50 Things to do with Kids in Chicago Before They Grow Up
By Kelly Wickham of Mocha Momma
Late one night, when we were all in bed,
Mrs. O’Leary lit a lantern in the shed.
Her cow kicked it over,
Then winked her eye and said,
“There’ll be a hot time in the old town tonight!”
(*popular song lyric)
Chicago born and bred, I have to admit that it’s the greatest city in the world. Locals and tourists love it here but visitors should be warned that our summer heat is nothing to be trifled with so plan ahead. It’s not because of that famous Chicago fire either. We just like it hot and fun!
2. Are you free on a Tuesday night? Go to the free Chicago Outdoor Film Festival (between July 15 and August 26).
3. Ride your bikes along Lake Shore Drive.
4. Do you need a reason to yell “Opa!” at any given moment? Attend the 3-day festival called “Taste of Greece” with children’s games, live Greek music, and plenty of delicious Greek food.
5. Visit the great Chicago Public Library that also has some artwork to peruse. Check out some books at one of the Chicago Public Library locations. A favorite of mine is the Harold Washington Public Library.
6. Speaking of books, browse some of the best books at some great literary events. Most especially, the Printer’s Row Book Fair.
8. Planet Esme is the best in children’s book exploration, but wait! It’s not really a store. It’s an experience.
9. Try the mixed cheese and caramel popcorn from Garrett’s Popcorn. But be ready to stand in line. The smells will keep the kiddies quiet while you wait.
12. The Chicago Blues Festival is fun for the whole family. Inject some culture! (so sayeth the multicultural gene in me). While you’re at it, see if your child’s school participates in Blues In The Schools.
13. On a lazy weekend morning (or afternoon!), enjoy the world’s best pancakes at The Original House of Pancakes. Try the Apple Pancake. It’s worth the 20-minute wait.
15. Wacky good times are guaranteed at the Chicago Children’s Theatre.
16. Explore the coal mine at the Museum of Science and Industry.
17. Do you have enough disposable cameras for each of the kids? Good! Grab them (the cameras, not the kids – just holler for them to hop in the car) and have architectural fun at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House.
18. Play a game of checkers in the park. Bring your own pieces and let some of those elderly gentlemen teach you a thing or two. A good place to go: Rogers Park.
19. Visit the DuSable Museum’s children’s programs. They have a penny cinema show and they let you know the age appropriateness of each movie.
20. Take the kids and the pets to Sit! which holds regular events and pet adoption activities.
21. Celebrate art appreciation and visit the Hyde Park Art Center’s student exhibition from local high school students.
22. Oak Park has a lot of Frank Lloyd Wright history and is only a 9-mile drive from downtown Chicago. If you take the tour of his architectural masterpieces you’ll find lots of great eateries along the way.
23. Visit a “make and take” workshop through the Muntu Dance Theatre and create African necklaces, masks, or fabric design.
24. A farm in the city? You bet! Spend time at the City Farm where earth-friendly growers prove that you can cultivate crops even in the midst of a city. Contact them via e-mail before visiting.
25. Journey to a place where the real wild things are: at the Lincoln Park Zoo.
26. Explore the largest indoor aquarium in the world at Shedd Aquarium. They have whales there, people! Whales!
27. Attend the 57th Street Children’s Book Fair. Call 773-684-1300 for more information.
28. If you’re old enough to remember “Cheezborger! Cheezborger! No fries, cheeps! No Pepsi, Coke!” from Saturday Night Live, then you will enjoy watching your kids order food at the Billy Goat Tavern. It’s underground, so this is a great place to eat with your older kids.
30. Do you have younger children? The Toddlers, Tunes, & Turtles event will tickle their fancy.
31. The Chicago Sports Museum (in the Water Tower mall) highlights the athletes from Chicago and contains a lot of memorabilia, but it’s also super interactive with games that involve basketball, hockey and baseball.
32. You won’t need to stretch out for this one if you catch the Jesse White Tumbling Team.
33. Hola! How’s your Spanish? How about some Viva! Chicago?
34. Navy Pier has enough activities to fill an entire Saturday. Try them all!
35. Drive over to Lawrence’s Fisheries on Canal Street and enjoy the best fried shrimp in all of Chicagoland. Stay to eat here because the kids will enjoy the view.
37. Chicago has just about every ethnic culture hot spots. And just about every neighborhood has their own festival. Attend them! Go here to search.
38. For teens, The Second City is something to consider. Odds are that at most of your favorite comedic actors, like Tina Fey and John Belushi, got their start at this famous improv theater. A couple things to know: tickets to the “main stage shows” sell out early, so get yours a couple of weeks in advance. There’s no age limit, but the material is fairly adult.
39. Pair the trip to the aquarium with the Adler Planetarium which is within walking distance.
40. Get the kids some disposable cameras and take pictures of flowers at the Garfield Park Conservatory.
41. Travel down to Grant Park and let your kids pig out at the Taste of Chicago. It can become costly, so we usually eat a small snack first. Also, this is a time to remember that we share. We share, kids!
43. The motto is “Eat and Get Out” at Ed Debevics. A lively staff ensures good times and the kids can keep the souvenir sundae glass from the World’s Smallest Sundae. A perfect ending to a great burger at Ed’s.
44. Don’t feel bad about not going to church that one Sunday. Go to the Gospel Music Festival for fast-paced music of the gods. Or God. There’s a Gospel Art Fair, too. Round out your architectural visits at the Chicago Sinai Congregation and drink in the beauty.
45. The Old Town Triangle Association puts on an Old Town Art Fair. It’s probably time to pack some cold fried chicken and a cooler filled with lemonade to enjoy while you’re looking at some art.
46. Take a double-decker bus tour.
47. Wow Bao is a fun place to eat meat and vegetable yeast-dough creations while you’re visiting Water Tower place. Take your cultured palates and fill up.
48. You can find several events at Water Tower and older kids will enjoy this more than younger ones. Moms will enjoy the shopping, of course, but it’s a Chicago landmark so the wee ones can suffer through since you’ll be happy you visited. Right? Right.
49. Visit the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum. It’s another great place to take those disposable cameras and is fun for the whole family. Fine, it’s probably time you just taught the kids to use your digital, ok?
50. Take the daring young kids on a thrilling ride on one of the speedboats. This is especially fun during a fireworks display.
This series was inspired by Mommy Poppins’ 100 Things to Do with Your Kids in NY Before They Grow Up.Published June 23, 2008. Last updated June 25, 2018.