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One Day in Chicago
August 31, 2012 8:34 AM   Subscribe

I'm going to be in Chicago for 30 hours at the end of September on an international layover. I've never been before and want to squeeze in a lot in the time that I have. What should I do?

Twist: I'll be travelling with my 3-year-old daughter, so I can rule out any temerarious evening fare. Any kid-friendly destinations would also be welcome.
I just want to get as much of a taste for the city as I can during the little time that I'm there.
posted by Tenacious.Me.Tokyo to Travel & Transportation around Chicago, IL (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
With a 3-yo, I would consider the Chicago Children's Museum, the Lincoln Park Zoo, and the Shed Aquarium. You both also might enjoy, on different levels, a lake or river boat tour, or simply a water taxi ride, which will give you a good view of some great Chicago architectural landmarks.
posted by drlith at 8:51 AM on August 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


I went for the first time last month, and also only had a little over 24 hours to explore. I'd recommend a canal/lake cruise if you have the time (I believe ours took 90 minutes), particularly if you want to sit back and enjoy the beautiful architecture & views of the skyline. It might be a nice way to relax after hitting the museum and/or zoo and/or aquarium. There are a number of different companies offering cruises - the one I took was run by the Chicago Architecture Foundation
posted by pammeke at 9:00 AM on August 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


Lincoln Park Zoo is free. (I'm sure people will say Broofield Zoo is nicer, but you can't beat free.) The Shedd Aquarium goes over well with small children as well as adults, but the line can be massive if it's a weekend or a school holiday.

My guess is that 3 is too young for either the Planetarium and the Museum of Science and Industry, which I think are both better for children than adults.

I'm sure I went to the Field Museum when I was three, but I probably didn't get anything out of it. (If you know your kid is afraid of mannequins or taxidermied animals, that might mean you're skipping some exhibits entirely.*)

Depending on the weather, the park that was Meigs Field is by the Field Museum and aquarium. It gets pretty windy, but could make for a nice walk. (It's called Northerly Island now. Took me a minute to remember.)

At the age of three or four, I was actually really into the Historical Society (which I think is now the Chicago History Museum or something). It's at North Avenue and Clark. You can walk through Lincoln Park to the zoo.

Not worth it are a trip up the Sears Tower or the John Hancock. It was pretty dull when it cost $2, but now it's something like $15.

*I was terrified of the Plains part of the Native American exhibit as a kid and din't go until high school. This was maybe a good thing, as when I went in high school, they'd put a notice up saying "Yeah, we know this exhibit is kind of crap and pretty racist. We're working on fixing it.")
posted by hoyland at 9:04 AM on August 31, 2012


I'll second the water taxi ride - it's one tenth the cost of the architectural tour and much easier to schedule (there's one every few minutes and you can just hop on, no booking required). Michigan Avenue to Chinatown and back will give you a fantastic view of the downtown skyscrapers.
posted by theodolite at 9:04 AM on August 31, 2012


Oh yeah, the Chicago History Museum is very kid-friendly (there's tons of hands-on stuff to play with, an old CTA car you can go into, etc), and walking distance from the Lincoln Park Zoo.
posted by theodolite at 9:07 AM on August 31, 2012


Lincoln Park in general is just very kid-friendly. There's the Lincoln Park Zoo, dipping your toes in the lake at North Avenue Beach, and the Chicago History Museum over to the east, and then as you move west you can get tasty ice cream at Annette's, eat gourmet hot dogs at Franks n Dawgs, and watch your kid play on a really nice playground on Seminary (it's somewhere between Armitage and Clybourn but I don't remember precisely where.
posted by phunniemee at 9:32 AM on August 31, 2012


FYI, there's a hotel right at the airport (Sheraton). There is a train into town that's pretty easy to catch.

I just think that if you're already at the airport, that you'll eliminate any of that hassle of checking out and getting to the hotel. YMMV.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:06 AM on August 31, 2012


A 3 year old isn't going to remember much, so I would say go up in either the Sears (Willis) Tower. or the Hancock Building to see a beautiful view of the city. Willis has these glass boxes that protrude from the sides of the building so you can look straight down. Kids get a kick out of that.

I will also put in my vote for Museum of Science and Industry. We went there a lot as a kid and I loved it.
posted by wrnealis at 10:31 AM on August 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


Not worth it are a trip up the Sears Tower or the John Hancock. It was pretty dull when it cost $2, but now it's something like $15.

You can go to the lounge one floor above the observation deck of the Hancock for just the cost of the drink you will have while there.

FYI, there's a hotel right at the airport (Sheraton). There is a train into town that's pretty easy to catch.


Just about every hotel around O'Hare runs free shuttles every 15-20 minutes or so. If the hotel you book at doesn't then just take the shuttle to hotel next door (It is all hotels around O'Hare). Don't take a cab into chicago - it is much worse than the train and far more expensive.

Have some American cash in your pocket. The ticket machines at the CTA often arbitrarily reject credit/debit cards or just don't work. If you are going to tour all over get a CTA day pass right away if you can.

Coming from Tokyo I suggest you get things that Chicago specializes in such as deep dish pizza and Mexican food.
posted by srboisvert at 1:12 PM on August 31, 2012


Have some American cash in your pocket. The ticket machines at the CTA often arbitrarily reject credit/debit cards or just don't work. If you are going to tour all over get a CTA day pass right away if you can.

Oh! Important CTA fact! The ticket machines don't give change, so you'll want to make sure you have bills smaller than $20 with you.
posted by hoyland at 1:28 PM on August 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


Navy Pier is great for kids. The Chicago Children's Museum is there, and there's a Ferris Wheel and boat rides that depart from the southern edge of the pier. Garrett's popcorn is worth seeking out -- get the "Chicago mix" of caramel and cheese.

The Lincoln Park Zoo is a great suggestion; the Lincoln Park Conservatory is right next to it, and both are free. The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum is also close by; it's not free, but it's very kid-friendly.
posted by me3dia at 4:02 PM on August 31, 2012


Kids love The Crown Fountain in Millenium Park. Personally, I would avoid the tourist trap that is Navy Pier and head to The Sears Tower (now called The Willis Tower) to look out of the cool windows. I have never been (I always go to The Hancock for drinks instead) but I think kids would like that better. I love The Chicago History Museum but it might be a bit stuffy for a toddler. I vote for the aquarium, with The Museum of Science and Industry as a second choice.

If you stay out by the airport for convenience you can take the L into the city for $2.25. Taxis are expensive from all the way out there (and there's traffic). Either the O'Hare or Rosemont stop will be close and the Blue Line heads all the way into the Loop (downtown).
posted by Bunglegirl at 7:33 PM on August 31, 2012


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