If you're planning a family vacation or looking for fun activities to do with your kids in Chicago, you're in luck! The Windy City is packed with a wide range of family-friendly attractions, from museums and parks to theaters and zoos. With so many options available, deciding where to go and what to do can be overwhelming. That's why we’ve compiled this roundup of 21 fun things to do in Chicago with kids by category. After all, no child has the same interests!
Find activities based on educational, unique, outdoor, and more types to find something that will provide hours of entertainment and unforgettable memories for the whole family.
Table of Contents
The Best Family-Friendly Activities in Chicago by Type of Activity
A. Educational Activities
1. The Shedd Aquarium
The Shedd Aquarium is a fantastic destination for kids of all ages. With over 32,000 animals and creatures from all over the world, the aquarium provides a unique opportunity for children to learn about marine life and conservation. Kids can touch stingrays, watch dolphin shows, and even go on youth-focused tours to see what goes on behind the aquarium's exhibits. The Shedd Aquarium is a must-visit destination for families looking for a fun and educational experience in Chicago.
2. The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum
The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum offers a variety of engaging activities for kids to explore the interactive exhibits, attend workshops and programs, and get up close with live animals like birds and butterflies. The museum's focus on nature and environmentalism provides a unique and educational experience for kids while also offering a fun day out for the whole family. With an educational mission and fun activities, the museum can keep kids of all ages engaged and can grow with them, so you can come back time and again.
3. Kohl Children’s Museum
The Kohl Children's Museum is an interactive space designed for kids to play, learn, and explore. With exhibits ranging from water play to a pretend grocery store, children can engage in hands-on activities that encourage creativity, critical thinking, and socialization. The museum's focus on interactive learning makes it an excellent destination for families looking for an exciting and educational outing. Kids (and parents) love it because the museum creates an engaging, motivating, and stimulating environment that excites children to learn.
B. Indoor Activities for Kids in Chicago
1. TILT at 360 Chicago
TILT at 360 CHICAGO is an adrenaline-pumping experience for kids who love heights. Located on the 94th floor of the former John Hancock Building, TILT provides a unique and thrilling view of the city. Kids can lean outwards on a glass window that tilts forward to a 30-degree angle, offering an exciting perspective of the Windy City. Kids must be at least 42” tall to ride TILT. Little thrill-seekers love this perspective of Chicago!
2. Virtual Reality
Redline VR offers a thrilling virtual reality experience for kids and adults alike. From exploring outer space to underwater adventures, kids can immerse themselves in a world of digital fun. The state-of-the-art technology and interactive gameplay make it a memorable and exciting activity for the whole family. Another great aspect of this experience is the ability to cater the activity to the interests of your children. If you have a child who is fascinated by the sea, you can foster that interest by exploring underwater adventures!
For high-octane fun, take the kids to WhirlyBall in Bucktown, where they can play laser tag, drive bumper cars, and play the classic namesake game, WhirlyBall. With multiple options, kids can enjoy spending a whole day jumping from one to another or leave looking forward to their next visit when they can try something new! Not to mention, they have some great food if the kiddos get the munchies in between games.
C. Outdoor Things to Do
1. Lincoln Park Zoo
The Lincoln Park Zoo is a no-brainer for fun family activities. The best part: it’s free! As a free activity that allows kids to observe nearly 200 different species of animals, pick their favorites, linger at exhibits as animals do silly things, and learn about each animal, parents and children will be raving about the time they spend here. They also host ticketed special events all year-round, including the summer concert Jammin’ at the Zoo, and the brilliant holiday display, Zoo Lights.
2. The Forge
Spend the day just 22 miles outside of Chicago at The Forge! The Forge is overflowing with activities for children of all ages and interests. With a Kids Adventure Pass (for ages 3-13) and the Explorer Pass (for ages 3+), the young kids can enjoy a one-of-a-kind jungle gym, and the older kids can hop from 10+ activities from archery to scavenger hunts to biking and everything in between. For thrill-seekers, you can also book the popular Climb & Zipline Adventure for kids ages 14 and up.
3. Glencoe Beach
Glencoe Beach in Chicago's North Shore offers a perfect summer destination for kids. With its sandy beach, clear waters, and fun water activities like paddleboarding, kayaking, and swimming, it's a great place to enjoy the sun and have some fun. This location is also great for walking, playing at their beachside park, having a picnic, playing volleyball, and more. This is especially perfect for warmer days and kids who love the water. Summer is full of programs at the beach, including outdoor movies and fun sleepovers under the stars.
D. Unique Experiences
1. Art Classes
Spark your child’s creativity at One Strange Bird, where you can enroll them in all-ages art classes and full-day art camps! One of our favorite things about their art classes is that they are outdoor and switch themes weekly, meaning your kids can always return for more. Art classes are an excellent way for children to explore different art mediums.
2. Urban Farming
Teach your kids where the best food comes from with youth-oriented programs at the Chicago Lights Urban Farm. As they dig in the dirt, they gain a sense of the importance of the environment and community. An activity like this is educational, delicious, and a great time for everyone.
3. Afternoon Tea
If you have children who enjoy a reason to feel fancy and dress up, they will love Afternoon Tea at the Drake Hotel. This century-old tradition has had royals grace its halls, from the Queen to Princess Diana. The Prince & Princess service for 3-12-year-olds is perfect for little tea connoisseurs or children that love to pretend to be a royal for the day.
E. Creative & Performing Arts
1. Playmakers Laboratory
Immerse your kids into the beauty of imagination with tickets to a Playmakers Lab public performance! These performances take written stories from real students in the PML creative writing programs and bring them to life. Kids love watching these playful, fun, and silly stories put on by actors, comedians, and musicians in the Chicago area!
2. Chicago Shakespeare Theatre
If you have children who love theater, they will be head over heels for a production at the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre at the Navy Pier. Not only is it a leader in year-round international work with wonderful arts-in-literacy programs, but it has new productions each season, so you can always come back for more. Support this non-profit and buy tickets to a show for you and the kids.
3. Music Box Theater
Built in 1929, the Music Box Theater on Southport is a fun treat that shows various sing-along movies throughout the year. Watch the Sound of Music, Mary Poppins, and seasonal Christmas movies here. This kind of activity in a historic theater provides a memorable environment with fantastic opportunities to sing along and explore your child's musical side.
1. Walk Millennium Park
Get the kids into architecture and nature with a walk in Millenium Park, taking time to check out The Bean, Crown Fountain, Lurie Garden, and other Chicago must-sees. This is a set of classic Chicago sites that even the kids can enjoy! From getting outside to taking silly pictures in the reflection of The Bean, this is an excellent way for kids to experience Chicago.
2. Chicago Water Taxi
Hop aboard a Chicago Water Taxi from the Riverwalk for a fun time on the River for the whole family! Whether you are looking to explore the city from a unique perspective or have kids that love boats, this is a unique way to soak up Chicago in its magnificence.
3. Wrigley Field Tour
Ignite your child’s love for sports and history with a tour of Wrigley Field, one of Chicago’s gems with over 100 years of history! You can watch a game, wander through the seats and concessions, or tour the whole stadium. Every Cub fan—big or small—will love stepping onto the field where so many greats have played, sitting in the dugouts, and more!
G. Large Group Activities
Bowling is a great activity for the whole family! With so many options, you can try out a ton of different places to bowl, each offering delicious food to try as well! Chicago has many great bowling locations, including Pinstripes, Seven Ten Social, Diversity River Bowl, Waveland Bowl, and Lucky Strike. Bowling is a great way for everyone to get in on the fun.
2. Escape Rooms
Foster your child’s problem-solving skills with an escape room! With different themes and locations, this adventure is one that you can return to time and again. Some of the most highly rated locations are The Escape Game, Mastermind Escape Games, and Fox in a Box Escape Rooms. Find the perfect theme for your little adventurers.
3. Scavenger Hunts
Explore the city with a team-bonding scavenger hunt. These activities are great for kids to think, explore, and adventure. The hunts will take groups all over the city, helping participants to experience the culture and learn about exciting places. This is a fun and interactive way to get out in Chicago!
Whether your kids love learning, theater, staying inside, or exploring the outdoors, this list of family-friendly activities is a helpful (and less overwhelming) place to start.
While you visit the city, how can you do more while visiting Chicago? You might want to consider getting a pass that gives you discounted access to multiple top Chicago attractions, including some of the recommendations from above, like the Shedd Aquarium, 360 CHICAGO - TILT thrill ride, and more. Check out our review of the best Chicago Attractions Passes to help you explore your options.
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