It may not be your first thought, but Chicago is made for kids. Chicago is a great walking city that kids will love because of the countless restaurants, museums, tall buildings, shops and attractions. They will never get bored and it’s fantastic family time.
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Willis Tower ( formerly and still mainly called The Sears Tower) is a lot of fun! Tip: try and go first thing in the morning as there is little to no line.
Going to Willis Tower is one of the best ways to get a great look at Chicago. On a clear day, you can see four states! Although it was a little scary at first, I enjoyed going out on the Sky Deck. The boys had no fear at all! We watched Ferris Bueller’s Day Off a couple of weeks before the trip ( if your kids are old enough, have a family movie night and watch it). It’s a funny movie and it got the boys even more excited to go to Chicago. When you are at Willis Tower, you and the family can recreate the scene from Ferris Bueller where they lean against the glass.
In a very rare splurge, we stayed at The Langham. It’s truly a 5-star hotel in every single sense of the word. The fantastic location on the river, close walking distance to the Riverwalk, many restaurants and shops make it a perfect choice! It was our oldest’s birthday while we were there and they brought cupcakes for all of us. There is a first class spa, arcade/game room for kids and more amenities than I could list. Even if you don’t stay at the Langham, selecting a hotel in this general area will be a great choice.
The Architecture Boat Tour
This was one of our favorite things! We chose the boat tour that went out onto Lake Michigan and it was truly beautiful and fun. The boys loved every second of it! The tour down the river was informative and it kept the boys’ attention the entire time. It takes a little longer when you choose the tour that goes onto the Lake, but it really is worth it. We chose the Wendella Lake & River Cruise.
A visit to Chicago wouldn’t be complete if you didn’t take your kids to one or both of these. In the Abbott Oceanarium, you can see beluga whales, penguins, dolphins and sea otters. The beluga whales were a big hit with the boys. They love to play and have “toys” they swim around with. From late May to mid-September, you can go to the stingray area and touch them as they go by. Before you get there, you can play the game of “what do you think they will feel like”. Will the stingrays feel scratchy or soft (your kids will find out)? Tip: it’s a busy place, so buy your tickets ahead of time to avoid the long line.
The Field Museum is absolutely incredible! Do you have a dinosaur fan-check. Do you have a geology fan-check. Do you have someone in your family fascinated by mummies-check. Truly, it has it all and your kiddos will find it fascinating plus, after visiting all of this, they will sleep well that night.
In the Hall of Dinosaurs, you can see Sue, the 40 foot tall T-Rex skeleton. Inside Ancient Egypt has a ton of artifacts to view. There is also a family playlab that younger kids will really enjoy. Inside the Grainger Hall of Gems, there is an ancient Egyptian garnet necklace more than 3,400 years old. There is beautiful jade, huge topaz and opals. There are over 600 gemstones and over 150 pieces of antique jewelry. When we were there, we were lucky enough to see some of the Terra Cotta Army. They were discovered in China in 1974 and are believed to be from the late third century BCE!
We have been taking our kids to art museums since they were in strollers so they are used to going and they really enjoy the visits. There was no way I was going to miss seeing some of the outstanding artwork on display at the Art Institute. Tip: If your kids are hesitant on going, play a game. We starting doing this when the boys were little. After each gallery, they have to choose which art piece they like best and we all compare. It’s a fun way to see what each of you like and it is surprising what they choose sometimes. Our youngest still likes to pick out his favorite and then he will create his own backstory to go along with the painting. Inside the Ryan Learning Center, there is a Family Room and an Interactive Gallery for children to create, build and engage in hands-on activities.
Millennium Park is a 24.4 acre section of Grant Park known for Cloud Gate (a.k.a “The Bean”) . There is an ice skating rink, bike area, pavilions and galleries. It’s within walking distance from the Art Institute and also close to shopping and restaurants. Getting a picture at “The Bean” is a must!
Wrigley Field Tour
We couldn’t visit Chicago and not do the Wrigley Field tour. If it is a non-gameday, you will get to tour the seating bowl, press box, bleachers, visitor’s clubhouse, Cubs’ dugout and the field. Our tour guide was great as he clearly loves what he does and has a passion for the Cubs, Wrigley Field, and its history. The boys really liked being able to go into the dugout and press box in particular. The tour lasts about 90 minutes and the tour price is reasonable. Children under 2 are free.
Navy Pier is the ultimate playground for kids. There is a Children’s Museum, Polk Bros park, IMAX theater, the Crystal Gardens, carousel and, of course, the Centennial Wheel. The wheel offers incredible views of the city and the water. The large enclosed gondolas are comfortable and will fit several people. The rates are pretty reasonable for this experience: Adult $18, Child ages 3-11 $15, children under 3 are free and Military $15. There are tons of restaurants and shops, including Chicago’s famous deep dish pizza!
Navy Pier also does a spectacular fireworks show on Wednesday & Saturday nights from Memorial Day through Labor Day. It really is a can’t miss!
What/Where to Eat
There are so many amazing choices in restaurants, you may have trouble deciding which ones to go to. Chicago is famous for its deep dish pizza and their Italian beef sandwiches. You can get both at Giordano’s and it was so good we ate there twice- once at the location by Millennium Park and once at Navy Pier. They also had some tasty salads and there is a kid’s menu that offers chicken fingers if someone in your group is not into pasta or pizza.
After we checked into our hotel, the boys wanted to go straight to Shake Shack. True, you can go to Shake Shack in many places, but we don’t have one at home and the boys were really excited. I have to say my favorite thing is the shake sauce, it’s really good. The boys loved the burgers and the shakes and it hit the spot for sure.
Our hotel was in walking distance to Eataly and I have to tell you, it is a great place to go. Two words: Nutella Bar! Even if you don’t stop at the Nutella Bar, there are a ton of options upstairs where everyone can get what they would like and meet back at a table to eat.
We had two nights of “finer dining”. First up was RPM Steak, again it was in walking distance from our hotel, which was nice. The food and service was impeccable and we would highly recommend it! The boys especially liked the cotton candy in a bowl they received after dinner. Your kids will enjoy it too!
The other night was spent at Shaw’s Crab House. It was right around the corner from the hotel. Shaw’s has been around quite a while and it is clear they know what they are doing. Shaw’s is famous for its fresh seafood and its service. It is a nicer restaurant, but it isn’t stuffy and our boys really enjoyed it. There is a buzz to this place that makes it feel alive with energy and we definitely plan to go back on our next visit.
Chicago’s food scene certainly has the classics, but there are real diverse options for you and your family. You really can’t go wrong.
City Pass is definitely something to consider. Depending on what you plan to do, it could save you a lot of money. As of the date of this writing, City Pass is having a sale on their passes. Currently, City Pass includes priority entry to the Shedd Aquarium, the Skydeck, as well as, an all access pass to the Field Museum. It also includes a choice between the Adler Planetarium or the Art Institute of Chicago and a choice between the Museum of Science & Industry or the 360 Chicago Observation Deck. If you plan on doing some or all of these things, getting the City Pass is less expensive than buying tickets at each attraction.
We really enjoyed our time in Chicago! It’s a kid-friendly city with TONS to do. While we didn’t have time to go to the Museum of Science & Industry, people who have gone have loved it and so did their kids. So, this may be another option if one of the attractions we listed doesn’t speak to you and your family.
My favorite thing we did and place we ate: The Art Institute/Architecture Tour and Shaw’s Crab House
Hubby’s favorites: The Art Institute/Wrigley Field Tour and RPM Steak
Our Oldest: Shedd Aquarium and RPM Steak
Our Youngest: Shedd Aquarium and RPM Steak
We hope you find this list helpful when you go to Chicago with your kids! Please come back to comment on your trip as we would love to hear from you!