I was raised in a small town in the Midwest. Traffic, parking and navigating around town were non-issues. The downside to the small town was that their was little in terms of cultural experiences, museums, sporting events, and other entertainment.
When we moved to the Chicago area about 7 years ago, I was excited and intimidated to explore all Chicago had to offer. With three small girls and armed with Google Maps, I made myself get out of my comfortable suburban life and head into Chicago.
Chicago has so many great museums which makes for an easy, doable day trip into the city. When I go to a Chicago for a day at the museum, I do not try to add anything else into our day. Even though it is tempting to try out a fun restaurant or meet up with Mike for lunch, we just keep it simple and eat at the museum.
The Museum of Science + Industry Chicago
I was going to stick my toes into driving into the city by making my first museum stop one that is fairly easy to get to and has a large parking garage. The Museum of Science + Industry fit those benchmarks so I packed plenty of snacks, downloaded an audio-book, and ventured to the city.
We love this museum and go at least once a year. The Idea Factory was the girl’s favorite exhibit as they could play and explore with water. I saved this exhibit for the end of our day since it was inevitable that they would get wet.
Now we spend more time in the Science Storms, You! The Experience, and Numbers in Nature: Mirror Maze exhibits. We also try to do one of the additional paid experiences each time we go to keep the girls’ interest level high.
The Christmas Around the World exhibit is a must see during the holiday season.
The Shedd Aquarium is located on the Museum Campus right on Lake Michigan. This area is beautiful, easy to get to, and has plenty of parking since it is right next to Soldier Field.
When we plan to spend the day here, I pre-purchase our tickets online so that we can go through the Will-Call line which is usually shorter, faster, and comes in right near the kiosks to get your free tickets to the aquatic presentation.
This is my girls favorite museum and we usually do not have time to see it all in a day. They are so mesmerized watching the animals, playing in the play areas scattered about the museum, and exploring in the touch areas that time passes too quickly.
The Stingray Touch experience in only available late May- early Sept.
Last year, we studied astronomy and our visit to the Adler Planetarium made our curriculum come alive. Exploring their hands-on exhibits and watching Destination Solar System on their large screen helped make the solar system more tangible. The girls developed a deeper understanding of exploring space through engaging with the exhibits.
The Planet Explorers exhibit is one of our favorites as it is a place for kids to imagine, dress-up, and ready themselves for an adventure to outer space. The girls usually play in here for about an hour after we have enjoyed our lunch in their restaurant.
Our final stop in the planetarium is Mission Moon. It is an area to learn about what it takes to be an astronaut and explore uncharted space. It is always fun to get the girls picture in the astronaut scene. The planetarium is one of our top 3 museums in Chicago to take our girls to and usually only takes about 1/2 a day to explore.
Maggie Daley Park
During the spring, our family enjoys going to Maggie Daley Park. This is the perfect time to play in all their playscapes as most kids are still in school so it isn’t so busy that you can’t find your kids.
The slides here are metal so once the summer sun starts hitting them they heat up and are unbearable to use. We start with the large Slide Crater play area in the back and then work our way out of the area.
The girls favorite areas are:
- Slide Crater
- Enchanted Forest
- The Harbor
- The Sea: Lighthouse
In the winter, we like to ice skate on The Ribbon. It is fun to be on a ice skating trail instead of just a large rink. This is one of our favorite traditions that we look forward to each winter.
Millennium Park is best enjoyed in the summer months once the water feature is turned on. Our family likes to walk through the park and enjoy the art displays and get our picture in front of Cloudgate.
Then the last stop is at the Crown Fountain where the girls can splash around in the water and race between the towers. Be sure to pack an extra pair of clothes.
Chicago Tips with kids
If you are a bit overwhelmed at taking kids into the city, these are some ways to make your life easier.
- Leave late enough in the morning to miss the morning commute traffic.
- Have activities for the kids to do in the car if you hit traffic.
- Pack lots of snacks + drinks.
- Figure out where you are going to park before you leave home, I use SpotHero to prepay for my parking.
- Only park once, make sure all of your day’s activities are accessible from that one parking spot.
- Head home by 3:30 to avoid evening rush hour.
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