Weekend Getaway With a Toddler: Chicago

Chicago is a great city to visit with toddlers. It is a city designed for the entire family, with kid-friendly museums, shows, food, and transportation. You can spend the entire weekend staying downtown and following the family-friendly path, or you can venture out into the city neighborhoods and explore. 

Cloud Gate in Millennium Park

Cloud Gate in Millennium Park

Must-See Hot Spots

Although a weekend isn’t nearly enough time to see all that Chicago offers, you can pack a lot in if you plan it right. Ride the free trolley (there are four of them) to Navy Pier, an iconic landmark that has been around for 100 years and a great place for entertaining little ones. Some of the fun attractions include:

  • Musical carousel and amusement rides
  • Chicago Children’s Museum
  • Amazing Chicago’s Funhouse Maze
  • Lake cruises
  • Gateway Park and Beaches

The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum is a fun place for nature-loving toddlers and adults. The butterfly haven is an internationally renowned greenhouse with more than 75 species of butterflies. Some exhibits that appeal to the younger crowd include the hands-on habitat, RiverWorks, and the family look-in lab.

The Lincoln Park Zoo is a short walk away from the nature museum, and it is one of the nation’s oldest zoos. Toddlers will not only enjoy seeing the variety of animals, but also their own children’s zoo, paddle boats, and the carousel. Better yet, the zoo offers free admission every day of the year.

Downtown encompasses a number of children-friendly museums. These include the Adler Planetarium, the Field Museum, and the Shedd Aquarium. At the Art Institute of Chicago, young children can enjoy the Lions Trail Family Tour and the family room that includes online stories, puzzles, blocks, and books for toddlers.

Chicago offers a variety of free entertainment. A popular destination is Cloud Gate in Millennium Park. Better known as the Bean, this mirrored-steel structure can entertain toddlers for hours. Walking along Michigan Avenue, you can see all sorts of musicians, entertainers, and other street performers.

Lincoln Park Zoo. Photo: Goldstar

Lincoln Park Zoo. Photo: Goldstar

Great Places to Take a Family Photo

What better way to remember your trip than with some fun family photos? Chicago offers a number of scenic backgrounds that make for great pictures. Some places to set up the camera include:

  • Navy Pier- Use the ferris wheel as a backdrop, or hop on one of the variety of cruises and use the city skyline as one.
  • Chicago Botanic Garden- Offering free admission, there are a variety of garden areas including the Aquatic Garden and the Bonsai Collection.
  • McCormick Bridgehouse and Chicago River Museum- This spot delivers views of the Chicago River and city skyline. Take a tour along the water if you want a photo in a specific spot on the river.
  • Lincoln Park Conservatory- Find indoor spaces that feature ancient ferns and tropical palms. It’s a perfect place for a photo shoot when the weather is less than ideal.
Chicago Navy Pier and Downtown Chicago skyline

Chicago Navy Pier and Downtown Chicago skyline

Must-Try Restaurants/ Snacks/ Food Stands

Chicago offers an array of food for those of all ages. If your toddler is not adventurous about cuisine, don’t worry. Most restaurants, including the fine ones, offer something along the bland-line, such as mac and cheese, mini burgers, and noodles with butter.

Chicago is known for its staple foods such as hot dogs, Italian beef sandwiches, and deep-dish pizza. While a traditional Chicago dog has onions, pickle, mustard, relish, and celery salt, don’t be afraid to ask for a hot dog with just ketchup if that is what your child prefers. Check out hot dog stands all over the city.

Chicago Pizza filled with cheese

Chicago Pizza filled with cheese

Chicago style hot dogs

Chicago style hot dogs

For Pizza lovers, check out one of these popular places around the city:

  • Lou Malnati’s- It has locations all over, and some kid-friendly items include three-cheese bread and chocolate chip pizza.
  • Pequod’s- Serves Chicago-style pizza and great appetizers.
  • Art of Pizza- A pizza joint that has gained popularity over the years.

Toddlers shouldn’t stop you from enjoying a nice dinner out. Some sit-down restaurants that have a laidback atmosphere, menus for picky eaters, and friendly wait staff include:

  • John’s Place- A more upscale place in Lincoln Park that also has a balloon animal artist and magician on Sunday evenings.
  • Rainforest Café- While the food may be overpriced, the kids love the mock jungle setting.
  • Rockwell’s Neighborhood Grill- With coloring crayons and books as well as a basket of suckers, this restaurant helps keep the little ones entertained. The cuisine is American-style, and the flowing beer appeases the adults.
  • Ed Debevic’s- A 50s rock ‘n’ roll diner that serves burgers with a side of sass, it is a popular family destination.

Things to be Aware Of

Chicago has so many family-centered exhibits and activities, that it can be exhausting. If you plan on visiting bigger attractions, such as the Art Institute, Field Museum, and Shedd Aquarium, space them out and don’t do more than one each day. Take breaks, such as in the North Garden of the Art Institute or at the Children’s Garden near the Field Museum.

If you visit Chicago in the summer, be sure to take advantage of water play areas where kids can cool off in the humid heat. Some can be found in the Play Garden in Maggie Daley Park and the Crown Fountain. Bring suits, water shoes, and extra clothes to change into afterwards.

In summer, the popular attractions have crazy lines. Get an early start for museums and the Skydeck, and take advantage of pre-paid tickets for the FastPass lines. Using the Chicago CityPass is also a great way to save time and money.

Chicago has a comprehensive public transportation system, so there is no need to rent a car, especially if you are staying near downtown. Be sure and ride the L trains in the Loop, as many kids find it to be a unique experience.

With so much to offer both young and old, Chicago is a great place to visit with kids, and we will help you navigate the challenges that come with travelling with little ones. For more travel tips and other kid-related advice, follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter

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