Chicago for Families

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Chicago for Families
The Chicagoland area is full of family-friendly day trips easily accessed by car or train. Take the kids to visit Legoland or Six Flags Great America, or spend a day in nature at the Indiana Dunes State Park.
By Kaitlyn Barrett, AFAR Local Expert
Photo by Henryk Sadura/age fotostock
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    Shooting for the Stars at Adler Planetarium
    Adler has designed a wonderful museum suitable for children and adults. Kids will love the play area, known as Planet Explorers, where they can play space operator with rovers and rocket launch simulators, peer through microscopes, and crawl through caves and tunnels. Adults will appreciate Adler after Dark, an evening of unlimited sky shows, cocktails, and live entertainment. The museum has an enormous telescope and a couple of star theaters, where daily shows help little ones consider complex topics, like space travel, night sky vistas, and interplanetary relationships.
    Photo by Henryk Sadura/age fotostock
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    LEGOLAND Discovery Center
    Only 37 minutes outside of Chicago, the marvelous land of LEGO awaits. Filled with LEGO replicas of pirates, dinosaurs, monkeys, space ships, Star Wars characters, the Chicago skyline, and NASCAR racers, this attraction proves that if it exists, then someone has recreated it with LEGO. But while LEGOLAND is certainly about the sheer fun of connecting the iconic blocks, the center also has a 4-D cinema with misters and air effects, a Master Builder Academy for budding engineers, a factory tour where you can see how the bricks are made, and a laser zapper ride with dragon cars. Visitors with kids who love LEGO will never forget the experience.
    Photo by Gino de Graaf/age fotostock
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    Adventures at Six Flags Theme Park
    Less than an hour north of Chicago, Six Flags Great America is a classic theme park with roller coasters, carnival rides, hot dogs, and funnel cakes on the midway, and evening shows with gunfights and singing contests. Six Flags also has a 10,000-square-foot water park with rides and a simulated ocean, making it a full day of entertainment for everyone. In the summer have some nighttime fun with Coasters after Dark. Autumn visitors can attend Fright Fest in September and October, which features Monstertainment shows, scary rides, and zombies, ghosts, and terrors on the midway. Online deals abound for this theme park, and season passes are a great deal for visitors who will spend more than one day exploring.
    Photo by Chuck Eckert/age fotostock
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    Run down the Indiana Dunes
    Sand dunes topping heights of 200 feet tower over the wild, untrammeled shores of Lake Michigan, just a 45-minute drive east of Chicago's downtown Loop. Indiana Dunes State Park has more than 2,000 acres of wilderness that are crisscrossed with hiking trails and recreational areas, and it's the perfect family retreat when the urban hustle of Chicago gets to be too much. There is no entry fee to this gorgeous natural retreat—though West Beach costs a few dollars to enter—and the Visitor Center is open every day to provide historical and ecological information. The park can be enjoyed any time of the year, with leaf-peeping hikes in fall and cross-country skiing over the dunes when the snow falls.
    Photo by Franz Marc Frei/age fotostock
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    Illinois Wine Country
    The state of Illinois has six wine trails running the length of the state and extending into Michigan and Wisconsin. More than 450 vineyards and 100 wineries are open to visitors for touring; they range from small boutique establishments to large, internationally known labels. Families who enjoy wine can drive a short distance on a day trip from Chicago, or spend a week driving an entire trail to sample the different wines Illinois has to offer. Illinois is especially well-known for its award-winning fruit wines made from peaches, apples, and berries.
    Photo by Jeff Greenberg/age fotostock
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    The Field Museum of Natural History
    Contained within Chicago's Field Museum of Natural History are 25 million different objects, including Sue, the most complete Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton in the world. The collections also feature prehistoric reptiles, tribal masks, insects, and botanical specimens. In addition to the permanent collections, the Field shows temporary exhibits and features a 3-D cinema, all of which are open to visitors holding all-access passes. Be prepared to take a couple of hours just to see the highlights, which include the evolution, dinosaur, and Egyptian artifacts exhibits.
    Photo by Jeremy Kohm/age fotostock
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    Museum of Science and Industry
    The Museum of Science and Industry is the largest science museum in the Western Hemisphere, and it's a vast playground for kids and adults who are keen to explore. Delve into a coal mine, tour a real U-boat, and watch 20 model trains run from Seattle to Chicago on intricately detailed tracks. Take toddlers to the baby chick hatchery and the idea factory; older kids will like the fast-paced energy simulation game upstairs, where they can also learn to steer a tractor and listen to their whispers travel across the room in the Whispering Gallery. You can also visit the Robot Revolution exhibit, a collection of cutting edge robots from all over the world. The Museum of Science and Industry is a fantastic afternoon of fun for the whole family.
    Photo by Henryk Sadura/age fotostock
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    Frank Lloyd Wright Trust
    Frank Lloyd Wright built 700 houses all over the nation, but he lived in Oak Park, just a 30-minute drive from the city center of Chicago. His house and studio are now a museum, where guided tours include a visit to the playroom he designed for his kids. Other highlights include an ingenious lighting pulley system in his draft room, the indirect front walkway that leads through the garden to the front door, and his intense architectural dedication to form and function. Oak Park has an entire historic district with multiple Frank Lloyd Wright-designed homes and buildings lining several streets. Visitors can check out Wright's house and studio or go on walking or biking tours of his other houses in the area.
    Photo by Henryk Sadura/age fotostock
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    Lincoln Park Conservatory
    The Lincoln Park Conservatory displays thousands of exotic botanical specimens in four display houses: Palm House, Fern Room, Orchid House, and Show House. The heated tropical domes of the Fern Room and Orchid House are perfect places to visit on cold, windy Chicago days, and the intimate spaces are easily seen in an hour or so. The Conservatory hosts flower shows year round, and locals and visitors frequently stop by just to browse the new displays. There is no entrance fee, and with Lincoln Park Zoo right next door, the Conservatory is a tranquil diversion for visitors spending an afternoon in the area.
    Photo by Henryk Sadura/age fotostock
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    Lincoln Park Zoo
    Open 365 days of the year with free admission, Lincoln Park Zoo is a must-see for any visitor to Chicago. This zoo has a great collection of animals from around the world, including red panda cubs, and a baby two-toed sloth. Habitats very close to the walking paths make for excellent photo opportunities, as does a small, on-site farm. Christmas time at the zoo is especially lovely, when nights feature an event called Zoolights. Trees draped in colorful, twinkling lights, photos with Santa, ice carvings, a carousel, ice-skating, and train rides make the extravaganza a special way for families to celebrate the holiday.
    Photo by Songquan Deng/age fotostock