a city the size of Chicago, but here are some of our favorites. Most kids love hot dogs; a stop at Fatso's Last Stand will set you up with the famous Chicago char dog. Dinner is perfect for deep dish; Giordano's and Lou Malnati's are a couple of the classics. Locally owned and kid-friendly (but not pizza) in the Loop? Yes! Wildberry Pancakes and Cafe is near Maggie Daley Park. If your crew needs a break from crowds, Gale V's Best Ever Grilled Cheese is a quiet surprise.
Relax (or Run) in Some Green Space
Sometimes, kids just need room to roam. 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.
Maggie Daley Park
The $55 million, 20-acre Maggie Daley Park, which will celebrate its 10th anniversary in 2024, was designed to appeal to the kid in everyone. Activities at the park include a climbing wall, minigolf, a play garden, in-line skate and scooter rentals, and, in winter, an ice skating ribbon.
Related: 3 Chicago Parks Perfect For Spring
Garfield Park Conservatory
Roving naturalist stations—as well as printable games and activities—engage children with the world of plants at this free conservatory, home to about 2,100 plant species housed in eight indoor spaces and 10 acres outdoors.
End on a High Note
The Ledge at Skydeck Chicago
Thrill to the scene on the 103rd floor of the Willis Tower, where you can peer down on the city from 1,353 feet up.
Tilt at 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.)
Soar nearly 200 feet above the city on the Centennial Ferrris wheel at this historical entertainment complex—also home to the Chicago Children's Museum, Sea Dog speed boat rides, bike rentals, and free, twice-weekly fireworks (Memorial Day through Labor Day).
How to Save Money
Many of Chicago's family-friendly attractions and museums offer free days or participate in discounted admission programs. Check CityPass and Go City—Chicago for details.