Visiting Chicago with Children

Note: Attendees of the 126th annual meeting in Chicago should consider taking some time to explore the city between sessions. In the coming weeks we’ll be featuring articles on destinations, restaurants, and more to see in Chicago.

Hancock CenterChicago is a great city for kids, even on winter’s coldest days. Bundle them up from head to toe and prepare to stop for hot chocolate along the way. Here are some ideas for family activities, moving from south to north.

Hyde Park
For those kids who aren’t interested in wandering the quad at University of Chicago in preparation for their own academic careers, try the Museum of Science and Industry, where exhibits include a coal mine, a submarine, trains, and Apollo 8. After visiting the museum, peruse the great children’s section at 57th Street Books, try the Medici Restaurant, or head up to 53rd Street to eat at one of the Obama family’s favorites, Valois, where you can, as the awning reads, “See your food” (critical for many children).

Museum Campus
The museum campus is a draw for many families. At the Shedd Aquarium, don’t miss the coral reef on the lower level. The Field Museum features “Sue,” which the museum boasts is “the largest, most complete, and best preserved Tyrannosaurus rex ever discovered.” The museum’s exhibition on whales is also a lure for kids. The Adler Planetarium has a new immersive Deep Space Adventure, fun for little explorers. Admission to these museums is expensive but worth it.

Once your kids have worked up an appetite, take a quick cab ride to Manny’s, one of the best delis in the city.

The Loop
If your kids like trains, one of the most affordable attractions in Chicago is an “L” ride around the Loop on the brown line.

Hop off the “L” at the “Library” stop and visit the Harold Washington Library and the children’s reading room on the 2nd floor. The library is free and also houses a fantastic contemporary art collection.

For a bird’s eye view of the city, ride the elevator to the 103rd floor of Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower) to visit the Skydeck. There aren’t a lot of clear days in January in Chicago, but, if you are fortunate, your kids will be able to see all the way across the lake to Michigan.

The Chicago Cultural Center, which used to be the public library, is a fun building to explore with kids, especially the world’s largest Tiffany glass dome and the fantastic mosaics. Across the street, take the kids ice skating at Millennium Park, and brave the winter cold to snap a picture of your reflection in Anish Kapoor’s “Cloud Gate,” better known as “The Bean.”

Shedd AquariumThe Art Institute of Chicago is a must-see for any visitor to Chicago. The Kraft Education Center is fun and interactive, and offers art projects for children on Saturday mornings. The Thorne Miniature Rooms are also captivating for kids.

Navy Pier
Navy Pier includes the Chicago Children’s Museum, designed for babies, toddlers, and young children.

North Michigan Avenue
For another great view of the city, head over to the observatory in the John Hancock Building. This will put you within blocks of Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art.

Some shopping on North Michigan Avenue is designed to appeal to families, especially American Girl Place, 835 North Michigan; the Disney Store, 717 North Michigan; and the Lego Store, 835 North Michigan.

Lincoln Park
Moving north, visit the Chicago History Museum, with its Sensing Chicago exhibition for children. Near the museum, head to some of the indoor exhibits at the Lincoln Park Zoo and the Lincoln Park Conservatory.

Going West
Those who have the time to venture west could explore the free Garfield Park Conservatory, open to the public despite suffering extensive damage in a June 2011 hailstorm, or Brookfield Zoo. In Oak Park, older kids might enjoy seeing the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum and the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio.

Eating
If you have adventurous eaters, Chicago will fit the bill. The city boasts great restaurants of almost every ethnic variety. Chicagoans are passionate about pizza and will defend their favorite choice. All of these pizza places listed below have multiple locations, with some options close to the hotel:
Gino’s East, 162 East Superior
Lou Malnati’s, 439 North Wells
Giordano’s, 135 East Lake

Hot dogs are also important Chicago cuisine. Off the beaten path, nothing tops Superdawg; stop on your way from O’Hare for old-fashioned carhop service under the dancing hot dawgs at 6363 North Milwaukee. Closer to the meeting hotel, Gold Coast Dogs at 159 North Wabash, is quite good. Just don’t order one with ketchup; this is Chicago, after all.

Getting Around
Most of the attractions listed here are accessible by public transit. Check the Chicago Transit Authority trip planner.

One of the best resources for tourists is Time Out Chicago, which has a site for children’s activities.

Daniel Greene is vice president for research and academic programs at the Newberry Library; Lisa Meyerowitz is an art historian and freelance editor. Their kids have been to many of these places.

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  1. Jeff Burdick

    As a Chicagoan, I always recommend two things to visitors. 1.) Check out the free Chicago Greeters program. It’s a great way to see some of the city’s famous sights. See http://chicagogreeter.com/. And 2.) Also don’t forget to see some of the city’s historic sketch comedy. This humorous YouTube sketch video combines both, and will make you thankful that you won’t ever find a Chicago Greeter this bad: http://tinyurl.com/3ky9kw2

    Reply