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Chicago for Families

Shooting for the Stars at Adler Planetarium
Chicago for Families
Chicago delivers access to some of the best family-friendly attractions around. Explore Legoland Discovery Center, show gravity who's boss at Six Flags or the Museum of Science and Industry, or bask in nature's glory at North Avenue Beach.
By Nicole Schnitzler, AFAR Local Expert
Photo by Henryk Sadura/age fotostock
  • 1 / 10
    Shooting for the Stars at Adler Planetarium
    Shooting for the Stars at Adler Planetarium
    The Adler Planetarium has put together a wonderful museum experience for both children and adults. Kids will love the play area, known as Planet Explorers, where they can pretend to be astronauts with space rovers and rocket-launch simulators, peer through microscopes, and crawl through caves and tunnels. Adults will appreciate Adler after Dark, an evening once a month 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
  • 2 / 10
    Brooklyn Boulders Chicago
    Brooklyn Boulders Chicago
    Brooklyn Boulders Chicago is as much a go-to for adults as it is for kids. Its more than 25,000 square feet serve as the foundation for a host of wall-centric activities, including bouldering, auto-belaying, and rappelling. Grown-ups can dive into a handful of classes, from Intro to Climbing and Learn the Ropes to a variety of yoga options, or can simply take in the scenery by hanging in the café or Wi-Fi-equipped work space. Meanwhile, little ones will be far from bored—enroll them in Kids Academy for the day, where they can figure out how to climb and boulder via games and exercises.
    Photo by Brooklyn Boulders
  • 3 / 10
    The Field Museum of Natural History
    The Field Museum of Natural History
    Contained within Chicago's Field Museum of Natural History are 30 million different pieces, including Sue, the most complete Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton in the world. Its inventory also has prehistoric reptiles, tribal masks, insects, and botanical specimens. In addition to what can be seen in 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 view the highlights, which include the areas covering evolution, dinosaurs, and Egyptian artifacts.
    Photo by Jeremy Kohm/age fotostock
  • 4 / 10
    North Avenue Beach
    North Avenue Beach
    There's no better season in Chicago than summer, and there's no better place to spend it than at one of the city's many pristine stretches of sand. North Avenue Beach is one of the best in town, and for some excellent reasons: It's situated just footsteps away from picturesque Lincoln Park; it boasts a $7 million beach house; and it is a site for several seasonal spectacles, such as the international volleyball tournaments Volleywood. Plenty of activities are on offer for the recreational-sports enthusiast, too, from stand-up paddleboarding and kayaking to yoga. After exerting yourself, grab a Bacardi Miami Vice and some bites at the always bustling eatery Castaways, a favorite for locals and visitors alike. 

    North Avenue Beach / Choose Chicago
  • 5 / 10
    Garfield Park Conservatory
    Garfield Park Conservatory
    Frequently referred to as “landscape art under glass,” the Garfield Park Conservatory features more than 100,000 plants, including more than 70 palm trees, 200 species of ferns, and an abundance of cacti and succulents. It's easy to spend hours roaming its multiple-acre expanse and the many special areas it encompasses (from the Palm House to the Desert House), or checking out any of its environmentally focused programming, from beekeeping classes to “Tree ID” walks.
    Photo by Garfield Park Conservatory
  • 6 / 10
    Lincoln Park Zoo
    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. Christmastime at the zoo is always a treat, when the venue puts on nightly spectacles called ZooLights; one especially lively evening is called BrewLights (essentially ZooLights with the added bonus of beers on tap throughout). Trees draped in colorful, twinkling lights; photos with Santa; ice-sculpture carving; a carousel; and train rides make the extravaganza a special way for families to ring in the holiday season.
    Photo by Songquan Deng/age fotostock
  • 7 / 10
    Legoland Discovery Center
    Legoland Discovery Center
    Only 37 minutes outside of Chicago, the marvelous land of Lego awaits. Filled with Lego replicas of pirates, dinosaurs, spaceships, Star Wars characters, the Chicago skyline, and NASCAR racers, this attraction proves that if it exists, then someone has re-created it with Legos. But while Legoland is certainly about the sheer fun of connecting the iconic blocks, the center also has a 4-D cinema with wind and rain effects, a Master Builder Academy for budding engineers, and a Merlin-themed ride with enchanted carts. Visitors with kids who love Lego will never forget the experience.
    Photo by Gino de Graaf/age fotostock
  • 8 / 10
    Adventures at Six Flags Theme Park
    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, funnel cakes on the midway, and evening shows with singing and dancing. Six Flags also has a 20-acre water park with rides and a simulated ocean, making it a full day of good times for everyone. In the summer, have some nighttime fun with Coasters after Dark. Autumn guests can attend Fright Fest in September and October, which features Monstertainment shows, scary rides, and zombies and ghosts aplenty. Online deals abound for this classic attraction, and season passes are a great option for visitors looking to spend more than just a day exploring here.
    Photo by Chuck Eckert/age fotostock
  • 9 / 10
    Museum of Science and Industry
    Museum of Science and Industry
    The Museum of Science and Industry is one of the largest science museums in the world, 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 up to 34 model trains run from Seattle to Chicago on intricately detailed tracks. Take younger ones to the baby-chick hatchery and the Idea Factory (a toddler play area); older kids will like the fast-paced energy-simulation game upstairs, where they can also learn to steer a tractor and listen to faint voices travel across the room in the Whispering Gallery. You can also check out the Robot Revolution exhibit, a collection of cutting-edge automatons from all over the world.
    Photo by Henryk Sadura/age fotostock
  • 10 / 10
    Run down the Indiana Dunes
    Run down the Indiana Dunes
    Sand dunes topping heights of 200 feet tower over the wild, untrammeled shores of Lake Michigan, less than an hour by car 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 refuge—though West Beach costs a few dollars to enter—and its 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