Best Family-Friendly Activities in Chicago from a Local Mom

Chicago is a fun family-friendly city with many activities for kids to enjoy. The following tips are organized by area with some of the activities being seasonal.

Michigan Avenue

Double Decker Bus Tour: Start your Chicago experience with a double decker bus tour. The tour lasts about 2 hours and you can hop on and off as often as you like.Kids love riding in the open air and the Sears Tower is one of the many highlights of the tour.

American Girl Place: Another popular activity here is a visit to American Girl Place in the Water Tower Building. You can bring your American Girl doll to the café for tea, lunch or dinner and even have her hair styled!You may want to book a reservation ahead of time because they get very busy.

Garrett Popcorn Shop: In the meantime, the boys can head over to Garrett Popcorn Shop. Garrett’s has been serving popcorn since 1949 and the smell of fresh cheese and caramel corn greets you before you open the doors. This is consistently one of Oprah’s “Favorite Things” – make sure you save some for the girls!

State Street

Christmas at The Walnut Room at Macy’sFor many Chicagoans, a visit to the Walnut Room is an annual Christmas tradition. While Macy’s will always be Marshall Field’s in the minds of many locals, this great tradition lives on. This is a dress-up, “fancy” restaurant that has a kids menu. Don’t forget to sample the frango mints!

Navy Pier

Navy Pier attracts both locals and tourists and is a great destination because there is something for everyone here. The Children’s Museum is very popular and fun for toddler age children. Older kids love the wild ride on the Sea Dog speedboat cruises and adults and kids alike will have fun at the Billy Goat Tavern made famous by the Saturday Night Live skit!

Museums and Aquarium

The Museum Campus is a 57-acre lakefront park that connects the Field Museum with the Shedd Aquarium and the Adler Planetarium.

Large museums can be overwhelming so it pays to do your homework before you arrive and find a self-guided tour that works well for your family. The Field Museum has tours that include scavenger hunts and adventure highlights. If you need a break from sightseeing and want to relax, both the Aquarium and Planetarium offer educational movies for different age groups.

The Museum of Science and Industry is a bit of a trek from the other museums but for elementary school age children it has a lot to offer. You can customize a museum day for your family with the museum’s interactive visit planner. The museum recommends a “tour” for you based on your child’s age and interests and provides a printable map of what your tour would look like – it’s customizable for a both first time or returning visitors … and kids love planning their day!

Picture by brian cors on Flickr

Lincoln Park Zoo and the Beach

Lincoln Park Zoo is a year-round destination and one of the oldest and most established zoos in the country.If you are visiting in the summer and want to get some beach time, cross over the pedestrian bridge and you’re at the beach!At Christmas time, the zoo is lit up with thousands of lights and offers a variety of holiday activities.

Millennium Park

Millennium Park is a fun outing for the entire family. This 25 acre park features award-winning landscape design and architecture as well as concert venues and a summer schedule with free programs for all ages.

The Family Fun Festival runs throughout the summer and includes interactive activities, reading circles, musical games, concerts and lots of water activities – bring a swimsuit and towel. After you dry off, grab a rainbow cone, a Chicago tradition, at the ice cream shop. In winter, the ice skating rink is open and the Park Grill is open year-round for dining – reservations recommended.


The dining possibilities are endless in Chicago!Most of the areas or restaurants listed are a 5-20 minute cab ride from the downtown hotels.

Pizza: Unos is a Chicago landmark serving deep dish pizza. Pat’s Pizza is a great delivery option for dining in your hotel room.

Greektown: This area is fun for the kids and there are loads of restaurants to choose from. Make sure to order saganaki – a flaming cheese that is very entertaining for the kids. Opah!

Little Italy: A fun destination with a variety of restaurants to choose from.Rosebud and Tuscany are good options.

*Photo Credits: Navy Pier by David Paul Ohmer on flickr. American Girl Place by TheOtherWay on flickr. The Field Museum by Brian Cors on Flickr.

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