Whether you’re old, young or young at heart, you remember your first trip to Chicago. Seeing yourself in the Bean, gazing up at some of the country’s tallest skyscrapers, your first bite of deep dish pizza and your first Cubs game. All these things make a visit to Chicago stand out in your travels, and no one enjoys this city quite as much as the kids who visit. Many of the great museums, tours and foods are a must-try childhood experiences, and ChicagoTraveler.com named the top 25 things to do with kids in Chicago before they grow up, and this is a perfect list to guide you on a summer vacation. Use this as a checklist for your family trip this season, or rehash your childhood vacations if the kids are all grown up!
1. Baseball in Chicago. You’ve got two teams to choose from – The Chicago Cubs and the Chicago White Sox, and neither is a bad choice. The Cubs may be the more popular of the team, and everyone loves to historic Wrigley Field, but kids also love posing for pictures with Southpaw, the White Sox (green) mascot.
2. Rent bikes to ride along Lake Shore Drive. Head down the beautiful Chicago Lakefront where you can enjoy over 18 miles of car-free bike paths, perfect for families with kids of all ages! A ride down this path takes you to many of the best Chicago attractions, from the Lincoln Park Zoo to Millennium Park or Museum Campus. Bike Tours are also a great way to see the city, but day or night!
3. Head to Buckingham Fountain for a quick mist when it’s hot out, or after the sun sets when for one of the beautiful water and lights show!
4. Spend a day at American Girl Place. Every girl can pick out her own doll, find matching outfits and watch one of the hair stylists give her American Girl a new hairstyle. Several of the best family-friendly Chicago hotels offer special deals for the American Girl Place, so check those out when you’re planning your trip.
5. Eat at Garrett’s Popcorn. Grab a bag of the cheese and caramel popcorn or any of their other signature flavors.
6. The Air & Water Show is a thrilling annual August event in Chicago that’s completely family friendly and free.
7. The Chicago Blues Festival is fun for the whole family too, and every June more than 500,000 people come to see the free performances in Grant Park.
8. Head to Portillos or Hot Doug’s and do your dog up Chicago-style. You can actually get one from anywhere in Chicago, but these are always a favorite for every foodie, young and old.
9. Visit Sue the T-Rex at the Field Museum. Kids also enjoy the hands on Play Lab, which is filled with educational and fun activities for growing minds.
10. Explore the coal mine at the Museum of Science and Industry, or any of the fascinating live science experiments. Hop aboard the Silver Streak once before you leave!
11. Watch a show and check out all the facinating exhibits at the Adler Planetarium – they’re really out there!
12. Get hands on at the Chicago Children’s Museum. Go diggin in the Dinousaur Expedition, Splash around in the WaterWays and even design your own building at the Skyline exhibit. Who knows, you may have the architect for the next Chicago skyscraper on your hands!
13. Head under the sea and visit all the exotic fish at the Shedd Aquarium. Don’t miss the dolphin shows – adults love them even more than kids do usually!
14. Go out on a ledge and enjoy the views from the Skydeck at the Willis (Sears) Tower. These glass boxes extend 4.3 feet out from the building so that you can see all around you from 1,353 feet in the air!
15. Don’t miss the chance to see the beaches and skyline from the John Hancock Observatory. By far the best view in the city.
16. Take a ride on one of the Chicago boat tours. Seadog Speedboat tours are fast and thrilling, Tall Ship Windy has tons of fun pirate-themed tours that highlight the city’s architecture too! If you’re just in it for the sites, check out the Shoreline Sightseeing Chicago cruises or the water taxis.
17. Frank Lloyd Wright has tons of architectural masterpieces throughout the city, so if your kids old enough to appreciate these beauties, take a guided tour in the Oak Park area.
18. Get a little wild at the Lincoln Park Zoo. This is one of the only remaining free zoos in the world, so save your money for all the good times to come and spend a few hours with the animals.
19. Treat them to a deep dish pizza. Some of the most popular choices are Piece Brewery and Pizzeria, Pequod’s, Lou Lamnati’s and Giordano’s. If they aren’t quite adventurous eaters yet, almost every place also serves thin and regular crust pizzas as well. Can’t decide where to go? Chicago Food Tours allow you to sample a few of the best in one afternoon, and take you on a guided tour around the city on foot, bike or bus.
20. Navy Pier is Chicago’s top tourist attractions, and there are enough rides, restaurants and activities to fill an entire day of vacation, so stick around and try them all. Walk around for a bit, then hop on one of the Chicago boat tours!
21. Millennium Park is always popular, and is home to some of the top attractions in town. See your reflection in the Bean, let the kids splash around in Crown Fountain, see a show or summer movie at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion or enjoy any of the summer festivals this year.
22. Watch fireworks shows every Saturday. Sit anywhere between Shedd Aquarium and the Chicago Yacht Club at Monroe Street, hop on a fireworks cruise or see them from Navy Pier.
23. Taste of Chicago is entertaining for foodies of all ages! It’s free to get in, with live entertainment throughout the event, and many of Chicago’s best eateries will be here for you to sample the goods. There’s sure to be plenty that even the pickiest eaters will be dying to try.
24. See the Chicago Bears, Bulls or Blackhawks in action. Chicago is one of the only cities with 5 professional sports teams, so you can catch a pro-game any season you’re here, and no matter what part of the summer you come.
25. Spend the day at Six Flags. This is one of the most famous amusement parks in the county and you can spend an entire vacation riding rollar coasters, water rides and more!