Chicago may be famous for its shopping on the Magnificent Mile, but it also has a magnificent array of fun things to do for kids and families.
At the top of the list for fun is the famous Chicago Museum of Science and Industry (57th Street and Lake Shore Drive). This isn’t your typical go and see museum. It’s hands-on, interactive fun throughout. Where else can a kid climb aboard a World War II submarine, plunge into a working coal mine or work alongside robots in a toy factory? The largest science museum in the Western Hemisphere is home to more than 35,000 artifacts and 14-plus acres of hands-on exhibits designed to spark scientific inquiry and creativity (not to mention, fun).
What kid doesn’t love a dinosaur? The Field Museum (aka, Museum of Natural History) has one of the most famous dinosaurs, Sue, the fossilized bones of the largest, most complete, and best preserved T. rex fossil ever discovered. Plus a dinosaur hall with lots more great dinosaur stuff. Kids can also wander among ancient mummies and discover what life was like for Egyptians 5,000 years ago, explore the earth beneath their feet and learn what it takes to live a bug’s life in Underground Adventure or take an up-close look at their favorite animals from around the world in Nature Walk at the Field Museum (1400 S. Lake Shore Dr).
The Lincoln Park Zoo (2001 N Clark St) is one of the finest zoos in the world and the price is right: It’s free! Favorites at the zoo include the Seal Lion Pool with underwater viewing, the Pritzker Family Children’s Zoo with sidewalk fountains that randomly spray and squirt visitors, the AT&T Endangered Species Carousel, the Farm-in-the-Zoo, which features a variety of new animals, down-home demonstrations and fresh-grown food, the Regenstein Center for African Apes, where chimpanzees and gorillas can be seen exploring their outdoor habitats, the Regenstein Birds of Prey Exhibit with a magnificent rescued Bald Eagle, the Kovler Penguin/Seabird House with an underwater-viewing pool, and the McCormick Bear Habitat, where the sight of polar bears diving deep into their pool at their underwater-viewing window is always a crowd-pleaser. The Lincoln Park Zoo includes several eateries: the Big Cats Café, Café Brauer, and Landmark Café.
For a sky-high thrill, take the family to the Sears Tower Skydeck (233 S Wacker Dr), the highest observatory in Chicago, or the Hancock Observatory at the John Hancock Center (875 N Michigan Ave). On a clear day you can see four different states (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin) from the Sears Tower Skywalk (1,353 feet) or the Hancock Observatory Skywalk (1,000 feet above the street). Or travel virtually through the skies at the Adler Planetarium and Astronomy Museum (1300 South Lake Shore Dr), home to two full-size planetarium theaters, including the world’s first all-digital projection StarRider Theater, plus one of the world’s most important antique instrument collections.
Take the plunge (virtually) at the Shedd Aquarium (1200 S Lake Shore Dr), the largest indoor aquarium in the world. Enjoy a 360-degree tour of an underwater reef community, see dolphins and beluga whales, watch more than two dozen sharks in a 400,000-gallon habitat, or take an exotic journey into the Amazon, in a 8,600 square-foot walk-through flooded forest that houses 250 species including a giant snake, venomous ants and 73 kinds of catfish.
For a kid-friendly tour of the Windy City, try the Chicago Trolley Tour (various locations) where you can enjoy a tour of the highlights of the city on a Chicago Trolley or Chicago Double Decker bus and hop on or off any Trolley or Double Decker at scheduled stops to eat, shop and see the sites. See the city from the water on the Wacky Pirate Cruise (400 N Michigan Ave), an hour of maritime merriment complete with tall tales and swashbuckling sing-a-longs. Seadog Speedboat Cruises (Navy Pier) offers a 30-minute Speedboat Lake Tour and a 75-minute River & Lake Architecture Tour.
Want to eat and be entertained? There are plenty of choices in Chicago. The Navy Pier (600 East Grand Ave) is one of the most popular. It offers a 15-story tall Ferris Wheel, an IMAX Theatre, the Chicago Children’s Museum, cruises on the lake (the Seadog Speedboat Cruises leave from the Pier), and performances at the Pepsi Skyline Stage. The Navy Pier has eight restaurants, as well as an ample food court, and plenty of shops with everything from bikes to books and from souvenirs to sunglasses. ESPN Zone (43 E Ohio St) is a combination sports, entertainment and dining venue featuring the Sports Arena for interactive sports and the Screening Room for viewing sporting events. Dave & Buster’s (1030 N. Clark) is a restaurant, bar, and indoor play arena with over 200 games to choose from, from the classics to the latest and greatest interactive and video games.
Other family-friendly restaurants in Chicago include the Rainforest Café (605 N. Clark St) where the jungle theme includes sounds of waterfalls, thunder and lightning, and wild animals; Ed Debevic’s (640 N. Wells St), an ode to the lunch-counter with great burgers and milkshakes plus waitresses that will insult (in fun); Wishbone (1001 W Washington Blvd), a southern-style restaurants with a children’s menu and an in-house picture book, “Floop the Fly” by the owner’s parents; Gino’s East (633 N. Wells St), the famous Chicago pizzeria; Maggiano’s Little Italy (516 N Clark St), with heaping plates of pasta served family-style; Hot Doug’s (3324 N California) with the finest hot dogs and sausages in town; or Harry Caray’s Restaurant (33 W Kinzie St), named for the late Hall of Fame baseball announcer, almost a sports museum, crammed with photos, artwork and autographed bats and balls.