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After months of steel­ing our­selves against sub-zero tem­per­a­tures, bat­tling unfor­giv­ing winds and the chills they bring, trudg­ing through snow­drifts that come up to our butts, we use sum­mer in Chica­go to its full advan­tage.  Because, let’s be hon­est — we’ve earned every last ray of sun­shine Moth­er Nature is gra­cious enough to final­ly bestow on us.

Peo­ple are out and about. Patios are open and bub­bling with friend­ly con­ver­sa­tion.  The Lake Michi­gan beach­es are crowd­ed with sun­bathers, pad­dle board­ers, and ice cream ven­dors. And up by Wrigley Field, you can hear the col­lec­tive cho­rus of cheers, chants, and dis­ap­point­ed groans depend­ing on how our beloved Cub­bies hap­pen to be far­ing in the day’s game.

If ever there was a time to do a Chica­go fam­i­ly trip, sum­mer is def­i­nite­ly it.  And while this sum­mer might look a lit­tle dif­fer­ent than sum­mers past, you can be assured that the spir­it of the city will be as vibrant as ever. Espe­cial­ly because peo­ple have been cooped up so long!

So, when you’re ready to trav­el after quar­an­tine, here’s a list of all of our favorite fam­i­ly-friend­ly things to see and do in the Windy City, this sum­mer or when­ev­er you feel ready to start explor­ing again.


Take an Architecture Boat Tour

chicago river

See all the great Chica­go archi­tec­ture from a new van­tage point — the riv­er!
Pho­to by Cody Board


This is hands down our fam­i­ly’s favorite “touristy” thing to do in Chica­go on a nice sum­mer (or even crisp fall) day.  We’ve been on archi­tec­ture boat tours many times with var­i­ous friends and fam­i­ly mem­bers, but the tours nev­er get old.  There are sev­er­al options to choose from, but our favorite is the offi­cial Chica­go Archi­tec­ture Foun­da­tion Cen­ter Riv­er Cruise

See some of Chicago’s famed archi­tec­ture and hear the leg­ends of cen­turies past (includ­ing that famous one about Mrs. O’Leary’s cow and a lit­tle fire she start­ed) while glid­ing down the Chica­go Riv­er on Chicago’s First Lady.  The sto­ries and all the great sight­see­ing are sure to keep even the lit­tlest trav­el­ers enter­tained.  The views of the city are hard to beat plus almost every kid loves being in a boat!


Visit the mob’s old haunts on the Chicago Crime Tour

Chicago’s seedy and sor­did his­to­ry is no secret.  The city’s streets were once the play­ground for some of the world’s most noto­ri­ous crim­i­nals, like Al Capone, John Dillinger, and H.H. Holmes.  Stake­out their old haunts and bear wit­ness to the infa­mous crime scenes of his­to­ry, all from the cli­mate-con­trolled lux­u­ry of a giant tour bus (Chica­go sum­mers can get hot, friends).  We rec­om­mend Chica­go Crime Tours — they’re fun­ny and knowl­edge­able and incor­po­rate a mix of tour­ing on the bus and walk­ing around a bit. 

Be advised that there is some minor pro­fan­i­ty, and if you know any­thing at all about Al Capone, then it prob­a­bly goes with­out say­ing that the sub­ject mat­ter like­ly won’t be suit­able for younger ears. 


Dig into science at the Museum of Science and Industry

It might sound like a bit of a snooz­er, but I promise the Muse­um of Sci­ence and Indus­try is a hands-on, inter­ac­tive expe­ri­ence the whole fam­i­ly will enjoy.  With exhibits like Swiss Jol­ly Ball that show­cas­es the world’s largest pin­ball machine and VR Space­walk that allows you to expe­ri­ence what it’s like to float out­side the space sta­tion, the whole point of the muse­um is to make sci­ence fun.  (I know, I thought it was impos­si­ble too.)

The Baby Chick Hatch­ery exhib­it is also not to be missed, your kids will love it and you’ll get some great Ins­ta shots!


Take a walk around the Lincoln Park Zoo

I’ll be upfront and say it — I’m not a zoo per­son.  I tend to view zoos the way I view Tom Cruise movies — if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.  And hon­est­ly, watch­ing two Bono­bos scream at each oth­er over a toy rope is not all that dif­fer­ent from what I get to see at home on a dai­ly basis — just swap out the rope for a tablet.

But the Lin­coln Park Zoo is dif­fer­ent and one that every­one in my fam­i­ly (myself includ­ed) loves going to.  The first key dif­fer­ence is that it’s small.  No wan­der­ing around for an hour before real­iz­ing you have yet to leave the South Amer­i­ca exhib­it.  You can prob­a­bly see this entire zoo in less than two hours — and that’s with a bath­room break, a stop for cot­ton can­dy, and a ten-minute inter­lude to watch the goril­las.  It’s also very clean and well-main­tained.  And the best part is it’s smack dab in the mid­dle of a city, which makes it a very sur­re­al and unique zoo-going expe­ri­ence, espe­cial­ly for kids.

Oh, and did I men­tion admis­sion is com­plete­ly free? 


Pop in to see the penguins at Shedd Aquarium

These pen­guins vis­it­ed the Shedd Aquar­i­um while it was closed dur­ing quar­an­tine and they thought it was pret­ty cool.


But if you think their opin­ion seems a bit fishy, I’ll tell you that my fam­i­ly absolute­ly loves the Shedd Aquar­i­um.  The aquar­i­um is home to tons of unique marine and wildlife from all over the world and fea­tures beau­ti­ful aquar­i­ums show­cas­ing tons of unique and exot­ic fish.  The shark and dol­phin exhibits are pop­u­lar favorites in our fam­i­ly, as are the stingrays and sea otters.  And as an added bonus, the Shed­d’s loca­tion just south of the city lends itself to some pret­ty incred­i­ble sky­line views, so have your phone ready!


Visit Sue at the Field Museum

sue at the field museum

We’re hav­ing Juras­sic Park flash­backs.
Pho­to by Chris Nguyen


Who is Sue, you ask?  Just a famous 40 foot long T Rex skele­ton at Chicago’s Field Muse­um. She’s the largest T‑Rex skele­ton ever found, and at around 90% com­plete, she’s also the most intact.  And absolute­ly insane to see in person. 

Once you’re done ogling Sue, you can decode some hiero­glyph­ics in the Ancient Egypt exhib­it, learn about Chicago’s sto­ried his­to­ry of brew­ing beer, or take a nature walk through the Wilder­ness exhibit. 


See American Gothic (and tons of other classics) at The Art Institute of Chicago

The Art Insti­tute of Chica­go is a per­son­al favorite, though it’s admit­ted­ly less excit­ing than some of the oth­er items on this list.  But if you have kids who like (or tol­er­ate) art, this is def­i­nite­ly a must-vis­it.  When I first moved to Chica­go, I was shocked at how many famous works of art were housed in the Insti­tute, like A Sun­day After­noon on the Island of La Grande Jat­te by George Seu­rat, Nighthawks by Edward Hop­per, and Vin­cent Van Gogh’s 1887 Self-Por­trait.  All of them are even more impres­sive in person. 

The muse­um is huge and easy to get lost in, so plan ahead to make sure you have a chance to see all the classics. 


Visit Wrigley Field

wrigley field

Here we go, Cub­bies, here we go!
Pho­to by Heather Maguire


A base­ball mec­ca for sports fans every­where, Wrigley Field is cool to see even if you don’t like base­ball.  Though the sur­round­ing Wrigleyville neigh­bor­hood has gone through a mas­sive ren­o­va­tion in recent years, the his­toric base­ball field with its ivy-cov­ered brick walls and old school man­u­al score­board have been left unchanged.  Games can book out months in advance, so plan ahead and pop on over to Seat­Geek or Stub­Hub if you want to secure good tick­ets for a decent price. 

Game or no game, the ball­park is still fun to see and the neigh­bor­hood has plen­ty of great restau­rants for some local fare and peo­ple watch­ing, includ­ing Smoke Dad­dy BBQ, Big Star Tacos, and Wrigleyville Dogs, serv­ing up some of Chicago’s finest. 


Do a Kayak Tour on the River

For fam­i­lies with old­er kids who love a lit­tle adven­ture, kayak tours on the Chica­go Riv­er are always a great time, weath­er per­mit­ting.  You kayak with a group and have a tour guide, so don’t wor­ry, you’re not left to nav­i­gate the riv­er on your own.  We’ve done a cou­ple with Waterid­ers and they’re always a blast. Like the archi­tec­ture tour, the guides will stop the group every so often at points along the riv­er and share inter­est­ing facts about the city.  And while both sin­gle and dou­ble kayaks are offered, I’ve learned over the years that noth­ing caus­es mar­i­tal dis­putes quite like the ones you have while try­ing to co-nav­i­gate a dou­ble kayak. 

Don’t say I did­n’t warn you. 


Go to the top of Willis Tower

If you’ve ever won­dered what it’s like to stand more than a thou­sand feet in the air and look straight down at the world below you, then the Sky­deck at the top of Willis (for­mer­ly known as Sears) Tow­er is the thrill for you.  At the very top, large plex­i­glass box­es extend out of the build­ing and over the city, giv­ing the illu­sion that you are stand­ing sus­pend­ed over the streets below.

While I’m per­son­al­ly not a fan of heights, the expe­ri­ence always gets rave reviews from friends and fam­i­ly who brave the top.


Get Your Picture Taken by the Bean

the bean chicago

It’s lit­er­al­ly just a giant steel bean, but some­how it’s still fun!
Pho­to by Con­ner Free­man on Unsplash


We saved the most obvi­ous one for last.  Because have you even been to Chica­go if you return home with­out a self­ie in front of the Bean?  

You might won­der what’s so great about get­ting your fam­i­ly pic­ture tak­en in front of a giant met­al sculp­ture shaped like a legume that has a ten­den­cy to make you bloat, but we swear it’s fun and worth the walk! 

When You Go

Flights from LA to Chica­go are just over 4 hours and are offered by all major air­lines.  When fly­ing into Chica­go, you can fly into either Mid­way Inter­na­tion­al Air­port or O’Hare Inter­na­tion­al Air­port.  Nei­ther option is bet­ter than the oth­er — they’re both rel­a­tive­ly equidis­tant to the city cen­ter and both have El lines that oper­ate reg­u­lar­ly between the air­port and downtown.

For places to stay, Chica­go has tons of options to meet a vari­ety of pref­er­ences and bud­gets.  For the fam­i­ly look­ing for some­thing in the heart of the tourist dis­trict, The Ivy Hotel is a great option.  Just off of Michi­gan Avenue and close to Navy Pier, it’s the per­fect loca­tion for those look­ing to see a lot in a short amount of time.  But for those inter­est­ed in hav­ing a more relaxed and local expe­ri­ence, check out the Hotel Lin­coln.  Locat­ed in Chicago’s Lin­coln Park neigh­bor­hood, just a stones throw from the zoo, Hotel Lin­coln gives you city vibes with neigh­bor­hood feel.  For a tru­ly unique hotel stay in Chica­go, we rec­om­mend the Chica­go Ath­let­ic Asso­ci­a­tion Hotel, a gor­geous hotel con­vert­ed from the his­tor­i­cal Chica­go Ath­let­ic Asso­ci­a­tion just across from Mil­len­ni­um Park.

If you’re look­ing for a fun city get­away that the whole fam­i­ly will enjoy this sum­mer and beyond, Chicago’s got you covered! 

Mor­gan is a brand design­er and writer who splits her time between man­ag­ing her cre­ative stu­dio, Atlas + Anchor, and writ­ing about her life­long love affair with trav­el. A wan­der­lus­ter at heart, she’s a big pro­po­nent of explor­ing the roads less trav­eled because they often lead to amaz­ing views, mem­o­rable sto­ries, and the most unas­sum­ing but life-chang­ing restau­rants. Orig­i­nal­ly from Ohio, Mor­gan now lives in the heart of Chica­go with her fam­i­ly and is quite pos­si­bly the only per­son with­in city lim­its who hates deep dish pizza. 


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A Local's Guide to the 11 Best Family Friendly Things to Do in Chicago