Family-Friendly Trips to Chicago
Chicago may be a big city, but it’s as kid-friendly as they come. World-class museums, fun neighborhood parks, Navy Pier, the Bean: the list goes on and on when it comes to family-friendly activities in Chicago. And while the city is great for all ages, you’ll want to spend some time planning to make the trip easier on you and more fun for the kids. Check out these tips for a family-friendly trip to Chicago.
Planning Your Trip
You’ve settled on Chicago as your family vacation destination. Now comes the fun part: planning the trip. Traveling with kids means you need a plan. Start early to give yourself enough time to research the options.
If your kids are old enough, get them involved in the trip planning. Help them research the options in the city, so they can choose which ones make the itinerary. Letting each person choose one must-do Chicago attraction is an easy way to settle any disagreements on how to spend your time there.
Make a list of all the attractions you want to see, and estimate how much time you want to spend at each one. Give yourself a buffer on both sides for transportation and unexpected meltdowns, and include your meals on the schedule. Use this information to build a day-by-day itinerary for your Chicago trip.
If you’re concerned about your budget, consider the Chicago City Pass. Use it to get into the five included attractions for a savings of 53% over the gate prices. The attractions include Shedd Aquarium, Skydeck Chicago, The Field Museum, The Museum of Science and Industry or 360 Chicago, and Adler Planetarium or the Art Institute of Chicago.
The Go Chicago Card features a similar discount option for top attractions. The All-Inclusive option saves up to 55 percent compared to what you would pay at the door at the 26 included attractions. For the Explore Pass, choose three to five activities, and save 40 percent compared to gate costs. The Build-Your-Own pass lets you save up to 25 percent on the two or more attractions you choose.
What to Take
Your packing list for a family trip to Chicago depends largely on the time of year you visit. Summer is a popular season for vacations to Chicago. It’s also hot in the city, so pack plenty of cool clothes for your little ones. Don’t forget the sunscreen and beach gear if you plan to splash in Lake Michigan. Spring and fall bring cooler temperatures. Pack layers and a jacket for everyone in the family. If you’re brave enough to visit Chicago in the winter, you’ll want lots of warm clothes. Bring warm parkas, hats, mittens and boots for the whole family.
Here are some other things to pack for your trip to Chicago:
- Comfortable shoes: Even though public transportation is great in Chicago, you’ll still end up walking a lot. Pack comfortable shoes for all family members.
- Toiletries: Run through a normal day to create a list of toiletries needed for yourself and your kids. Don’t forget medication and sunscreen.
- First-aid kit: Always carry your own bandages, antibiotic ointment, pain reliever and other first-aid essentials.
- Stroller or carrier: If you have young kids, a stroller or carrier is essential.
- Other baby/kid gear: Think about the gear you can’t live without when packing for Chicago. Many hotels offer portable cribs, so you can pack a little lighter. If you rent a car in Chicago, check into the option of renting a car seat instead of bringing one along.
- Baby essentials: Pack plenty of diapers, wipes, pacifiers, sippy cups, bottles, formula, baby food and other essentials.
- Activities: Whether you fly or drive to Chicago, pack plenty of entertainment options to keep your kiddos occupied. Those activities also come in handy at the hotel during downtime.
- Comfort items: Kids sometimes have difficulty sleeping in hotels. Bring along comfort items, such as a nightlight, stuffed animal or favorite blanket.
- Childproofing items: Have curious youngsters? Bring your own childproofing items to cover outlets, doorknobs and toilet lids at the hotel.
- Backpack: You’ll spend a lot of time away from your hotel, so you’ll want some basic items with you at all times. A backpack is a convenient way to tote all those items around Chicago.
Kid-Friendly Places to Stay
Choosing a hotel is always one of the biggest decisions for a vacation, especially in Chicago, where there are so many options. What makes a Chicago hotel family-friendly? It all comes down to location and amenities.
Staying in the downtown area keeps you close to the action. You can easily walk to nearby attractions, which is a big perk in Chicago, where parking is difficult and expensive. You’re also close to your room if the kids (or the parents) need a break. Keep in mind that most downtown hotels charge for parking.
Look for a hotel with a pool for fun downtime. If you’re staying downtown, don’t assume a hotel has a pool. While many do, there are several without pools. Also, consider the time of year. If you’re not going in the summer, opt for a hotel with an indoor pool. Staying at a hotel with complimentary breakfast saves money. Free Wi-Fi is another big selling point for families with lots of electronic devices.
Check out these kid-friendly options in the downtown Chicago area:
- Embassy Suites Chicago Downtown: Take a dip in the indoor pool, and enjoy complimentary breakfast in the morning. On-site laundry facilities come in handy when kids get messy. Enjoy the two-room suites with separate bedrooms and living rooms, so your family can spread out in the room.
- InterContinental Chicago: Kids love the indoor heated junior Olympic-sized pool at the InterContinental. This hotel also offers easy access to attractions.
- Hampton Inn & Suites Downtown: Stay close to parks and attractions and Hampton Inn & Suites Downtown. It has an indoor heated pool to keep the kids entertained and complimentary breakfast for easy mornings.
- Homewood Suites Downtown: Yet another downtown option with an indoor pool, Homewood Suites Downtown offers two-room suites with living rooms and bedrooms, including fully equipped kitchens. The complimentary grocery shopping service lets you easily stock that kitchen, or take advantage of the complimentary hot breakfast.
- Best Western River North: Splash in the indoor pool year-round at this affordable downtown hotel option. It’s just across the street from Rainforest Café, and the hotel offers affordable parking.
- Palomar Chicago: This hotel’s amenities include an indoor heated pool and laundry service. Kids also enjoy a welcome gift at Palomar Chicago. Another fun feature is the Guppy Love program, which provides you with a goldfish in your room during your stay. Don’t worry: the hotel staff takes care of feeding and caring for the fish. If you want to explore Chicago without kids, take advantages of the babysitting service. Child safety kits and child equipment rentals make the stay safe and convenient, and animal-print robes add a fun touch for your kids.
Getting Around in the City
Walking is an easy way to get around Chicago with your family. You get to see the city up close, and you don’t have to wait for public transportation. Stroller riders get to relax and take in the sights.
If you’re visiting somewhere in another part of the city, take advantage of public transportation. The L train is convenient and goes almost anywhere you want to go. Plus, how fun is it to ride on an elevated train? It may be your child’s favorite part of the city – and much cheaper than many of the museums and other top attractions.
Taxis and Uber are options if you prefer a quick, direct route to your Chicago destination. Both are plentiful in the city. You’ll pay a little more, but you can go directly from your hotel to your selected attraction for the day to save time.
When you head to Chicago with the family, the youngest members of the family often dictate how you spend your time. The trip is more enjoyable for everyone when the kiddos are happy and entertained. Rest assured, many of the kid-friendly spots are also favorites for the adults. With so many options for the whole family, it’s tough to narrow it down, but we’ve gathered some of our top recommendations to get you started.
Chicago is known for its museums, and you have plenty to choose from, many full of kid-friendly displays. The Field Museum is a natural choice. It’s where you’ll find Sue, the famous T-Rex, along with many other kid-friendly exhibits.
The Museum of Science and Industry is another must-do for families. Explore the many interactive exhibits, go deep inside a coal mine shaft and check out a German submarine. Plan to spend some time here, especially if you want to see everything.
Shedd Aquarium is a museum of sorts, housing 1,500 different species of aquatic animals. You’ll see whales, sea otters, dolphins and numerous fish species, among other interesting swimmers.
Adler Planetarium delights the star lovers in the family. Check out the different shows and displays to explore the mystery of the sky.
The Chicago Children’s Museum lets your little ones run freely and touch everything. It’s located inside Navy Pier, so it’s easy to find. Some of the highlights include a three-story schooner waiting to be explored, a dinosaur area and Kids Town for the youngest kiddos.
Navy Pier offers a range of entertainment options, from simply watching the boats to riding the Ferris wheel and other rides.
Lincoln Park Zoo is another favorite entertainment spot in the city. The zoo is free. You feel like you’re just walking through a park that happens to have zoo animals in it. Chicago has plenty of other parks for burning off energy, though none of the others features a full zoo. Check out the conservatories in Lincoln Park and Garfield Park to see some amazing plant life.
If you head to Chicago in the summer, spend some time on one of the Windy City’s many beaches. Some of the best family-friendly beaches include Oak Street Beach, North Avenue Beach, Montrose Beach and Foster Beach.
While most of the Magnificent Mile won’t appeal to kids, there are some stores that always delight the kids. If you have an American Girl doll fan, you can’t miss a stop at American Girl Place. The Lego Store is another kid-approved favorite. Head to the Disney Store for your fill of your favorite characters.
See the City:
Chicago has many iconic sights and landmarks to add to your list. Stop in Millennium Park for a picture next to the Bean. Your kids will enjoy seeing themselves in the sculpture, and you’ll get those obligatory shots for your scrapbook. A boat tour is a great way to keep the kids entertained and see the city at the same time.
Before you leave town, check out the city from above. You have two primary options: the Willis Tower — still referred to by most locals by its former name, the Sears Tower — and the John Hancock Building. Skydeck Chicago in the Willis Tower offers interactive displays perfect for kids, coloring books, quizzes and a scavenger hunt to make the trip exciting. Glass boxes extending from the wall let you get a great view of the city. The Hancock Building features 360 Chicago, with views of four different states. Check out the Tilt experience with kids ages 12 and older. The windows in this section tilt out to a 30-degree angle for an exhilarating view.
If your family includes junior sports fans, Chicago offers some great options. Head to the “Friendly Confines” of Wrigley Field to take in a Cubs game, or, if you prefer, take in a White Sox game. During the fall, the Bears fill Soldier Stadium for football fun. The sports option works best for families with older kids who can handle sitting through an entire game.
Chicago has no shortage of restaurant options, but not all of them are ideal when you have kids with you. Kid-friendly restaurants make the meal less stressful for you. The best Chicago restaurants for families take kids into consideration, with expansive kids’ menus, fun activities or some unique niche aspect that appeals to the little ones. Some Chicago restaurants even offer stroller valets and other accommodations that make dining out more relaxing for the entire family.
Check out these kid-friendly restaurants in Chicago:
- Rainforest Café: Dine amid your favorite rainforest animals in animatronic form at Rainforest Café.
- Weber Grill: Everyone can enjoy a delicious meal at Weber Grill. The kids’ menu features a large selection, and the food comes on fun divided plates to keep everything separate – perfect for the picky eater who doesn’t like his food touching.
- Crosby’s Kitchen: Enjoy the little touches at Crosby’s Kitchen, including a stroller valet, bathroom step stools and free daily dining for kids from 4 to 6 p.m.
- R.J. Grunts: Stop at this kid-friendly restaurant after a trip to Lincoln Park Zoo. Special sippy cups look just like a regular cup, so kids don’t complain. Take advantage of the stroller valet.
- Wishbone: Eat at Wishbone on family night, when the restaurant shows cartoons to keep the littlest diners entertained. Kids eat free on family nights.
- Honey Butter Fried Chicken: Slather a little honey butter on your kids’ chicken strips for a delicious treat. Kids get stickers as a bonus.
- Nana: Order the teddy bear pancake or one of the other kid-friendly menu items at this farm-to-table spot.
- Rock ‘n’ Roll McDonald’s: Chicago has a wide range of kid-friendly restaurants, but some kids just want that familiar burger and fries. Make the trip a little more palatable with a stop at the Rock ‘n’ Roll McDonald’s in the River North neighborhood. It’s not your typical McDonald’s. The restaurant has a unique look inside and out, and it includes many pieces of rock memorabilia.
- Giordano’s: How could we keep our delicious pizza off the list? Your kids will feel right at home at Giordano’s. We have plenty of locations, so you can find one wherever you spend your time.
Special Considerations for Young Kids
Chicago works for all ages, but families with young kids may need to modify their plans somewhat. Nap time is a major factor when traveling with babies and toddlers. Chicago offers a robust public transportation system, but it takes time to travel from your hotel to all of the cool places to see. Get up and moving early to maximize your little one’s alertness before naptime crabbiness settles in.
Choose age-appropriate attractions, so the whole family gets to enjoy the trip. Sure, you may want to tour some breweries or visit several museums, but you won’t enjoy them with a bored toddler in tow. Look for attractions with interactive displays or colorful things to look at that will hold your little one’s attention. Good options include Shedd Aquarium, Millennium Park and Lincoln Park Zoo. Then, plan an adults-only trip back to the city to hit up those other attractions.
Chicago is a very walkable city, but don’t forget it is still a busy city full of businesspeople, speedy taxi drivers and lots of other tourists. An umbrella stroller or baby carrier keeps your little one contained as you explore the city.
Tips for the Trip
Heading out to Chicago soon? Keep these last-minute tips in mind to make the trip easier:
- Make reservations early: Everyone wants to stay downtown when visiting Chicago. If you’re going during the busy summer season, reserve your room well in advance to guarantee the hotel you want.
- Buy tickets in advance: Save yourself time and money by purchasing tickets for museums and attractions before your trip. Buying online usually results in a small discount. You also get to skip the line at most places. For popular spots like the Shedd Aquarium and the Museum of Science and Industry, those lines can be quite long.
- Eat early: Just like hotels, restaurants fill up quickly. Make reservations if you have a particular kid-friendly restaurant in mind. If you don’t like to commit ahead of time, go for early dinners to beat the crowds. Cutting out the wait time keeps kids happier, so you can enjoy your meal in peace.
- Build in flexibility: With so many great family activities to see, it’s tempting to pack in as much as possible. With kids along for the trip, that plan increases the chances of meltdowns. Build in plenty of downtime to rest and recover for the next day’s adventures. That flexibility also lets you deal with unexpected issues that pop up.
- Prepare for potty breaks: Depending on where you are, you can usually find a store or hotel with a convenient public restroom for those “really-have-to-go” moments. Take regular pit stops to avoid those emergency situations, so you can take your time finding the perfect bathroom.
- Head out early: Not only do you capitalize on your kids being alert and ready to go, you avoid long lines at popular attractions, which often grow as the day goes on.
- Pack snacks: You may spend most of your day away from your hotel room, so bringing snacks and water along keeps your kiddos happy. These snacks also come in handy if you face a long wait for a restaurant table.
- Know when to take a break: With so many things to see and do, Chicago can be a bit overwhelming for kids. Take a breather when your kiddos show signs of sensory overload.
What’s more family-friendly than pizza? Stop by Giordano’s while you’re in town — we have locations all over Chicago. We also offer delivery and carry-out if you just need to relax in your hotel room with the best pizza in Chicago. Our pizza satisfies every appetite, from Grandpa down to the youngest family members.