Disclosure: While this is not a sponsored post, I have partnered with most of these attractions over the years or have ongoing relationships with them. Thanks to all of the Chicago and suburban attractions that support this blog and provide my family with amazing experiences! Regardless of relationship though, all thoughts are my own honest opinions.
Visiting Chicago soon? I’ve put together a list of family-friendly things to do in the city and the nearby suburbs during the warm summer months. Many of these are even fun to do during the other seasons as well if you are visiting Chicago at another time of the year.
1. Enjoy a White Sox baseball game on one of their Family Sundays.
I’ll admit that I’m not a huge baseball fan (football is my true love) but there is just something special about sitting at a baseball game with my family and a crowd of people cheering for the same team that makes for a fun afternoon. We enjoy going to Chicago White Sox baseball games, especially on their kid-friendly Family Sundays where they have many special kid-focused activities and the opportunity to run the bases after games. Some games they even have special autograph sessions the kids can go to if they arrive early enough! Learn more about Chicago White Sox Family Sundays here.
2. Spend a day of hands-on learning fun at the Museum of Science & Industry.
Chicago is home to many amazing museums but the Museum of Science and Industry is one of our family’s favorites. I really like that it provides so many hands-on learning activities and I feel like it’s one of those places you can go every few months and there are always new things to discover. This summer there is a new exhibit we are looking forward to checking out called The Science Behind Pixar (at MSI until 1/6/19). This 13,000-square foot, interactive exhibit showcases how Pixar artists and computer scientists use science, technology, engineering, and math to bring Pixar’s award-winning films to life.
3. Enjoy a sunny day at the beach.
Chicago might not be near the ocean but it’s off of Lake Michigan which means there are plenty of sandy beaches along the lakefront…26 free beaches to be exact! If you are headed to Adler Planetarium or the Shedd Aquarium you might want to add 12th Street Beach onto your agenda as well since it’s right there. It’s not a huge beach but we enjoyed going and dipping our toes in the water a bit.
4. Check out one of the many fairs and festivals going on.
There is no shortage of fairs and festivals in the city. From music to art to literature there are typically at least a couple fairs or festivals going on each weekend. Here’s a guide to some of the best festivals and fairs happening in Chicago this summer.
5. See Chicago from all different viewpoints.
Chicago is typically explored by foot but there are so many other ways to see the city and I share 7 unique ways to see Chicago here. You can view Chicago from above by taking an elevator up to the top of the Sears (Willis) Tower, you can go on a carriage ride or take a trolley around the city, and you can take a boat ride along the river or out on the lake.
6. Go bowling at King’s Dining and Entertainment Center.
Spend a rainy afternoon at King’s Dining and Entertainment Center (or go on a nice day and take advantage of their “sunny day” special passes). They have bowling of course but there are other fun games to do as well like billiards, shuffleboards, foosball, and air hockey. And make sure to eat while you are there. I was extremely impressed with all the food offerings they have. All their food is made in-house and whenever possible they source hormone-free, GMO-free, fresh, local ingredients. They also offer a number of vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-friendly items. My favorite appetizers were the Southwestern Spring Rolls and Buffalo Chicken Wontons but they offer dinner options along with dessert (trust me, you don’t want to skip dessert).
7. Enjoy all the fun that Millenium Park has to offer.
You can’t visit the city of Chicago without a visit to Millennium Park (and Maggie Daley Park which is connected to it). During the summer you’ll find kids splashing around Crown Fountain or playing at the 3-acre play garden at Maggie Daley Park. There is plenty of architecture to check out (including “the bean” which is a tourist photo spot) and a garden full of beauty to admire. On summer evenings you’ll even find live music and movies at Jay Pritzker Pavillion’s open-air venue.
8. Visit Navy Pier, Chicago’s #1 tourist destination.
Many know this 3,300-foot-long pier on the Chicago shoreline of Lake Michigan as home to the Chicago Children’s Museum and the iconic giant ferris wheel but there is so much more to do there. Visitors can catch a show at the AMC Navy Pier IMAX Theatre, the Chicago Shakespeare Theater or just outside Navy Pier on the Polk Bros Performance Lawns. Those who love art would be interested in the art exhibits that Navy Pier hosts and those who prefer water to land will want to experience one of the cruises that departs Navy Pier. Cap off the day with dinner at one of the restaurants at Navy Pier and an evening display of fireworks on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
9. Eat your way through the city.
Chicago is known for their deep dish pizza but did you know about all the other Chicago staples? Make sure to also taste all of my Chicago’s favorites like Portillo’s hot dogs, Garrett’s popcorn, Fannie May’s chocolates, and Shake Shack’s burgers. Choose Chicago offers 20 iconic eats here if you want even more ideas of restaurants to eat at.
10. Explore life underwater at the Shedd Aquarium or check out one of their new outdoor aquatic experiences.
Two of my favorite activities to do at the Shedd Aquarium are to pet the stingrays and watch the dolphin show. There is a new exhibit called Underwater Beauty that explores the unique beauty that can be found underwater and features over a thousand animals representing 100 species from across the globe, including eels that ribbon, shrimp that can break glass, sea jellies that pulse and fish that swim backwards. In addition to everything at the Shedd, this summer they are offering new outdoor aquatic experiences. designed to spark curiosity for local waters and wildlife by bringing people closer to them. From a traveling aquarium exhibiting animals in some of Chicago’s neighborhood streets and parks, to a new floating island conservation program for Chicago River kayakers, to hands-on science experiences in a boat on Lake Michigan I saw a special about this on our local news and I hope to be able to experience Chicago’s waters in this unique way this summer! Find all the details about these new outdoor aquatic experiences here.
Living just outside of the city I know how much fun can be found in some of Chicago’s nearby suburbs so, if you are up for a visit to the suburbs, check out these fun activities….
11. Take your LEGO loving children for a trip to LEGOLAND.
LEGOLAND Discovery Center is the ultimate indoor LEGO playground with 2 rides, 10 LEGO build & play zones, a 4D cinema & much more! Kids will love seeing everything that the master builders built, including a mini Chicago (built from over 1.5 million bricks!) and some of their favorite characters and scenes from Star Wars. There is also a Pirates Adventure Island playground inside which seems to draw my boys in each time! There are always fun events going on at LEGOLAND Discovery Center Chicago, too. Last time we went there was a “kids vs. grownups” challenge (which the kids pretty much won…surprise. surprise…) and coming soon they will have lots of additional fun for their 10th Anniversary Celebration. I also love that they host sensory-friendly “Play Well Days”the first Saturday of each month for those with Autism, SPD, and other special needs, so if you are looking for something sensory-friendly put that on your calendar :)
12. Take the train to Naperville, a local suburb that has a great downtown area that is accessible right off the Metra tracks.
Naperville is by far my favorite Chicago suburb. There is so much to do there and it’s all easy to get to from the train station. I love just walking around the Downtown area and along the riverwalk while my boys play Pokemon Go and try to catch the many Pokemon available. There’s DuPage Children’s Museum, a popular place for children to play and explore, which my boys loved to play at when they were little. On hot days you’ll want to spend time at Centennial Beach, the “swimming hole” created in an old abandoned quarry. There’s also a Paddleboat Quarry where you can rent paddleboats and kayaks. We loved spending time on the water in our little paddleboat! Make sure to check to see if there are any special events going on as well. Ribfest is early in July so it’s over for this summer but I recommend it if you are out in the area during that time!
13. Have a splashtastic time at Raging Waves in Yorkville.
Raging Waves, the largest waterpark in Illinois, is full of summer fun for all ages. Adults and kids will both love the wave pool, body slides, and tube slides. There’s also a 1/4 mile long lazy river for relaxing as you float along. Young kids will have a blast playing at Kangaroo Falls which has slides, water cannons, rope bridges, water hoses and a dumping bucket. There’s also Koala Kove, a zero depth entry pool with four slides for the littlest of waterpark visitors. Learn more and get tickets here.
14. Spend the afternoon at Brookfield Zoo.
Brookfield Zoo has been the zoo I’ve visited since I was a young girl and I love taking my kids there now. This 216 acre zoo is home to around 450 species of animals so there are lots of animals to see. Kids will especially love the Hamill Family Play Zoo and Hamill Family Wild Encounters where they can get up close and interact with the animals. If your kids love playing in water make sure to bring a change of clothes because there is a splash pad they will want to play at along with two playgrounds. My favorite thing to do at the zoo in the summer though is enjoy live music at their Summer Nights on Fridays and Saturdays (through August 18th this summer).
15. Have a thrilling time at Great America.
If you have thrill-seekers in your family you’ll want to add Six Flags Great America, located in Gurnee, to your summer bucket list. With over 100 attractions and rides along with an attached waterpark, Great America is a place your whole family will enjoy. My boys love the roller coasters, including American Eagle, the world’s tallest and fastest wooden roller coaster, which Jacob braved as soon as he was tall enough to ride. My favorite on a hot day is Logger’s Run because it’s a great way to cool off when it’s hot out. Young kids will love that there are 3 areas in the park that are just for them!
For even more ideas check out my Chicago Bucket List and this list of free things to do in Chicago! Also, if you are heading to Chicago with someone who has sensory sensitivities, this Sensory-Friendly Chicago list (that I’m in the process of compiling) may help your family have a successful visit to Chicago.
What do you love to do in Chicago with your family? I’d love to hear about it! Comments on the blog are closed because I’d rather chat with you on social media! :)
Find me here: